On March 5, 2022, Tata Power celebrated 100 years of operation of the Bhivpuri hydropower project in Raigad district of Maharashtra. It is possibly right time to consider by the government to ask Tata Power to return all the hydropower projects of Tata Power in that region to the government. Tatas got the right to develop these projects under a colonial agreement that handed over the public resources of land, river and rights over the project benefits to a private company like Tatas almost for free, for the company to profit from these public resources. This arrangement should have been reviewed long back, but possibly it is right time to review it now. Possibly it will be a good move in the year when India celebrates Azadi ka Amrutmahotsav!
The project transfers water from drought prone, water deficit Krishna basin to high rainfall area of Konkan. And such disastrous transfer continues even in drought years. It is high time this is reversed and the water is allowed to flow in the Krishna basin. From this perspective, the project also needs to be reviewed if at all it should continue to operate and if so under what terms and conditions.
This week (23-28 Aug 2021) it is Stockholm World Water Week (SWWW) with a 30 year history. The organisers say: “World Water Week 2021 is unlike any other week in our 30-year-old history.” But provide no clear reasons why they are saying that. Their possible explanation: “In 2021 people across the world are really beginning to understand the gravity of the situation we are facing – within a decade we must halve carbon emissions, restore the degraded natural world, and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. This will require massive transformations of all sectors of society. World Water Week 2021 is entirely focused on the role of water for these transformations and on developing real solutions.” https://www.worldwaterweek.org/news/join-the-most-important-world-water-week-ever
The UN’s climate science panel unveiled (part 1of) its Sixth Assessment Report (AR6) on Climate Change on Aug 9, 2021, the first since AR5 in 2014. This 3949 page report is called “The Physical Basis”. A 150 page Technical Summary and a 39 page Summary for Policy Makers has also been published, among other volumes. The World and Science has changed a lot in the intervening seven years. It provides projections for temperature and sea-level rises less than three months before the climate summit -Conference of Parties COP26- in Glasgow-Scotland. After two weeks of virtual negotiations, 195 nations (including India) approved the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) comprehensive assessment of past and future warming on Aug 6, 2021 in the form of a “Summary for Policy Makers” (SPM). The text, vetted and approved line by line, word by word, paints a grim picture of accelerating climate change and dire threats.[i]
In a remarkable new report, the 50 top scientists of Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) have come together to deliver the first ever joint collaboration report with the message that Biodiversity crisis and climate change crisis are not independent of each other. The message from scientists is clear: The claimed Climate “solutions” that hurt biodiversity or their habitat are false solutions.
By protecting and restoring nature, the report said, we can safeguard biodiversity, help limit warming, improve human well being and even find protection from the consequences of climate change, like intensified flooding and storms.
Southwest Monsoon provides about 75% of our water and yet we have not learnt how to manage that rain water, without creating avoidable flood disasters, without using submergence as weapon to displace people as is being attempted in case of Sardar Sarovar Project in Gujarat, without allowing water to flow to Pakistan, which is against all the rhetoric of the top most government persons and without the needless push for more big dams or interlilnking rivers or such mega centralised projects and programs? If we go through this week’s DRP News Update, it does not seem like we have. All the contrary elements are there for all to see.
It is certainly possible to manage the rain better so that more of it is available beyond the monsoon in a decentralised manner, as decentralised as the rainfall itself. The elements of it all well known: harvest rain where it falls, recharge groundwater, create local water systems, desilt existing such systems, protect wetlands, forests, increase soil’s capacity to hold moisture through increasing carbon/ organic conent of the soils (we know how this can be achieved), use the created large reservoirs judiciously, ensure all the dams in a basin are filled up simultaneously and not sequentially, ensure water flow in the river for maximum period as that will also help recharge groundwater, reduce deforestation in the catchments, increase forest area in the catchments where possible, protect local water systems everywhere including Urban areas, protect flood plains and ensure rivers have capacity to carry floods that it is required to carry, have better and more accurate rainfall forecasts (including riverbasin wise/ sub basin wise forecasts), coordinated actions across river basins and states. There is some minor improvements here and there as we see in this bulltin, but no major change.
It’s more optimal rain water management that will help better water security, sustainable water availability, food production, livelihoods and agricultural security, among others. What is the road map to learn this and learn fast? There is no immediate light to the end of the tunnel.
International news agency, after independent research, have corroborated what SANDRP has been saying: Mismanagement of dams played big role in worsening Kerala floods.
-“The release could have started earlier so that by Aug. 9 there would have been left-over capacities in the reservoirs to store the water,” said Biswajit Mukhopadhyay, director of water resources at U.S-based engineering firm IEA, who analysed some of the publicly available data at the request of Reuters.
– Still, dozens of flood victims interviewed by Reuters, who live in villages dotting the banks of Kerala’s biggest river, the 244 km Periyar, say they faced no floods despite torrential rain in late July and early August. All of them said waters only rose overnight on Aug. 15. That was when more intense rainfall forced KSEB to rapidly ramp-up releases of water from Idukki and Idamalayar reservoirs, which feed into the Periyar.
– Kerala’s revenue secretary and head of disaster management, P.H. Kurien, told Reuters he has twice written to KSEB requesting EAPs and has yet to receive them. KSEB’s Pillai said EAPs and dam operation manuals were still being prepared. CWC said it was working with Kerala’s government to speed this up. The Kerala Chief Minister’s office did not respond to requests for comment. https://widerimage.reuters.com/story/did-dams-make-indias-once-in-century-floods-worse (11 Oct. 2018)
Above: Child playing on the Ghormara island in Sunderbans, which is being increasingly affected by rising sea levels Photo: Phys.org
Global ocean levels have risen by about 19 cms in the past century[i]. Over 1961-1993, the global average sea level rose at a rate of 1.4 mm per year. But in the recent past, the rate of rise has gone up. Over 1993-2003, it was observed that the average rate of rise more than doubled to about 3.1 mm per year[ii]. As the earth gets warmer, the threat of land inundation due to sea level rise also increases.
So what is the cause of this rise? According to scientists, this is caused due to thermal expansion of the ocean water and due to melting of glaciers and of ice caps. The amount these have contributed to the above is only speculative as the data available for such estimations is spotty and does not date back far enough. But what is somewhat known is the loss this creates and might create in the future in terms of land inundation, though not really accounting for the loss in the lives of various people, especially the ones living along coasts. The problem today is not that this is happening, the problem is that we do not seem to be doing enough to mitigate the impacts of the sea level rise, nor do we seem to do anything to adapt to it.
In the case of the Indian subcontinent, according to a report published by a group of ecologists led by Dr. M Zafar-ul Islam, there may be a loss of about 14,000 sq. km. of land in case the sea levels rise by one metre[iii]. The report also warns that marine intrusion might affect 18 of the 48 eco-regions in India. This report mainly assesses the losses in the case of sea levels rising by one metre and six metres. In the one metre scenario, which is the estimated rise by 2100, the Sundarbans may lose about half of their area, while the Godavari-Krishna mangrove region is estimated to lose about a quarter of its land. It is also estimated that seven protected areas – Bhitarkanika, Chilka Lake, Point Calimere, Interview Island, Lothian Island, Sajnakhali and Pulicat Lake- would be about 50% flooded in case of a 1 metre riseiii.
In the Sundarbans part of the largest riverine delta of the world, the villagers are struggling to protect their lands as more and more land is being claimed by sea water, sinking villages. The people living on the banks of these islands have observed that the river has widened and is eating into the island on a regular basis, constantly reshaping them. A study by Professor Sugata Hazra, director of the School of Oceanography, Jadavpur University, found that the total land area of 6402.090 sq. Kms of Sunderbans in 2001 was found to be reduced to 6358.048 sq kms in 2009. This would mean an approximate loss of about 44.042 sq kms. This has led to the displacement of approximately 7,000 people in the last 30 years according to this study[iv], but this seems like an under-estimation. The MoEF’s (Union Ministry of Environment and Forests) Climate Change Assessment report, also called 4 X 4 report (since it looks at 4 Sectors in 4 most vulnerable regions), prepared by the Indian Network of Climate Change Assessment, quoted a 2000 study by Goodbread and Kuehl, which said that the rise in sea level can be attributed partially to the subsidence of the Ganga-Brahmaputra delta at the rate of about 4mm/year, as estimated by sedimentological studies[v].
Deltas as sinking as sediments are trapped by dams The sinking of deltas due to upstream interventions are also contributing to impacts felt in the coastal areas, in addition to the impacts due to rising sea levels. In many cases like the above, part of the driving force for effective rise in sea levels is the sinking deltas due to the absence of sediments from the upstream. According to a report by SANDRP earlier this year, the Ganga-Brahmapuptra delta, carrying one of the highest sediment loads of the world, has experienced a 30% reduction in sediment over the past century. Thus the impacts seen in case of the Sundarbans is a mix of two factors: rising sea level and delta sinking. The driving force behind sinking deltas is damming of rivers in the upstream, which blocks sediments from entering the river channel and effectively, the Delta. The reduction in water flow to the deltas due to upstream diversions adds to this.
These dams trap the sediment that should have come downstream with the river and deposited on the delta. Moreover, due to water diversions in the upstream, less and less water is flowing in the deltas, and less flow means less capacity to carry sediment to the deltas. Due to these reasons, the deltas are experiencing reduced silt deposit which then leads to their sinking and the sea eating away the remaining area. According to the report, in the last 50 years, the combined annual sediment flux of the large Chinese rivers has reduced from 1800 million tons (Mt) to about 370 Mt mainly due to the construction of a large number of dams[vi]. The Yellow river delta in China is sinking so fast that the local sea levels are effectively rising by upto 25 cms/year, nearly 80 times the global average.i
It is also interesting to note that in places like Jakarta, Indonesia, which is home to almost 10 million people, the heavily populated areas have sunk by as much as six and a half feet as groundwater is pumped from the earth to drink[vii]. This increases their risk of flooding and even more so if the groundwater levels continue to drop. With this drop in groundwater levels, the river flow in downstream areas decrease. This reduces the capacity of the river to carry silt, thus making the condition even worse[viii].
An estimated half a billion people live on or near deltas, constituting the highly vulnerable populations. The government needs to alter its development plans to suit the vulnerabilities and needs of these people. With its constant imposition of building large dams and barrages without taking into account the impacts they are going to have downstream, the government is just adding to the existing impacts and threats faced due to climate change. Moreover the governmnet anyways refuses to acknowledge that large sections of Indian people, particularly the poor and weaker sections are suffering due to the impacts of climate change, it refuses to identify people who are vulnerable to climate change, it refused to compensate them when they suffer for no fault of theirs and it refuses to demand from the climate polluters in the west and within India to pay for the losses.
Reports: IPCC In the recent past, there has been much interest in sea levels rising and some research has gone into this direction. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has been assessing and publishing about the various impacts of climate change and through their assessment reports, but it is not the only body doing this. In fact, it has come under a lot of criticism lately with people outside the body, especially ones who use semi-empirical models for study, showing that the figures of the IPCC under estimate the risk at hand.
In the 4th Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, 2007, global sea levels were observed to be on the rise with the projected rise being about 18-59 cms by 2100. After facing criticism for this figure seen as an underestimation, IPCC came out with a 5th report on climate change. In this, the predictions of global rise in sea level have gone up by 50% and now stand at 28-98 cms by 2100. This is the wide range. For high emissions, the IPCC predicts that there will be a rise by 52-98 cms, whereas, even with emission reductions, the rise is predicted at 28-61 cms[ix]. These projections are made for the global sea level for 2081-2100 relative to 1986-2005. This then puts a lot of low-lying areas at the risk of flooding. These estimates are speculative to some extent due to the complexities inherent to the models used for study and spotty data. These estimates are also likely to be under estimates.
Other reports predict higher sea level rise The models that the IPCC uses for study are process models. This range given by them is derived from these models in combination with climate projections and literature assessment of glacier and ice sheet models. Some other studies done using ‘semi-empirical’ models, give different results. These studies look at how temperatures have changed over hundreds of years and the way sea levels have corresponded to it. They extrapolate based on this and their figures have come to be almost twice as high as what the IPCC found. They argue that the sea levels will rise by as much as 2 metres, and cause floods affecting roughly 187 million people[x]. The IPCC has dismissed these models as divergent and inaccurate, perhaps themselves adopting a more conservative approach than they should.
Not being able to put a finger on it: One of the problems pointed out about the IPCC is that it does not provide the upper limit for sea level rise. For instance, if the collapse of marine-based sectors of the Antarctic ice-sheet is initiated, then the sea level could rise by several times more than projected during the 21st century[xi]. Scientists have estimated that the ice caps in the poles and Greenland hold enough water to raise sea level by 65 metresi. In the case of Greenland, scientists have assessed that the entire island is losing weight. The warm shore water is causing glacier calving into the sea. In a recent press release on a study conducted on ice sheets in Antarctica and Greenland, Veit Helm, glaciologist at the Alfred Wegener Institute (AWI) in Bremerhaven said that ice sheets are losing volume at the rate of about 500 cubic km per year[xii]. This study found that the volume loss in Greenland has doubled since the year 2009. At the same time, the loss of the West Antarctic sheet has tripled. This then means that the estimated rise in sea levels needs to be relooked at.
It is the responsibility of the governing authorities to take measures to try and minimize the damage that is occurring and will occur from climate change and its own skewed development projects. The government needs to identify, acknowledge and safeguard the already vulnerable communities and not make them more vulnerable in the face of the dangers they face from climate change. There is a need to integrate these climate change warnings and mitigation measures into planning and development, especially in the coastal areas. This is clearly not happening. There is little effective steps from Indian government to protect mangroves, deltas, or coastal areas either from dams and diversions in the upstream or from sea-level rise in the downstream. On the contrary, the government plans are for accelerating the dam construction in the upstream and destructino of mangroves due to coastal projects. India’s National Action Plan on Climate Change or the state Action Plans on Climate Change do not have any credible assessments or mitigation or adaptation plans in this context.
There have been increased instances and intensities of tsunamis, floods and cyclones in the recent past. In the case of rising sea levels and deltaic changes, the warnings have been there for a long time. It is not going to be a sudden catastrophe, but is a well established danger which lurks on our coasts. Therefore, there is no excuse to let it go unaddressed. There is no excuse for inaction.
Work awarded to TERI “to assess Climate Change Vulnerability and Adaptation Strategies for Maharashtra State and to prepare a Climate Change Adaptation Action Plan for the State” at the cost of Rs 98 lakhs; to include six case studies
Aug 20, 2009
Maharashtra govt order regarding TERI (6 members in addition to Dr Pachauri and Dr Leeana Srivastava as advisors) given above task, along with Met office, Hadley Centre, UK (2 members) and formation of state coordination committee for this under the chairmanship of Chief Secretary
Nov 26, 2009
Dept of Environment conducted decision makers workshop CC adaptation and mitigation
Feb 24-25, 2011
State advisory committee on CC created with chief minister as chair
July 8, 2011
First meeting of State advisory committee on CC
Meeting (latest) held on draft climate change action plan with Chief Secy in chair
Oct 7, 2013
Mah Env department gives RTI response to SANDRP: “The final action plan on climate change is not yet submitted by TERI to Govt of Maharashtra”
Apr 2, 2014
Back to back in two years, Maharashtra faced a drought (in 2012-13), touted to be worst in past 40 years, to a hail and rain event which broke records of past hundred years (and perhaps even more) several times over. Studies are pointing out that the coastal region and the traditionally drought-affected part of Marathwada and Vidarbha is specifically vulnerable to climate change.
It is also highlighted by the IPCC reports, experienced painfully by Maharashtra that: “Risks are unevenly distributed and are generally greater for disadvantaged people and communities in countries at all levels of development.”
So how prepared is Maharashtra to face, adapt to and mitigate the challenges put forth?
Information obtained by SANDRP under RTI underlines the fact that respective governments have given no priority, time or importance to consider climate change or its impacts on societies and ecosystems.
The Maharashtra State Council on Climate change was formed in Sept 2008 by a GR, its Chairperson was the then Chief Minister and included ministers from Agriculture, Water resources, Industries, etc. This Council awarded work related to State Action Plan on Climate Change to TERI on 20th Aug 2009 and TERI was supposed to complete this Study in two years, that is by Aug 2011.
More than four and a half years latter, TERI has still not completed the report on State Action Plan on Climate change and Government of Maharashtra does not seem too bothered by it.
The process by which TERI was given the task of doing the SAPCC also seems inappropriate. The process is described in Maharashtra government order of Nov 16, 2009, where there is no mention of any competitive bidding. The order says that Dr RK Pachauri of TERI was asked to make a presentation on climate change in Maharashtra, based on which it was decided to give the task of preparing the SAPCC to TERI and Met Office, UK at the cost of Rs 98 lakhs. This is clearly inappropriate process.
It’s been 5 years since the National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC) was made public in June 2008. NAPCC itself was formulated in non-transparent, non-participatory way by Prime Minister’s Council on Climate Change. Several States have submitted and are working towards their Action Plans.
In Feb 2011, Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan announced Advisory committee on Climate change similar to PM’s council on CC. However, the Government Resolution for the State Council on CC came only on 8th July 2011. Some its current 19 members include Chief Minister (chair), Deputy Chief Minister, Ministers of Environment, Agriculture, Water resources, Rural Development, Chief Secretary, Secy-Environment, etc. Some Expert members include Sunita Narain, Jamshed Godrej, Anu Agha, Dr. R.K. Pachauri, Dr. R. A. Mashelkar, Dr. Anil Kakodkar and Ajay Mathur from Bureau of Energy Efficiency.
The Terms of Reference of the Committee indicate the following duties:
(a) To evaluate the study being done by TERI in the State and recommend strategies. (Emphasis added)
(b) Provide an oversight to the State Government in the drafting an action plan to combat climate change;
(c) To ensure a co-ordinated response to all issues relating to climate change.
This council was to meet “at least twice a year to review situation on CC and adaptation strategy” as per the GR. It has met just once in last 33 months.
After giving contract to TERI in 2009, announcing State Council on CC in 2011, the first and only meeting of the State Council on Climate Change happened only in Feb 2013! Minutes of the meeting claim that final report from TERI is expected in March 2013. However, there was no discussion on this important report or even a discussion to hasten the formulation and implementation of this report. Strangely, TERI and MET Office UK had already published a note on the Action Plan in 2012 itself, when the State Action Plan is still not final even today!
There is also issue of conflict of interest here: when TERI is given the task of preparing Maharashtra SAPCC, how can Dr. Pachauri, who heads TERI be on the State Council to oversee the preparation of SAPCC? Secondly, Dr. Pachauri is a member of PM’s Council on Climate Change, which recommends state action plans and then his own organisation, TERI is awarded the work to prepare the action plan for Maharashtra. Is not there a conflict of interest here?
Moreover, Sunita Narain and Dr. Pachauri are also members of PM’s Council on Climate Change and having seen the performance of PMCCC in bringing out business as usual NAPCC in non-transparent, non-participatory way. The state government should have appointed independent members who have knowledge of the state.
The minutes of the first meeting of the state council seem to suggest that the meeting had rather unfocused discussions. The meeting had interesting conclusion: “All the members Council were of the opinion that the implementation of the existing schemes/ plans need to be focused on climate change adaptation strategies and did not encourage going in for further studies.” In spite of such a clear conclusion, we see neither the state action plan in place, nor adaptation of the existing schemes/ plans with the climate change implications in Maharashtra. In fact, Sunita Narian was also member of the Kasturirangan committee on Western Ghats, but we see no effective reflection of climate change concerns in the conclusions of the Kasturirangan committee.
The Chief Minister said in conclusion, “Providing income support to farmers was of utmost importance to the Government. A special “Climate Change Cell” would be established in the state to focus on climate change issues”. There is no evidence of functioning of any such cell, more than a year after that meeting.
There have been some meetings of High Powered Committee on climate changed, headed by Chief Secretary, the latest meeting happed on Oct 7, 2013.
The minutes of the Oct 2013 meeting notes, “The officers of the disaster management department were attending the meeting for the first time, which according to the Chief Secretary was not very useful given that they do not have any background in the subject area as well as the previous discussions.” Considering how important is the role of disaster management in climate change context, this callousness of disaster management department seems disturbing. The minutes also noted the need for additional Rs 40 lakhs to get run off (hydrology) data.
The minutes of the meeting ends with this conclusion: “Chief Secretary instructed TERI, to finish the consultations with respective departments for validations of data and finalise the recommendations within a month time, post which the presentation could be made before the cabinet.” However, that was in Oct 2013, but even in April 2014, there is no sign of the State Action Plan on Climate Change, an exercise that has dragged on for over 4 and half years now.
While all this has been going on without any conclusion, action plan or implementation of any necessary actions, the millions of the vulnerable people of the state are suffering and more than 20 farmers have committed suicide in the face of inconsolable loss.
The State Action Plan on Climate change is not a magic wand that will cure all ills. It is, however, one of the indicators of the seriousness and intent of our administration in tackling the real and grave challenges. Right now, there seems to be no seriousness and no intent.