A number of welcome developments around dams appear in this week’s DRP News Bulletin from SANDRP. The prominent is the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation declaring that it may not need Pinjal Dam, which SANDRP had said in its report way back in 2012-13 and the then BMC commissioner had agreed to in an interview to NDTV. This should also lead to cancellation of the Damanganga Pinjal River Link proposal. The Maharashtra govt decision to review the need for Human dam is also welcome. The Kerala State Information Commissioner’s decision to direct that the Dam Break Analysis should be in public domain is also a useful precedent that all states and CWC need to follow immediately and also amend the proposed Dam Safety Act to include a provision that all Dam Safety related information, including meeting minutes, agenda, decisions, status reports etc will be in public domain.
The statement of Shri U P Singh, secretary, Union Water Resources Ministry, that “industry (private or public sector) could adopt small rivers” seems to suggest that the government is moving towards handing over the rivers to Corporate bodies. The example Mr Singh gave of Drayavati River of Jaipur is even more disturbing since that river has been completely destroyed by the project implemented by the Tatas. It should not surprise though, considering that no less than the Prime Minister has been giving the example of canalisation of Sabarmati as an example of rejuvenation of the river. If this is what the government means by rejuvenation, that even Ganga and Yamuna are facing major risks of destruction. Its not less shocking that while Nitish Kumar, the Chief Minister of Bihar has questioned Modi government’s attempt to achieve Nirmal Ganga without attempting Aviral Ganga, his own government is basically following the same Sabarmati model on Ganga in Patna. If this is the example of “rejuvenation” of river according to the top most bureaucrat of of the government in charge of Water resources, nothing can save India’s rivers except a people’s movement against such moves wherever such destruction of rivers is attempted.
The Prime Minister finally found time to have the first ever meeting on National Ganga Council, over three years after the Ganga Notification of Oct 7, 2016. The meeting happened at Kanpur, where the NGT recently fined the state government for continuing to release untreated effluents into the Ganga. In fact NGT in recent weeks have taken several decisions that also shows how abysmally the govt has failed on Ganga front. And now after the first NGC meeting, the Prime Minister, in an effort to divert attention from Namami Gange failure, is proposing the new slogan of Arth Ganga, which basically seems to suggest focus on Money, which is Exactly what is not going to help the cause of Ganga. The Ganga is still on the lookout for the Ganga putra that promised a clean Ganga in May 2014.
Following recent Punjab floods, the Punjab Chief Minister said that the state government would go for canalisation of rivers, as if that is going to help in managing or avoiding flood disaster. This proposal seems to come out from nowhere, but considering that the CM talked about funding by the World Bank and Asian Development Bank, either this is already under discussion or these institutes have proposed this to the Chief Minister. The Proposal seems blind to the impacts, costs, risks and wider implications of the canalisation of rivers.
To avoid duplication, the excellent report in MINT below provides detailed reasons why it is a disastrous Idea. The Indian Express report below is in fact a bad example of reporting, since it does not even mention the impacts, costs or risks of the canalisation proposal. And the report that follows these two from California in USA shows how there the work is ongoing to reverse the trend and bring more flood plains in connection with the rivers at a huge cost. Why do we have to repeat the blunders of others, as propagated by the World Bank and ADB and then pay the price in reversing the blunders?
The following is an excellent example of how early flood warnings from Bhutan, shared with downstream Assam communities using WhatsApp messages, saves lives. This needs to be highlighted and word spread to implement it in all flood prone areas on Urgent basis, including in trans-boundary areas, as this is an example of the same.
In the last few weeks of June 2019, a series of WhatsApp messages (sent via unofficial channels) were sent from Bhutan to India to warn “cross-border friends” downstream of the Aai, Saralbhanga and Manas rivers about cloud-bursts, swollen rivers and possible flash floods affecting people in the Indian state of Assam.
Ken River, the lifeline of Bundelkhand region is again succumbing to illegal sand mining on a massive scale. The 427 km long river originates from agricultural lands in Mamar hills of Katni district, Madhya Pradesh. It flows through Panna district and merges into Yamuna river as right bank tributary at Cheela Ghat in Banda district of Uttar Pradesh.
For first about 50 km from origin the river remains seasonal and gets strength once the tributary streams and rivers like Aloni, Gurne, Patne, Sonar, Midhasan, Shyamari, Banne, Khudar, Kutne, Urmil, Kail successively falls into it as the river flows through plateau area of Vindhya hill range in Central India.
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.
This week multiple reports warned of how India is already facing climate change impacts, how the groundwater, India’s water lifeline could be under threat under climate change, how India’s monsoon, the other water lifeline of India is under threat.
In fact, we should be bracing up for the drought that the summer will bring, but as yet there is no signs of any preparedness or plans.
The Dam floods in Indonesia and the Brazil’s disaster due to breach of mine tailings dam should be additional warnings, but our Dam Safety Bill that is before the Parliament does not recognise either of them.
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?
Dams and reservoirs make rivers sediment-starved and menacing manifold downstream. While heavy rainfall is also a key factor behind the floods, hungry water had a more pronounced effect, says D. Padmalal, Scientist and Head, Hydrological process group, National Centre for Earth Science Studies.
– “When the sediment transport is interrupted, the potential energy of the hungry water released from dams will scour the river banks downstream, uprooting trees or riparian vegetation and damaging bridges and other engineering structures,” explains Dr. Padmalal. Overloaded with silt and clay from the eroding river banks, the highly turbid and viscous water clogs drainage channels. Subsequent discharge of water from the dam will lead to inundation and waterlogging of large areas.
– Hungry water can also develop in high gradient river channels devoid of adequate quantity of sand and gravel, especially during periods of high rainfall. “Years of uncontrolled sand mining have left most of the rivers in Kerala depleted or exhausted of sand and gravel. This creates a situation similar to the release of hungry water from dams,” notes Dr. Padmalal. When the river channel has adequate supply of sand and gravel, the potential energy of the water is used to transport the mixture. The water does not scour the banks or turn muddy.
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.