This week there are exemplary and encouraging wetlands revival stories from three metro cities of Chennai, Hyderabad and Delhi. In the first example from Hyderabad, meticulously chosen plant species such as tulsi, aswagandha, citronella and hibiscus have been used to create an artificial island to clean Neknampur Lake. The treatment islands are composed of four layers of which the bamboo base keeps the entire structure afloat. Based on soil-less hydroponics, these floating treatment wetlands absorb excess nitrates, thereby reducing the chemical content of the lake water. Microorganisms present in the wetland break down organic matter while the root systems filter out pollutants and sediments. https://www.thenewsminute.com/article/3500-saplings-floating-islands-help-rejuvenate-hyd-neknampur-lake-75819 (The News Minute, 3 Feb. 2018)
Similarly, Chennai-based Care Earth Trust along with the public works department (PWD) and the civic body has managed to restore three urban lakes. While many of the smaller wetlands have vanished over time, many mid-sized wetlands seem to have shrunk by almost 65 percent. Thanks to their joint effort, invasive hyacinth was removed from the Narayanapuram Lake in Pallikaranai, while sewer lines, which emptied into the Perungalathur Lake, have now been plugged. A detailed restoration proposal has been forwarded to the PWD regarding the Korattur-Madhavaram-Ambattur lakes. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/chennai/hyacinth-out-sewer-line-plugged-three-water-bodies-restored/articleshow/62748110.cms (The Times of India, 2 Feb. 2018)
Meanwhile, Delhi Jal Board (DJB) has taken up interesting new project of creating an artificial lake in Dwarka. The project will supply water in sub-city and improve ground water level too. DJB has approved Rs. 56 crore for the project which will be completed in next seven months. This would the first model project wherein a lake will be used to augment water supply. The special lake is being created next to the Dwarka water treatment plant (WTP) will have a sand bed to allow maximum percolation of water into the ground. It will have a capacity of 10 million gallons (MGD). The project is expected to add supply of 5-6 million gallons water to Dwarka every day.
There have been many positive developments on agriculture, groundwater and environment round the week. In the first positive development, data from the first impact study of Paramparagat Krishi Vikas Yojana (PKVY) shows that small and marginal farmers, who can’t afford costly agricultural inputs, are turning a new leaf by going organic because of lower costs and higher margins. The study conducted by the National Institute of Agriculture Extension Management, has also revealed that Net Returns of organic farmers were higher for all the three crops studied, namely wheat, paddy and soybean, by 15.8%, 36.7% and 50% respectively.
This was based on study of 690 organic clusters in 25 states, out of some 6211 clusters comprising of 2.25 lakh farmers in a PKVY (each ha getting Rs 50 000 as aid) scheme launched in 2015, comprising of 52.3% small farmers. The average cluster size was 69 acres, in each there were 54.6 farmers on average. Maharashtra had the highest number of clusters at 1043 and MP had the highest area under clusters. The funding however remained irregular. India’s domestic organic food market is expected to show Compound Annual Growth rate of 25%, says the study. https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/small-farmers-go-big-with-organic-farming/story-nlyQQVUnoewHgeJyvaAnJI.html (Hindustan Times, 29 January 2018)
Another positive news report, have disclosed that how a simple groundwater recharge technique is transforming farmlands in Gujarat. The simple pit and pipe system simply and expertly captures standing water during rains, thus freeing arable land from water logging while recharging groundwater to use for irrigation during the lean season. This is essentially a simple groundwater recharge scheme but appears to last long. As per report about 3000 such units have already been installed in Gujarat and several other states. http://www.thehindu.com/society/this-simple-technology-has-transformed-gujarat-farmlands-into-an-oasis/article22529034.ece (The Hindu, 27 January 2018)
The third positive news have come from Central Government which has prepared a Rs 6000 crore plan to recharge ground water. The scheme is yet to be cleared by the Expenditure Finance Committee and the Cabinet.
As per report, the new 5-yr long scheme will be funded 50: 50 by the World Bank and centre, to be implemented in Gujarat, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka, Haryana and Rajasthan, covering 78 districts, 193 blocks and 8300 gram panchayats.
In a remarkable protest echoing urgent need for protection of rivers, fisherfolk of Kosasthalai River on 03 January 2018, launched a ‘Jal Satyagraha’ against Kamarajar Port project. The proposal would divert 1000 acres of creek area. It mainly comprises of river, wetlands, marshy areas on which fisher community depend for livelihood.
Raising their voices against the project with holding play cards that read “This is River, Not Land” they stood in waist-deep in waters to save Ennore Creek. Joining the protest, hundreds of residents also demanded the withdrawal of alleged fraudulent maps denying the existence of the Ennore Creek. The community has been fighting a lonely battle against the Tamil Nadu government accusing it of turning wetlands illegally into industrial real estate corridors.
– “Fishing economy has been hit massively. Shrinking of water body means less space for fish. Shrinking has happened in terms of surface spread as well as depth thanks to the dumping of dredged sand from the sea, silting the waterbody. The larger concern is fly ash and heavy metals from the industries polluting the environment causing health hazards,” said Nityanand Jayaraman, Environmental activist and researcher who was part of the protest. https://www.oneindia.com/india/chennai-fisherfolk-stage-jal-satyagraha-to-save-ennore-creek-2613088.html (One India, 04 January 2018)
A brilliant coverage by NDTV INDIA at PRIME TIME (08 Dec 2017) on so many issues related to the proposed controversial Pancheshwar Dam, World’s tallest dam in the Himalayas that has neither credible impact assessment nor proper public hearings. Please watch and share.
The wrong process of dam clearance for the Pancheshwar and Rupaligad Dams have been strongly condemned by Mahakali Lok Sangathan, Uttarakhand Parivartan Party, Uttarakhand Kranti Dal, the National Alliance of People’s Movements: Uttarakhand Akta Manch, Delhi Solidarity Group and others. https://www.facebook.com/sandrp.in/posts/1874936619200669
Over 250 residents along with environmentalists, activists and members of civil societies formed a human chain at Elliot’s beach on Oct 28, asking State Govt to protect the wetlands, rivers, environment in Ennore creek area from willful destruction of govt agencies and industries. The human chain was joined by all the walk of society irrespective of age group from kids to senior citizens who were holding placards that explain the sorry state of Ennore Creek. http://www.thenewsminute.com/article/residents-chennai-form-human-chain-save-ennore-creek-70724
The Coastal Resource Centre and members of the Save Ennore campaign organized the human chain to raise awareness in the city ahead of the monsoons about the encroachments in Ennore Creek, a backwater located in Thiruvallur district. Residents from all 52 villages in Ennore, who have witnessed the ecology die a slow death, also joined the rally, hoping that the govt would react.
As per the online petition, ten Lakh Chennai residents are at higher risk of disastrous flooding because Govt of Tamil Nadu has allowed Kamarajar Port to convert 1000 acres of Ennore wetlands into industrial real estate. Chennai has barely recovered from the 2015 floods. Don’t let Chennai get flooded again.
It seems the Chief Ministers of all the flood affected states are obsessed about dredging the rivers and reservoirs and are advocating massive scale dredging as a solution to flooding. This is partly triggered by the Rivers-as-waterways advocacy by Union Surface Transport Minister Shri Nitin Gadkari and partly by the need for showing to the people that they are doing something new to tackle floods, it seems. Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar contributed to it in a way last year when he mentioned the accumulation of millions of tons of silt along Ganga due to the backwater impact of Farakka Dam. This year, the Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal[i] has been talking about dredging Brahmaputra as a solution to floods in Assam.
SANDRP Blog Little for Bundelkhand, lot for contractors in Ken Betwa river-linkThe official executive summary of the Detailed Project Report of KBLRP on NWDA website says: “The main objective of the Ken-Betwa link project is to make available water to water deficit areas of upper Betwa basin through substitution from the surplus waters of Ken basin.” Upper Betwa basin (Raisen and Vidisha districts of MP) is not in Bundelkhand. So KBLRP is essentially facilitating export of water from drought prone Bundelkhand to area outside Bundelkhand, which, in fact is well endowed with over 900 mm of average annual rainfall.
The DPR further says, a third o the surplus water will be utilized for “enroute irrigation of 0.60 lakh ha. in the districts of Tikamgarh and Chhatarpur of MP and Mahoba & Jhansi of U.P.” The claim in the minutes of Expert Appraisal Committee meeting of Dec 30, 2016 that “It is proposed to provide irrigation facility in 6,35,661 ha of area in Panna, Chhatarpur, Tikamgarh Districts of Madhya Pradesh and Banda, Mahoba and Jhansi Districts in Uttar Pradesh” needs to be put in context here. Firstly, this claim is far in excess of what the presumed surplus water can irrigate.
CenterMeeting held to sort out Mahanadi issueUnion Water Ministry on July 31 called a Meeting of representatives of Odisha & Chattisgarh Govts to consider the various water resources issues/projects in Mahanadi Basin. It was decided that the Central Water Commission would invariably ensure that the DPRs for the projects in Mahanadi basin which are appraised by it, are duly shared with the other riparian State and that the riparian State is given a period of 45 days to convey their views/comments on the project. It was also decided that the DPRs would be delivered to the Resident Commissioners of respective States and thereafter the representatives of the State would be invited to share their observations. The meeting was called in pursuance of the assurance given by Water Minister Uma Bharti in Parliament on July 26. Earlier, fearing that dams on river Mahanadi in Chhattisgarh would have adverse impact on Odisha, former union minister Jairam Ramesh has asked CM Naveen Patnaik to take up all party team to Delhi to raise the matter with the PM. He also said that Congress will send a delegation to Chhattisgarh in a week to study the sites where dam and barrages are proposed to be constructed. On the other hand, former CM Ajit Jogi having broken away from the Congress on July 25 attacked Congress over its opposition to Chhattisgarh’s plan to construct dams & barrages on Mahanadi river.
The national media seems to be celebrating linking of Godavari and Krishna River in Andhra Pradesh on September 16, 2015 as the first major step towards Inter Linking of Rivers in India. An emotional Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Shri N Chandrababu Naidu called it historic and Pavitra Sangam (Holy Confluence).
At a time when the creation of separate Telengana state from Andhra Pradesh is making headlines in the national media, the issue Polavaram dam seems to have been sidelined in media. But Polavaram dam holds huge significance in this situation since construction of this dam is one of the condition laid down by the center in order to create state of Telengana bifurcating the state of Andhra Pradesh. The dam though has no legally tenable clearance, Odisha and Chhattisgarh continue to oppose it and there are cases pending against the project in the Supreme Court.
Now a 2013 film by social activist and filmmaker Saraswati Kavula “Dam’ned” documents plight of the people being affected by the Polavaram dam. The film also brings out the critical issues associated with the construction of this mega dam which were rarely covered by any media. The film is available in four parts on youtube, see: http://www.youtube.com/channel/UCb4JjIYab5w_dFkHwkmkrHQ?feature=g-user-u.
The 71 minutes film is a brilliant documentation of peoples sentiments associated with the river, land and a project which will submerge all of these. Within these 71 minutes the film brings to light the multitude and complexity of issues associated with this mega project. But before getting into that, a brief about this gigantic project has been provided, as given in the film.
The Polavaram Project Polavaram is one of the most controversial dam projects in India. It is also the largest dam in India in terms of the number of people it would displace. The dam will be located near Polavaram village in West Godavari district of Andhra Pradesh, an area bordering Chhattisgarh and Odisha. The dam aims to irrigate 7,21,000 acres of land in four districts of Andhra Pradesh i.e. West Godavari, East Godavari, Vishakhapatnam and Krishna districts. The project proponent claims that this project will also provide drinking water to 540 villages of Vishakhapatnam district along with the city of Vizag and to provide water to industries located in Vishakhapatnam district. The project also aims to transfer 80 TMC (Thousand Million Cubic Feet) water from Godavari to Krishna river basin.
The cost of mega plan will be majorly born by the ethnic tribal people of Andhra as well Chhattisgarh and Odisha. The dam will submerge 300 villages displacing 2,00,000 people. The submergence area will be so huge that the back waters of the dam go all upto Sabari river in Chattisgarh and Sileru river in Odisha. This submergence area will cover 10,000 acres of biodiversity rich forest and also partially submerge the Papikundulum wildlife sanctuary. The people living in these areas are predominantly ‘adivasis’ belonging to Koya and Konda Reddy tribes. There is a substantial number of no-tribal people, majority of the belonging to Dalits and backward classes. In numbers nearly 200 out of the 300 submerged villages are adivasi villages.
Why this Film is Important The film is threaded around people’s strong links with the land, forest, biodiversity and river. Throughout the film how people have associated themselves with the natural resources and how breaking this association is inviting havoc for the economic conditions and social relations have been depicted brilliantly.
“This is a land where our ancestors have been living for ages and we won’t leave it at any cost” such sentiments have been echoed throughout the history in most cases of displacement caused due to dams or any other project displacing people. This film on Polavaram documents with videos why and how this is such a crucial case against such projects. The film shows how displacing people from one place and giving them compensation either in terms of money or in rare cases some land has done little to improve the conditions of the people and has in fact impoverished and disempowered the people. This, as the film very clearly shows, has thrown them in to a life of poverty and uncertainty.
The film is packed with interviews of the people affected by the dam either due to submergence or due to other project components like canal construction. The filmmaker also interviewed experts from the field to show how the construction of Polavaram dam violates legal norms, is technically not feasible and takes no lesson from the experiences of construction of similar project in other parts of the country and how better options exist.
The personal interviews done brings to light how the people have little information about the project in Andhra Pradesh and have literally no information in Chhattisgarh and Odisha. In Andhra Pradesh, the government is also building infrastructure such as roads and buildings in areas which have been identified as submergence areas. This rather than helping people is creating confusions. There has been no environment or social impact assessment or public consultations in Chhattisgarh or Odisha, nor any plans for rehabilitation or environmental management. The Polavaram project got environment clearance in Oct 2005 but till 2013, in Andhra Pradesh out of the 276 submergence villages only 30 to 40 villages have been receiving compensation and that too only partly for their land only.
Complexities with Compensation: Monetary The film also brings out what is actually happening with the money given as compensation. The compensation that was given to one affected family, loosing 1.5 acres of land, was Rs. 1,68,000. When asked what did they do with the money, the head of the family said that they distributed the money among the family members where each person got around Rs. 10,000. People from Khammam district narrated the story of how they have been looted in the process of getting the compensation cheques from the government officials and lawyers. People were also cheated by insurance companies which came to these areas in large numbers posing as banks after people received their cheques. People also believed that after the project compensation was given the social relations in villages have deteriorated. One of the ladies from an affected family said “Many people died since the money came… drinking heavily and died… People are fighting among themselves since the money came.”
The Bone of Contention: Land The film shows that even in case of the compensation received in the form of land, why the result is equally distressful. In a rehabilitation colony in East Godavari district few males are to be found since they have migrated to the cities to find work. People said that there is no farmland for them to work nor there is any work under MGNREGA. In Kuruturu in West Godavari district, the conflict over land between tribal and non-tribal people have intensified since displaced people were given disputed land as part of their rehabilitation plan. Many people who were given such land returned to their original villages due to these conflicts. They now conclude: “we have decided that its better we die in the Godavari, rather then go over there.” Some of the affected people (e.g. in Kunta block in Dantewada district of Chhattisgarh) face double displacement. The people of this area were forced to shift to Salwa Judum camps due to the conflict between Maoist and Salwa Judum since 2005. But at a time when they were returning to their villages to resume their lives, they were told that they will again had to leave their villages as they will be submerged by the Polavaram dam.
Canals Completed without any work on the Dam The film also throws light on drawback of the construction plan of the Polavaram dam. The films shows that the construction work of the irrigation canals of the project is almost complete at a time when no progress has been made in the construction of the main dam. This project, as Himanshu Thakkar of SANDRP points out in the film, resembles the Rs 75,000 crore Maharastra irrigation scam where canals were constructed to fulfill the interests of the construction lobby without doing any work on the main dam. The massive Andhra Irrigation Scam is only beginning to surface, as pointed out in a recent CAG report[i].
Embankments as Huge as ‘China Walls’ The film shows that the proposal to construct embankments as huge as the ‘China wall’ on Sabari and Sileru rivers of Chhattisgarh and Odisha to prevent submergence of the areas in these states can only be possible on paper. The plan to construct embankment came as response to Orissa High Court order which said that Polavram project cannot submerge the areas of Odisha and Chhattisgarh. However, embankments were not a part of the original construction plan which received clearance from Environment Ministry. Nor has there been any environment or social impact assessment or feasibility study based on ground realities of the embankment proposal. There has also been no public consultations in these affected areas.
Experts say construction of such embankments would be a huge blunder of the Polavaram project. In the film Prof. T. Shivaji Rao of Center of Environment Studies in GITAM Univeristy, Vizag opined that with embankments there will be greater damage for Odisha and Chhattisgarh. Andhra Pradesh has also made a plan to put 16 lifts at different points on the embankments on Sabari and Sileru rivers to lift the water from the tributaries to the main river during flooding season. During rains these lifts are to lift and pump the water over the embankment walls and pour it in the river. This is doomed right from the beginning. The film shows this by bringing a detailed account of the experience of similar sluice gate scheme on the Godavari embankment in Bhadrachalam where it failed miserably. The sluices got closed up leading to waterlogging and inundation of houses.
There is no doubt that this film is a very detailed documentation of the issues related with Polavaram dam. The filmmaker could have added some voices from the government or project authorities to give a complete picture. In the film serious concerns were raised against how the government has handled the whole issue of Polavaram. I would recommend all concerned must watch this film. For a copy, either see the youtube link given above or write to the film maker: firstname.lastname@example.org, the price of a copy of the film is Rs 350/- including postage charges of Rs 50/-. Do watch and spread the word!