Dams, Rivers & People

DRP NB 28 Mar 2022: Is Climate Change making big dams MORE dangerous?

That big dams are dangerous, disaster prone is well known, the parliament having passed the Dam Safety Act is just one of the clear evidence of it. However, are big dams becoming even MORE dangerous in changing climate? All the science and also practical evidence seems to suggest that. This is also what the SCROLL report mentioned below concludes.

What is shocking is that the CWC (Central Water Commission), India’s premier technical body on dams and water, when asked about this through an RTI, is in slumber. CWC told the journalist that there are no such cases! This should be worrying for everyone concerned including those in the risk zone of the dams, the beneficiaries of the dams and also the dam operators. This also exposes how weak is the mechanism set up by the Dam Safety Act passed recently by the Parliament is. This is because under the act, CWC Is the main organisation responsible dam safety in India. Can CWC really save us from unsafe dams, structurally unsafe or operationally unsafe? The SCROLL article illustrates through the example of Andhra Pradesh dams that CWC has not. It also quotes the compilation of SANDRP where to the frequency of disasters are only going up and there is again no confidence inspiring role from CWC.

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DRP NB 21 Mar 2022: Centre’s unconvincing Plan to rejuvenate 13 major rivers

The government of India, through joint announcement of Union Ministries of Jal Shakti & Environment and Forests (such joint addresses are rather rare events) this week announced its plans to rejuvenate 13 major rivers of India (excluding Ganga but including some of the key Ganga tributaries!) through the limited activity of plantations is not every convincing on many counts. Firstly it is welcome to see that the government sees a role of forests as a hydrological asset. Unfortunately, this is clearly and completely absent in government’s forest management, both in policy and practice. If we see the forest governance of India through the functioning of the Forest Advisory Committee of MoEF, we see absolutely no sign of acknowledgement of this reality that forests are major hydrological assets. So for example when a decision is taken to allow diversion of major chunks of existing forests, there is never any discussion, assessment or counting of hydrological eco system services that forests provide. This is apparent in many cases, but most recently in the case of Ken Betwa project where the Supreme Court’s Central Empowered Committee too has acknowledged this reality. So again it seems government’s mind or heard does not seem to know what the tongue is conveying!

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DRP NB 24 Jan 2022: MoEF’s complete surrender: Rating SEIAA on faster clearances

If rating of the State Environment Impact Assessment Authorities (SEIAA) of various states were to be done, it has to be based on how rigorous, how transparent, how participatory, how well defined, how consistent, how comprehensive, how rules following has been the functioning of the various SEIAA. Such an exercise has to be done by a panel of independent experts, who are experienced and knowledgeable about the various aspects of environmental governance and functioning of these authorities. In fact the exercise should also include the National EIAA too and the various Expert Appraisal Committees under it. It clearly cannot be what the MoEF has now proposed. What MoEF has proposed is completely against all basic norms of environmental governance and is part of MoEF’s complete surrender to the vested interests and not is not in the interest of environment governance. As the Tribune editorial noted, such blatant disregard of the environment is completely unacceptable. Similarly as the TOI editorial said, SEIAAs need to be independent of both business and governments. They should put the environment first, and last. There is a role of judiciary to step in here and ensure that MoEF does not go down this path.

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DRP NB 17 Jan. 2022: Urban Water Mess visible in advocacy for Renuka and Mekedatu dams

This week brings heightened advocacy for major dams in the name of Urban Water supplies for cities that have no water policy, no worthwhile good water governance, but are happy demanding more and more water projects from further off places to cater to its unjustifiable demands. This is the underlying theme both in case of Renuka dam for Delhi and Mekedatu dam for Bangalore.

Some media reports are talking about need for additional storages, but in this advocacy there is no place for either efficient use of existing water storages, nor place for decentralised water storage options or underground water storage options, leave aside inclusion of soil moisture, which is a major storage option too.

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DRP NB 10 Jan 2022: Positive Groundwater stories from TN, Haryana

It’s rather rare that we have some positive stories related to groundwater. This week we have two: One each from Tamil Nadu and Haryana. A recent performance audit report, the CAG has lauded the Tamil Nadu Govt for regulating industry’s groundwater extraction. The CAG has also lauded TN for adopting ‘firka’(which are smaller than blocks and encompasses 10-15 villages) as the assessment unit in 2011 because this is expected to help in identification of pockets of groundwater potential within the over- exploited and critical blocks.

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DRP NB 03 Jan 2022: Are we any safer from Dam Disasters?

In the 2021 year-end review by the Ministry of Jal Shakti (Ministry of Water Resources), the passage of the Dam Safety Bill by the parliament figures in headlines. The question is are we any safer from dam disasters due to this? If we take a quick review of the numerous dam disasters just this year and also look at the dam disasters mentioned in this Bulletin that happened just in the last week of the passing year, the answer is clear no. Such disasters include ones in Himachal Pradesh, Nepal and Brazil.

There is also the news here of the Uttarakhand agency report about the Feb 2021 Chamoli disaster, about which the official govt agency has said failure of Early Warning System was a factor in the disaster. The bigger disaster is that the state govt has promptly issued show cause notice to the authors of the paper blaming the lack of EWS!

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DRP NB 15 Nov 2021: District Level Vulnerability Assessment in India

This is the kind of study that was long overdue. In fact such a study should have been done before formulating India’s National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC) as SANDRP has been saying since 2009 (see SANDRP critique of NAPCC published under the title “THERE IS NO HOPE HERE) when NAPCC was made public by a dozen wise individuals sitting in a room without any participatory or transparent exercise. One hopes that India will restart the exercise of fresh formulation of NAPCC after doing such a study on an urgent basis, on the lines of the study described below. In any case one hopes the union and state governments will wake up and take up District level vulnerability assessment in India in an independent way on urgent basis.

“This study undertakes a first-of-its-kind district-level vulnerability assessment of India, which maps exposure, sensitivity, and adaptive capacity using spatio-temporal analysis. To do this, we developed a climate vulnerability index (CVI) of Indian states and Union Territories (UTs). Instead of looking at climate extremes in isolation, we map the combined risk of hydro-met disasters and their compounded impacts on vulnerability. By doing so, we aim to inform policy goals in the resource-constrained context of India.

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DRP NB 4 Oct 2021: Congratulations to LIFE for much deserved Right Livelihood Award 2021

This week brings a heartening development: Legal Initiative for Forests and Environment (LIFE), headed by lawyers Ritwick Dutta and Rahul Choudhary, are recipients of the Right Livelihood Award 2021, also known as Alternative Nobel Prize for their amazing work on empowerment of the communities through environment defense. This is much deserved recognition for the exemplary work of this group for over 16 years not only through the legal cases in National Green Tribunal (& its predecessor NEAA etc.), High Courts and Supreme Court, but also influencing the government policy and project decisions and also effective training of government officials in environmental matters.

LIFE is one of four organisation to get this award this year. The Swedish Right Livelihood Foundation, which awards the prize, said that in the face of the worsening climate crisis, powerful governmental and corporate interests, and even a terrorist threat, the 2021 Laureates prove that solidarity is key to a better future for all. The 2021 Right Livelihood Laureates are leaders in advancing the rights of women and girls, environmental protection and reclaiming Indigenous rights through mobilising communities and empowering grassroots initiatives. “Hailing from Cameroon, Russia, Canada and India, this year’s change-makers show that lasting change is built on communities banding together,” it said.

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DRP NB 6 Sep 2021: DISASTERS GOING UP in Himalayas, across India & Globally

(Feature image: Rani Pokhri bridge on the Dehradun Rishikesh highway collapsed near Dehradun, August 27, PTI https://www.thequint.com/news/india/uttarakhand-rains-bridge-on-dehradun-rishikesh-highway-collapses-no-casualties#read-more)

Data published this week (see below) shows that disasters are going up almost five fold in the Himalayas (data from Uttarakhand, HP below, but this is not different in rest of Himalayas), nationally and even globally. The data from UN report this week shows that the disasters are up five fold in recent years. Damage is up even more. As the data of landslides due to Char Dham High way and hydropower projects show, the contribution from these projects to the disaster is clear. So much so that even the editorial in The Hindustan Times this week asked to stop these disastrous projects. While it is unlikely that the governments or politicians would wake up to this reality anytime soon, one expects the judiciary, media, civil society and academics to take up this issue on urgent basis.

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DRP NB 23 Aug 2021: World Water Week: 30 years long enough for stock taking?

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 

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