The Current Crisis: Tension between ‘Dams-Management’ and ‘Development’

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Trilok Singh, CEO: YD Media, IASmind, Seva A2Z (E-commerce).

India: Worst Dam Management in the country may have aggravated the floods, raising questions about the role and the action plan of dams management, as many research attribution says that, many Indian dams are too much old and becoming increasingly unsafe for public the state. In other words, The efficiency of dams to withhold floods has always been put to question, Kerala has recently passed through the worst floods in its history and the causes are the manifold increase in population and hence the dwellings and heavy constructions without the effective controls over dam efficiency.. Recently, Supreme Court of India has agreed to here the petition representing about more than 3 million people who live in the downstream area of the ‘Mullaperiyar Dam’, Kerala (1895). Also, In view of the worst devastation in nearly a century suffered by Kerala due to rains and floods, the government cancelled this year’s Onam celebrations, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan announced the same. So the harvest festival is one event that is celebrated across the state. The Kerala government, which had earmarked Rs 30 crore for the cultural events to be held all across the state, decided to divert that amount to the Chief Minister’s Distress Relief Fund.

However, India’s most of the regions is located in tropical zone, where it has seasonal rainfall from June to September every year. So Its climate is also known as ‘tropical monsoon climate’. India is world’s second most populated country in the globe, with 2.4% of the world’s surface area accounts for 17.5% of its population. The country is a land of more than five thousands large dams – Over 15 metre high, the third largest number in the world, behind the United State and China. Vulnerability of India to disasters or floods is not new, India is one of the oldest civilizations, and therefore has remained vulnerable to various Floods/hazards since then. But the difference here is approach adopted by the country to tackle such situations.

Read Also, The ghost of past environment policy returns: Kerala Floods

On the one hand, Menace of water and population is increasingly being felt resulting in conflicts across the globe. For instance, India is now facing disputes both within and outside its boundaries. While Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan are fighting over water sharing from Bhakra Nangal, Kerala and Tamil Nadu went to court on div ersion of water from Mullaperiyar dam.. On the other hand, Pakistan also claimed that design of Baglihar project in vellay violated the Indus Water Treaty whereas India is wary of China’s plan to tame Brahmaputra waters through a series of dams. More than ten major rivers originate from the Tibetan Autonomous Region of China. And for the past decade, India and China, the two biggest geopolitical forces in the region, have engaged in a hydro-power race to harness this power. Similar are the concerns of Bangladesh which lies further downstream over India’s attempt to build dams.

Like many dams in the country, the Mullaperiyar dam is located in Kerala, but operate by another state, namely, Tamil Nadu. And both state governments have been in constant conflict over the dam’s water level-in the current crisis, the SC had to intervene. Beyond dam mismanagement, some environmentalists are pointing to other man-made issues, such as urban development and qusrrying. For instance, In Kerala, much of which site on the Western Ghats, developmental activities can increase the chances of landslides-the biggest source of fatalities in floods.

Meanwhile, Ecologist Madhav Gadgil (also known as the Gadgil Committee, formed in 2010 the Centre), founder of the Centre for Ecological Sciences at the Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru, has described the floods in Kerala as a man-made disaster; a reaction to the illegal excavations, stone quarrying done over a decade. In an interview to Hindustan Times, he argued, “Irresponsible environmental policy is to be blamed for the recent floods and landslides in Kerala”. Gadgil, said that, “Extensive stone quarrying and mushrooming of high-rises as part of tourism, and illegal forest land acquisition by private parties are the major reasons for the recent floods in the state”.

Read Also, Kerala floods toll reaches 180, rescue operations continue

The state also blamed neighbouring Tamil Nadu for the floods in the SC recent verdict, saying the gates of ‘Mullaperiyar dam’ were suddenly opened without any warning, a claim denied by Tamil Nadu government. Significantly, A Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) report submitted in Tamil Nadu Assembly in 2016 squarely blamed the unwarranted release of 29,000 cusecs of water for 21 hours in December 2015, in violation of dam safety norms, for flooding in Chennai. The report indicate that the floods could have been avoided had the Public Works Department followed the Central Water Commission guidelines on regulated water release from the three water tanks upstream of the city.

Following by the reports, The 5,254 dams in India are an integral part of flood management, apart from storing water for irrigation and generating power. A 2017 CAG report submitted in Parliament which indicate that there is emergency action plan for only seven percent of these dams. Of the 219 proposed new telemetry stations, used to forecast floods, only a quarter were set-up till August 2016. Of the 375 existing stations, almost 60% were non-functional after installation.

Read Also, Floods to have long-term negative impact on Kerala, Karnataka coffee growers

As rain poured and rivers overflowed, these dams should have served as a bulwark. The ldukki and ldamalayar dams together have stored 21.3% of the Periyar’s (Kerala’s longest river) annual flow, greatly limiting the flood’s damage. But for dams truely tame floods, experts say dam reservoirs need to be relatively empty before the onset of rains. This was not the case in kerala. The ldukki dam was already neer full capacity by July-end even as rains were relatively weak (Below Normal Levels) during that period. When the downpours arrived in August, the near full-capicity ldukki was forced to release water into already flooded areas. Filling up the reservation before the end of the monsoon is an invitation to disaster.

In 2011, Western Ghats ecology expert panel (the Madhav Gadgil Committee report) had labelled areas of the state as extremely ecological-sensitive where no developmental activities should take place. Further, Data from the state’s disaster managemnet control room ‘signify’ that flood casualties and injuries. The report was sceptical about dams, warning against their construction in the Western Ghats. But Most of Gadgil’s recommendations were rejected as too impractical, highlighting the tension between dams and development. Proponents see dams as critical for Indian farmers’ sustenace and renewable energy generation. While the costs and benefits of new dams may be unclear, for existing dams, what is clear is that their management can, and must improve, to limit damages during extreme weather events.

Read Also, Kerala government’s glaring omission led to flood tragedy: Ex-CM

The report had eminent ecologists and their report too reflected that. The report was labelled favourable to environment and environmentalists and not development (or illegal mining). Remember, there is a never-ending debate between environment and development; it’s tough to balance both without compromising the other. Anyway, let’s come back to Gadgil Report highlights:

  1. The Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel (WGEEP) designated the entire hill range as an Ecologically Sensitive Area (ESA).
  2. The panel, in its report, has classified the 142 taluks in the Western Ghats boundary into Ecologically Sensitive Zones (ESZ) 1, 2 and 3.
  3. ESZ-1 being of high priority, almost all developmental activities (mining, thermal power plants etc) were restricted in it.
  4. Gadgil report recommended that “no new dams based on large-scale storage be permitted in Ecologically Sensitive Zone 1. Since both the Athirappilly of Kerala and Gundia of Karnataka hydel project sites fall in Ecologically Sensitive Zone 1, these projects should not be accorded environmental clearance,” it said.
  5. Gadgil Committee report specifies that the present system of governance of the environment should be changed. It asked for a bottom to top approach (right from Gram sabhas) rather than a top to bottom approach. It also asked for decentralization and more powers to local authorities.
  6. The commission recommended constitution of a Western Ghats Ecology Authority (WGEA), as a statutory authority under the Ministry of Environment and Forests, with the powers under Section 3 of the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986).

Criticisms of Madhav Gadgil Report

Many Experts has argued that, It is against dams in the Western Ghats, which is a crucial blow on the ailing power sector. Considering the growing energy needs of India, critics argued that this recommendation cannot be taken and it was more environment-friendly – not in tune with the ground realities. The report has asked for a complete eco-sensitive cover for the Western Ghats which hamper different states on energy and development fronts. There was a criticism against the constitution of a new body called WGEA. The report doesn’t give a solution for revenue losses due to the implementation of its recommendations.

And the most important: The report adversely affects the various mafia. When the Gadgil Committee report was first made public, there were a lot of protests against it from the sand mining and quarrying lobbies in Goa. Many mafias created fear among farmers in Kerala that the Gadgil report is against them, and that they will lose livelihood if its recommendations are implemented.

‘Kasturirangan Committee’ on the Western Ghats

The Kasturirangan committee was constituted to examine the WGEEP report. The committee is often called HLWG – it denotes the ten member high-level working group (HLWG), headed by Kasturirangan. let’s come back to Kasturirangan Committee Report highlights:

  1. Instead of the total area of Western Ghats, only 37% (i.e. 60,000 sq. km.) of the total area be brought under ESA under Kasturirangan report.
  2. A complete ban on mining, quarrying and sand mining in ESA.
  3. Distinguished between cultural (58% occupied in the Western Ghats by it like human settlements, agricultural fields and plantations) and natural landscape (90% of it should come under ESA according to the committee).
  4. Current mining areas in the ESA should be phased out within the next five years, or at the time of expiry of mining lease, whichever is earlier.
  5. No thermal power be allowed and hydropower projects are allowed only after detailed study.
  6. Red industries i.e. which are highly polluting be strictly banned in these areas.
  7. Kasturirangan report on the Western Ghats has made several pro-farmer recommendations, including the exclusion of inhabited regions and plantations from the purview of ecologically sensitive areas (ESAs).
  8. The Kasturirangan report had said 123 villages fall under the ESA purview.

Criticisms of Kasturirangan Committee Report

The Kasturirangan panel used remote sensing and aerial survey methods for zonal demarcation of land in the Western Ghats. Further, The usage of such techniques, without examining the ground reality, has caused many errors in the same report. The power is vested with the bureaucrats and forest officials and not with gram sabhas. Many fear that the farmers would get evicted if the Kasturirangan Committee report is implemented. The report says that, the mining and quarrying lobbies are expected to flourish. When these lobbies and tourism flourish, it will be disastrous for the environment. There will be a water shortage, there will be pollution. Finally, farmers will have to quit the area. They will not be able to do farming there. The use of “erroneous method” had caused inclusion of many villages under Ecologically Sensitive Areas (ESA) though there were only rubber plantations and no forest land! Kasturirangan report included ecologically non-sensitive areas under ESA, and left out many ecologically sensitive areas…

Comparatively, Gadgil’s Western Ghats  (Western Ghats landscape across 1,29,037 sq km.) is smaller than that of Kasturirangan’s (Western Ghats landscape, according to Kasturirangan is 1,64,280 sq km). Gadgil report marked out 60% of the Western Ghats as the highest-priority Ecologically Sensitive Zone. While Kasturirangan report marks only 37 percent area (but considers wider Western Ghat boundaries) as ESA. Gadgil’s report proposed to declare this entire landscape as ESA, creating three ESZs within it.

Read Also, Centre releases Rs.600 crore assistance to flood-affected Kerala

Notably, Whenever we study environment or disaster management, the evergreen topic of debate is between environment and development. It is tough to achieve a perfect balance. The same happened with both these reports. If Gadgil report laid too much importance to the environment, Kasturirangan report was biased towards development. Kasturi Rangan report was criticized by many as that it provided loopholes for mining, which if allowed would turn detrimental to the environment, in long-term will affect development too. Kasturirangan report got the tag as anti-environmental soon after its release. But this report was tagged anti-development too by many who fear that their livelihood and interests will be affected.

Thus, Kerala is merely the latest victim of worst or poor dam management: Several of India’s floods, such as Bihar in 2016 and Surat in 2006, where exacerbated by poor dam management. In the 2015 Chennai floods, which claimed 295 lives, violation of dam safety norms were a critical factor. Water officials in India argued that, decommissioning dams is a long process and involves building alternative dams in advance – an expensive exercise. Many Experts say the flooding in downstream areas can be better managed if the India Meteorological Department’s 72-hour forecast is used to create simulation models for water release..

Read Also, Karnataka rushes relief materials to flood-hit Kerala

Half of Kerala’s dams (Almost 57%) are hydroelectric projects operated by the Kerala State Electricity Board; the rest are operated by the irrigation department. For Both entities, the amount of water to store is motivated by demand for electricity and irrigation, rather than flood control measured. These floods also raise another recurring, unresolved issue in Indian Dam Operations. While the ‘Union Cabinet’ on october 24, 2018,  gave its approval to the ‘MoU’ signed among the BRICS nations on ‘environmental cooperation’ and the related issues. The agreement was signed during the 10th BRICS Summit in South Africa, July 2018. It focuses on issues such as Air Quality, Water, biodiversity, Climate Change, Waste Management, implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development & Sustainable Development Goals.

On Kerala’s request, the state government has also agreed to release 75,000 cusecs of water from Kabini reservoir in Mysuru districts to tackle the flash floods caused by excessive backwaters across the border in Kerala. As one of the tributaries, Kabini originates in the Waynad district and flows eastward to join the Cauvery river at T. Narasipura in Karnataka.

Despite all of this, The First ‘BIMSTEC Disaster Management Exercise- 2017’ (BIMSTEC DMEx-2017) will be conducted by the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) as the lead agency from October 10-13, 2017 in the National Capital (New Delhi) and the Region (NCR). Above Exercise will be a platform for sharing Best Practices on all aspects of Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR), strengthening regional response and coordination for Disaster Management among the BIMSTEC member countries. India has been at the forefront of DRR efforts by hosting the South Asian Annual Disaster Management Exercise (SAADMEx) and the Asian Ministerial Conference for Disaster Risk Reduction (AMCDRR). India has also offered its expertise and capabilities in DRR such as the South Asia satellite, GSAT-9, and the Tsunami Early Warning Centre to other countries. The successful process of e-flows in India indicate that it is going to be mainstreamed into water resource management policy.

An apex body NDMA (National disaster management authority) was created with the enactment of this act. NIDM (National Institute of disaster management) was given nodal functions and responsibilities of research, capacity building, and training and human resource development for disaster management. Therefore all the institutions have different responsibilities under an integrated approach and started functioning. While the BIMSTEC region is home to around 1.5 billion people, constituting around 22% of the global population with a combined GDP of US $2.7 trillion economy. Majority of the BIMSTEC countries are situated in the South Asian Region (SAR), prone to natural disasters such as floods, cyclones, earthquakes, avalanches and drought.

Lack of coordination among various institutes specially, NDMA and SDMAs has defeated the very objective of disaster management act, specially during Uttarakhand flood NMDA was criticized by even CAG but its arm NDRF had worked commendably. Only 21 states have established their SDMAs (state disaster management authority) which need to be completed in given time framework. While the Sendai framework for disaster risk reduction 2015-2030, titled as ‘Making the difference for Poverty, Health and Resilience’ is a major agreement of the post 2015 development agenda, with seven targets and four priorities for action. It was adopted by the UN general assembly following the 2015 Third United Nation world conference on Disaster risk reduction (WCDRR). Substantially reduce global disaster mortality by 2030, aiming to lower average per 1,00,000 global mortality rate in the decade 2020-2030 compared to the period 2005-2015.

Dam Safety Bill, 2018

The Union Cabinet, in its meeting chaired by the Prime Minister Narendra Modi on 13.6.18, approved the proposal for introduction of Dam Safety Bill, 2018 in the Parliament. The objective of this Bill is to help develop uniform, countrywide procedures for ensuring the safety of dams. While dams have played a key role in fostering rapid and sustained agricultural growth and development in India, therehas been a long felt need for a uniform law and administrative structure in the country for ensuring dam safety. The Central Water Commission, through the National Cmmittee on Dam Safety (NCDS), Central Dam Safety Organization (CDSO) and State Dam Safety Organizations (SDSO) has been making constant endeavours in this direction, but these organizationsdo not have any statutory powers and are only advisory in nature.

The provisions of the Dam Safety Bill 2018 will empower the dam safety institutional set-ups in both the Centre and States and will also help in standardizing and improving dam safety practices across the country. It further provides that every State shall establish a “State Dam Safety Organisation”, which will be manned by officers from the field dam safety preferably from the areas of dam-designs, hydro-mechanical engineering, hydrology, geo-technical investigation, instrumentation and dam-rehabilitation.

It will try to enhance the international cooperation to developing countries by 2030. Substantially increase the availability of and access to multi hazard early warning systems disaster risk information and assessments to the people by 2030. Thus, enhance accessibility to technology, forecasting and warning systems for the developing and underdeveloped countries who are rather far behind in technological aspects and vulnerable to disasters or floods, through involvement of international NGO’s and disaster experts, the prevention, mitigation recovery and rehabilitation process also becomes accessible and effective.

Now, hazard and disaster both are of two types natural and man-made, but here we will see only how anthropogenic activities supplements transformation of hazard into disaster. Every natural resource has its own capacity to regenerate and if we use these resources carelessly without bothering about their capacity to regenerate, it results into environmental degradation that is why today we are talking about sustainable development, Blind use of resources is the reasons of transformation of hazards into disasters, Population expansion in geographical regions which are sensitive to hazards and disaster. We know that coastal regions of India are vulnerable to cyclones, we should not have extended habitation very close to coasts, and it would save habitations and human life.

Read Also, Global Environmental Crisis: Solution in Indian Philosophy and Culture

We need to keep in mind the root causes of the same while dealing with this chapter, consumerism culture which is born by the capitalism-capital economy has made production as an universal value because the foundation of capital is based on the massive use of nature. If we find the solution area of environmental problem in Indian Philosophy and Culture we will able to aware the people towards environmental values. We have Science to protect Indian Philosophy, Culture and living traditions. We have to elaborate the science to the universe. Until we don’t accept the Indian Living Culture of India we will not have solutions of global warming, therefore we will have to think again about the traditions and culture of India: World have two major problems one is terrorism and second is changing nature of environment. Terrorism is attack of man on man but environmental change is attack of man on the nature.  

(Author, Trilok Singh, Masters in Political Science, Kirori Mal College, University of Delhi. Founder and CEO: YD IASmind)The Current Crisis: Tension between ‘Dams-Management’ and ‘Development’ -It has been approved by Legal Service India.

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