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.Continue reading “DRP NB 25 Jan. 2021: UN warns about aging Dams & Floods in changing climate”
The World Rivers Day[i] (WRD) is celebrated annually on the fourth Sunday of September. The event strives to highlight the invaluable ecological, hydrological services and cultural, recreational values offered by the rivers. Indeed, the most of the once wild, scenic, free flowing rivers across the globe are facing existential crisis on account of various anthropogenic activities hastened over the past century.
However, there are small but significant steps being undertaken by individuals, organizations and governments to restore some of the flowing eco-systems. This account attempts to compile some such positive developments that have taken place in the one year.
We have already published a compilation of the positive river stories of India on the occasion of International Day of Actions for Rivers being held on March 14 2020. In addition to Indian rivers, this compilation also covers some remarkable development concerning river conservation worldwide. There could be many more stories and developments happening, we invite readers to send us such stories they know about.Continue reading “World Rivers Day 2020: Celebrating Rivers across the world”
[Feature image: Cartoon on Draft EIA 2020 by Surendra, The Hindu https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/cartoon/cartoonscape-august-12-2020/article32328005.ece (12 Aug. 2020)]
This last week, one Contempt of Court case was deservedly in news, when on the eve of India’s 74th Independence day, the apex Court found public spirited Prashant Bhushan guilty of contempt of Court. Prashant Bhushan’s commitment for the cause of the people and responsible governance of various institutions is beyond question. He is known for being critical of the government and judiciary’s track record and is supported in this by most independent minded persons.
However, there was another contempt case this last week, related to environmental issues, that was not so much in the news. On June 30, 2020, Delhi High Court bench of Chief Justice D N Patel and Justice Prateek Jalan in response to petition by environmentalist Vikrant Tongad had directed, among other things, that Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) should translate the Draft EIA (Environment Impact Assessment) Notification of 2020 into all the official languages of India and disseminate widely in ten days. (https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Delhi/delhi-hc-extends-public-response-deadline-to-draft-eia-2020/article31951610.ece)
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?
The Supreme Court order asking for fresh environment clearance and fresh Environment Impact Assessment for the Peripheral Ring Road project in Bengaluru is remarkable and most welcome, even though it is not directly related to water issues. The order is relevant since we have yet to find what can be called an honest Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) for River Valley Projects and yet the MoEF’s Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) on River Valley Projects happily clears ALL the projects that come their way, even with most fraudulent EIAs. We are hoping against hope that this apex Court judgement will be a precursor to many such orders and judgements and general warning against fraudulent EIAs and EACs. We hope it is not too much to ask that the EIA be an honest effort and the EAC that does not reject fraudulent EIAs should also be dumped and members black listed. We hope we have such orders from the judiciary soon.
Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR), with annual rainfall in access of 2000 mm, does not do much to harvest the rain. It does not protect its local water bodies. It does not recharge groundwater to the extent it can easily do. It does not reduce its transmission and distribution losses. It does not treat its sewage to recycle and thus reduce freshwater demand. It does no demand side management. And yet it keeps demanding more water, and for that building of more dams and thus pushing more destruction. Without any credible options assessment. It has no water policy or water vision for smart water management.
The proposed Gargain Dam that will lead to destruction of over four lakh trees in 720 ha forest mostly in Tansa Wildlife Sanctuary, is a good example of how Mumbai is fuelling such dam building and destruction. The Rs 3105 Cr project will have many other impacts, including displacement of tribals and destruction of livelihoods for thousands others. As SANDRP report showed six years ago, (https://sandrp.in/2013/12/20/dams-in-tribal-areas-of-western-ghats-for-water-supply-to-mumbai-why-are-they-unjustified/, https://sandrp.in/2013/12/18/multiple-dams-for-mumbai-region/) and as our letter to the then Maharashtra Chief Minister emphasised in 2015 (https://sandrp.in/2015/01/13/water-smart-mumbai-open-letter-to-cm-devendra-fadnavis/), MMR region does not need any of these dams.
It was good to see MID DAY news paper report and EDIT highlighting some of these issues. Will the people of Mumbai Rise up, to stop this destructive dam, being pushed in their names, the way they stood up to save the far fewer Aarey Milk Colony trees?
A large number of stories this week remind us that India urgently needs national urban water policy.
The water footprint of urban areas is gradually on the rise. The cities have several problems with management including destruction of water sources, groundwater exploitation, poor performance in treating and recycling the polluted water, pollution and encroachment on water bodies etc. To fulfil their growing demands new dams, barrages and check dams are being planned, proposed and built on the rivers in faraway places, which is in turn displacing and depriving the local people of equitable water share.
Even before onset of summer, the Army in Sagar district have started patrolling Chitora dam to prevent water thefts (denying farmers to take dam water for irrigation).
A new study has shown how powerful the monsoons and their abnormalities are: It’s these abnormalities that ended reigns of multiple dynasties in medieval India, not wars. But the society does not seem to understand this basic reality today, and we are not only doing everything in our power to make the monsoon abnormal through human induced climate and natural world changes, but not even valuing the rainwater in our water policies, programs and practices. The changes we are bringing in natural world is making even the smaller monsoon abnormalities bring catastrophic impacts as the capacities of the people and societies to cope with the changes is decreasing. These studies are another wake up call, if only we were interested one.
India urgently needs a lot of effective work on Dam Safety, but the bill before the Parliament makes CWC (Central Water Commission) as focal point of Dam Safety, but CWC has conflict of interest and poor track record. The Bill does not provide any real independent oversight, nor clearly defined norms of complete transparency in the dam safety matters, and there is no role of the vulnerable communities, the most important stake holders. The Bill also tends to centralise the power with the Union govt, and states legitimately suspects this. https://www.indiatoday.in/india/story/dam-safety-bill-2019-why-evokes-opposition-stakeholders-1576391-2019-08-02 (Aug 2, 2019)
The Interstate Amendment Water Disputes Amendment Bill before the Parliament is basically tinkering with the existing system, which will not change anything fundamentally. It needs to be understood that disputes arise when an upper riparian state (or a country) build a large dam or diverts the massive amount of water, leading to lower availability of water for the lower riparian state (or country). When it comes to resolution, the tribunals look at a river as a channel of water and its distribution, ignoring that it is a complete ecosystem and that water in a river depends on the state of its basin and catchment area. It also depends on the extraction of groundwater. These aspects are ignored by the tribunals. Moreover, a state does not represent a river basin or all its stakeholders (the people using river water), which is why the Narmada tribunal’ award created a conflict between the states and their people. The central government’s impartiality is suspect and would have a great bearing on the resolution process. https://www.indiatoday.in/india/story/interstate-river-water-disputes-bill-2019-1575531-2019-07-31 (1 Aug. 2019)
Two interesting orders from National Green Tribunal (NGT) marked important developments on water-environment issues this week. NGT asking for PERFORMANCE AUDIT of pollution Control Mechanism is indeed long overdue necessity, considering the complete, abject failure of the pollution control mechanism in India. The hopes of effective action, like in the past, however, were dashed since CPCB, which is PART OF THE PROBLEM has been asked to do the audit. An independent audit, in addition to one possibly by CAG may have helped. https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Delhi/ngt-slams-state-pollution-bodies/article26008687.ece (17 Jan. 2019)
Whatever positive signs were available by this order were further dashed by another NGT order in which it declared that EIAs (Environmental Impact Assessment) reports are already taking climate change into account, while the tribunal dismissed a petition asking that all development activities be screened/ regulated keeping climate change in mind.
This is totally WRONG contention. Just to illustrate, SANDRP has been pointing out to the EAC, MoEF and the developers how the EIAs of dams and hydropower projects are ignoring the climate change related issues and impacts. In response the consultants and developers have responded, approved by the silent or spoken nods by the EAC and MoEF that these were not even part of their TORs! One only wishes NGT was most discerning before making such claims and would have gone through a few EIAs to see if at all EIAs are dealing with these issues with any rigour or credibility. https://www.business-standard.com/article/pti-stories/climate-change-already-covered-under-environment-impact-assessment-ngt-119011600897_1.html (16 Jan. 2019)