Fed by Dudhatoli forest range, the Ramganga West and Nayaar East and West in Uttarakhand are perennial rivers of immense scenic beauty amid emerging and looming threats. This photo blogs highlights some of the charms and concerns of these non-glacial rivers of the Ganga Basin.
A for Athirapally, B for Bodhghat, C for Cauvery, D for Dibang, E for Etalin, seems to be the new growth alphabets from the Prime Minister’s Office. With the economic growth in negative territory, depression in the corner, the old and trusted Big Dams as major infrastructure to push up expenditure and hope for the growth was a formula used even in 1930s by US president Franklin D Roosevelt to bring the US economy out of the Great depression of 1929. It started with the Tennessee Valley Authority Act of May 1933, which then was pushed as growth model to other countries. In India it came in the form of Damodar Valley Corporation (DVC) Act of 1948.
However that 20th century model was a failure even then, as the first CEO of the DVC, Sudhir Sen wrote. That model is no longer relevant in 21st century except possibly as an easy route to corruption and kickbacks. These dams and hydropower projects are no longer even economically viable and better options are now available for irrigation and power. In the changing climate scene they are even less relevant places of worship (temples). Dams and hydropower projects are seeing slow down across the globe, not just in India.
Feature image: Women in Banda performing Jal Satyagrah against illegal sand mining in Ken river. (PARI)
Sand mining menace has been a very dark spot on India’s governance. It affects not just the river beds or flood plains, but also water security, livelihood security, biodiversity, groundwater recharge among many other aspects. Banda Satyagarah provides a striking picture to highlight this issue, but the worrying fact is that we have no real sustained positive story on this front. Even major interventions by the highest judiciary has completely failed to make any major dent on ground.
SANDRP has been bringing out statewise updates on sand mining issues for several years now as we continue to do this year too, with the link to Kerala sand mining 2020 overview can be found below. These overviews make a rather dismal readind state after state, year after year. Occasionally we get stories like the NOIDA collector Durga Shakti Nagpal fighting sand miners in 2013 or 17 year girl from Kerala awakening us in 2018 or Sandhya Ravishankar getting Goenka award for exposing the Sand mining nexus in Tamil Nadu in 2019 or now the Banda women waking us up to this dark reality. Will we wake up to our collective failure in dealing with this SANDBERG?
Feature image: Officials of the irrigation department visited the breached Tiware dam near Chiplun in Ratnagiri, in July 2019. (Pratham Gokhale/HT Photo)
The report of the 10 member committee headed by Shri Nandkumar Vadnere, appointed by the Govt of Maharashtra in Aug 2019 was submitted on May 28, 2020. The report titled “A report on Floods 2019 (Krishna Sub-Basin): Experts Study Committee: Analysis, Causes, Remedies” from all accounts is a major let down as is apparent from the way one of the members felt so humiliated that he had to resign: he was not provided basic information to do justice to the Terms of Reference, his chapters were unilaterally removed from the draft report by the chairman, under pressure from higher ups. The report is actually an attempt to show, by hook or by crook that dams were not responsible for the Krishna basin floods of Aug 2019. Almost exactly the same way CWC came out with a shockingly unscientific, contradictory report about Aug 2018 Kerala floods to prove that dams had no role. The report did not even ask if the any of the dams followed the rule curve, though it made recommendation that rule curves should be followed! The story keeps repeating for each of the dozens of instances in recent years. The report of the Tiware dam disaster in Maharashtra in July 2019 has been submitted in Feb 2020, but is not yet in public domain. These few recent instances show how strong a strangle hold the dam lobby has over the official water institutions and governance in India. The Dam Safety bill now before the Parliament will not help as it has no provision to remove or even loosen this stranglehold, there is no place for independent oversight in the bill. Without an accountable reservoir operation policy, legal and institutional paradigm there is no possibility of freedom from dam induced floods.
The hilly state of Uttarakhand has been witnessing severe weather conditions for most of April and first week of May 2020. The repeated incidents of rainfall, snowfall, and hailstorm have hit the mountain farmers hard.
Snow, rain, hailstorm destroys cash and food crops
On April 14, 2020 the Yamuna and Ganga valley faced severe hailstorm affecting horticulture produce of apple, apricot, peach, plum, pear and vegetable crops including tomato, potato, peas and food grain crops wheat, pluses and corns in Naugaon, Badkot, Chinyalisoud, Bhilangna area of Uttarkashi, Ghansali, Pratap Nagar, Jakhnidhar areas of Tehri and Dhumakot region of Pouri.
In the ongoing debate on forest clearance for the controversial Etalin Hydropower project in Dibang Valley in Arunachal Pradesh between the Forest Advisory Committee, The Hindustan Times’s consistent reporting and Sanctuary magazine launching a campaign along with others, one (of the many) key question that remains unanswered is: for whom this economically (in addition to socially, environmentally and from climate change perspective) unviable, massively expensive project being pushed in a power surplus country?
Electricity from hydropower projects is no longer economically viable, since cheaper options are available. Some misguided people are claiming virtue in hydropower project claiming it provides peaking power. The fact is India is today not only power surplus, the peak power deficit has been just around 1% or less for long time. This when there is no attempt to either monitor as to how much of the electricity produced from existing hydropower projects provides peaking power, nor is there any attempt to achieve optimisation of operation of existing hydro projects to produce maximum possible hydropower. Nor is there any attempt to even manage the peaks either through pricing or other policy measures. In such a situation there is clearly no justification for more hydro for peaking. Moreover, the storage option is becoming increasingly cost effective, reducing the peaking power needs. So then for whom this project whose cost won’t be less than Rs 30000 crores at most conservative estimates, being pushed? The contractors, the equipment suppliers, the hydro lobby, the consultants, the timber lobby, the dam lobby, or the kickbacks?
Unsustainable, unscientific excavation of riverbed minerals has been having significant impact on river eco-system and riparian communities for past several years. Since 2016, to develop better understanding and highlight the problems SANDRP has been preparing state wise annual overview of riverbed minerals (RBM) mining activities. Having putting together year end round up for Gujarat, Maharashtra, Goa, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab, Haryana states, this compilation attempts to cover prevailing situation in Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) over the last one year. The link of 15 overviews in 2018 can be see here.
Within a week of 21-day long lockdown in India that started at midnight on March 24, 2020, several reports in print, electronic and social media have been doing rounds showing remarkable improvements in water quality in many rivers in the country. Most of these are on the basis of naked eye observations in the form of pictures and videos by people.
Some of the reports quote pollution control boards’ officials and experts with some analytical data. People generally believe that the shutting down of industrial units has led to reduction in discharge of industrial effluents in the rivers, breathing fresh life in pollution laden streams. It’s right that there is halt in industrial belts and there is less industrial pollution reaching the rivers. However there are other factors contributing to the change in the scenario.
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.
The theme for World Water Day 2020 is ‘Water and Climate Change’. Indeed the changing climate has been altering the weather system in multiple ways. Extreme weather events like flash floods, intense heat, prolonged droughts, intense cold spells striking different parts of the world are increasingly being linked to the climate change. Changing water cycle is a major consequence. The farmers are among the most affected, facing all kinds of water problems including droughts, scarcity, flooding, hail storms, cyclones, unseasonal rains and pollution.
Several initiatives are being taken by the farmers, civil society groups to find right solutions to the water challenges, many of which have brought positive changes. Here we have compiled some such positive water options from the past one year. We hope this can encourage us to look for such community driven water options.