As this report narrates, a great volunteer effort is underway in Mumbai to clean up Mithi river. What they have achieved is just about 350 m of clean river, after labouring over weekends for several months. But this is such a daunting task to even venture to start. They have not only started, but made visible progress. Let us hope it will achieve all its objectives.
Kerala – the God’s own country is in strong grip of unsustainable sand mining which has been happening for decades in the rivers and coastal areas of the state. The state has suffered hugely in 2004 Tsunami and 2018 Floods which, as several reports explain, were aggravated by illegal sand extraction. Yet nothing seems to have changed. Apart from violation of environmental norms, the extraction of finite mineral is going on, ignoring the nature’s warnings.
Guest Blog by Manoj Misra
Apropos Sri Pravir Pandey (Vice Chairman, IWAI) article (https://www.hindustantimes.com/analysis/the-inland-waterways-project-won-t-choke-rivers/story-3CTflDhyTxijS5AAqlQeqO.html) in HT (The Hindustan Times) dated 24 Jan 2019 rejecting our serious reservations (https://www.hindustantimes.com/analysis/the-inland-waterways-project-will-destroy-india-s-rivers/story-8TDyHX1UuzQzKwWhHXQVPJ.html) expressed earlier (HT, 4 Jan 2019) on the claimed merits of the Inland Waterways Transportation (IWT) project. While welcoming IWAI’s presumed willingness to debate the matter, we reject Sri Pandey’s contentions in their entirety as having been made on rhetoric and ‘confidential’ assessments rather than on sound and convincing facts.
There are two key considerations which require attention before merit, if any, could be found in a potentially impactful project like the IWT. First are of course its financial viability and the second and much more critical are its environmental impacts.
Guest blog by: Madhusoodhanan C.G. and Sreeja K.G
The state of Kerala experienced extreme precipitation events during the 2018 South West monsoon period with multiple episodes culminating in devastating floods across the state during 14th-18th August 2018. This year, with an early onset of monsoons that dovetailed with strong summer showers, the state received about 41% excess rainfall (2394 mm against the normal of 1700 mm) during the period June 1st to August 22nd . Almost all of its reservoirs were near full storage by mid-July.
The heavy downpour and the uncontrolled opening of the spillway gates of almost all reservoirs that inundated huge stretches of river banks and floodplains, along with massive landslides across the Western Ghats affected more than 1.5 million people, with close to 500 human casualties, immense losses to property, livelihoods and resource security apart from the extensive damage to forests, wildlife and biodiversity. Maximum destruction was observed along the rivers of Periyar, Chalakudy and Pamba, all having multiple dams on their tributaries. The debate is still on as to the various reasons, both manmade and natural, behind the floods and the resultant wide-ranging casualties [2,3,4,5,6]. Meanwhile things have taken a rather unexpected turn in the flood ravaged state.
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.
In a historic judgement, the High Court (HC) of Bangladesh has said that river encroachers cannot run in any elections or get bank loans. The HC also ordered the government to make a list of every grabber in the country and publish the list in the media to expose them to the public. The grabbers include powerful individuals, businesses and, ironically, government offices. The Gazipur City Corporation is among the grabbers, a judicial inquiry has found.
After the verdict, the government now will have to amend the National River Protection Commission (NRPC) Act 2013 with provisions for punishment and fine for river grabbing. The current NRPC Act does not have provisions for punishment. The government must report to the court in six months on its action in this regard. The HC also declared the NRPC as the legal guardian of all rivers and act like their “parents”.
The landmark verdict comes when river grabbing by influential groups seems unstoppable. Often, grabbers return to steal river land soon after being evicted. The HC delivered the judgment in response to a petition by Human Rights and Peace for Bangladesh. The writ petition was filed on Nov. 7, 2016.
The theme of the World Wetlands Day[i] 2019 is very fittingly, “Wetlands and Climate Change”. With climate change already upon us and its impact likely to increase due to increasing emissions and global temperatures, its high time we understand the importance of wetlands to face inevitable impacts of climate change, even as we must continue to do everything possible to reduce emissions.
On the occasion, Martha Rojas Urrego, Secretary General, Ramsar Convention on Wetlands has said[ii]: “Peatlands[iii] for example cover just three per cent of our world. Yet they store nearly a third of all land-based carbon. This is twice as much as all the world’s forests.
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?
On November 16, 2017, the Supreme Court (SC) of India, prohibited 82 large lease holders from mining sand and stone activities in absence of scientific replenishment study. The ban continued all through the year of 2018 and so were the incidents of illegal sand mining and violent attacks on police officials.
The ban has reportedly hampered some development projects. The prices of sand has increased. Meanwhile the mining department is seen making efforts in exploring Manufactured Sand (M-Sand) as an alternative though it seems there is not much success as yet.
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)