Groundwater issues made news repeatedly in the year 2015. The year saw a 14 per cent deficit in southwest monsoon increasing the dependence on ground water for agricultural, industrial and domestic use. The falling water table and pollution of surface and ground water sources made the situation critical in various parts of the country. Competing demands on the ground water led to protests and litigation. The National Green Tribunal (NGT) tried to safeguard the ground water and pushed the State machinery into action through its orders in various matters. Towards the end of the year, the Central Ground Water Authority (CGWA) came up with revised guidelines for evaluation of proposals for ground water abstraction.
Adaptive Agriculture: A mix of Millets, Corn, Legumes and Vegetables grown by tribals in the same plot. Photo: Aparna Pallavi, Down to Earth
When the farmers were losing their crop due to less or no rain, the government was still speculating about 2014 being a drought year. Now that the damage is done, we have seen some acknowledgement from authorities of the actual situation. One wonders then why is it that the government has to wait for calamity to strike when it already knows the dangers that lie ahead. In a burst of enthusiasm, it set up the eight missions under the National Action Plan for Climate Change (NAPCC) in 2008, one of which is the National Mission for Sustainable Agriculture. But the ground situation seems to be the same with or without it.
The Indian network for climate change assessment (INCCA) report suggests that there is a probability of 10-40% loss in crop production in India by 2080-2100 unless we take mitigation measures and adapt to the global warming[i]. The 5th assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), estimates that 60% more food will be needed by 2050 given the current trends in food consumption[ii]. It is also estimated that for tropical places especially like India and China, the length of the growing season and suitability for crops will decrease as it is determined by moisture availability and extreme heat, where both are being affected as a result of climate change. This means that there will be considerable losses in agricultural productivity in India, leading to negative impacts on food security in the country. In such a situation, it is important for the government to work towards safeguarding the livelihoods of its farmers, who contribute highly to the GDP (13.7%) and form a big part of the overall labour force in the country. In its National Mission for Sustainable Agriculture, the government stated that there will be an estimated reduction in agricultural yield by up to 4.5-9% in the medium term (2010-2039), whereas a reduction of about >25% in the long term (2040 and beyond) if no measures are taken[iii].
Keeping in line with this, the IPCC report estimates that almost half of the wheat-growing area of the Indo-Gangetic Plains could experience significant amounts of stress due to heat by 2050s, along with the expansion of temperate wheat environments northwards as climate changes. ii The INCCA report said that projections indicated the possibility of loss of 4-5 million tonnes in wheat production with every rise of 1 degree Celsius temperature. i In an instance concerning wheat production in the Indo-Gangetic plains in 2004, the report sites that temperatures were higher by 3-6 degree Celsius, which is almost 1 degree C per day over the whole crop season. As a result, wheat crop matured earlier by 10-20 days and wheat production dropped by more than 4 million tonnes in the countryi.
Similar is the case with rice. In another report on Punjab, it was seen that with all other climatic variables remaining constant, temperature increases of 1⁰C, 2⁰C, 3⁰C would reduce the grain yield of rice by 5.4, 7.4 and 25.1 % respectively[iv]. The report by INCCA, in its projections for 2030, said that the yields of irrigated rice will be affected by about 10% in the coastal areas. Rain-fed rice yields are projected to increase upto 15% in many districts in the east coast, whereas they may fall by about 20% in the West Coasti. In India, rice is a widely grown crop. Its production determines livelihoods of majority of the farmers for one season. It is also the most water intensive crop. As temperatures rise, there is also increased stress on water required through the growing season. In India, 70% of our arable land is prone to drought, 12% to floods and 8% to cyclones[v]. In such cases, farmers who live with uncertainty have less money for food, farm investments and a reduced capacity and willingness to try out new technologies and practices.
To add to the rise in temperatures, in its Summary for Policymakers, the IPCC clearly stated that it is very likely that hot extremes, heat waves and heavy precipitation events will continue to become more frequent. Thus the uncertainty is bound to increase. These climate extreme events are being witnessed in India even this year. There has been high rainfall deficit at many places through most of the monsoon season, thus leading to crop losses. There is extreme rain in the hills, which lead to the floods in Uttarakhand, Bihar, Orissa and now in Jammu and Kashmir. But the government still does not acknowledge the role of climate change in these anomalies.
Adapting farmers: Even though the climate is changing, the farming practices have not changed at most places. But there has been evidence that at some places farmers have adopted different techniques in the face of climate change even if they do not address it directly, but only make decisions based on impacts. The small and marginal farmers, it has been noticed, do not have the capacity to go for fresh sowing in case the crop goes bad when rains fail.
The Baiga tribe of Mandia and Dindori districts in particular have reverted back to this technique of planting multiple crops, which are resilient to environmental stress and give assured yield. The Madia tribe in Maharashtra have reverted to a similar practice of penda. This is happening because the people have suffered huge losses due to unsuccessful paddy crop because of erratic rain. These practices are being implemented with the help of an NGO, Nirman. The problem facing the people today is that the land used for this is forest land and not agricultural land, thus causing land insecurity. However, these people are making the effort to save their livelihoods with no help from the government.
In the case of Bundelkhand region in Central India, over 70% of the population relies on rainfall for agriculture[vi]. The farmers here have started replacing wheat with barley as it is a less water intensive crop and this is a semi-arid region. It is also preferred because the input cost of barley is almost 50% less than wheat and its market price is 20% more. In this region, there have been efforts from organizations such as Development Alternatives which has formed farmers’ clubs to help the community adopt climate resilient techniques for agriculture, like drip and sprinkler irrigation, adoption of drought resistant seed varieties and integrated pest management.
In another report of a similar instance, basmati farmers in Karnal district are reverting back to an old practice of growing maize, which is a less water intensive crop[vii]. This is being undertaken even in large landholdings, as there is less water availability, with groundwater[viii] levels showing a decline in recent years. According to the National Mission for Sustainable Agriculture document, irrigation requirements in arid and semi-arid regions are estimated to increase by 10% for every 1⁰C rise in temperature[ix]. Therefore, it is very important for farmers to adopt techniques which help in its conservation.
The Consultative Group on International Agriculture Research (CGIAR) research Programme on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS), in collaboration with IFFCO India, has started the pilot for implementing climate smart agricultural technologies in three villages in Bihar. In an attempt to alter the cropping pattern, they re-introduced the sowing of mungbean, which is a short duration crop of the summer season. It is planted during the fallow season and increases soil fertility. For increasing yield, the ‘Pusa Visal’ variety of mungbean is used, which is a better variety compared to the previously used one[x]. The yield from the initial trials ranged from about 0.80-1.70 t/ha as against 0.30-0.80 t/ha under farmers’ practice. The yield for the pusa visal variety was also significantly higher than that of the farmers’ variety. Seeing such results, other farmers have also expressed the desire to follow suit.
The CCAFS is also taking initiative in Haryana, where about 26 villages are targeted. Various climate smart techniques like the laser-levelling technique are being implemented here. This technique, it is claimed, helps conserve about 25-30% of the water used otherwise in rice-crop plantation[xi]. Even the way of planting rice is different in that it is directly sown in the field where it then sprouts. This is known as “direct-seeded rice”. Apart from this, there is also the practice of using crop-residue to nourish fields, which saves the cost of extra fertilizer. To optimize the use of fertilizer, farmers are being taught to use a tool called “nutrient-expert”, which judges the amount of fertilizer application required in a field. These techniques help reduce uncertainty in the crop output. The earlier maize growing practice mentioned in the case of Karnal, is also one of the climate smart techniques.
Agriculture also contributes to the emission of greenhouse gases. In fact, in 2004, agriculture directly contributed to 14% of the global anthropogenic greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions according to the IPCC[xii]. There has been an increase in CO2 emissions by about 100 ppm since pre-industrial times. Emissions of CO2 are often accompanied by ozone (O3) precursors that have driven a rise in troposphere O3 that harms crop yields. Elevated O3 since pre industrial times has very likely suppressed global production of major crops compared to what they would have been without O3 increases, with estimated losses of roughly 10% for wheat and soybean and 3-5% for maize and rice. Thus it is necessary that the government builds its capacity to better understand and measure the impact this has on agriculture and take the required steps to control it.
National Mission for Sustainable Agriculture (NMSA): The focus of this mission under National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC) is supposed to be to mainly improve the productivity of rain-fed agriculture. One might ask then, why it did not promote techniques like the System of Rice Intensification (SRI)[xiii] which requires much less water than conventionally grown rice. The mission recognizes that in the event of climate change, the vulnerability of India is more pronounced because it is dependent on agriculture, places excessive pressure on natural resources and has poor coping mechanisms.
It estimates that most of the crops are likely to witness a decline after 2020 which is when the temperature threshold of many crops might get breached. Studies suggest a significant decrease in cereal production by the end of this century. The situation will be most critical in areas which are rain-fed and have complex cropping systems. These constitute about 60% of the net cultivated area. But acknowledging it is one thing and doing something about it is quite another. The climate smart techniques are showing results at some places, but are still not being actively adopted by the government. In a recent press release, the ministry of agriculture announced that the sowing of kharif crop has crossed the 986.59 lakh ha mark, but this is still much less than the 1020.78 lakh ha which was sown last year around the same time[xiv]. Despite this, the government has expressed hope for a positive response in crop output next season, envisaging a growth of four percent[xv], while not acknowledging the impact of huge rainfall deficit in June July this year.
The mission acknowledges that since most of the agricultural production takes place in rural areas and engages people from the marginalized sections of the society, their coping capacity during climatic extremities are limited. But what has the government done since the inception of this plan? It has been almost 6 years since NAPCC was launched and the farmers still suffer the same fate without any compensation from the government. Even today, they are at the mercy of the weather. It will not work anymore to ignore the fact that this is now being aggravated by climate change. There is a need for more climate smart agricultural techniques in the country. The least the government can do is to acknowledge that the unpredictable weather patterns, especially the irregular monsoon is in fact a result of climate change. It will do good to also recognize that out of the 300 million undernourished in South Asia, about 250 million are in India[xvi] and any threat to agriculture is an added threat to their existence.
Padmakshi Badoni, SANDRP, email@example.com
[viii] For more information on groundwater situation in the country, visit SANDRP’s blog https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2014/08/11/groundwater-falling-levels-and-contamination-threaten-indias-water-lifeline-urgent-need-for-community-driven-bottoms-up-management/
It is officially the monsoon season but there are no dark clouds to be seen on the horizon as yet in majority parts of the country. This year, like some previous drought years, the monsoon has disappointed and the rice crop is in jeopardy. The fields are almost dry and the provision for enough water for irrigation seems to be the only hope the farmers have. Over the past Century, water use around the world has been increasing at a rate more than twice that of population growth1. With the changing climatic conditions, water from rainfall is becoming more unreliable. It is in such a situation that the agricultural sector will have to feed more people and have very little water to spare1 as there is also pressure from increasing water demand from other sectors. In order to then get more crop with less water, our techniques of rice production must be modified. It is in this context that one can look at the System of Rice Intensification (SRI), which, experts argue and studies demonstrate, can be used to preserve this indispensable resource. Studies show that SRI uses upto 52.4% less water per ha of rice farm1.
It has been estimated that irrigated rice uses 34-43% of the world’s total irrigation water.1 Almost all the rice crop grown in India is sustained through irrigation. About 1900-5000 litres of water is used to produce 1 kg of rice2. Thus the water use is immense in rice production. SRI then, is an agro-ecological method for increasing the productivity of rice by changing the way that the plants, soil and water are managed. It is a technique developed in collaboration with the farmers in Madagascar in the 1980s. The purpose of SRI was to enable farmers with limited resources to increase their production and income without relying on external sources7. Most importantly, this practice can be adjusted to suit local climatic and soil conditions. This is because it is based on adjustments in the environment and not a change in the physiological aspect of the seed that is planted. The biggest advantage of SRI is the fact that it uses less seed and less water to give an increased yield as compared to conventionally transplanted (CT) rice. SRI does not require continuous flooding of fields like conventional rice, but requires water only when the crop needs it, i.e., when the field is relatively dry and ready for the next irrigation. Though by its name, SRI only stands for rice cultivation, it is also seen to be used in other crops.
Climate change adaptation: SRI using less water has larger root system in Andhra Pradesh, India.
A number of countries have been practising the SRI technique. In India, this has started becoming popular with farmers. Farmers in states such as Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, Bihar, Tripura have been practising SRI and gaining good results from it for many years now. According to a report in The Hindu, the area under SRI management in Tamil Nadu has now reached about half of the State’s rice area8. It says that in Tripura, almost 3,50,000 farmers are practising SRI in about 1,00,000 hectares, almost half of the State’s rice area8. A recent report on Odisha by the Cornell University in their SRI-Rice Global News Update states that among the families studied by them who actively practise SRI, there was a saving of 19% in the cost of production as the grain yield was higher even though the cost of cultivation was 3.2% higher. The farmers had a positive perception about SRI because it was economically better for them6.
Water saving potential of SRI
Various other studies have been conducted to measure the amount of water saved in the use of SRI in different countries. The results have been positive almost everywhere. Jagannath, Pullabhotla and Uphoff1 in their Meta study comparing SRI and non-SRI method for irrigated rice production using data from 251 trials published in various studies, out of which 139 were from India, observe that there is almost 22% reduction in water use if one uses the SRI technique as compared to the traditional ways of cultivating rice. As compared to the mean Total Water Use (TWU) being about 15.3 million litres per hectare for conventional methods, SRI only demanded 12 million litres per hectare. The saving is even higher for the mean Irrigation Water Use, where non-SRl methods used about 11.1 million litres per hectare; SRI used about 7.2 million litres per hectare1. The study demonstrates that on an average, there is a “37.6% increase in water use efficiency (irrigation + other) with SRI methods compared to non-SRI methods”1. A study by Adusumilli and Bhagya Laxmi in Andhra Pradesh, India, in 2011 shows that there was upto 52.4% total water savings in SRI per ha basis and the SRI crop produced 18.5% higher rice, so water productivity of every kg of SRI rice was over 70% higher than that of non-SRI rice.
Y. V. Singh in his field experiment earlier in 2010-11, observed that less quality of water was utilized in SRI for the production of each unit of grain. Water saving of 34.5-36 % was recorded in SRI as compared to CT rice3. In SRI, cycles of repeated wetting and drying have been found beneficial to rice plant growth as it leads to increased nutrient availability leading ultimately to higher grain yield. There are visible gains in terms of yield upturn and water saving with non-flooding conditions7.
Singh, in his report, also recorded that there was a saving of 7-9 irrigations in SRI rice over CT rice. Besides savings in number of irrigations, there was saving in water in each irrigation since only 3cm water depth was filled in SRI whereas in CT used 5cm of water depth3.
The above statistics show that SRI has definitely been more efficient as a growing technique in conserving the water that is used for irrigation of the fields. It has also been observed that this is true for varying soil textures, differences in seasons, soil pH and also the duration of the variety of rice. Therefore, it is adaptable across diverse agro-ecologies.
An Indian woman shows the difference in the SRI (left) and the non-SRI (right) crop.
SRI is even more relevant in times of water scarcity:
So if we look at the question of water today, it becomes extremely important to then look at the benefits that SRI gives us. This year’s troubled monsoon (while the rainfall deficit at national level is 35% as on July 17, 2014, there are regions where the the rainfall deficit is as high as 64% in Punjab-Haryana, 71% in Western Uttar Pradesh & 82% in Gujarat, in fact these deficits were even higher on July 15, 2014) has been a cause for concern for farmers all over India. It is also the season for the rice crop. Areas of Central India and North-Western India have been receiving very less rainfall leading to reduced water availability. It has been getting more and more difficult for the farmers to maintain their crop and hope for the yield to be good. Since most of the rice crop is grown through irrigation, it then becomes important to maintain the sources of irrigation, mainly groundwater, since most dams do not have water at this stage.
In the Ganga Basin, one of the main kharif (monsoon season) crop is paddy or rice, significant part irrigated with water from the river and groundwater. The Ganga river is in crisis today not only because of pollution, but also because the river has very little freshwater most of the times and most of the places. In such conditions, if river is to have more freshwater all round the year, cutting down on water use for agriculture through SRI like technique for all crops can be hugely useful. SRI thus provides a less water consuming alternative to the people. Despite this potential, the government is not making any efforts to provide policy and economic incentives for farmers to take up SRI. It’s tried and tested benefits are being overlooked. SRI thus can also help the cause of the rivers in the Ganga basin.
Importance of Irrigation management:
Though all these studies have demonstrated that there is definite reduction in water use under SRI as compared to conventional methods, Adusumalli and Sen have also observed that even though this decrease is there, there are chances that the potential of water saving may be only marginally utilized4. This large potential in water saving can be realized through various measures like the better control and management of timeliness of water availability. But implementation of such types of irrigation is often difficult by farmers mainly due to lack of reliable water source & little water control7.
SRI practice in Uttarakhand Photo by Padmakshi Badoni
Application of such water saving technique to rice cultivation has the potential to reduce irrigation water requirements by upto 50% with yield advantage of upto 25%. This system requires low investment and is easy to operate. Proper water management is in fact key to higher yields and net income in SRI as this important input influences the effects of other inputs also.7
It is the Union Agriculture ministry, the state governments, agriculture universities and extension system which needs to wake up to this huge water saving potential of SRI, in addition to so many other advantages of SRI, including, most importantly, increasing the incomes of the farmers. This is particularly relevant in North West, West and Peninsular India. Even in climate change context, the SRI plants have shown greater adaptability to both droughts and floods. So why is it that this potential is not being harnessed? Why is it that on the one hand the government is making big budget plans for the apparent rejuvenation of rivers and on the other hand doing nothing about preserving their water? Why is it not pushing SRI in this drought year, particularly the western and North West India where there is maximum monsoon deficit?
To illustrate the neglect of SRI by government, see the PIB Press Release dated July 18, 2014 from Union Ministry of Agriculture with the title: “Measures to Address any Situation Arising due to Deficient Rainfall”. One would have expected that this would at least mention SRI, but there is no mention of SRI there!
Padmakshi Badoni, SANDRP (firstname.lastname@example.org)
- Jagannath, P., Pullabhotla H. and Uphoff, N. 2013. Meta-Analysis Evaluating Water Use, Water Savings, and Water Productivity in Irrigated Production of Rice with SRI vs. Standard Management Methods. Taiwan Water Conservancy. Vol. 61. No. 4.
- Jagannath, Pratyaya. “More Crop per Drop- System of Rice Intensification”. Cornell International Institute for Food, Agriculture and Development. – published as a poster by the Cornell University.
- Singh, Y. V. 2012. Crop and Water Productivity as influenced by Rice Cultivation Methods under Organic and Inorganic sources of Nutrient supply. Paddy and Water Environment. DOI 10.1007/s10333-012-0346-y. Springer-Verlag.
- Adusumilli, R. and Schipper, R. Groundwater Irrigated Rice: A Techno-Economic exploration of the possibilities of producing ‘More Rice with Less Water’. Development Economics Group. Wageningen University and Research.
- Adusumilli, R and Sen, D. Irrigation System Reforms: New Policy Opportunities with SRI.
- Dass A and Dhar S. 2014. Irrigation Management for improving Productivity, Nutrient uptake and Water-use Efficiency in the system of rice intensification: a Review. Annual Agricultural Research. New Series. Vol. 35 (2): 107-122.
The one day Ganga Manthan organized by the National Mission for Clean Ganga on July 7, 2014 was described by Union Minister Sushri Uma Bharti & Union Minister Shri Nitin Gadkari as “Historical”. The Union Environment Minister, who has one of the most crucial role in achieving a rejuvenated Ganga, was supposed to be there, but could not come at any stage.
I attended the full day meeting with a lingering question: Will this help the river? Even some of the ardent skeptics said that Uma ji has emotional, spiritual and religious attachment with the cause of Ganga.
At the conclave attended by close to a thousand people, the story of how Ms. Bharti came back to the BJP party about a year back to work for the cause of Ganga, and how she was promised a year back that if their party came to power, Ganga will get a separate ministry and she its charge was narrated repeatedly by both Ms Bharti and Mr Gadkari at least twice. It was also stated that the government has the commitment, the will & all the money to make the Ganga clean (Nirmal) and perennial (aviral). There were also repeated statements by both ministers about the officials being so committed to the cause of Ganga. These, in essence, were the basic positive assets of this government to achieve Ganga Rejuvenation.
While it was good to see large gathering involving various sections of the society, including many independent non government voices, missing were some key stakeholders: Ganga basin state governments, farmers groups, Ministry of Urban Development, fisher-folk groups, boats-people representatives. Another key constituency missing was Ministry of Agriculture, since agriculture is major user of water & irrigation and responsible for water diversion and at the same time major non point source polluter through use of chemicals and fertilizers.
Rejuvenation does not mean just nirmal and aviral But if the task is Rejuvenation of River Ganga, are these assets sufficient? What exactly does Rejuvenation of River Ganga mean? There were no answers to this question at the meeting. The government did not even seem bothered about these questions. Are Nirmal and Aviral Ganga sufficient objectives to achieve Rejuvenation of Ganga? The answer is clearly no, for, even a pipleline or canal carrying perennial flow of water can claim that distinction. A rejuvenated river will need much more than that, but the government has nothing else to offer for a rejuvenated river.
Even for Aviral Ganga, the government had absolutely nothing to offer. In the information package shared with the participants, the only thing relevant to Aviral Ganga was the extended summary of draft “Ganga River Basin Management Plan” being prepared by consortium of seven IITs in collaboration with some 11 other organisations. This is led by Dr Vinod Tare of IIT Kanpur. While standing with Dr Tare and Rajendra Singh of Tarun Bharat Sangh at the lunch, I said, the problem with Ganga is not of technology, but of governance. Despite being a proud IITian myself, I have no hesitation in saying that IITs do not have expertise in governance issues, so how can the IIT Consortium help in fix a governance problem? Having read the full Draft Plan of the IIT consortium, it only further strengthens the view that it was wrong decision of Jairam Ramesh to give this task to IIT Consortium.
Agenda for further destruction As a matter of fact, while this government has yet to take a step that will truly help rejuvenation of Ganga, they have declared their agenda that will possibly further destroy the river. This was clear on June 6, 2014, within ten days of new government taking over when a PIB press release announced, “Shri Gadkari said it is proposed to conduct dredging to provide a width of 45 meters and for a three (3) meters draft (depth) to enable transport of passengers and goods between Varanasi and Hoogly on river Ganga in the first stage of its development and eleven terminals are proposed to be constructed along the banks. He said barrages are proposed to be constructed at every 100 Kms.” This was a shocking and arrogant announcement. There is nothing in public domain about this Rs 6000 crores plan, no details as to what exactly is planned, where the barrages are planned, why are they needed, what are their environmental impacts, what are the social impacts, what are the riverine impacts, what is the cost and benefits, who will pay the costs and who will reap the benefits, where is public consultation….there is absolutely nothing in public domain and here is a nine day old government declaring such massive plan! By July 7, 2014, the PIB Press Release declared that the depth will now by 5 meters and not three announced earlier. The PIB PR now said, “He (Mr Gadkari) said barrages are proposed to be constructed at every 100 Kms on the river. Shri Gadkari said his Ministry has sent a proposal in this regard to World Bank for the development of Allahabad- Haldia corridor.”
The minister possibly does not know that there is just one barrage on the Allahabad-Haldia 1500 km long stretch, namely the Farakka barrage and Bangladesh had threatened India to take the matter about building this barrage to the UN! Moreover, that barrage, everyone accepts, has not even achieved the basic objective it was supposed to achieve, namely navigability of Kolkata port, but has had many other severe impacts.
At Ganga Manthan, Mr Gadkari dropped a bombshell when he said this plan is already in advanced stage of appraisal with the World Bank! He said the government hopes to get Rs 4000 crores from the World Bank!! The World Bank has zero track record in achieving any clean river anywhere in the world, after spending billions of dollars every year. In India itself it stands guilty of destroying many rivers. A more inauspicious start to the Ganga Manthan possibly could not have been possible. At the Ganga Manthan itself, there was opposition to this plan, as The Hindu has reported.But Ms Uma Bharti finds nothing amiss about this as was clear by her answers at the press conference. But what about at least some semblance of participatory democracy?
Business as usual at NMCG and NGBRA will not help In reality, this is not all. While this Manthan for Ganga Rejuvenation is happening, the NMCG and NGBRA (National Ganga River Basin Authority) go on with their work in business as usual fashion. So in Varanasi, the Uttar Pradesh Jal Nigam is going about its task of floating and examining the bids for five-part sewer laying and Sewage Treatment Plants with the help of JICA money. In Kanpur, the effort to divert several streams to Pandu is going on. In Allahabad, “the draft final ESAMP sewerage works for sewerage districts” A & C could be found on the NGBRA website. In Patna, the World Bank is funding the sewerage projects of Pahari in Patna & river front development and the draft social and environmental impact assessments could be found on NGBRA website. All of this (except the Varanasi packages, which are funded by Japanese aid agency) is going on under USD 1 Billion World Bank Funded NBGRA project.
So the business as usual that is going on for 40 years is now going to help rejuvenate Ganga!
The NMCG announced that the Manthan, a “National Dialogue on Ganga”, was supposed “to facilitate interaction with various stakeholders”, “to discuss the issues & solutions to the task of Ganga Rejuvenation”, “to prepare road map for preparation of a comprehensive plan”. The website said the Ganga is “holiest of Rivers”, “purifier of mortal beings” & “living godess”, but now “seriously polluted” and in “extreme environmental stress”.
Where is the dialogue? However, the way the meeting was organized, there was essentially no dialogue. After the inaugural plenary session, the participants were divided among four groups: 1. spiritual leaders, 2. environmentalists, NGOs, water conservationists, 3. scientists, academicians and technocrats, and administrators; 4. public representatives.
I went to the second group and there, when someone pointedly asked, if there is any representative of the government present, there was no response! In fact it was positively shocking that the first panel member that spoke in this group was Dr Arun Kumar of AHEC (Alternate Hydro Energy Centre) whose work on Ganga basin cumulative impact assessment is so discredited that even the official agencies like the Expert Appraisal Committee of MoEF, the Inter-ministerial Group on Ganga, the Expert Body appointed by the Supreme Court after the June 2013 flood disaster and the Supreme Court itself has criticized it or found it unreliable. NMCG has discredited itself by appointing such a person to give an overview of achievement of Ganga Action Plans.
Ms Bharti apologized in the beginning for hurriedly-called meeting. But the least she could have ensured was a credible process that will ensure that the officials have to show application of mind to the various suggestions received and conduct of the meeting in credible and confidence inspiring way. But the meeting did not inspire confidence that there will be any credible process that will ensure that there is application of mind to the various inputs given. Many of the participants did not have any opportunity to speak.
Recommendations for the government on Ganga
1. Make an honest effort to learn from the past. Why have the efforts of last 40 years since the passage of Water Pollution Act 1974 not helped Ganga? Similarly why did the GAP I, NRCP, GAP II, NGBRA not helped make the Ganga clean (nirmal) or perennial (aviral)?
2. Understand & recognise that Ganga is a river and what are the essential characteristics of a Ganga that it needs to rejuvenate it as a river. At Ganga Manthan, in post lunch session in the room where the fourth group for public representatives was sitting, I was sitting next to an official of Ministry of Water Resources and I casually asked him does the ministry of water resources understand what is a river? He first said yes, but when I said you are only dealing with water and nowhere in your work have we seen any value for rivers, he said ok, but we can do it in collaboration with MoEF. The trouble is, even MoEF does not understand rivers. [It was also strange to see in this session Mr Madhav Chitale (former Water Resources Secretary) describing Tennessee Valley Authority of 1933 as an effort to clean the river! Such misrepresentation going unchallenged was shocking.] It should be remembered that it is this ministry of water resources through which Sushri Uma Bharti has to achieve a rejuvenated Ganga!
3. Ganga is not 2525 km long river: We kept hearing this sentence that Ganga is 2525 km length of river and Mr Bhurelal in fact said we need to limit ourselves to discussing how to make this stretch clean. The trouble is, if the tributaries are not healthy rivers, how can the main stem of Ganga be rejuvenated? As Manoj Misra of Yamuna Jiye Abhiyaan said, Ganga is not 2525 km, but much more than 25000 km including all the tributaries, as Yamuna is not 1400 km long but 13470 km long including all the tributaries.
4. Ganga in Mountains: Learn the lessons from Uttarakhand disaster, that affected the headwaters of the Ganga river. The Expert body constituted by the MoEF under Dr Ravi Chopra has a lot to say there. Revisit all the existing, under construction and planned projects in the whole basin.
5. Farakka barrage: It is well known that the barrage did not serve the basic purpose it was created for, namely making the Kolkata port navigable. But it has created such havoc in upstream and downstream for millions of people that some of the Bihar MPs of previous Lok Sabhas talked about decommissioning of the barrage in the debate on Ganga. But this government wants to make many more barrages! First do a post facto assessment of the Farakka barrage and its current costs, benefits and risks.
6. Formulate an Urban Water Policy: The footprint of the urban areas on the rivers is increasing in multiple ways, but we have no urban water policy. Some key elements that such a policy will include: Reducing transmission & Distribution losses, water audit from RWA upwards, Rainwater harvesting, decentralised and eco-friendly ways of sewage treatment and recycle, groundwater recharge and bottom up management, demand side management, protection of local water bodies, protection of riverbeds, floodplains and forest areas & democratisation of the Urban water utilities. As the working report for the 12th Five Year Plan on Urban water said, no Urban areas should be allowed to have external water till they exhaust their local potential, including recycling of the treated sewage and other demand side and supply side options. The footprint of the urban areas will increase exponentially if we do not urgently on this front.
7. Agriculture is the biggest user of water and our government encourages use of chemicals and pesticides in agriculture. Most of these chemicals end up in water bodies including rivers. If we do not want our rivers to be dumping grounds for these chemicals, the government should encourage organic farming. Similarly, in stead of encouraging water intensive cropping patterns and methods, government needs to encourage low water use crops and methods like System of Rice Intensification (SRI). SRI is applicable for many crops and can reduce water need by upto 50% and yet increase yields and incomes of farmers. But the government has shown no interest in encouraging SRI. Such methods can free up a lot of water for the river. Similarly, under the influence of powerful sugar lobby, we are producing more sugarcane and sugar than we need and than we are exporting the same at subsidized rates! So essentially we are exporting water at huge subsidized rates, that too from Ganga, but we have no water for the river!
8. Irrigation is the biggest user of water. At Bhimgoda, Bijnor and Narora barrages, we are diverting almost all the water in the river for irrigation. But we have no water for the river. If we change our water resources development and agriculture policies, it is possible to restrict these diversions to 50% and release the rest for the river. We need to review all this.
9. The IIT consortium report is seriously flawed and is not likely to help the river.
10. We need to define the path of the riverbed or right of way for the river, based on its need to carry 100 year flood and silt. In absence of such a defined space for the river, there are a lot of encroachments. There is also no river regulation law to regulate this riverways land. This is urgently required.
11. Our Pollution Control Boards and related mechanism is not known to have achieved a single clean river or nala in 40 years of their existence, anywhere in the country. This is because of the completely non transparent, unaccountable, non participatory and exclusive bodies, where people whose lives are affected by the pollution have no role. A complete revamp of this is required to make its management inclusive from block level upwards, and answerable to the local people through clearly defined management system.
12. One of the major reason for the failure of the GAP, NRCP and NGBRA is that their functioning is top down, with absolutely no clearly defined norms for transparency, accountability, participation and inclusive management. Unless we completely change this, no amount of money, no amount of technology, no amount of infrastructure or institutions is going to help the Ganga. We need management system for every STP, every freshwater plant, every city and town, every 3-5 km of the river, every tributary and so on. At least 50% members of the management committees for each of them should be from outside the government, including community members. The people whose lives and livelihoods depend on river including fisherfolk, boatspeople, river bed cultivators, local sand miners, communities depending on river for different water needs have to be represented in such management system. That will also create an ownership in river rejuvenation effort. This is also applicable to urban areas and all the tributaries.
13. This is also true for our environmental governance of dams, hydropower projects, flood control projects, water supply projects, and so on. Today there is no credible environmental management at planning, appraisal, construction, operation or decommissioning stage.
14. River of course needs water. Urgently. Chart out a road map to achieve 50% of freshwater releases from all dams and barrages in two years. Also no sewage water or effluents entering the river in two years.
In the concluding plenary, after listening to the reports from four groups (there were a lot of positive and useful suggestions there), Ms Uma Bharti and Mr Gadkari said that they won’t make any announcement today but they will ensure that the good suggestions that have come will be given to the decision-makers who will create a road map. This is very vague and unconvincing process with no credible transparency. The least the ministers could have assured is a confidence-inspiring process that would transparently ensure that the decision makers have applied their minds to the suggestions. But even that was not promised.
Despite this seemingly gloomy outcome, considering that the NMCG has invited suggestions even after the meeting, I am going to send this blog link to them and wait for their response! Ganga definitely needs a lot of sewa from all of us if the river is to have any better future.
Himanshu Thakkar (email@example.com)
 Union Minister of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation
 Union Minister of Road Transport & Highways, Shipping, Rural Development, Panchayati Raj, Drinking Water & Sanitation
 It’s worth noting here that Mr Gadkari seems to have abiding faith in technology, he said that this is an age of technology and there are technological solutions for all problems! This possibly shows where we are heading!
 Title: “Development of River Ganga for Tourism, Transport and to make it Environment Friendly”
 Also the views of NGBRA expert member B D Tripathi that also questions Dr Vinod Tare and IIT consortium report on Ganga: http://www.thenewsminute.com/technologies/72
http://www.thenewsminute.com/technologies/71: Ganga clean up more about governance than technology: Himanshu Thakkar
http://www.thenewsminute.com/technologies/70: Experts flay Uma Bharti’s Ganga Manthan clean up plan
GOI Gazette notification of Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal Award on Feb 19, 2013:
Clear Partisan attitude: Proof lack of any interest in water, people or environment?
The belated gazette notification of the final award of the Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal, over six years after the Tribunal declared its award clearly signifies that the Union Government in general and its water resources ministry has no sensitivity or possibly sense for water, people or environment. The fact that it has been notified only under the deadline given by the Supreme Court of India more than once, as admitted by the Ministry in its Press Release, substantiates this point.
However, it also speaks a lot that the Supreme Court which has been sitting on the petitions from Karnataka and Tamil Nadu challenging the final award for all this years, and has been entertaining the petition on this issue all these years, has not found it fit to either dispose or dismiss those petitions, nor asked for this notification earlier. The direction for notification that the SC now gave could and should have been given earlier.
Also in this entire din, neither the concerned states nor the centre has given necessary encouragement and space to the Cauvery Family experiment that tried to bring the farmers from across the states together to understand, appreciate and resolve the issues through dialogue. This is particularly pertinent since people, the users of the water, river and the connected ecology were not a party before the tribunal. The people have not been heard by the tribunal, only the states have been, assuming that states represent the interests of the people, which is far from correct assumption. Nor do the people have any place in the regulatory system put forward by the Tribunal.
Some of the noteworthy features of Final CWDT award are:
– Meagre allocation of 10 TMC for environment flows in this major river system, which comes to just 1.35% of the assessed annual flow of 740 TMC (Thousand Million Cubic Feet or Billion Cubic feet) at 50% dependability (much lower than the usual 75% dependability assessment for other rivers).
– No calculation of groundwater use in inter state water allocation when ground water is increasingly the mainstay of our water use.
– No clear priority for drinking water and livelihood supporting irrigation water.
– No stipulation that environment flow should not be reduced in any lean season.
– Water storages below 3 TMC is not brought into calculation, so the whole assessment is biased in favour of BIG projects.
– No clear encouragement for System of Rice Intensification and water efficient cropping pattern across the basin.
For further comments see: https://sandrp.in/rivers/Article_Cauvery_Tribunal_Verdict_0207.pdf
Significantly, the SC order of Feb 4, 2013 is clear that this notification is without prejudice to the ongoing proceedings in the apex court. So there is no sense of finality as yet. The gazette notification in any case comes into force in 90 days, so sometime in May 2013, by which time Karnataka would have had its state assembly elections. So there is a lot of electoral and power politics that this issue will see.
SOME USEFUL LINKS:
Ministry of Water Resources notifies the Final Award of CWDT
On January 4, 2013, Hon’ble Supreme Court noted that party States did not have any objection to the final decision of Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal (CWDT) being notified. Accordingly, Hon’ble Supreme Court in its decision dated February 4, 2013 directed the Central Government to publish in official Gazette the final decision given by the CWDT dated February 5, 2007 by February 20, 2013. Accordingly, Ministry of Water Resources has notified the Final Award of CWDT dated February 5, 2007 on 19th February, 2013. Details of the notification may be seen at http://www.wrmin.nic.in.
2. MWR Notification on CWDT: http://www.wrmin.nic.in/writereaddata/linkimages/CWDT_Gazette7023249620.pdf
3. Feb 2007 Article by Himanshu Thakkar on Cauvery Award was titled Cauvery Tribunal Award 2007: Why it fails the tests of science, efficiency and equity?: https://sandrp.in/rivers/Article_Cauvery_Tribunal_Verdict_0207.pdf (this article was published then at: http://www.rediff.com/news/2007/feb/06guest.htm)
4. Full CWDT award is available at: http://mowr.gov.in/index3.asp?subsublinkid=376&langid=1&sslid=393