India’s environmental Legal system is in deep trouble. Ritwick Dutta shows this through two brilliant articles, but this is also apparent from the failure of pollution control mechanism and people, rivers and environment continues to suffer as is apparent from the poisonous Hindon river basin water that people of over a hundred villages are forced to drink while the cases have been going on in National Green Tribunal. The Yettinahole verdict of the Supreme Court now and NGT earlier seem to have completely ignored all the illegalities and falsehoods involved in the case. The verdict thus also ignored the severe vulnerabilities of the Western Ghats that is getting worse with such mindless developmental interventions. And the government seems happy to destroy the independence status of the NGT through problematic appointments, as Ritwick Dutta shows through another article. What is the hope when the judiciary itself is blind to such glaring disasters?
There is a lot that Bihar and Union Govt that need to answer why did Patna go under water in spite of fully knowing its vulnerabilities. Why was the city not prepared to face this kind of situation? Some of the major man made reasons include: Sewage Pumps not working, drainage map not available, no emergency plan in place. Not too many people know that there is GANGA FLOOD CONTROL COMMISSION, sitting right in Patna, an organisation under Union Ministry of Water Resources, existing since 47 years now. WHAT HAVE THEY BEEN DOING is a mystery.
Its high time questions are asked if GFCC is doing any useful work. The government may like to brush aside the issues, saying its too high rainfall due to climate change, but that wont help. Patna is bang in the way of Ganga and it doing all kind of mindless activities including river front development, destruction of local water bodies and wetlands, and of course not knowing its drainage map. It shows abysmal failure of the World Bank funded flood management project that existed not so long ago, housed in Patna. And Patna was being funded under Smart city program to do all kinds of water unsmart activities. Over a week since the flooding started, parts of the city is still under water and now the city is facing fresh crisis in the shape of Dengue. The trouble is, there is no sign that the city, state or the country is doing anything to learn from this man made disaster.
Under India’s constitution, water is supposed to be STATE subject. That seems to be under serious threat. First it happened with Waterways Act in 2015 (this was opposed by a number of ministries at centre and number of states, but the bill still got passed). Now the three new bills, as listed below are further threatening this. The advocates of centralisation, including the World Bank and the Central govt big dam lobby, have been wanting to change the constitutional status, but they have not succeeded so far, but now effectively, they could achieve that objective if all these bills are passed.
3 Water Bills Threatening Federalism Three Bills are presented by the Centre in the recently concluded session: a) River Basin Management Bill, 2019 proposing 13 River Basin Authorities for various river basins in our country, b) River Water Disputes Bill, 2019, to have a dispute resolution committee DRC, and c) Dam Safety Authority Bill, 2019, which significantly shift rights and authority of the States over rivers to the Centre.
With these Bills staring at federalism, the new question emerging is: Who will have final say on the water in rivers; the Centre or the States, the Peoples’ representatives or bureaucrats? https://countercurrents.org/2019/09/three-water-bills-threatening-federalism (25 Sept. 2019)
The Interstate River Water Dispute Bill is making it mandatory for the Central government to make such scheme. Under the Act, the Central government maintains a data bank and information system at the national level for each river basin. The Bill provides that the Central government will appoint or authorise an agency to maintain such data bank.
This amendment Bill is a mix of some good provisions which are very much required, and over-centralisation of power. Some States like Tamil Nadu and Odisha have expressed apprehension of appropriation of more powers by the Centre. https://countercurrents.org/2019/09/interstate-river-water-dispute-bill-2019-more-centralisation-of-centres-power (26 Sept. 2019)
One expects that River sand mining issues will be minimal in monsoon, with riverbeds flooded, but that is far from the case, as we can see from this week’s bulletin. Recent news include the positive story of Dakshin Kannada deputy commissioner being remembered for curbing illegal sand mining; Institute of Engineers demanding curb in sand mining around the 90 year old Krishna Raj Sagar dam on Cauvery considering its safety; in Tamil Nadu, the most dangerous place in the context of sand mining, there is the news of police forcing activists to apologise; While the TN minister is in denial mode about illegal sand mining round Chennai; firing between sand mafia and police in Rajasthan leading to two deaths and several injuries; in MP, a video is in circulation showing police negotiation with sand mafia; new sand mining policies in several states including Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Bihar and in Delhi the DJB has written to NGT to take steps to curb illegal sand mining downstream of Hathnikund barrage. And there is more.
That’s a lot of news during monsoon on River Sand mining. Unfortunately, there is no light at the end of the sandy tunnel. There is no effective policy or action on the horizon either from the states, centre or judiciary. It seems a lot more focused work is required on this issue.
Following recent Punjab floods, the Punjab Chief Minister said that the state government would go for canalisation of rivers, as if that is going to help in managing or avoiding flood disaster. This proposal seems to come out from nowhere, but considering that the CM talked about funding by the World Bank and Asian Development Bank, either this is already under discussion or these institutes have proposed this to the Chief Minister. The Proposal seems blind to the impacts, costs, risks and wider implications of the canalisation of rivers.
To avoid duplication, the excellent report in MINT below provides detailed reasons why it is a disastrous Idea. The Indian Express report below is in fact a bad example of reporting, since it does not even mention the impacts, costs or risks of the canalisation proposal. And the report that follows these two from California in USA shows how there the work is ongoing to reverse the trend and bring more flood plains in connection with the rivers at a huge cost. Why do we have to repeat the blunders of others, as propagated by the World Bank and ADB and then pay the price in reversing the blunders?
It’s great to see the top edit in THE TIMES OF INDIA today (Aug 12, 2019) calling for urgent review of flood management in India. Indeed the current floods can be a big wake up call.
TOI Edit rightly says: “Similarly, there’s also an urgent need to upgrade dam management in the region. Despite heavy rain warnings, why couldn’t Maharashtra and Karnataka coordinate to release dam waters downstream as a pre-emptive measure? We need much more proactive and punctilious supervision of dam waters.” Indeed there is need to fix the responsibilities of failures in Dam Management, including forecasting failures, Violations of rule curves, mismanagement of reservoirs and lack of information sharing and coordination. Continue reading “DRP News Bulletin 12 August 2019: URGENT REVIEW OF FLOOD MANAGEMENT REQUIRED”
India urgently needs a lot of effective work on Dam Safety, but the bill before the Parliament makes CWC (Central Water Commission) as focal point of Dam Safety, but CWC has conflict of interest and poor track record. The Bill does not provide any real independent oversight, nor clearly defined norms of complete transparency in the dam safety matters, and there is no role of the vulnerable communities, the most important stake holders. The Bill also tends to centralise the power with the Union govt, and states legitimately suspects this. https://www.indiatoday.in/india/story/dam-safety-bill-2019-why-evokes-opposition-stakeholders-1576391-2019-08-02 (Aug 2, 2019)
The Interstate Amendment Water Disputes Amendment Bill before the Parliament is basically tinkering with the existing system, which will not change anything fundamentally. It needs to be understood that disputes arise when an upper riparian state (or a country) build a large dam or diverts the massive amount of water, leading to lower availability of water for the lower riparian state (or country). When it comes to resolution, the tribunals look at a river as a channel of water and its distribution, ignoring that it is a complete ecosystem and that water in a river depends on the state of its basin and catchment area. It also depends on the extraction of groundwater. These aspects are ignored by the tribunals. Moreover, a state does not represent a river basin or all its stakeholders (the people using river water), which is why the Narmada tribunal’ award created a conflict between the states and their people. The central government’s impartiality is suspect and would have a great bearing on the resolution process. https://www.indiatoday.in/india/story/interstate-river-water-disputes-bill-2019-1575531-2019-07-31 (1 Aug. 2019)
The following is an excellent example of how early flood warnings from Bhutan, shared with downstream Assam communities using WhatsApp messages, saves lives. This needs to be highlighted and word spread to implement it in all flood prone areas on Urgent basis, including in trans-boundary areas, as this is an example of the same.
In the last few weeks of June 2019, a series of WhatsApp messages (sent via unofficial channels) were sent from Bhutan to India to warn “cross-border friends” downstream of the Aai, Saralbhanga and Manas rivers about cloud-bursts, swollen rivers and possible flash floods affecting people in the Indian state of Assam.
Irked over “judicial impropriety” by some senior advocates in taking relief from its vacation benches by suppressing facts, the Supreme Court July 5 blasted them for “playing fraud” upon it. Terming this practice as “the height of judicial misconduct”, a bench comprising Justices Arun Mishra and Navin Sinha said senior advocates were “not above the law” and such conduct reflected that “no morality” is left in some of them.
It also took exception to the passing of order by the vacation bench, which had stayed the demolition of some buildings in Kerala for six weeks. Hearing the matter earlier, a bench headed by Justice Mishra had directed on May 8 that these buildings be removed within a month as they were constructed in the notified Coastal Regulations Zones (CRZ), which is part of the tidally influenced water body in Kerala.
When the matter came up for hearing on July 5, the bench said it has “serious objection” to what has happened in the case as “height of judicial impropriety has been done”. “During the vacation, the matter was mentioned before me but I refused to hear it. Then it came before another vacation bench. That bench should not have passed the order. You (lawyers) are permitting the court to commit judicial impropriety,” the bench told senior advocate Kalyan Banerjee, who is also a Lok Sabha MP from All India Trinamool Congress.
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.