There is some good news this week. A survey has found existence of fishing cat and two otter species in Chilika lake – this was not known so far. However, this also underlines how little we know about India’s aquatic biodiversity in our rivers, lakes and deltas. Its high time we have authentic baseline survey across India, hopefully in participation with the local communities who would already know so much about this. And may be rather urgently, once we are through with the current Covid-19 Crisis.
This remarkable TOI report on March 14, 2020 (there was a Hindustan Times Report on March 9, 2020, we found out later: https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/scientist-flags-kedarnath-project-worries/story-1DoLBHLeMOmYLI3OPFOq1M.html) says that rampant redevelopments termed as “unabated unscientific work in the valley” around Kedarnath is likely to create dangerous situation leading to 2013 like catastrophe. We could not find report about such an important development in any other media.
But this detailed report, not contradicted by any of the quoted sources, seems sufficient reason to be alarmed by all concerned.
Experts of the Wildlife Institute of India, Wadia Institute of Himalayan Geology, Uttarakhand Space Application Centre (USAC) and even the Principle Science advisor to the Prime Minister K VIjay Raghavan and also the contractors, Woodstone Constructions along with other state and central govt officials were present where officials made some candid presentations. It seems there has been neither any impact assessment studies or clearances for the controversial interventions happening, including 9 km long approach road for Kedarnath on the left bank of Mandakini river, (left band has basically loose glacial sediments and hence is unstable and could get affected by avalanches and landslides) and a massive 50 ft deep and 100 m wide pit just 50 m behind Kedarnath for the Samadhi sthal. MPS Bisht, the Director of USAC in his presentation called the pit an extremely dangerous for future. He asked: “Why are we creating a situation for another disaster like the 2013 tragedy to take place again?” Scientists from the Wadia Institute are quoted saying: “The Road being built to Kedarnath is being made on the most vulnerable of Kedarnath Valley and may any day collapse under the pressure of so many glacier shoots which are directly opening on the road.” Raghavan called these revelations tipping points.
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.
The March 2, 2020 directions of Punjab and Haryana High Court for the sustained conservation of Sukhna wetland are welcome, though the directions are likely to be appealed against in the Supreme Court, considering the far reaching implications of the lake. One hopes the Supreme Court takes a view that helps sustain the Sukhna lake and the wetlands in a confidence inspiring way.
Punjab & Haryana HC Issued Slew Of Directions For Protection Of Sukhna Lake. https://www.livelaw.in/news-updates/punjab-haryana-hc-issues-slew-of-directions-for-protection-of-sukhna-lake-in-chandigarh-read-judgment-153386 (2 March 2020)
This is a far reaching judgement on protection of watersheds, water bodies. Any government authority which ignores the environmental damage caused by unplanned development will have to face the music. The court also declared all commercial, residential and or other structures constructed in the catchment area falling in the areas of Punjab, Haryana and Chandigarh as delineated in the map prepared by the Survey of India on 21.9.2004 were declared illegal and unauthorised and ordered to be demolished within three months. https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/hc-declares-chandigarhs-sukhna-lake-living-entity-fines-punjab-haryana-100-cr-each-for-damaging-catchment-area/article30969711.ece (03 March 2020)
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.
The Maharashtra government submitted an affidavit in High Court that the state has 15865 wetlands, down from 44714 in 2010. How did 28849 wetlands disappear from the very definition of wetland? While all of these wetlands may not have disappeared from ground, their disappearance from govt papers as wetlands means that they are now open to all kinds of abuse and encroachments. It along with other wetlands related stories here shows how little the governments are concerned about the wetlands.
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.
China not to alter course of rivers flowing into Nepal China has agreed not to deliberately change or cause to change the course of any trans-boundary rivers flowing into Nepal. This comes under an Agreement on the Boundary Management System reached with Nepal during the visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping to Kathmandu in October 2019. All the major rivers including the Karnali, Kali Gandaki, Budhi Gandaki, Trishuli, Sunkoshi, Bhotekoshi, Tamakoshi and Arun originate in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) of China. Nepal as well as the northern part of India could be seriously affected if any dams or diversion projects are built in upper riparian Tibet. “Both sides shall, as far as possible, prevent the boundary rivers from changing their courses. Neither side shall deliberately change or cause to change the course of any boundary river,” states Article 7 (1) of the Agreement. Continue reading “NEPAL DRP Overview 2019”
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.
With the beginning of New Year, there have been several media reports highlighting the river revival works and floodplain protection efforts going on in different parts of country. While the community driven efforts with active support from administration and experts to revive Kasal Odha in Solapur and bring back Old Lakhandei river in Sithamarhi have been bearing fruits. The civil societies, judiciary and administration have also taken steps to protect the floodplains of Ramnadi, Indrayani, Hindon rivers.
The artificial pond efforts by NGT panel and Delhi government have also shown positive results in preventing the pollution from idol immersion pollution reaching the Yamuna river. Similarly the CPCB has raised the issue of Mahi river pollution by industries in Central Gujarat. The Karnataka High Court questioning the authority and fund collection mechanism by Isha Foundation for Cauvery Calling initiative is particularly significant. While revival of rivers is imperative task, the accountability and transparency cannot be set aside.