There is some good news this week. A survey has found existence of fishing cat and two otter species in Chilika lake – this was not known so far. However, this also underlines how little we know about India’s aquatic biodiversity in our rivers, lakes and deltas. Its high time we have authentic baseline survey across India, hopefully in participation with the local communities who would already know so much about this. And may be rather urgently, once we are through with the current Covid-19 Crisis.
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.
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?