The Times of India editorial “Save our rivers: India is heading for a grave water crisis, it must take remedial measures urgently”, published October 2, 2017, while stating certain undeniable truths, also resorts to iterating some truisms as well as what appears to be ill-considered prejudice against measures that have been adopted. It is undeniable that experts have for long been talking about a potential water crisis that India may face in future, even more the fact that there is a strain on its per capita annual water availability. That “remedial measures” are necessary is also a no-brainer.
However, the editorial seems to rather hastily dismiss one of the biggest remedial measures – river-linking — being put in place: “The science behind this is very dubious. Yet governments appear keen to pilot such expensive engineering feats. The Rs 18,000 crore Ken-Betwa interlinking project could destroy 10,000 hectares of forests, with nearly half of that in the Panna Tiger Reserve… It’s best to avoid such schemes that could do more harm than good.” There is no attempt on the part of The Times of India to consider any benefit of the project while the dismissal appears fully in keeping with the negative narrative against the project voiced by activists. Later, near its conclusion, the editorial utters the admonition: “The Centre’s Namami Gange programme must deliver results soon.”
Let us, therefore, take a look at the facts pertaining to both – river-linking and Namai Gange – and see whether the editorial’s apprehensions and dismissal of the same hold up.
- The river-linking project, on which work begins in less than 3 months, is meant to help people in the 13 drought-prone and 7 flood-prone regions of India by conserving nearly 60-70% of the water that flows into the sea.
- When fully implemented, the river-linking project will connect the perennial Himalayan rivers at the root of many floods to the western and southern streams.
- River-linking is meant to mitigate the impact of floods in eastern India and provide relief to parts of western and southern India suffering from water scarcity. In reality, therefore, forests and flora and fauna may actually end up benefiting from the full scope of the project.
- India’s irrigation potential can increase from 140 million hectares to 175 million hectares as a result of river-linking.
- There is likely to be the additional benefit of 3,400 MW in power generation.
- On the whole, flood control, navigation, pollution control and development of fisheries are within the purview of the project.
- For the Ken-Betwa project itself, the first question that should perhaps be asked is who or what region is the project aiming to help. The answer is drought-affected Budelkhand. Bundelkhand, an agriculture-dependent region, has been in a sorry state due to consecutive and continuous droughts from 2003 to 2010. In 2011, it was struck by floods. In 2012 and 2013, Bundelkhand saw late monsoons and deficient rainfall. So, should the plight of lakhs of farmers and a population of 1.8 crore (as per Census 2011) not be considered?
- Since the river Betwa is dry when flowing down and the river Ken keeps surplus water, with a history of floods, the link canal of 231 km is likely to benefit the region significantly.
- The dam across Ken, 2.5 km upstream of the existing Gangau weir, will also contribute to power generation with two power houses.
- Finally, from the evidence available, it also appears that the state has adopted a balanced approach. For instance, when the feasibility report for the Manas-Sankosh-Teesta-Ganga link showed that the Manas and Buxa tiger reserves would be harmed, alternate alignment studies were carried out, avoiding reserved forests.
(For details, please read our article “What is the Significance of Ken-Betwa? An Overview of the River-Linking Project”.)
The editorial does admit that water is a state subject and that “much onus” is on state governments. However, in keeping with the tone and content of several articles in circulation, a project as big as Namami Gange is dealt with cursorily or dismissed without a look at how it is working and what it has been achieving. Last month, an editorial in Hindustan Times had accused the Namami Gange project of lacking a roadmap, which The True Picture had rebutted. The Times of India admonition that the project “must deliver results soon”, while not exactly saying the same, would appear to imply a lack of results so far. Let us, then, check out some of the facts:
- First of all, any demand for “results” from Namami Gange must consider the project’s scope and timeline pertaining to its objectives. Namami Gange is divided into three phases: Entry-Level Activities (for immediate visible impact), Medium-Term Activities (to be implemented within 5 years of the timeframe), and Long-Term Activities (to be implemented within 10 years).
- Among the specific operational projects, we can first look at capacity creation in sewerage treatment: 63 sewerage management projects are under implementation in Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand and West Bengal. 12 new sewerage management projects have been launched in these states. Work for creating sewerage capacity of 1,187.33 (MLD) is in progress.
- On River-Front Development, 28 development projects and 33 entry-level projects for construction, modernisation and renovation of 182 ghats and 118 crematoria have been initiated.
- The process of cleaning the river surface to collect floating solid waste from the ghats and river as well as the disposal of the same has been undertaken at 11 locations.
- Real Time Effluent Monitoring Stations (EMS) are installed in 572 of 760 Grossly Polluting Industries (GPIs). Online EMS is to be installed for smooth-tracking. By September, 135 GPIs had been issued closure notices and others given compliance deadlines.
- National Mission for Clean Ganga (NMCG) is going to use the latest geo-spatial technologies for Namami Gange.
- The National Remote Sensing Centre (NRSC) has enlisted the following tasks to support NMCG: comprehensive GIS database, water quality assessment using satellite data of Ganga from Kannauj to Varanasi, real-time water quality data visualisation, high-quality multispectral satellite image, aerial topographical survey, urban sprawl change-mapping, etc.
- Namami Gange itself is providing for bio-diversity conservation, the “Ganga Gram” project as well as afforestation, among other things.
As with river-linking, similarly with Namami Gange, the editorial has not found space to explore the benefits or achievements of precisely what it criticises or issues warnings about. Nobody is making a case against the action imperative for preserving and boosting India’s water resources and reserves. However, it would appear that such urgent pleas, as made by the editorial, would serve their public purpose better if an honest, comprehensive and accurate account were made of the action already underway or the programme about to be implemented.