IPCC reports a considerable shortage of water in all river basins of India by the year 2025. World Watch Institute predicts that the Ganges and other rivers in heavily populated India will run dry for a part or all of the dry season by the year 2025.
Tarun Bharat Sangh under the leadership of Dr G.D.Agarwal (Vice Chairman of TBS) launched a nation-wide campaign to maintain an unaffected flow of the river Bhagirathi in Uttarakhand. Dr G.D. Agarwal twice went on “fast-onto-death” to oppose the government polices to dam the river for power projects. To support the “fast-onto-death” Rashtriya Jal Biradari mobilized religious leaders, environmentalists, media persons, political parties, engineers, NGOs, social activists etc to highlight the importance of pollution and encroachment free flow of River Ganga.
The campaign compelled the Government of India (on February, 2009) to designate River Ganga as National river and notify the National Ganga River Basin Authority (NGBRA) as an empowered planning, financing monitoring and co-coordinating authority for the Ganga under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986. It will, thus ensure, that the development requirements (such as construction of hydropower projects) are met in a sustainable manner while ensuring ecological flows.
The NGBRA would be responsible for addressing the problem of pollution in the Ganga in a holistic and comprehensive manner. This will include water quality, minimum ecological flows, sustainable access and other issues relevant to river ecology and management. Under the new approach, the river basin will be the unit of planning.
The prime minister heads the NGBRA. According to the announcement, the authority will be vested with appropriate powers to carry out its functions. It will be a planning, financing, monitoring and coordinating authority for strengthening the collective efforts of the central and the state governments for effective abatement of pollution and conservation of the Ganga. The authority would combine regulatory and developmental functions, keeping in view the powers vested with state governments and its institutions.
The NGBRA would be responsible for addressing the problem of pollution in the Ganga in a holistic and comprehensive manner. This will include water quality, minimum ecological flows, sustainable access and other issues relevant to river ecology and management. Under the new approach, the river basin will be the unit of planning. The authority would seek to maintain minimum ecological flow in the Ganga with the aim of ensuring water quality and environmentally sustainable development.
But, The TBS is apprehensive about the performance of the NGBRA and have raised following issues that may hamper the effective functioning of NGBRA and thus affect the objectives of pollution and encroachment free Ganga. The criticisms are as follows:
- NGRBA uses the term ‘ecological flow’ that means maintaining adequate water flow in the river just for its ecological health. The NGRBA should have used the term ‘environmental flow’, which also accounts for human needs such as groundwater recharge potential of the river.
- While the commercial benefits of damming rivers has been talked about a lot, the in-stream and off stream monetary and non-monetary benefits and advantages of flowing rivers has not been assessed so far. The NRGBA should undertake such assessment under its basin approach.
- The Ganga river basin approach should assess its relationship with the composite Ganga-Brahmputra-Meghna basin and its consequences?
- The river basin approach should be assessed in perspective of the policies of Industry, Power, Agriculture, Urban Development, Health and Environment by the central government, the governments of eleven states (Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, NCT of Delhi, Rajasthan, Uttranchal, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal), the neighboring countries and industry bodies like CII/FICCI/ASSOCHEM/PHCCI.
- What is the relevance of Ganga River basin approach when the river channel has been amputated from the flood plains besides the amputation of the river channel itself?
- Which among the following are the biggest threats to Ganga basin?
- National Interlinking of Rivers project
- UP’s Ganga Expressway project
- Uttarakhand’s Bhairon Ghati, Loharinag-Pala, Pala Maneri and Maneri Bhali hydro-projects
- Some 191 heavily polluting industries in the Ganga basin states
- West Bengal’s Farraka Barrage
- Bihar’s Interlinking of Rivers project or Kosi High Dam
- Pollution from “Religious” Activities
The poor track record of the National River Conservation Directorate should be kept in mind to strengthen Ganga basin approach, while the Comptroller Auditor General’s audit reports highlight urgent need to strengthen the environmental clearance process.
Government enthusiasm about mega projects like Ganga Expressway and ‘interlinking of rivers’ scheme must factor in the fact that Ganga is more important than so-called development and the ecological entity of the river basin is non-negotiable.
It is not clear that NGRBA would get the support of concerned states but efforts are needed to review and reverse the policies like the recently announced Integrated Energy Policy because they were formulated when basin approach was not adopted. Consequently, fragmented river valley project specific clearances are given without any considered sensitivity towards the environmental health of the river ecosystem. An environmental audit of all the industrial activities in the Ganga basin is a must because auditing and accounting are inextricably interlinked, the important pre-requisite for effective environmental auditing is sound environmental accounting.
Data on environmental costs and liabilities can be used for better decision making relating to usage of alternative raw materials, consumption of utilities like water and power, choice of processing technology based on environmental cost of treating discharge into water, adverse environmental aspect and impact on flora fauna and human beings and treatment of byproducts.
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