While Indian Parliament has not met since March 2020, Civil Society Groups came together and held a Janta (people’s) Parliament from Aug 16 to 21 Aug 2020, where citizens from across the country from all walks of life enthusiastically participated. On Aug 18 there was a three hour session on Environment issues (such a session is a rarity in Indian Parliament), as part of which, there was a presentation on Water related issues where SANDRP coordinator was invited to speak. Two water related resolutions were passed among others, by the Janta Parliament, one on Flood Management and another on Urban Water Management. See below for details.Continue reading “DRP NB 24 August 2020: Janta Parliament discusses some serious water issues”
[Feature image: Cartoon on Draft EIA 2020 by Surendra, The Hindu https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/cartoon/cartoonscape-august-12-2020/article32328005.ece (12 Aug. 2020)]
This last week, one Contempt of Court case was deservedly in news, when on the eve of India’s 74th Independence day, the apex Court found public spirited Prashant Bhushan guilty of contempt of Court. Prashant Bhushan’s commitment for the cause of the people and responsible governance of various institutions is beyond question. He is known for being critical of the government and judiciary’s track record and is supported in this by most independent minded persons.
However, there was another contempt case this last week, related to environmental issues, that was not so much in the news. On June 30, 2020, Delhi High Court bench of Chief Justice D N Patel and Justice Prateek Jalan in response to petition by environmentalist Vikrant Tongad had directed, among other things, that Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) should translate the Draft EIA (Environment Impact Assessment) Notification of 2020 into all the official languages of India and disseminate widely in ten days. (https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Delhi/delhi-hc-extends-public-response-deadline-to-draft-eia-2020/article31951610.ece)
Anyone who cares for India, its people and their future and who even remotely understands environmental governance and democratic process will come to just one conclusion about the Draft EIA (Environment Impact Assessment) 2020: CANCEL IT.
We certainly need change in the current EIA process. The whole thing is a major fraud at every stage, from the exclusion from large number of activities from the scope of EIA process, to scoping to quality of EIA, to the track record of the EIA consultants, to the process of selection of EAC (Expert Appraisal Committee) and its functioning, to public hearing and consultation process, to the complete absence of capacity or even will to monitor and achieve compliance of the approved project, every step needs strengthening, from the current EIA process based on the 2006 notification.
But the Draft EIA 2020 takes the current EIA process in opposite direction: Weakening it every step of the way. So there is no doubt that the only real option before the govt is to CANCEL IT.
Two important developments this week underline once again the need for Indian govt to demand clear responses from China. One is about the threat of landslide outburst flood that may enter India via Siang. A landslide dam has been formed on the Jianpu glaciers that feeds the Yigong Tsangpo, a tributary of Yarlung Tsangpo, as Siang is known by that name in Tibet. This landslide dam can breach anytime, and bring a high wave of sudden & destructive flood in Arunachal Pradesh. Chintan Sheth, who monitors this area through use of satellite imagery, has once again (his warnings on such landslide outburst dams in the past has been very accurate and useful) warned us about this through an excellent and detailed article quoted below, in Arunachal Times. Such information should actually be coming from Govt of India’s elaborate satellite imagery capabilities. At least now the Govt of India needs to ask China to share all information about this landslide dam and share that information with the people of Arunachal Pradesh at greatest risk due to such floods.
INDEED. With all the emphasis available at our command. We are in the midst of the rainiest season and such a statement is indeed music. It would become even more melodious if one knows who said it: it was none other than Mr G. Asok Kumar, Additional Secretary & Mission Director, National Water Mission, Department of Water Resources, River Development & Ganga Rejuvenation, Ministry of Jal Shakti, Government of India who said it. Speaking on July 8, 2020, he said: “Rainwater harvesting has become inevitable in the current scenario of water scarcity across the country… The idea is to save the rainwater be it on the rooftop, compounds, and premises.” Mr Kumar also emphasised the importance of groundwater recharge.
We can pass it as run-of-the-mill statement from the government, but one is tempted to think there is more to it than that. One wishes if there was a way to hold these officials accountable for such statements and ask as to how this translates into policies, projects and practices. There is no evidence of any of these, unfortunately. Unless we were to interpret it cynically the way Central Water Commission ideologues do: Dams are also rain water harvesting structures! By that definition, even river linking is also rain water harvesting structure!! But Mr Kumar do not seem to suggest that. So let us hold on to this statement optimistically and push the water resources establishment to implement through right policies, practices and projects. Since that is where solution to India’s water problem indeed is. Unfortunately so far there is no sign that this wisdom is accepted in any serious way by the water resources establishment.
This past week we just completed seven years since the worst ever flood disaster in Himalayas, the Uttarakhand-Himachal Flood disaster that got launched with the massive unseasonal rainfall during June 15-17, 2013, along with the Glacial Lake Outburst Flood from Chorabari glacier upstream from Kedarnath. It was a massive wake up call.
To briefly recall, that unprecedented rainfall occurred when monsoon had not even set in Uttarakhand and neighbouring Himachal Pradesh. The first thing that strikes about this disaster where by official accounts over 6000 people died and by unofficial accounts over 20 000, is that we do not even have a comprehensive report from the government about this disaster. It would have told us a lot of things, including what we can learn from this disaster.
Second big thing that strikes is that big dams and hydropower projects, both due to their construction and operation impacts, both completed and under construction projects played a big role, as brief SANDRP video films in English and Hindi shows. But we continue to play with the Himalayas, the Ganga and lives of the lakhs of people by pushing more dams and such destructive activities (e.g. Char Dham Highways) in the fragile mountains without even honest impact assessments.
A for Athirapally, B for Bodhghat, C for Cauvery, D for Dibang, E for Etalin, seems to be the new growth alphabets from the Prime Minister’s Office. With the economic growth in negative territory, depression in the corner, the old and trusted Big Dams as major infrastructure to push up expenditure and hope for the growth was a formula used even in 1930s by US president Franklin D Roosevelt to bring the US economy out of the Great depression of 1929. It started with the Tennessee Valley Authority Act of May 1933, which then was pushed as growth model to other countries. In India it came in the form of Damodar Valley Corporation (DVC) Act of 1948.
However that 20th century model was a failure even then, as the first CEO of the DVC, Sudhir Sen wrote. That model is no longer relevant in 21st century except possibly as an easy route to corruption and kickbacks. These dams and hydropower projects are no longer even economically viable and better options are now available for irrigation and power. In the changing climate scene they are even less relevant places of worship (temples). Dams and hydropower projects are seeing slow down across the globe, not just in India.
Feature image: Women in Banda performing Jal Satyagrah against illegal sand mining in Ken river. (PARI)
Sand mining menace has been a very dark spot on India’s governance. It affects not just the river beds or flood plains, but also water security, livelihood security, biodiversity, groundwater recharge among many other aspects. Banda Satyagarah provides a striking picture to highlight this issue, but the worrying fact is that we have no real sustained positive story on this front. Even major interventions by the highest judiciary has completely failed to make any major dent on ground.
SANDRP has been bringing out statewise updates on sand mining issues for several years now as we continue to do this year too, with the link to Kerala sand mining 2020 overview can be found below. These overviews make a rather dismal readind state after state, year after year. Occasionally we get stories like the NOIDA collector Durga Shakti Nagpal fighting sand miners in 2013 or 17 year girl from Kerala awakening us in 2018 or Sandhya Ravishankar getting Goenka award for exposing the Sand mining nexus in Tamil Nadu in 2019 or now the Banda women waking us up to this dark reality. Will we wake up to our collective failure in dealing with this SANDBERG?
These are rather ominous signs. As per the latest reservoir storage bulletin of Central Water Commission dated May 14, 2020, the 123 reservoirs monitored by CWC has massive, 64.6 BCM (Billion Cubic Meters) in live storage capacity, which is about 165% of the capacity on same date last year and average of last ten years, even as monsoon is just weeks away. Most dams known to create DAM INDUCED FLOODS in the past, including Bhakra dams (we wrote about it earlier this month: https://sandrp.in/2020/05/07/are-we-ready-to-use-more-water-from-snow-melt-in-indus-basin-this-year/), Narmada dams, Odisha and W Bengal dams (Cyclone AMPHAN is going to bring a lot of water here in next few days, even before the monsoon), Krishna basin dams, Cauvery basin dams, Bansagar and Gandhi Sagar Dams, and Kerala dams among others. All these dams have above average storage situation.
In the ongoing debate on forest clearance for the controversial Etalin Hydropower project in Dibang Valley in Arunachal Pradesh between the Forest Advisory Committee, The Hindustan Times’s consistent reporting and Sanctuary magazine launching a campaign along with others, one (of the many) key question that remains unanswered is: for whom this economically (in addition to socially, environmentally and from climate change perspective) unviable, massively expensive project being pushed in a power surplus country?
Electricity from hydropower projects is no longer economically viable, since cheaper options are available. Some misguided people are claiming virtue in hydropower project claiming it provides peaking power. The fact is India is today not only power surplus, the peak power deficit has been just around 1% or less for long time. This when there is no attempt to either monitor as to how much of the electricity produced from existing hydropower projects provides peaking power, nor is there any attempt to achieve optimisation of operation of existing hydro projects to produce maximum possible hydropower. Nor is there any attempt to even manage the peaks either through pricing or other policy measures. In such a situation there is clearly no justification for more hydro for peaking. Moreover, the storage option is becoming increasingly cost effective, reducing the peaking power needs. So then for whom this project whose cost won’t be less than Rs 30000 crores at most conservative estimates, being pushed? The contractors, the equipment suppliers, the hydro lobby, the consultants, the timber lobby, the dam lobby, or the kickbacks?