There are large number of stories this week from all over India highlighting the crisis that Urban Rivers in India face. Urban rivers, like the Urban Water sector, exist in complete policy vacuum. There is no policy to guide the Urban water governance. Cosmetic efforts being done when President Donald Trump of USA visits India on Feb 24-25, 2020 at Yamuna (in view of his visit to Agra) or Sabarmati (visit to Sabarmati Ashram in Ahmedabad) won’t really help. The crisis not only affects the rivers, but the health, livelihoods and lives of millions and millions of city dwellers too, in addition to the downstream river users. Our Water Resources establishment has no clue, as is evident from their calling the Dravyawati river channelization in Jaipur as an example of river rejuvenation and suggesting such rivers should be given to corporates to rejuvenate in similar ways! It’s doubtful if the new National Water Policy now being formulated will help, unless it dares to suggest radical changes.
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)
Wetlands For A Sustainable Urban Future : Text from Face Book post by Vishwanath Srikantaiah on occasion of World Wetlands Day 2018.
Much grief, energy and monies can be saved if we imagine our ‘tanks’ as wetlands rather than water bodies in the city of Bengaluru.
World wetlands day is celebrated on the 2nd of February every year. For this year 2018 the theme is “Wetlands for a sustainable urban future”.
A simple definition for a wetland is that it is an area that tends to be saturated with water either permanently or seasonally and harbours a distinct type set of plants. Wetlands behave differently from a water body like a lake and need to be managed, if at all, completely differently.
Wetlands harbour bio-diversity much more than only water, have the ability to absorb pollutants and nutrients better, can manage floods, recharge groundwater, moderate temperature and area huge asset for a city.
In the city of Bengaluru itself the Karnataka State Lake Conservation and Development Authority (KLCDA) has sent a proposal to the central government that 176 tanks within the city be declared as wetlands. This would potentially protect these tanks better from encroachment and solid waste dumping as well as the construction of roads within.
The polluted stretches of the Vrishabhavati and the Dakshina Pinakini could also be brought under wetlands protection.
Wetlands, in combination with waste-water treatment plants, are a good way of reviving the tanks in the city. The example of Jakkur and Rachenahalli are possible starting points for an integrated approach to manage water in the city with wetlands playing an important role. Here waste-water treated to secondary standards are then allowed in to the wetlands which remove nitrates and reduce Total Suspended Solids, thus allowing for it to fill the water body. In turn , the lakes allow for fishing and recharge the surrounding aquifers.
Wetlands provide for a range of services including livelihoods for the poorer sections of society. Even now a range of fodder collectors pick up grass and alligator weed ( called Hongonney in Kannada ) for feeding their cattle almost all across the city.
Remedied waste-water from the city can be further treated in the wetlands and used for agricultural purpose. The proposal and project to transfer treated waste-water to the districts of Kolar and Chikballapur can also benefit substantially if wetlands are integrated in to the design at the first receiving tanks. This would also enhance flora and faunal biodiversity in the tanks of these drought prone rural districts at the same time benefiting agriculture there.
Integrating wetlands into the master plan and the urban fabric of cities is the need of the hour and that would be water wisdom.