The Supreme Court order asking for fresh environment clearance and fresh Environment Impact Assessment for the Peripheral Ring Road project in Bengaluru is remarkable and most welcome, even though it is not directly related to water issues. The order is relevant since we have yet to find what can be called an honest Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) for River Valley Projects and yet the MoEF’s Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) on River Valley Projects happily clears ALL the projects that come their way, even with most fraudulent EIAs. We are hoping against hope that this apex Court judgement will be a precursor to many such orders and judgements and general warning against fraudulent EIAs and EACs. We hope it is not too much to ask that the EIA be an honest effort and the EAC that does not reject fraudulent EIAs should also be dumped and members black listed. We hope we have such orders from the judiciary soon.
On the occasion of International day of action for rivers which is annually celebrated on March 14, SANDRP put together some positive citizens and community led actions taken in last one year to protect and revive the rivers in different parts of India.
There are large number of stories this week from all over India highlighting the crisis that Urban Rivers in India face. Urban rivers, like the Urban Water sector, exist in complete policy vacuum. There is no policy to guide the Urban water governance. Cosmetic efforts being done when President Donald Trump of USA visits India on Feb 24-25, 2020 at Yamuna (in view of his visit to Agra) or Sabarmati (visit to Sabarmati Ashram in Ahmedabad) won’t really help. The crisis not only affects the rivers, but the health, livelihoods and lives of millions and millions of city dwellers too, in addition to the downstream river users. Our Water Resources establishment has no clue, as is evident from their calling the Dravyawati river channelization in Jaipur as an example of river rejuvenation and suggesting such rivers should be given to corporates to rejuvenate in similar ways! It’s doubtful if the new National Water Policy now being formulated will help, unless it dares to suggest radical changes.
This week’s news bulletin has a number of examples of Better Water Management Options that India has, let us focus on the example from state. These examples come from Kerala (achieving a barren land free constituency & KERI study showing the need for desilting of Malampuzha reservoir), Tamil Nadu (lessons from implementation of System of Rice Intensification in large parts of cultivable land and also declaring the Cauvery Delta as protected agriculture zones that will help stop the problematic hydrocarbon exploration project as also, hopefully other destructive projects), Odisha (govt filing affidavit in the Supreme Court asking it to stop work on Polavaram Dam of Andhra Pradesh is hugely belated but right move), Telangana (rejecting the Godavari Cauvery River Linking proposal of NWDA for its shoddy water balance), Uttarakhand (Dehradun DM accepting in affidavit to High Court that 270 acres of river bed land is encroached in the district), Kashmir (drive to remove encroachments of Khushal Sar lake, even if selective, hopefully it will be a beginning), NGT (cancelling the township coming up in lake eco sensitive area in Bengaluru) among others. We have listed only the welcome initiatives from the govt. Even if these initiatives are taken to logical conclusion and also emulated by other states, it can go a long way in moving towards better water management.
The statement of Shri U P Singh, secretary, Union Water Resources Ministry, that “industry (private or public sector) could adopt small rivers” seems to suggest that the government is moving towards handing over the rivers to Corporate bodies. The example Mr Singh gave of Drayavati River of Jaipur is even more disturbing since that river has been completely destroyed by the project implemented by the Tatas. It should not surprise though, considering that no less than the Prime Minister has been giving the example of canalisation of Sabarmati as an example of rejuvenation of the river. If this is what the government means by rejuvenation, that even Ganga and Yamuna are facing major risks of destruction. Its not less shocking that while Nitish Kumar, the Chief Minister of Bihar has questioned Modi government’s attempt to achieve Nirmal Ganga without attempting Aviral Ganga, his own government is basically following the same Sabarmati model on Ganga in Patna. If this is the example of “rejuvenation” of river according to the top most bureaucrat of of the government in charge of Water resources, nothing can save India’s rivers except a people’s movement against such moves wherever such destruction of rivers is attempted.
The Prime Minister finally found time to have the first ever meeting on National Ganga Council, over three years after the Ganga Notification of Oct 7, 2016. The meeting happened at Kanpur, where the NGT recently fined the state government for continuing to release untreated effluents into the Ganga. In fact NGT in recent weeks have taken several decisions that also shows how abysmally the govt has failed on Ganga front. And now after the first NGC meeting, the Prime Minister, in an effort to divert attention from Namami Gange failure, is proposing the new slogan of Arth Ganga, which basically seems to suggest focus on Money, which is Exactly what is not going to help the cause of Ganga. The Ganga is still on the lookout for the Ganga putra that promised a clean Ganga in May 2014.
For several decades now, groundwater has been India’s water lifeline. It is going to remain India’s water lifeline for long time to come. So when Prime Minister Modi called for people’s movement on water conservation during his MANN KI BAAT Radio program on June 30, 2019 (http://pib.nic.in/PressReleseDetail.aspx?PRID=1576353), the first thing the people would expect the government to do is to acknowledge the reality that groundwater is India’s water lifeline and make the sustenance of that water lifeline as the focus of all National Water Policies, programs and plans.
India also urgently needs a National Urban Water Policy that would also define what is a water smart city. The government will need to show it is serious by putting in place rainwater harvesting and groundwater recharging systems at ALL government buildings and lands across the country and show that these are functioning.
The government will also need to bring back the watershed development as the focus of its work on water conservation and reverse the wrong steps this government took five years back (see the detailed report below).
The government also needs to urgently start work on restructuring of water institutions of India, starting with CWC. Unless people see the government’s seriousness through actions, the one listed here are the initial steps, there is little likelihood of credibility of what the government says.
With rainfall in June 2019 during the South West Monsoon already showing a deficit of massive 33%, the fifth highest deficit in last 100 years, its possibly the most opportune time to take these steps on URGENT BASIS.