South Asia

SOUTH ASIA 2017: MISS YOU, RIVERS & FISH! As Dams and Water sharing dominate

India-Bangladesh-Myanmar face big quake threat A giant fault in the earth’s crust in one of the world’s most densely populated areas could kill tens of millions of people, scientists have warned according to a new paper in the journal Nature Geoscience. Researchers placed hundreds of highly accurate GPS receivers in locations across India, Bangladesh and Myanmar and monitored them over a ten-year period. Now the scientists fear the location is home to a mega-thrust fault which could unleash a 8.2-9.0 magnitude earthquake. More than 140 million people live within a 60-mile area of the potential disaster zone in Bangladesh. The scientists, led by Dr Michael Steckler from Columbia University published their findings in the journal Nature. This is also a warning against major interventions in the North East India. http://www.indiaspend.com/cover-story/india-bangladesh-and-myanmar-face-big-quake-threat-99557, July 19, 2016, http://thenortheasttoday.com/earthquake-of-9-0-magnitude-could-be-unleashed-anytime-from-a-major-fault-underneath-bangladesh/, July 22, 2016, http://www.nature.com/ngeo/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/ngeo2760.html  Continue reading “SOUTH ASIA 2017: MISS YOU, RIVERS & FISH! As Dams and Water sharing dominate”

Dams · Wetlands

East India Wetlands Review 2017: West Bengal Bent On Destroying World’s Largest Natural Sewage Treatment Plant

The East Kolkata Wetlands (EKW) are unique yet complex system of natural and human-made wetlands in West Bengal. The wetlands cover 125 sq km comprising of salt marshes, salt meadows, sewage farms and settling ponds. They are used to treat Kolkata’s sewage, and the nutrients contained in the waste water sustain fish farms and agriculture.

Devised by local fishermen and farmers, these wetlands served, in effect, as the largest natural sewage treatment plant (STP) for the city. And using the purification capacity of wetlands, Kolkata by transforming nearly one-third of the city’s sewage into a rich harvest of fish and fresh vegetables daily, has pioneered an environment-friendly system of sewage disposal. Because of this, the EKW were designated a “wetland of international importance” under the Ramsar Convention on August 19, 2002. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/East_Kolkata_Wetlands

However for past many years, these wetlands are under threat due to exponential expansion of real-estate projects. Recently illegal landfills are on the rise and unprecedented land development and urbanization have been creating concerns about the impact on EKW environment. 2017 has seen the situation turning only worse for EKW. 

Continue reading “East India Wetlands Review 2017: West Bengal Bent On Destroying World’s Largest Natural Sewage Treatment Plant”

Assam · brahmaputra · Dams · Floods · West Bengal

Brahmaputra basin faces unprecedented flood wave in Aug 2017

In the morning of Aug 11, 2017, while checking my daily morning routine sites, I saw the sudden appearance of purple patch (signifying rainfall in access of 175 mm rainfall in previous 24 hours) on NASA daily rainfall accumulation map for Indian subcontinent.[i] The purpose  patch covered parts of the West Bengal, North East Indian and Bangladesh. I was taken aback, but it was not very unusual to see in the peak of monsoon. So as we usually do, I took a screenshot and put up on SANDRP FB page with a warning that this could lead to floods. I did not realize that this was the beginning of an unprecedented wave of floods for these regions that may extend to Ganga basin as I write this. Such purple patches generally disappear in 24 hours, since the rains do not last to long. However, in the case of current phase, not only the purple patch has last now for 42 hours, it has extended  to the west, all along India Nepal region along the southern boundary of Nepal.   Continue reading “Brahmaputra basin faces unprecedented flood wave in Aug 2017”

Teesta · West Bengal

Retracing Her Path 2: A Journey along the Teesta River in W Bengal

Above: Fabulous view of Rangeet Teesta Confluence (Photo: AJT Johnsingh)

Guest Blog by Gauri Noolkar-Oak

The minute I crossed over the Indo-Bangladesh border into India at Chengrabandha, the atmosphere changed instantly; more briskness, more people and more English and Hindi surrounded me. I also spotted posters of Baahubali 2, and a few flags of Bhartiya Janata Party fluttered at the local bus station of Chengrabandha. I set out for Mainaguri, and through the pitter-patter of a weak drizzle, as the first tea plantations came into view.

My journey in the Teesta basin in North Bengal

Continue reading “Retracing Her Path 2: A Journey along the Teesta River in W Bengal”

Dams · Sand Mining

River Sand Mining in India in 2016

For past many years, incidents of illegal river sand mining across the country are on the rise. Given its resultant and adverse impact on river system and dependent communities, various state and central governments continue to go through the motions of devising a mechanism for judicious excavation of this minor mineral. But there seems no will to achieve compliance. At the same the time, people and concerned groups affected by illegitimate riverbed mining practices are approaching judiciary seeking legal intervention to curb the unsustainable mining of the natural resource.   

In this backdrop, continuing[1] tracking of this issue (like in 2015) SANDRP is providing an overview of various aspects related abstraction of the finite grit material from the rivers through a three part blog series. The first part of the series presents description of the most of the illegal riverbed sand mining incidents that have taken place in different Indian States through the year 2016. The second part of the blog gives account of the measures taken by governments at States and Central level to check the pilferage of this natural resource. The third part will highlight on the legal interventions by respective courts including Honorable Supreme Court (SC) and National Green Tribunal (NGT) to regulate unscientific quarrying of riverbeds.

Continue reading “River Sand Mining in India in 2016”

DRP News Bulletin

DRP News Bulletin 29 August 2016-WHEN DAMS CAUSE FLOODS

The dam induced flood disaster could only increase since we refuse to learn any lessons:

SANDRP Blog A tale of two dams: Is Bihar’s unprecedented flood an avoidable man-made disaster? Is the unprecedented water levels of Ganga that has flooded Bihar and UP an avoidable flood disaster? What role did the water releases from Bansagar dam in the upstream and Farakka Dam in the downstream play in this? SANDRP analysis of this developing situation. Feed back is welcome, Please help us disseminate this. Kindlyd also see the Hindi version of this blog here दो बाॅधों की कहानीः क्या बिहार की अप्रत्याशित बाढ़ एक टाली जा सकने वाली मानव जनित त्रासदी है? PRABHAT KHABAR newspaper of Ranchi carries “in-depth” articles by Parineeta Dandekar and Himanshu Thakkar of SANDRP in the context of Bihar floods and demand to decommission Farakka barrage. Flood expert Dinesh Misra explaining role of dams behind unprecedented Ganga flood. In Part I of a separate report he narrates about Bihar/ Patna floods due to Ganga and Sone.  Also see, बिना नदियों के उफान के ही पटना डूब गया BBC Hindi website has published this based on a radio discussion they carried earlier on the issue of Bihar floods and role of Bansagar and Farakka dam.   Continue reading “DRP News Bulletin 29 August 2016-WHEN DAMS CAUSE FLOODS”

Ganga

While walking upstream along the Ganga from Ganga Sagar to Gangotri: The Price of Exclusivity

 Above: Young kid from a fishing family in Kahalgaon, even the most informed communities (Ganga Mukti Andolan) are clueless about the government’s intentions (Photo by Veditum)

GUEST BLOG BY: Siddharth Agarwal 

As the Ganga rises and fills streets and alleys with it’s water all along it’s course, I spend a time out at home, partially because of personal reasons and in some parts due to the rising levels of the river hindering all sorts of movement around it. Currently on a walk along the Ganga for Veditum India Foundation’s ‘Moving Upstream’ project, I’ve been able to walk a distance of about 1000 kms alongside it’s banks from Ganga Sagar till Varanasi in 50 days’ time. Some places saw me walking right next to the river while others had me maintaining my distance since it just wasn’t possible to peruse a course anywhere in the vicinity of the flooded banks.

The rising levels of the river are no surprise, an annual occurrence with variation only in ferocity. We’re surprisingly still caught off guard, every single year, with this news about floods in cities like Patna, Allahabad and Varanasi making it to national television on an almost daily basis. But what of all the places between Patna, Allahabad and Varanasi? What of all the places that are not cities and of all the people who are not urban dwellers? The major focus as I walk along the river are the people of the river and their lives, those who inhabit this space known to all as the vastly fertile Indo-Gangetic plains but unknown as a place extremely vulnerable to the forces of nature and shaky towards those man-made.

What will happen to a river that already has no fish and is way too salty. The barrages will mean doom for even the few fish that are left (Photo Veditum)
What will happen to a river that already has no fish and is way too salty. The barrages will mean doom for even the few fish that are left (Photo by Veditum)

I had been informed in advance of the situation of our fishermen by minds already working in the field of environment and rivers in our country, often mentioning that these communities were severely under-represented and very much neglected even when it came to discussions relating to them. Non-inclusiveness of communities while making decisions is not a new theme in India, but given the extent of impact that some upcoming government decisions/policies was going to have on these people, I decided to ask them a few questions as I proceeded upstream from Ganga Sagar, starting early June 2016.

Anywhere downstream of the Farakka barrage, the mention of the word barrage has a stunning effect on the people and 1975 is a year that fisher folks remember as a year of doom. For most readers and even for me before I started upon this trip, this would makes sense if one tries to put in a little effort in imagining how a barrage or dam might affect a river. But unlike how logic would dictate, this effect doesn’t exist just downstream of the barrage and similar reactions continued even further upstream, in Jharkhand and Bihar.

In places along the feeder canal from the Farakka Barrage, an increased frequency of ships to the Thermal Power Plants has resulted in rapid soil erosion
In places along the feeder canal from the Farakka Barrage, an increased frequency of ships to the Thermal Power Plants has resulted in rapid soil erosion (Photo by Veditum)

The National Mission for Clean Ganga and The National Waterways programme have been in the limelight for making grand promises of :

1.) Cleaning and maintenance of the river
2.) Economic Development and Cheaper Transportation.

Now, this is not a commentary on the efficiency and feasibility of making such proposals, simply an attempt to understand the impact of such programmes. EIA (Environmental Impact Assessment) and SIA (Social Impact Assessment) are the terms you might be looking for, something that ideally the governing authority should be taking care of. But why is any of this important or relevant to this article? It is because whatever happens in these places between Patna, Allahabad and Varanasi is very much relevant and important to discuss. These are not uninhabited spaces, but pretty well populated areas with a lot of lives at risk.

Coming back to the point of the two government programmes, firstly, the NMCG letting the Waterways programme run through protected areas and non-protected ecologically sensitive areas goes very much against the whole agenda why this mission was set up. Secondly, the waterways programme in a bid to decrease ‘transportation’ costs and utilise our river potential recently ran tests with large vessels on the Ganga.

Small country boats near Farakka. Wonder what large waves from huge vessels will do to these (Photo by Veditum)
Small country boats near Farakka. Wonder what large waves from huge vessels will do to these (Photo by Veditum)

What is surprising (or rather not) is that these test runs were without any warnings to fishermen and boatmen in said test sections, the few who were on the waters at the time of passing of these vessels had to face high waves, enough to topple a less experienced or unaware boatman. The news of these tests were flashed all over the main stream media, but failed to make it to those for whom it mattered. Not an uncommon occurrence at all, but till when will this go un-noticed? On asking these fishermen if they have any clue why this is happening, most of them responded in the negative while a few said they’ve learnt about the government’s plans to run large vessels on the river.

As this conversation extends and questions follow, it is gradually revealed that the picture is not clear and conversations have somehow trickled down in a very muzzled form. Though most fishermen laugh off the prospect of this being a constant activity because of the extreme reduction in water level that the river has seen these past years, often mentioning how large excavators and multiple tugboats have been needed anytime a large vessel has traversed these stretches in lean seasons. There’s talk of loss of fishing nets and reduced catch, difficulty in controlling small country boats in high waves, chances of accidents when transporting villagers to small ‘diars’ for agricultural work, loss of land where there’s no embankments and so on, but this also brings us to the most important part of this article.

The dark clouds often linger over the heads of those not involved, not informed (Photo by Veditum)
The dark clouds often linger over the heads of those not involved, not informed (Photo by Veditum)

The Water Highway programme on the Ganga has been proposed on a 1500 km stretch from Allahabad to Haldia, with barrages at about every 100 kms. Now, an avid news reader would have knowledge of this as a great policy step but the fisherman who directly depends on the river for his livelihood does not. This holds true for maybe 15-20 different fishing communities that i’ve had the chance to interact with in the first 50 days and even the mention of new barrages was way too shocking for those who have had to bear the burden of Farakka’s impacts. There are even places where locals have signed their wishfulness of a barrage near their villages without understanding consequences and only having been shown the shiny side like we see everyday in the papers, called ‘development’.

The ‘Moving Upstream’ project intends to understand and present a narrative of the river and it’s people, hoping this will lead to more meaningful conversation and inclusive action by the government. In a recent announcement by Sushri Uma Bharti Ji – Union Cabinet Minister of Water Resources, River Development & Ganga Rejuvenation, she said she will march down the length of the river to take stock of the status of various projects commissioned by her. I’m glad that cues are possibly being taken from the Moving Upstream project, but like every other government project, when will our habit of assessment (if at all) after execution stop and preparedness & understanding before implementation materialise? I hope she does her Ganga yatra before approving any projects, I hope for inclusiveness.

Siddharth Agarwal (siddharthagarwal.iitkgp@gmail.com)

Dams

Was Not Sudden Flood In Subarnrekha Jharkhand Avoidable?

Following heavy rainfall, on August 17, 2016, Chandil dam, Jharkhand released huge amount of water in Subarnrekha River. As a result there was sudden surge of waters in Subarnrekah River causing worrisome situation in Jamshedpur town and in areas further downstream along the river in West Bengal and Odisha States.

Superficially the incident may appear a natural incident. But analysis of available information indicates that the flood impact could have possibly been reduced or  avoided.

The incident:- On August 17 and 18, 2016, the ongoing South West Monsoon brought heavy rainfall in Jharkhand. The evenly distributed showers were measured as 80 mm across the State with Jamshedpur town located on the bank of Subarnrekha River recording maximum rainfall of 270 mm in 24 hours. 

Continue reading “Was Not Sudden Flood In Subarnrekha Jharkhand Avoidable?”

Dams · Rivers

Bhatiyali: The Eternal Song of the River

ओ रे माँझी, ओ रे माँझी

मेरे साजन हैं उस पार, मैं मन मार , हूँ इस पार

ओ मेरे माँझी अब की बार ले चल पार, ले चल पार

Everything about this song: its words, its music, its picturisation and Sachin Deo (SD) Burman’s evocative voice mesmerizes me (I’m one of many others, I’m sure). I loved this song’s connect with rivers and used to repeat it over and over, till my (visibly exasperated) husband told me, “But did you not know? Rivers have influenced SD’s music a lot. He has talked about his lone ramblings on the Gumti in Tripura, listening to folk music based on rivers many times”. I did not know that. Continue reading “Bhatiyali: The Eternal Song of the River”

Dam Induced Flood Disaster

Damodar Valley Dams role in W Bengal Floods – DVC Dams could have helped reduce the floods, they increased it

As at least 222 blocks of 13 districts of South Bengal suffered massive floods with over 51 lakh people affected and crops on 5 lakh hectares ruined, questions have once again been raised if Damodar Valley Corporation[1] dams played a role in increasing this flood disaster. Available information and the statements of the DVC officials leave no doubt that DVC dams indeed released water into the rivers and this release worsened and prolonged the flood situation in South Bengal. If DVC had held back the water while cyclone Komen was active in the region, bringing heavy rains, then the flood intensity, its impact area and the flood duration could have been reduced. The DVC operators should also have kept in mind that this was high tide period when the rivers’ capacity to drain out the water was significantly lower in the delta area. The DVC dams had sufficient storage capacity to hold this water during the period. However, instead of holding back the water during this crucial period, DVC increased water releases from the dams during the flood disaster. Continue reading “Damodar Valley Dams role in W Bengal Floods – DVC Dams could have helped reduce the floods, they increased it”