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.
It’s rather rare when some of the most well-known environmentalists of India, including Ritwick Dutta and Manoj Misra welcome the arrival of Bhupender Yadav as India’s new Environment Minister. The state of the environment governance under the outgoing minister, Prakash Javadekar has worsened so much, both in perception and substance, that possibly any change would look better. In fact Javadekar may be front runner for the label of India’s worst ever environment minister according to some analysts.
The environment appraisals, the constitution of committees including the various Expert Appraisal Committees, the Forest Advisory Committee and the Standing committee of National Board of Wildlife, the public hearings and consultation processes, the state of pollution and rivers, biodiversity, wetlands, floodplains, sand mining, to name just a few areas, were all seen going downhill on a steep slope during the Javadeker period. The monitoring and compliance remained non existent. Some would argue that was it much different before Javadekar. The point is Javadekar had no pretentions of trying to improve the environment governance. He was out to dilute every available norm and he seemed to have succeded significantly.
Even if Yadav were to genuinely wish to improve matters, how much will he be allowed to do, by the perceived imperatives of the economic fundamentalist agenda, the well-entrenched vested interests and the bureaucracy is a question that only time will tell, but there is little doubt that a lot can and needs to be done rather urgently and none of these perceived obstacles should come in the way if there is will. The climate change is making the improvement in environmental governance rather urgent.
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.
This is time of immense grief and loss for me. Unable to face the harsh reality of my mother gasping for each breath in the ICU, I was drowning myself in work. Co-incidentally or so I think, I was working on a report analysing asphyxiation of Vrishabhavathi, Arkavathi and Cauvery rivers and suffocation of aquatic lifeforms the rivers supported. As the dissolved oxygen graph took shape, I realized : The million times I had held the dissolved oxygen meter under water to measure oxygen saturation levels across rivers was no different from the million times we plugged the oximeter to my mother’s forefinger to check for oxygen saturation levels. The realization that the very element my mother was gasping for, is the very element the rivers have long been gasping for – Oxygen and this pushed me deeper into a state of despair.
The outgoing year 2020 is likely to be remembered as Corona year as Covid 19 pandemic has been the most influential aspect of the year. However, there have been many positives of the outgoing year. We identify five biggest positives as we see them.
Firstly, the complete lockdown that we experienced during March-April 2020, to slow down the spread of the Covid 19 infection showed, among many other things that it is indeed possible to clean up our rivers and also indicated the way forward: tackle industrial pollution. Unfortunately, those clear lessons have not been learnt by the government, its been busy in ease of doing business, not even understanding that in changing climate, clean rivers are going to be a major resource that will help people adapt.
The second notable positive was the major across the country protests, particularly from the younger generation against the government’s attempt to bulldoze the completely anti- environment amendment to the EIA notification. The protests along with the judicial orders have so far stopped the amendment from getting implementation. The government will do well to abandon any attempt to push them.
Similar to the protests against amendments to EIA notification were the protests against trying to bulldoze the massive Etalin Hydropower project in Dibang Valley in Arunachal Pradesh, at the cost of lakhs of trees and biodiversity rich forest and river and against the wishes of the people of Arunachal Pradesh and North East India. Here again it was good to see that the campaign has so far been successful.
India Rivers Week 2020 organised Zonal and National dialogues on river sand mining in India, in which large number of groups and stakeholders from across the country participated and has created a new wave of awareness and energy on this very important but so far largely ignored issue. We are hopeful that this energy will lead to change in governance of river sand mining in India.
International Hydropower Association (IHA) is essentially global leader of hydropower lobby. So when IHA President Roger Gill speaks about the problems hydro industry is facing, it becomes very interesting for all concerned.
In this interview the Roger Gill makes it clear that Hydro investments have been slowing down in last five years when compared with investments in immediate earlier decades. It has further slowed down in 2019 and has been further majorly affected by Covid-19 pandemic. Gill also accepts that the hydro is perceived as much more risky compared to solar and wind. The claim he makes of low levelised cost of electricity from hydro projects is a bit of fiction, since cost of any under construction or new hydro will be hugely costlier than solar and wind power projects. The IHA president is catching at the straws when he takes encouragement from investments in existing hydro projects and pump storage, though he keeps making it clear that market is still unclear as far as pump storage tariffs are concerned. A friendly interview also reveals a lot!!
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.
Even as the Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) on River Valley Projects (RVP) appointed by the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) in December 2016 completes three years with the end of 2019, it has kept up its record of green signaling everything that came its way in 2019.
There was just one exception: EAC in its meeting on January 28, 2019 rejected the proposal for EC (Env Clearance) extension for the Brutang Major Irrigation Project in Nayagarh District of Odisha, but it was essentially on procedural issue and the EAC “recommended for taking of the proposal afresh”, so it was not a full stop, but only a comma. The EAC failed to creditably appraise the EIA, the TORs, the public consultation process and decide on merit if the project was fit for approval. It approved everything that came its way, at the most occasionally asking for additional information. Never looking into the adequacy of the impact assessment or public consultation process or optimality of the project. Continue reading “Expert Appraisal Committee on River Valley Projects Green signals all in 2019”→
There is a lot that Bihar and Union Govt that need to answer why did Patna go under water in spite of fully knowing its vulnerabilities. Why was the city not prepared to face this kind of situation? Some of the major man made reasons include: Sewage Pumps not working, drainage map not available, no emergency plan in place. Not too many people know that there is GANGA FLOOD CONTROL COMMISSION, sitting right in Patna, an organisation under Union Ministry of Water Resources, existing since 47 years now. WHAT HAVE THEY BEEN DOING is a mystery.
Its high time questions are asked if GFCC is doing any useful work. The government may like to brush aside the issues, saying its too high rainfall due to climate change, but that wont help. Patna is bang in the way of Ganga and it doing all kind of mindless activities including river front development, destruction of local water bodies and wetlands, and of course not knowing its drainage map. It shows abysmal failure of the World Bank funded flood management project that existed not so long ago, housed in Patna. And Patna was being funded under Smart city program to do all kinds of water unsmart activities. Over a week since the flooding started, parts of the city is still under water and now the city is facing fresh crisis in the shape of Dengue. The trouble is, there is no sign that the city, state or the country is doing anything to learn from this man made disaster.