The World wetlands day 2019 later this week has slogan of: “We are not powerless against climate Change… stop draining wetlands”, connecting climate change and wetlands. But the news from Indian wetlands governance is scary.
The day before the World Wetlands Day the Vote on Accounts will be presented before the Parliament as full budget cannot be presented in light of forthcoming Parliament elections. But is there any hope that either the Budget or the elections will deal with the climate change or the environment issue with any sense of seriousness?
On November 16, 2017, the Supreme Court (SC) of India, prohibited 82 large lease holders from mining sand and stone activities in absence of scientific replenishment study. The ban continued all through the year of 2018 and so were the incidents of illegal sand mining and violent attacks on police officials.
The ban has reportedly hampered some development projects. The prices of sand has increased. Meanwhile the mining department is seen making efforts in exploring Manufactured Sand (M-Sand) as an alternative though it seems there is not much success as yet.
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)
The landslide incident[i] on under construction Char Dham All Weather Road Project in Rudraprayag district of Uttrakhand has killed 8 labours on 21 December 2018 around 12.30 pm near Banswada in Ukhimath Bhiri area on the Rudraprayag-Gaurikund national highway (NH 107).
WhatsApp images of incident site
On 22 December 2018, body of a 19 year old worker was recovered[ii] by the rescue team. A total of 23 workers were at the site at the time of the incident. As per reports, 11 workers got buried under debris, 5 workers were critically injured while 12 others had narrow escape. All the victims[iii] are stated to be from Uri town in Baramula district of Jammu & Kashmir. As per locals, one of the JCB machine placed at the site has fallen[iv] in the river along with debris.
Man Made Disaster
The Ukhimath police has registered an FIR against a private construction company, holding it responsible for the mishap at the construction site of Char Dham all-weather road. Preliminary observations by police team has found major negligence[v] of the executive body.
As per police the work was being carried out without following the basic safety standards for the workers. The director and supervisor of the private construction firm have been booked[vi] under various sections of Indian Penal Code.
Manglesh Ghildiyal, the District Magistrate, Rudraprayag has also ordered[vii] magisterial inquiry into the incident. Jakholi SDM has been asked to submit the probe report within 10 days. Additional chief secretary of Uttarakhand, Om Prakash, has ordered a safety audit of the all-weather road construction sites to check whether the work is being done adhering to scientific norms.
The audit team will comprise of a senior geologist and a senior officer from the PWD. Some of the workers alleged that the landslide was triggered[viii] by construction work and had occurred as the mountain was being cut to widen the road.
Surprisingly about a week before the Rudraprayag landslide incidents, the DM has also found significant negligence being exercised by the Noida based RGB construction company in cutting the hill slopes. The company has not even provided helmets and insurance cover to the workers. Earlier, in June 2018 and September 2018 it was issued noticed for not following safety measures.
Rudraprayag Highly Landslide Prone Area
According to data compiled by the Uttarakhand’s Disater Mitigaton and Management Centre, 529 landslide prone areas have been identified on the Char Dham route. Rudraprayag district where the landslide occurred has the highest number of landslide zones at 319.
Local People Protesting Against The Project
The project would displace[ix] about 3000 villagers in the district. Many residents have been protesting against the project demanding fair compensation. On December 7, 2018, the local people including shopkeepers and traders closed the district and took out a massiveprotest rally[x]. On December 15, the protestors launched an indefinite hunger strike[xi] demanding proper rehabilitation and compensation.
Issue Pending in Supreme Court
This is one of the worst landslides so far due to the 889 km long highway project[xii] which has been broken into 52 parts to bypass the mandatory environmental clearances. The Rs 11,700 crore rupee project is ongoing despite the fact that the matter is sub-judice.
On 22 October 2018, the Supreme Court (SC) had stayed[xiii] National Green Tribunal (NGT) order clearing the two lane highway project. During 26 November 2018 hearing the SC has asked the Centre to file itsreply[xiv] within two weeks.
Another Landslide Caused By Char Dham Road Project
Meanwhile, Char Dham All Weather Road Project creates another landslideon Dec. 22, this time on Badrinath Rishikesh Highway near Farasu Mandoli village in Srinagar. The work is damaging the roads causing difficulties for local commuters who are also getting injured during night time. People say debris and stones are falling continuously disrupting the traffic for hours.
Compiled by SANDRP (email@example.com)
Despite SC orders muck dumping in Alaknanda River continues on Badrinath NH. Similarly many villages along the slope on Chamba Rishikesh highway are affected due to muck dumping says the Amar Ujala 16 Dec. 2018 report.
The local Hindi dailies (between 15-25 Dec. 2018) are replete with reports revealing serious negligence and violation of norms in execution of the project leading to fatal landslides across the state.
India certainly urgently needs credible measures to achieve both structural and operational safety of dams. As the HINDUSTAN TIMES editorial emphasizes, we need much greater transparency, accountability and participation of independent, non government experts at every level of functioning of Dam Safety mechanism. Current Dam Safety Bill draft falls far short of that. This is also underscored by many of the news we bring in this July 16, 208 issue of DRP News Bulletin.
The Tamil Nadu CAG report, as Indian Express reports, has clearly said that the Chennai floods of Dec 2015 were majorly due to the wrong decision of dam operators to release 29000 cusecs of water for 21 hours, in violation of all safety norms, but no was punished for this wrong decision. The same has always been the case.
Aquifers in 16 States in the country are contaminated by uranium, whose presence in drinking water has been linked to chronic kidney disease by several studies, a recent study has shown. More importantly, uranium doesn’t figure on the list of contaminants monitored under the Bureau of Indian Standards’ drinking water specifications. The main source of this contamination is natural, but groundwater depletion by extensive withdrawal of water for irrigation and nitrite pollution due to the excessive use of nitrogenous fertilisers may be exacerbating the problem, said the study.
– The study was carried out by a team of researchers led by Avner Vengosh, professor of geochemistry and water quality at the Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University in the US. The team, which also included experts from the Central Ground Water Board, the Rajasthan government’s Ground Water Department and Gujarat Water Resources Development Corporation, analysed groundwater samples from 226 locations in Rajasthan and 98 in Gujarat.
When Central Government is trying to push Ken Betwa link project terming it as beneficial for both Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh, local people of Banda are now also protesting against it, in addition to the people of Panna that are already opposing it. On Feb. 13, 2018, the Ken Bachao Samiti comprising of farmers, citizens and social workers in Banda sat on a Dharna before district magistrate office. The group have also sent a memorandum to the President of India, demanding immediate cancelling of the project. Raising serious concerns over environmental and social of the linking project, they asked demanded proper impact assessment and public consultation and said the project wont be allowed to go forward. Indeed, as they have said, there has been no downstream impact assessment and people of Banda are likely to loose their river. https://www.livehindustan.com/uttar-pradesh/banda/story-demonstrate-against-ken-betwa-alliance-1800951.html (Hindustan Hindi,13 Feb. 2018)
SUPREME COURT The Supreme Court of India is hearing a matter Writ Petition(s)(Civil) No(s). 230/2001 in which there have been several orders of consequence this year (e.g. 8 Feb 2017 & 16 Aug 2017) for protection of wetlands. In spite of several directions for identification, preparation of brief documents, implementation of rules 4, notification of wetlands under the Wetlands Rules 2010, hardly any progress has happened.
Rule 4 of Wetlands Rules 2010 applicable to Wetlands of size ≥2.25 ha
“National Wetland Inventory & Assessment” was filed in SC. This Brochure indicates on page 11 that 2,01,503 wetlands have been mapped at 1:50,000 scale. All these wetlands have ‘an area of more than 2.25 hectares’. As a first step, the ‘Brief Documents’ with regard to these 2,01,503 wetlands should be obtained by the Union of India from the respective State Governments in terms of Rule 6 of the Wetlands (Conservation and management) Rules, 2010.
This story of Bandi River from Rajasthan is sixth in the series of online stories of urban rivers from across India. Please share your feedback and provide us with suggestions (read more in appendix). If you have any urban river stories or images that you might want to share, please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.
Finally on World Environment Day, Swami Shivanand has withdrawn[I] his fast unto death agitation. It was thirteenth day of his indefinite hunger strike including six days of water fast (from May 25 – 30, 2017) against illegal mining in Ganga.
The saint ended his protest around 6pm on June 05, 2017, only after receiving written assurance from the Central Government. As per information, referring to Matri Sandan repeated pleas, UP Singh Director General of National Mission for Clean Ganga has accepted that there were violations[II] of rules specially Rule No. V of Environment Protection Act during mining in Ganga. Subsequently he has asked Chairman, Central Pollution Control Board initiate criminal proceedings against the officials[III] concerned for non-compliance of the rules.