DRP News Bulletin

DRP News Bulletin 1 March 2021: Actions speak louder than words on PM’s appeal for water, river conservation

In his #MannKiBaat on Feb 28, 2021, India’s Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi appealed to people to conserve our Rivers, Water, referring to Magh Purnima on Feb 27 2021 and Sant Ravi Das teachings. He also said that India’s traditions, festivals, scriptures, etc have so much place for rivers, also mentioning the Kumbh mela this year at Haridwar. He mentioned that a 100 day campaign will be launched soon by the Jal Shakti Ministry for rainwater harvesting. He gave several examples from across the country where individuals and groups have taken up such words.

All that sounds fine and welcome. But the trouble is that his all-powerful government is working consistently and with increasing intensity towards opposite direction. This very week his Power Minister expressed ignorance if hydropower projects have any environmental adverse impact, right in the face of destruction wrought by the hydropower projects in Chamoli disaster in Uttarakhand on Feb 7, 2021. Why is the Union Government still pushing hydropower projects which are no longer even economically viable, they never were environmentally sustainable or socially acceptable.

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Dams, Rivers & People

DRP NB 15 Feb. 2021: Why Mangshri Devi of Tapovan Should Head Uttarakhand’s Disaster Management Department?

Feature image Tapovan-Vishnugad hydropower project in Chamoli district on Feb., 7 by Gajendra Yadav, Express Photo

In a fantastic story, Shivani Azad of The Times of India has reported possibly the most remarkable story of the Chamoli avalanche disaster that started on Sunday morning on Feb 7, 2021. She reported that Vipul Kairuni of Dhaak village in Tapovan, working at the time at the now destroyed Tapovan Vishnugad project, got saved thanks to frantic calls by his mother Mangshri Devi as she and his wife saw from their village home, situated at a height from the river, that a massive flood is approaching the dam site. It was thanks to frantic, repeated calls by Mangshri Devi that not only Vipul, but at least two dozen more people could run to safety of a ladder and saved their lives.

So effectively, Mangshri Devi has saved at least two dozen lives in Chamoli disaster. Who else can claim to have achieved anything like that in the disaster? The disaster management department seems completely absent from the scene either in terms of pre disaster monitoring or in taking steps to save lives during the disaster. In fact, there should have been an early warning system in place that could have saved many more lives. But it does not exist. Either in Rishiganga/ Dhauliganga basin or anywhere else in Uttarakhand. NTPC’s Tapovan Vishnugad Project has faced so many disasters already since 2008, but is only now talking about putting in place early warning system. Should not the NTPC and power ministry top brass as well as Uttarakhand disaster management department held accountable for that?

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DRP News Bulletin

DRP NB 28 Dec. 2020: Five Positives of outgoing Corona year

The outgoing year 2020 is likely to be remembered as Corona year as Covid 19 pandemic has been the most influential aspect of the year. However, there have been many positives of the outgoing year. We identify five biggest positives as we see them.

Firstly, the complete lockdown that we experienced during March-April 2020, to slow down the spread of the Covid 19 infection showed, among many other things that it is indeed possible to clean up our rivers and also indicated the way forward: tackle industrial pollution. Unfortunately, those clear lessons have not been learnt by the government, its been busy in ease of doing business, not even understanding that in changing climate, clean rivers are going to be a major resource that will help people adapt.

The second notable positive was the major across the country protests, particularly from the younger generation against the government’s attempt to bulldoze the completely anti- environment amendment to the EIA notification. The protests along with the judicial orders have so far stopped the amendment from getting implementation. The government will do well to abandon any attempt to push them.

Similar to the protests against amendments to EIA notification were the protests against trying to bulldoze the massive Etalin Hydropower project in Dibang Valley in Arunachal Pradesh, at the cost of lakhs of trees and biodiversity rich forest and river and against the wishes of the people of Arunachal Pradesh and North East India. Here again it was good to see that the campaign has so far been successful.

India Rivers Week 2020 organised Zonal and National dialogues on river sand mining in India, in which large number of groups and stakeholders from across the country participated and has created a new wave of awareness and energy on this very important but so far largely ignored issue. We are hopeful that this energy will lead to change in governance of river sand mining in India.

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DRP News Bulletin

DRP NB 21 Sep 2020: IHA President accepts-Hydro faces massive slowdown & worse

International Hydropower Association (IHA) is essentially global leader of hydropower lobby. So when IHA President Roger Gill speaks about the problems hydro industry is facing, it becomes very interesting for all concerned.

In this interview the Roger Gill makes it clear that Hydro investments have been slowing down in last five years when compared with investments in immediate earlier decades. It has further slowed down in 2019 and has been further majorly affected by Covid-19 pandemic. Gill also accepts that the hydro is perceived as much more risky compared to solar and wind. The claim he makes of low levelised cost of electricity from hydro projects is a bit of fiction, since cost of any under construction or new hydro will be hugely costlier than solar and wind power projects. The IHA president is catching at the straws when he takes encouragement from investments in existing hydro projects and pump storage, though he keeps making it clear that market is still unclear as far as pump storage tariffs are concerned. A friendly interview also reveals a lot!!

It is high time that the Indian hydropower lobby led by NHPC and power ministry takes due note of the realities and would not push unjustified, unviable and destructive hydropower projects down the throats of reluctant states and people, using scarce public resources.https://energy.economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/power/hydro-power-requires-100-bn-investment-annually-roger-gill-international-hydropower-association/78131561 (17 Sep 2020)

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CWC - Central Water Commission

North India; CWC Flood Forecasting Sites 2020; New Website Old Problems

Flood forecasting is an important activity during monsoon, considering the huge and increasing flood prone area, flood frequency, intensity and flood damages. Accurate and timely flood forecasting can hugely help reduce the damages due to floods. Central Water Commission (CWC) is the only agency responsible for flood forecasting in India. To understand the CWC’s flood forecasting better, we have compiled the list of the various flood, inflow forecasting sites and flood monitoring sites in India.

In this compilation, we have given state wise list of CWC’s level forecasting, flood monitoring and inflow forecasting sites in North India, comprising of Union Territories Jammu & Kashmir, Ladakh, Chandigarh, Delhi and states of Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Punjab, Haryana  and Uttar Pradesh. It includes available details like name of river, sub basin, Warning level (WL), Danger Level (DL), High Flood Level (HFL), Full Reservoir Level (FRL), Maximum Water Level (MWL), as applicable. As we see below, there are many gaps in this basic information for the sites that are part of CWC’s list. A similar zonewise overview of CWC’s sites was compiled in 2018 and 2019, which can be seen here: Overview of CWC Flood Forecasting Sites 2018: North India; Overview of CWC Flood Forecasting Sites 2019: North India. We have brought this updated compilation for 2020 as there are large number of changes.

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Dams · DRP News Bulletin

DRP NB 14 Sep 2020: How should we define a Normal Monsoon?

IMD is happy to declare a monsoon as normal as long as total quantum of rainfall at national scale is within 4% of what is defined as normal monsoon rainfall during June 1 to Sept 30. Even if this means there is spatially or temporally or both spatially & temporally, the total rainfall or its distribution is abnormal in large parts of the country. It was good to see a national newspaper, asking question if the monsoon is normal even though it’s not temporally normal as was the case in large parts of the country this year.

The IMD normal only assures meteorological normal of national monsoon rainfall within given period. It does not assure hydrologic normal nationally or in different parts of the country, nor agricultural normal rainfall nationally or in different parts: sub divisions, states, river basins, districts, talukas/ tehsils or villages and wards. We clearly need much more realistic and nuanced definition of even meteorological Normal monsoon rainfall, which IMD needs to work on. But as far hydrological or agricultural normal rainfall is concerned, both temporally and spatially, those concerned outside IMD will need to work on.

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DRP News Bulletin

DRP NB 7 Sep 2020: On Himalaya Diwas, will Supreme Court stop destruction of Himalaya by Char Dham Road?

The people and state government of Uttarakhand would be celebrating Himalayan Diwas on September 9; the Supreme Court of India would be hearing the issues related to the controversial Char Dham Road project a day before it on September 08. During the last hearing on August 31, the apex court has rescheduled the case by extending the hearing date by a week amid concerns of recurring landslides raised by the petitioners.

The ongoing adverse impacts on forests, rivers, streams, soil covers, hills and people continue to concerns scientists, geologist who are alarmed by the scale of destruction and shocked by the brazen manner the state and central governments have been marching ahead without bothering to assess the impacts or address the genuine issues being raised by all concerned.

Multiple reports have been showing that the deliberate dilution of environmental rules and violations of already weakened norms applied by none other than governments themselves to avoid scientific scrutiny and push the project through climatically and ecologically sensitive mountains is proving to be a Himalaya blunder. There is still time to pause, ponder, review the project, assess the impacts, reduce road width and prepare an action plan to restore the damages and pay heed to scientific suggestions before the blunder leads to another inevitable disaster of Kedarnath or larger scale. Hope the apex court would not fail Himalayas.  

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Dams · DRP News Bulletin

DRP NB 17 August 2020: The Contempt of Court case against MoEF

[Feature image: Cartoon on Draft EIA 2020 by Surendra, The Hindu https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/cartoon/cartoonscape-august-12-2020/article32328005.ece (12 Aug. 2020)]

This last week, one Contempt of Court case was deservedly in news, when on the eve of India’s 74th Independence day, the apex Court found public spirited Prashant Bhushan guilty of contempt of Court. Prashant Bhushan’s commitment for the cause of the people and responsible governance of various institutions is beyond question. He is known for being critical of the government and judiciary’s track record and is supported in this by most independent minded persons.

However, there was another contempt case this last week, related to environmental issues, that was not so much in the news. On June 30, 2020, Delhi High Court bench of Chief Justice D N Patel and Justice Prateek Jalan in response to petition by environmentalist Vikrant Tongad had directed, among other things, that Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) should translate the Draft EIA (Environment Impact Assessment) Notification of 2020 into all the official languages of India and disseminate widely in ten days. (https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Delhi/delhi-hc-extends-public-response-deadline-to-draft-eia-2020/article31951610.ece)

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Dams · DRP News Bulletin

DRP NB 20 July 2020: Will the Supreme Court stop destruction of Ganga & Himalayas in the name of WIDER Char Dham Road?

Feature Image: Pithoragarh-Tanakpur Road widening work going and muck being dumped in Saryu river under Chardham project. (Manoj Matwal, April 2019) 

The Supreme Court appointed Ravi Chopra committee has submitted the report on Char Dham Road. It has not said NO to the all weather road which is the slogan of Gadkari and rest of the Union Government. It has in fact, going by the Union Ministry of Road Transport’s’ circular, as late as 2018, suggested that the road be of 5.5 m width with necessary precautions. It has provided elaborate justifications and reasons why it took this decision. And yet twelve govt members of the committee, claiming in the name of religion (as per interview by one of these twelve members in media today) has insisted that the road should be of 10 m width. Not bothering that religion was not part of their mandate, not bothering what impact such a road will have on the Ganga (and the impact will be massive, we will know the full extent only if the impacts are scientifically assessed), on Himalayas (again starting from deforestation, landslides, flash floods and so on will be unbelievably huge) and on people and future generations. One only hopes the Supreme Court will see through the mindlessness of the economic fundamentalism being pushed in the name of religion and not allow the proposal to go ahead.

The Union Environment Ministry is clearly out to destroy even the Bhagirathi Eco-Sensitive Zone by sanctioning the Zonal Master Plan without due process and in complete violation of the letter and spirit of the Bhagirathi notification. This will further open the flood gates for destruction of remaining stretch of Bhagirathi, considered original Ganga stream as it flows from Gangotri. Again one hopes the judiciary will strike this down.

One wonders what is the NMCG, National Mission for Clean Ganga, whose mandate is Ganga rejuvenation, is doing amidst all this? Why is it silent?

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Dams · DRP News Bulletin

DRP NB 13 July 2020: “Rainwater harvesting is key to solving India’s water woes”

INDEED. With all the emphasis available at our command. We are in the midst of the rainiest season and such a statement is indeed music. It would become even more melodious if one knows who said it: it was none other than Mr G. Asok Kumar, Additional Secretary & Mission Director, National Water Mission, Department of Water Resources, River Development & Ganga Rejuvenation, Ministry of Jal Shakti, Government of India who said it. Speaking on July 8, 2020, he said: “Rainwater harvesting has become inevitable in the current scenario of water scarcity across the country… The idea is to save the rainwater be it on the rooftop, compounds, and premises.” Mr Kumar also emphasised the importance of groundwater recharge. 

We can pass it as run-of-the-mill statement from the government, but one is tempted to think there is more to it than that. One wishes if there was a way to hold these officials accountable for such statements and ask as to how this translates into policies, projects and practices. There is no evidence of any of these, unfortunately. Unless we were to interpret it cynically the way Central Water Commission ideologues do: Dams are also rain water harvesting structures! By that definition, even river linking is also rain water harvesting structure!! But Mr Kumar do not seem to suggest that. So let us hold on to this statement optimistically and push the water resources establishment to implement through right policies, practices and projects. Since that is where solution to India’s water problem indeed is. Unfortunately so far there is no sign that this wisdom is accepted in any serious way by the water resources establishment.

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