For past two years, large scale mechanized and illegal mining is happening in Yamuna River in Haryana state. The miners have created deep pits across the riverbed in Yamuna Nagar, Karnal, Panipat and Sonipat districts. Year 2019 has been a deficit monsoon year in Yamuna basin and the river had started shrinking unusually during October month. The rampant riverbed excavation has further robbed it of lean season flows. This detailed overview of river sand mining in Haryana in 2019 shows the severe impact of unsustainable and illegal mining practices on the river and villagers due to insensitive government and inefficient administration.
A large number of stories this week remind us that India urgently needs national urban water policy.
The water footprint of urban areas is gradually on the rise. The cities have several problems with management including destruction of water sources, groundwater exploitation, poor performance in treating and recycling the polluted water, pollution and encroachment on water bodies etc. To fulfil their growing demands new dams, barrages and check dams are being planned, proposed and built on the rivers in faraway places, which is in turn displacing and depriving the local people of equitable water share.
Even before onset of summer, the Army in Sagar district have started patrolling Chitora dam to prevent water thefts (denying farmers to take dam water for irrigation).
The BMC in Bombay is finalizing total cost of Gargai dam which has roughly increased to three thousands crore from eighteen hundred crore according to first estimates in 2012. The city is already getting its water from half a dozen dams. In Thane, apex court has removed stay on Kalu dam construction citing that it is meant to meet growing drinking water demand of Thane.
Meanwhile the respective agencies of Pune and Pimpri- Chinchwad have failed to stop pollution in Mula Mutha, Nag, Pavana, Indrayani rivers.
Similarly, in the name of restoration, the Gujarat government is planning barrages on Tapi, Vishwamitri rivers to meet drinking water demands of Surat and Vadodara.
Meanwhile the cost of Yettinahole diversion project has gone up from eight to twenty thousands crore. This project is also being pushing for drinking water supply.
In Chennai one more check dam on Cooum river has been finalized. The city is also facing sea water intrusion.
The story of Vashitha river in Salem shows how dumping the solid and liquid waste, mining and check dam has turned the river into a drain from pristine water stream in last twenty years.
With the beginning of New Year, there have been several media reports highlighting the river revival works and floodplain protection efforts going on in different parts of country. While the community driven efforts with active support from administration and experts to revive Kasal Odha in Solapur and bring back Old Lakhandei river in Sithamarhi have been bearing fruits. The civil societies, judiciary and administration have also taken steps to protect the floodplains of Ramnadi, Indrayani, Hindon rivers.
The artificial pond efforts by NGT panel and Delhi government have also shown positive results in preventing the pollution from idol immersion pollution reaching the Yamuna river. Similarly the CPCB has raised the issue of Mahi river pollution by industries in Central Gujarat. The Karnataka High Court questioning the authority and fund collection mechanism by Isha Foundation for Cauvery Calling initiative is particularly significant. While revival of rivers is imperative task, the accountability and transparency cannot be set aside.
In shocking instance, the Govt of India has provided just 17 days for commenting (Submission of Comments of NPSSFW _Inland_ on the Draft NFDB Bill 2019_ with rejoinder) on Draft National Policy for Inland Fisheries (Draft_NFDB_Bill_2019). As can be seen from the comments by National Platform for Small Scale Fish Workers (Inland) on the draft policy, the draft policy has major lacunae. The most glaring one is the complete lack of any role for the Inland fisher people in the decision making about rivers and other water bodies in India. Every dam and hydropower project has adverse impact on the fishes and fisher people, but the impact assessment reports rarely if ever even mention such impacts, leave aside question of any rehabilitation for them or even compensating them for the losses.
This is in complete contrast to the situation in US and a number of other countries where fish and fisher people have a much bigger role. Even as millions of people depend on Inland fisheries in India, we do not have even reliable census of the people who depend on Inland fisheries. One had hoped that in new year, the situation would improve, but going by the Draft Policy, there is not too much hope on that front. The least the govt can do is to immediately accept the suggestions of the National Platform and circulate the draft in all major languages and provide three months for comment period and institute a confidence inspiring process of including such comments.
Groundwater is India’s water lifeline for some decades and will remain so. So attention to Atal Bhujal Yojana (ABY) is welcome, but key question is, will it help sustain our Water Lifeline? The World Bank funded project ABY has been in limbo for several years, but for some unknown reasons, took years to enter implementation phase. Secondly, why did it need the World Bank funding and how that will help for a scheme that essentially needs bottom up regulatory system, where the global banker has far from confidence inspiring track record?
Groundwater sustainability requires: 1. Identifying, understanding existing groundwater recharge systems 2. Protecting such recharge systems. 3. Enhance recharge from such systems. 4. Create additional recharge systems 5. Acknowledging in National Water Policy, programs and practices that Groundwater is India’s water lifeline and most importantly 6. Creating a bottom up legally empowered groundwater regulatory system.
A new study has shown how powerful the monsoons and their abnormalities are: It’s these abnormalities that ended reigns of multiple dynasties in medieval India, not wars. But the society does not seem to understand this basic reality today, and we are not only doing everything in our power to make the monsoon abnormal through human induced climate and natural world changes, but not even valuing the rainwater in our water policies, programs and practices. The changes we are bringing in natural world is making even the smaller monsoon abnormalities bring catastrophic impacts as the capacities of the people and societies to cope with the changes is decreasing. These studies are another wake up call, if only we were interested one.
The Prime Minister finally found time to have the first ever meeting on National Ganga Council, over three years after the Ganga Notification of Oct 7, 2016. The meeting happened at Kanpur, where the NGT recently fined the state government for continuing to release untreated effluents into the Ganga. In fact NGT in recent weeks have taken several decisions that also shows how abysmally the govt has failed on Ganga front. And now after the first NGC meeting, the Prime Minister, in an effort to divert attention from Namami Gange failure, is proposing the new slogan of Arth Ganga, which basically seems to suggest focus on Money, which is Exactly what is not going to help the cause of Ganga. The Ganga is still on the lookout for the Ganga putra that promised a clean Ganga in May 2014.
The Hindustan Times editorial on Nov 27, 2019 has rightly said the following about “a recently-released Rejuvenating-Ganga River – A Citizen-Report, by the India Rivers Week, a consortium of seven NGOs”.
“A key reason for the failure of the river cleaning projects (Ganga and Yamuna action plans), says a recently-released citizen’s report, Rejuvenating Ganga,by the India Rivers Week, a consortium of seven NGOs, was their single-point focus on the main stem of the river, while the Ganga basin actually has eight major rivers (Yamuna, Son, Ramganga, Gomti, Ghaghra, Gandak, Kosi and Damodar). The majority of the funds were spent on pollution-abatement measures on the main stem of the Ganga and on the upper Yamuna basin, which constitute just 20% of the Ganga basin.”
The sixth addition of India Rivers Day (IRD) 2019 held on Nov. 23 in New Delhi saw participation of scientists, academicians, experts, government officials and civil society groups. In the day long day seminar organized by India Rivers Forum (IRF) presentations, debates and panel discussion were held on the theme “Envisioning the Institutional Framework for River Governance in India”.
After honoring Mustaqueem Mallah with Bhagirath Prayas Samman (BPS) for his sustained efforts made in revival Katha river, Manoj Misra, member Organizing Committee (OC) IRF, presented the summary of “Rejuvenating Ganga A Citizen’s Report”. The report highlighted that most of the government work under Ganga Action Plan (GAP) and National Mission for Clean Ganga (NMCG) is done on the main stem of Ganga river which forms only three per cent of the entire basin.
In a number of ways the Supreme Court order this week that the municipal commissioners and chief officers can be prosecuted for releasing untreated pollutants from the cities to the rivers and other water bodies is path breaking. Can it help fix accountability of release of such untreated sewage? Can it help ensure that cities stop doing this and cities not only have adequate sewage treatment facilities, but also that cities have to ensure that the STPs function to ensure that no untreated sewage ends up the rivers and other water bodies?