Wetlands are critical part of hydrological systems. They provide multiple ecological services to people living in proximal areas. The invisible contribution of wetlands in saturating aquifers and checking groundwater depletion is essential given the growing water scarcity. Additionally, wetlands are home to a variety of plants and animals species making them fully functional and self-sustaining eco-system. Sadly, despite the environmental significance and associated support services, wetlands have been subjected to degradation for past many decades.
India’s environmental Legal system is in deep trouble. Ritwick Dutta shows this through two brilliant articles, but this is also apparent from the failure of pollution control mechanism and people, rivers and environment continues to suffer as is apparent from the poisonous Hindon river basin water that people of over a hundred villages are forced to drink while the cases have been going on in National Green Tribunal. The Yettinahole verdict of the Supreme Court now and NGT earlier seem to have completely ignored all the illegalities and falsehoods involved in the case. The verdict thus also ignored the severe vulnerabilities of the Western Ghats that is getting worse with such mindless developmental interventions. And the government seems happy to destroy the independence status of the NGT through problematic appointments, as Ritwick Dutta shows through another article. What is the hope when the judiciary itself is blind to such glaring disasters?
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)
In his reply to the debate on President of India’s address to the joint session of Parliament, Mr Narendra Modi, Prime Minister of India told the Parliament on Feb 7, 2019[i]:
It’s not secret that water pollution is getting worse in India, including pollution of groundwater sources, thought we still donot know the full extent of the pollution of that source. But there is so little citizen action on such an important issue that affects so many so severely on daily basis. So it’s great to see four separate instances of such action this week, one each from Maharashtra, Gujarat, Karnataka and Kerala. In absence of any seriousness shown by governments at centre and states and any effective success from judicial intervention, this is welcome news. One only hopes this is no flash in the pan and rather beginning of citizens’ action to agitate against such rampant water pollution that goes on in India.
February 19, 2019
- Hon’ble Mr. NarendraModi,
Prime Minister of India,
2. Hon’ble Mr. Nitin Gadkari,
Minister, Water Resources and Ganga Rejuvenation Ministry,
Government of India.
3. Hon’ble Mr. Trivendra Rawat
Chief Minister, Uttarakhand
Subject: River Ganga
There is no debating that Ganga must flow free or will perish with all attendant consequences. This is vindicated by Ravi Chopra Committee in its report to the Supreme Court submitting that there has been an increase in disasters in Uttarakhand ever since the tragedy in 2013, due to the presence of big dams. The Union of India under your governments pledged to rejuvenate the Ganga including Alaknanda, Mandakini and Bhagirathi and all their tributaries.
Presently, four under-construction dams namely Tapovan-Vishnugad, Vishnugad-Pipalkoti, Singoli-Bhatwari and Phata-Byung are further threatening the survival of this river adding to the damage already done by the existing dams.
To save the River Ganga, Swami Saanand fasted for 111 days to draw your attention to River Ganga’s cries for survival before he succumbed unheeded. Carrying on the baton, Sant Gopaldas fasted for 146 days when he disappeared under suspicious circumstances unheard and unheeded. Presently the 26 year old young Brahmachari Aatmabodhanand from Matri Sadan, Haridwar, has been on a fast since 24th of October 2018 determined to carry on the baton for a positive response on Ganga from your governments.
As this report narrates, a great volunteer effort is underway in Mumbai to clean up Mithi river. What they have achieved is just about 350 m of clean river, after labouring over weekends for several months. But this is such a daunting task to even venture to start. They have not only started, but made visible progress. Let us hope it will achieve all its objectives.
The Dam Bachao Abhiyaan has been coming up in various forms. They blame the upstream water use in the catchment for dams not filling up. The catchment area could be using the water through groundwater (e.g. Hussain Sagar in Hyderabad), Johads (e.g. Sahibi catchment in Alwar), Tanks (e.g. Cauvery catchment in Karnataka), or check dams (e.g. Gandhisagar catchment in Madhya Pradesh, Bisalpur and Ramgarh catchment in Rajasthan), the latest episode reflected in the news below.
One key question that is never answered is, does the construction of dam extinguish all the rights of the catchment area to harvest and use any water for even basic needs and livelihoods? Does the very existence of the dam make all such water use in the catchment illegitimate? What about the right to water and livelihood of the catchment area? Should dam filling be so sacrosanct as to not allow any legitimate water use in the catchment? Hope the court and the government resolves these issues. Hope there is debate on this to decide in which circumstances there will be legitimacy to such Dam Bachao Abhiyaan.
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)