March 14 is International Day of Action for Rivers, against destructive projects. The main objective is to ensure that the river people have their say in the decision-making processes which affect their rivers and related livelihoods sources and that the decisions are informed decisions.
Here we are bringing forth the struggles of riverine communities in India in past one year to make decision makers aware of their hardships and impacts of destructive hydro and dam projects on the riverine eco-system.
This compilation covers the Riverbed mining issue in remaining states of East and North East India in the past eighteen months. There were not enough media reports on the issue of sand mining in remaining states of East and North East India. Hence we have prepared the single compilation covering these states. We have also put some informative reports from previous years which we had not compiled earlier to highlight the problems of illegal mining.
Central Water Commission is the only agency doing flood forecasting in India. As per CWC’s Flood Forecasting website[I] the Data Flow Map has information about 226 Flood Forecast Sites in the country comprising of 166 Level Forecast Sites and 60 Inflow Forecast Sites. It also monitors 700 Flood sites, information made available through List Based Exploration and Hydrograph View, but no flood forecasting is done for these sites.
In order to better understand the CWC’s flood monitoring and forecasting work, in this article we have given an overview of CWC’s flood forecasting and monitoring sites in East India. It includes state wise list of CWC’s Level Forecast, Inflow Forecast and level monitoring sites in East India. Similar report has been published for North India[II] and North East India[III] and we hope to publish reports covering other regions of India too.
The seventh report reviewing status of India’s rivers in 2017, focuses on Rivers in West Bengal, Odisha, Bihar, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh. This review does not include main Ganga river as there is separate Review of state of Ganga River.
West Bengal Rivers
Rivers pollution worse than in 2014 According to the latest State of Environment Report, it has been found that in the 17 major rivers of the state, including the Ganga, the levels of coliform bacteria are much higher than the permissible limit. The report further revealed that several stretches of the Ganga had a total coliform count ranging from one to four lakhs, making the water totally unfit for even bathing. The report has also stated that compared to 2014, all the four main rivers of north Bengal recorded a significant increase in total coliform count. http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-national/bengals-rivers-in-a-bad-shape/article22459562.ece (The Hindu, 18 Jan. 2018)
It seems the Chief Ministers of all the flood affected states are obsessed about dredging the rivers and reservoirs and are advocating massive scale dredging as a solution to flooding. This is partly triggered by the Rivers-as-waterways advocacy by Union Surface Transport Minister Shri Nitin Gadkari and partly by the need for showing to the people that they are doing something new to tackle floods, it seems. Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar contributed to it in a way last year when he mentioned the accumulation of millions of tons of silt along Ganga due to the backwater impact of Farakka Dam. This year, the Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal[i] has been talking about dredging Brahmaputra as a solution to floods in Assam.
“Government will not proceed with interlinking of rivers if environmental consequences are adverse”, says Uma Bharti, Union Minister of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation at the India Rivers Week 2014
Sushri Uma Bharti, Union Minister of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation speaking in the valedictory function of the first ever India Rivers Week hailed the first ever event on the vital issue. She emphasized “if we want to save our rivers, the first step is to ensure that no untreated effluent or sewage is mixed with treated water and finds its way into our rivers.” She assured that minimum environmental flows will be maintained in the river itself . Manoj Misra, member of the organizing committee of India Rivers Week cautioned her not to proceed hurriedly on the project given its adverse social and ecological consequences.
The Indian Rivers Week-2014 conference awarded individuals and organizations the “Bhagirath Prayas Samman” for their dedicated work on river integrity and safety. Mr Justice Madan Lokur, Hon’ble Judge, Supreme Court of India was the Chief Guest at the Awards Ceremony, held on 26 November, 2014. Speaking on the occasion he stressed on the need to put in place alternative dispute resolution mechanisms to resolve water conflicts. Courts are not the best option for this, he said. Sri Anupam Mishra, Gandhi Peace Foundation, who was the Guest of Honour in this ceremony spoke on the value of time-tested systems of water harvesting and the need to promote the use of indigenous knowledge to solve water problem instead of gigantic and destructive schemes like interlinking of rivers.
The awards were given to the following extraordinary individual/ organisations:
Dr Latha Anantha, Chalakudy Puzha Samrakshana Samiti who has worked on safeguard the integrity of the river Chalakudy (Kerala) was awarded for her exemplary capacity for combining sound research with the mobilization of community, political and state agencies, and for ushering in a unique methodology of consensus- based conservation of rivers in the country. Their group has been able to stop clearance to the Athirapally project on the Chalakudy for close to two decades now.
Akhil Gogoi, Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti who has successfully utilised the Right to Information Act in conjunction with mass mobilization of communities with respect to ill conceived projects in river Subansiri (Assam) that could threaten their life, property and livelihoods. Due to the efforts of KMSS led by Akhil Gogoi, in association with a number of other organisations, the government had to make large number of changes in the construction and operation of the Lower Subansiri project and work on the project has remained stalled for close to three years now.
Koel Karo Jan Sangathan, an organization born in 1976 for untiring efforts to safeguard the integrity of the rivers Koel and Karo (Jharkhand). Koel Karo Jan Sangathan has through community mobilisation effort to conserve their sacred sites and to look at alternative development paths in place of the proposed Koel Karo hydroelectric dam. The Sangathan has carried on a long and heroic struggle in the face of enormous pressures from the vested interests, battling tremendous odds to forge one of India’s foremost resistance movements to save rivers, riverine communities and their culture. The Sangathan has demonstrated the use of many innovative methods of struggle including people’s curfew and people’s check points.
K J Joy, SOPPECOM, Pune speaking on the issue of community initiatives for conflict resolution on rivers said that “there is a need to recognize the complexity, diversity and heterogeneity of conflicts around rivers. These conflicts often end up in courts for redressal. The experiences and struggles reveal limitations in the processes being handled in the court, thus raising the question of whether courts/tribunals are adequately equipped to redress these conflicts. At the same time there are several community evolved and driven resolution mechanisms, sometimes in the form of customary practices. These are often co-opted and/or sabotaged by vested interests and inappropriately mandated state agencies/ laws. There is a need to search for policy, legal and institutional avenues for legitimizing these resolution practices, and also frame alternative mechanisms within a normative framework of social justice, sustainability, and equity and democracy.”
Bhai KK Chatradhara on behalf of the group on “Campaigns for protection or rejuvenation of rivers” said that “river rejuvenation should be looked at from a holistic perspective – from source to sea. Cumulative Impact Assessment including downstream impact assessment should be done before taking up of any new project. That should require consultations with and consent of Gram Sabha and local panchayat raj institutions. Local community people should be involved in discussions and decision making processes at all levels. Effective cost benefit analysis including options analysis and direct and indirect costs incurred such as cost of decommissioning, aesthetic and landscape loss, disaster potential of an area should be assessed. Sand auditing should be carried out.”
Deliberations at India Rivers Week-2014, New Delhi
Preeta Dhar representing the group on “Good legal interventions and secured rivers” pointed that “there is a need for addressing outdated laws and standards, gaps and for accounting for changes in technology.” The greater role of panchayati raj institutions and local communities in governance was stressed. The group also recommended the need for use of legal spaces to develop best practices and do go for strategic litigation.
Sudhirendar Sharma, speaking on behalf of the group on “Dams decommissioning and restored rivers” said that “decommissioning of dams is new in the Indian context and in the light of the Mullaperiyar Dam, highly contentious and political. The arguments favoring decommissioning, if at all, are in a nascent stage both in terms of arguments, language and its presentation. The idiom of decommissioning has yet to be located. Locating decommissioning in the context of potential politics is weak in argument and smells of what critics might argue as a case of kinetic politics.”
The India Rivers Week event is being organized between 24-27 November, 2014 by a consortium of NGOs including WWF India, INTACH, SANDRP, Toxics Link and PEACE Institute Charitable Trust, with additional support from Arghyam (Bengaluru), International Rivers (Mumbai), and Peoples Science Institute (Dehradun) to discuss, deliberate and exchange their experiences and ideas aimed at the conserving, rejuvenation, restoration of rivers in the country. With ‘Rivers in crisis’ as the theme, the Conference endeavors to devise a National Charter for Rivers and promote a National Forum for Restoration of Rivers.
Above: KKJS Activists receiving Bhagirath Prayas Samman Award from Justice Madan Lokur Photo: IRW
We are happy to share the story of Koel Karo Resistance even as the Koel Karo Jan Sangathan gets the Bhagirath Prayas Samman at First India Rivers Week (IRW) meeting at Delhi on Nov 26, 2014. The Award is being given by Justice Madan Lokur of Supreme Court of India. The Award includes a citation, a scroll and cash prize. KKJS is one of he three awardees, the only organisation to get this award this year. IRW is being organised by Peace Institute, WWF-India, INTACH, Toxics Link and SANDRP. It is honour for the exemplary work done to protect a river. The citation says:
The Organisers of India Rivers Week 2014 have great pleasure in awarding the
BHAGIRATH PRAYAS SAMMAN
To Koel Karo Jan Sangathan
in appreciation of its dedicated, valiant, untiring efforts to safeguard the integrity of the rivers Koel and Karo
Koel and Karo are tributaries of river Brahmani in the state of Jharkhand
threatened by the Koel Karo hydroelectric projects.
Koel Karo Jan Sangathan was born in 1976 as a community mobilisation
effort to conserve their sacred sites and
to look at alternative development paths in place of the proposed Koel Karo dam.
The Sangathan has carried on a long and heroic struggle in the face of
enormous pressures from the
vested interests, battling tremendous odds to forge one of India’s foremost
to save rivers, riverine communities and their culture. In Feb 2001,
8 people died in police firing
during the struggle. The project remains cancelled due to the struggle.
The Sangathan has demonstrated the use of many innovative methods of struggle
including people’s curfew and people’s check points. The Sangathan has successfully
mobilised support from villagers, academicians and political parties to ensure that t
heir rivers are still flowing free and pristine. Women of the river basin have played a
key role in the Sangathan’s work.
It is an honour to recognize and celebrate the
extraordinary and truly Bhagirathan efforts of the
Koel Karo Sangathan in ensuring the
integrity of the rivers Koel and Karo.
A brief story on the long and arduous struggle
According to the people of Munda tribe in Jharkhand, the whole planet was once under water. It is Sing-Bonga, the god of the Mundaris, who fashioned the earth with some clay from the bottom of the ocean. This he then populated with plants, trees, birds, animals, and finally, with human beings.
Thus is it that the Mundaris live on the land gifted to them by the Father of all human beings. Over the centuries, the already-sacred landscape became dotted with clusters of sasandiri- the stones marking the resting places of ancestors located at places specified by Sing-Bonga.
For much of the latter half of the 20th century, the Mundaris had to wage a long and hard struggle against the State to protect this sacred trust. Unlike how many other similar stories go, this ends in victory. That too, is a testament to the strength of the Mundaris and their deep connection with their lands.
The project: The story begins in the 1950s, when a hydro-electricity project was first conceptualised by the Bihar State Electricity Board. This project aimed to generate 710 MW of electricity by the construction of two earthen dams at a then-estimated cost of 157 crores. Of these, one was a 55-meter high dam on north Karo and the second was a 44-meter high dam on south Koel River.
The real cost of the project was far more than what any project report could budget for, and this was to be paid by the soon-to-be displaced Munda tribals. The 1973 project report estimated that 125 villages would be affected. This was contested by the locals who stated that 256 villages would be affected. Also at stake were approximately 152 sarnas (sites for ritual festivities) and 300 sasandhris (Mathews, 2011).
The people: The Mundari were largely ignored when the project was being finalised. Roads were built and offices established without consulting the villagers. It is only when land began to be bought up that the people of the affected villages came to know of the plans for their ancestral lands. At that time, probably because they were unaware of the full implications of the project, the Mundari were not opposed to the dam in principle. What disturbed them was the opacity and corruption in the land acquisition.
The struggle: This corruption caused the residents of the Koel and Karo rivers to form a group each to safeguard their interests. The dissatisfaction increased when the survey work led to damage of crops in the area. The two groups came together in 1976 as the Koel Karo Jan Sangathan (Koel Karo People’s Organization) KKJS to offer united resistance to the construction work and demand that work be entrusted to local people. It is also around this time that incidents such as deaths due to drowning near Kutku dam and lack of proper rehabilitation for the displaced of Subarnarekha dam opened the Mundaris eyes to the danger that this construction posed to their way of life. Extensive agitation in the following years led to work being stopped in 1979 till the issues could be resolved. The following year responsibility for the project passed from the Bihar State Electricity Board to the National Hydroelectric Power Corporation, causing a setback to the negotiations.
Till 1984, the villagers successfully prevented any work on the site using a variety of non-violent means despite the presence of troops sent in by the State officials to enable the land acquisition officials. The Mundharis worked to prevent the troops and officials from having access to water, firewood and even preventing them from going out into the forest to defecate. “We told them they can’t defecate on our sacred groves..”, said Soma Munda of the KKJS in an interview.
In August 1984, the Supreme Court ruled against the use of force to acquire land. The Government of Bihar then offered to build two ‘model villages’ for the Mundharis to decide whether they would agree to relocate. The KKJS retorted that it would first be essential to relocate the sasandiri. The two ‘model villages’ were never built, and things were at a standstill for the next decade.
Matters picked up again in 1995 when the then Prime Minister, PV Narsimha Rao declared his intention to lay the foundation stone of the Koel Karo project. The Mundaris resisted this by astonishingly simple and effective means- nearly 25,000 people lay down on the roads effectively blocking access.
In December 2000, the state of Jharkhand was carved out of Bihar. Just two months later, in February 2001, the police fired 75 rounds (unofficial estimates say 150) on a peaceful crowd at Tapkara killing eight people and injuring more than 30 (PUCL,2002). The Tapkara shooting understandably sparked censure from the country and may have forced the government’s decision regarding the dam.
The result: In August 2003, the Koel Karo project was scrapped, ostensibly for financial reasons; The price had escalated from Rs.157 crores in 1976 to Rs.3,000 crores in 2003. However, the KKJS as well as several others who have been linked with the struggle consider the sustained resistance to be the primary reason for the project being scrapped. It took another seven years for the government to shut down all offices and reassign staff. But on 21st July 2010 the Koel Karo project became history.
The reason why: Koel Karo is today one of the very rare instances in India where tribal peoples have successfully persuaded the government to shelve a sanctioned project. This is not due to any dearth of such similar struggles by equally determined people throughout the country. What is the difference?
One reason put forth by anthropologists is the strong sense of tribal identity. The Mundari have a strong and democratic tribal leadership system which continues today. They have a history of asserting their rights since the 19th century. The Chhota Nagpur Tenancy Act (1903) which safeguard the rights of tribals to their land is just one of the instances where they have brought pressure to bear on the government to maintain their tribal identity. In that respect, they see very little difference in colonial rule and the current government, both being secondary to tribal government. This is the reason that the Koel Karo struggle was able to mobilise people in their thousands and present such an united front. While the tribal governance may account for the united resistance put up by the Mundharis, their motivation however came from a far older source.
It came from Sing-Bonga Himself. The Mundharis quite simply had no option but to hold on to their land. It is here that their ancestors were, and all through the resistance, not once did Sing-Bonga appear in a dream and give them permission to relocate the sasandiri. This deep and inviolable connection with the land was key to the struggle and manifested itself in the resistance slogans. Initially, the slogan was “Jaan denge par jamin nahin denge (we will give our lives, but not our lands)”. After Tapkara, they changed it to “Jaan bhi nahin denge, jamin bhi nahin denge, dam ko rok lenge” (we will give neither our lives nor our lands but we will stop the dam)”.
The struggle was lead by a number of tribal and non tribal leaders, notable amongst them is Ms. Dayamani Barla, who was involved with Koel Karo since 1990s. She says, “The natural resources to us are not merely means of livelihood, but our identity, dignity, autonomy and culture have been built on them for generations. These communities will not survive if they are alienated from the natural resources. How is it possible to rehabilitate or compensate us?’
Later when Ms. Barla was imprisoned while upholding tribal rights, she wrote from the prison, ” I never overlooked the questions raised by the Jharkand people. The flowing water of the Koyal, Karo and Chata rivers is a witness to this. I learnt to write with my fingers in the mud and sand of this land. On the banks of the river Karo, while grazing my sheep, I learnt to bathe and swim. The shade of grass and trees covered with dew filled in the sky, gave me love.”
Shripad Dharmadhikary of Manthan puts the success of this movement down to persistence. The Mundharis successfully kept up an unrelenting and non-violent resistance for nearly three decades. To put this into perspective, it is in December 1929- only 18 years before achieving freedom- that the Indian National Congress passed a resolution calling for complete independence. Even dominion status was only demanded since 1916, when the All India Home Rule League was established. By that count, the Koel Karo struggle has lasted as long as India’s struggle for self-rule in one way or another.
And finally, Dharmadhikary points out one overwhelming lesson that present and future struggles can learn from Koel Karo. ‘Such struggles,’ he says ‘can be won.’
– Chicu Lokgariwar, email@example.com
Author is with India Water Portal and is based in Uttarakhand