(Feature image: Protesters hold placards during a demonstration against the killings of 13 protesters in Tuticorin. Photograph: Arun Sankar/AFP/Getty, Source The Guardian report. )
In a remarkable refreshing order, the Madurai bench of Tamil Nadu High Court has held that protest against environmental violations like that of Sterlite factory is a fundamental duty of citizens. The Madurai bench has reasoned that the duties of the state in protecting the environment are basically the rights of the people. The bench relied on Article 51-A (g) of Part IV-A (Fundamental Duties), which deals with the duty to protect and improve the natural environment, including forests, lakes, rivers and wildlife and to have compassion for living creatures. A liberal interpretation of Article 21 (protection of life and personal liberty) of the constitution enabled the bench to hold that right to environment, free of danger of disease and infection is inherent in it.
Recently, when the government of India certified that cities like Indore, Surat, Hyderabad, Vizag, etc are Water Plus, it raised a number of questions including the credibility of the claim, lack of credit worthy independent assessment, how sustainable are the claims, etc. The author of the following article rightly raises the question if the cities are at all Water Plus. They are clearly not. While recycling and reuse of 30% of treated sewage and full treatment of waste water is welcome in view of the current pathetic status of city water management in cities, this achievement, if it is real as assessed by credit worthy independent assessment & judged against a set of well-defined criteria of sustainability among others, is worth appreciating, but it certainly does not deserve Water Plus City label. To achieve that label, a lot more and a lot different kind of achievements will be required.
Aquatic freshwater biodiversity has seen the maximum decline over the years and yet has the least protection under law. In fact fish is not even considered for protection under the Wildlife Protection Act. Fishing cat, Mahseer, Otters, Trout fish, Hilsa fish are all at top of the food chain in freshwater sources, like the tiger is in the forests, but none of them have the legal protection. If we have any serious intension of protecting this important source of biodiversity, we urgently need measures, including policy, legal and institutional measures to recognize and protect this biodiversity.
The July 15 2021 Govt of India notification on Andhra Pradesh-Telangana water disputes is of doubtful legal validity and the Supreme Court urgently needs to examine this. The2014 AP Regorganisation Act didn’t make provision for the Centre to take over water infrastructure of the two states, which is what effectively the centre has done through the July 15 notification. The Jul 15 notification effectively dismissing powers of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana without any consultations and there is no provision in constitution for this.
There is no doubt that the long lingering water sharing disputes between Telangana and Andhra Pradesh and which was the major reason for the bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh, needs to be resolved. But the blame for not achieving any resolution of the disputes also lies with the Centre, the KRMB and GRMB are not even functioning with necessary urgency or effectiveness.
The Europe floods this last week are unprecedented in so many respects. It has lead to close to 200 confirmed deaths so far, affected the Rhine basin areas of Germany, Belgium, Netherlands, Switzerland and Luxembourg. It is the result of worst recorded rainfall in a century, leading to unprecedented water levels that rose so suddenly that otherwise super alert and smart disaster management system could not neither accurately and in time predict the catastrophe nor remove these people from the path of the destruction. The climate scientists are seeing clear signature of climate change, though more studies are called for. The call for urgent and much more action to reverse the global warming are getting louder in a continent where possibly the climate action is most advanced.
As The New York Times reported on July 19, 2021 (Monday),
The authorities ordered new evacuations on Saturday, and heavy rains in the southern German region of Bavaria caused still more flooding on Sunday.
German meteorologists called the flooding the worst in 500 years, if not a millennium. The disaster thrust the issue of climate change to the center of pivotal elections this fall.
Belguim: Street pavements burst open, houses flattened, and entire villages were destroyed in what’s being described as one of the worst flooding disasters to hit Western Europe in more than two centuries. In Liège, Belgium’s third-largest city, water from the Meuse river overflowed Thursday evening into parts of the city center, prompting city officials to call for residents to evacuate the area or seek higher ground.
Countries like India should see this as a major and yet another wake up call to start taking action to reverse the global warming emissions. Much more can and should be done urgently.
When the Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi Mentioned some exemplary water conservation efforts in his Mann ki Baat on June 27, 2021, it was not for the first time he was doing it. These are certainly most welcome.
However, these mentions raise a number of questions. If the Prime Minister considers these local water options as exemplary, which they indeed are, where do we see the reflection of the lessons from such efforts in government programs and policies? In fact why there is no reflection of such lessons in what the government does in water sector? How can the government justify the destruction of Panna Tiger Reserve, over 9000 ha of forests, some 46 lakh trees, the catchment of Ken river and large part of Bundelkhand in the name of Ken Betwa Link Project, in the same Bundelkhand. How can his government justify the destructive projects like the Char Dham Highway, the big hydro projects and so on in the same Uttarakhand where Sachidanand Bharati (who was incidentally recipient of the Bhagirath Prayas Samman of India Rivers Week) works, whose efforts the PM praised? One hope the PM and his government will be awake to the implications and lessons of the works that PM praises.
A new study by the researchers at the Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru, the works undertaken under the Mahatma Gandhi Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme captured 102 Million Tonnes of Carbon Dioxide in 2017-18 through plantation and soil quality improvement works. The MGNREGS has proved remarkable for other reasons, including it being the World’s largest anti-poverty program and also helping improve the local livelihoods, food, employment and water security on a massive scale. If the program is taken up with necessary commitment, priority, planning and participatory governance, it can achieve lot more. Unfortunately the NDA government has not been showing such commitment, priority or financial allocation even for its regular functioning. The IISc Study says that by 2030, the MGNREGS can create annual carbon dioxide sink equal to 249 MtCO2. One hopes our governments would, rather than denigrating the scheme would allocate sufficient financial, human and institutional resources for MGNREGS, rather than false solutions like the destructive projects like big hydropower projects.
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?
NITI Aayog, we learn, has started studies of implications of the Supreme Court and NGT orders on environment issues. In the context of the massive Chamoli disaster now unfolding in Uttarakhand, NITI needs to urgently institute an inquiry as to who all are responsible for overturning the Justice Radhakrishnan led verdict of Aug 13, 2013 about the June 2013 Uttarakhand disaster and role of hydropower projects in the disaster and the costs of overturning that verdict. In fact if the Justice Radhakrishnan verdict were to have been sincerely and honestly implemented to its logical conclusion, the proportions of the current Chamoli disaster and others would have been majorly reduced. So the costs are no doubt huge and mounting. Will NITI Aayog institute such an independent inquiry urgently?
A new UN report released on January 21, 2021 UN has warned the major big dam owning counties about the aging population of fast silting up dams in changing climate and urgent need to start working on decommissioning of uneconomical large dams. Among the few countries that UN has warned includes India with its third largest number of big dams. The added problem in India is the ill maintained and ill operated large dams that UN report did not look into. Indian dams are sanctioned based on highly under estimated siltation rates, there is practically no transparency and accountability in operation of Indian dams and dam almost every year get away with creating avoidable flood disasters. This latest problem is not just related to old dams, but even the newest celebrated ones like the Sardar Sarovar Dam as happened in Gujarat in late August-early Sept 2020. No legal regime exists in India for dam safety, either structural safety or operational safety. And in changing climate, with increasing frequency of higher intensity rainfall events, such risks are already increasing multi-fold.