Saving the Ganga
Manmohan Singh’s move to declare the Ganga as the country’s first national river, for direct management by a river basin authority that he will head, is well-intended but little more than a re-enactment of what Rajiv Gandhi had done in 1984. The chief difference between the two is that while Mr Gandhi took the initiative at the beginning of his term as Prime Minister, giving himself ample time to show results (which, sadly, remained elusive), Dr Singh is doing so towards the end of his term—with hardly any time left for worthwhile action, let alone results. The new avatar of the Ganga River Basin Authority is mooted to be a fully empowered body for planning, implementing and monitoring all activities that impact the Ganga along its entire stretch of 2,510 km, form the mountains of Uttarakhand to the Bay of Bengal. The objectives are to save this vital and iconic rival from dying, and restoring the purity of its water, which has degraded and become unusable for drinking, and even for bathing or washing clothes.
The timing of the move has bred some unfortunate misgivings, for it is being viewed in political quarters as a pre-poll gimmick to gain voter sympathies in the Hindi heartland, through which the river flows. Questions are being asked as to why the Centre continues to delay acceding to the long-pending demand for constituting a similar body for the Brahmaputra. There is also the danger of fanning Centre-state and inter-state river water conflicts, as regulating water flows is a state subject.
These misgivings may be unfounded, and little more than political conspiracy-theorising in the run-up to general elections. The real issue is whether this initiative, too, will meet the fate of the Ganga Action Plan of a quarter-century ago. That the Rs 1,500 crore spent on that project virtually went down the drain has been confirmed by reports of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG), as well as of the amicus curiae appointed by the Supreme Court to monitor progress.
Even the initiatives taken by the apex court have achieved little, because the edicts that it has issued for closing down the tanneries around the river and for the treatment of all the sewage and industrial waste being released into it, have been futile exercises. Nearly a billion litres of untreated sewage continues to pour into the river along a course dotted with 100 towns and cities, small and big.
Less than half of the major effluent-discharging industries are reckoned to have set up treatment plants, and a sizable number out of these either do not function or are sub-standard installations. The net result, as corroborated by the Central Pollution Control Board, is that the quality of Ganga water is worse now than it was in 1984. What heightens the danger to the survival of this once mighty and sparklingly clean river is the revelation that the Gangotri glacier, which is the river’s source, has been shrinking by over 18 metres a year. This makes it imperative that decisive action is taken to restore the health of this vital river. If the Prime Minister’s move succeeds in doing so, it will indeed be a boon for the country.
Jail for Delhi Jal Board ex-CEO for polluting Yamuna
New Delhi: The Yamuna will finally get cleaner. In a stunning instance of judicial activism, the Delhi High Court on Tuesday ordered a two-week
jail term for former DJB CEO Arun Mathur and two other top officials of the Board for their failure to prevent sewage from flowing into the Yamuna despite assuring the court two years ago that they would take steps to stem the sewage flow into the river.
The jail order has been suspended for three months. This breather is for the Board to get its act together and "stop entire flow of sewage into storm water drain," said Justice Shiv Narayan Dhingra. At present, sewage is seeping into a 4-km storm water drain along Greater Kailash, Masjid Moth, EPR Colony and Chirag Enclave in south Delhi.
Now that this jail term is hanging over the heads of the officers, there is a very good chance that the problem that didn't get fixed for two years, will get DJB's priority attention. The three officers have also been fined Rs 20,000 each, to be deducted from their salary immediately. A fourth officer, ex-chief engineer B M Dhaul escaped HC's wrath as he has retired.
A visibly angry Justice Dhingra said, "It is only in this country that citizens have to knock at the doors of court in order to get reliefs of the kind sought here. It only shows with what contempt normal citizens of this country are dealt with by authorities and essential facilities like sewage lines are not maintained by DJB despite repeated complaints of the citizen." He also lashed out at DJB for "deep-rooted corruption in the department."
The extraordinary step to imprison then CEO Mathur, chief engineer (Drainage) R K Jain and executive engineer P Pant came on a contempt petition filed by the RWA of Greater Kailash S Block. It informed the court that despite assuring the court as far back as 2006, DJB has failed to stop flow of sewer in their colony's storm water drain which flowed untreated into the Yamuna.
Justice Dhingra bridled at what he viewed as DJB's attempts to wriggle out of this spot. The agency claimed it had carried out repairs but this was a case of re-occurrence of flow of sewage in the storm water drain due to fresh settlement.
Lawyers for DJB told court that fresh tenders had already been invited to mend sewer lines.
But the court said, "Excuses are always available for those who don't wish to work." It also trashed DJB's defence that the sewer lines of GK, Masjid Moth and Chirag Enclave were more than 35 years old and so susceptible to collapse. "Main trunk sewer lines are meant to last not decades but centuries since they are life lines of cities and with them is connected the entire sewage system," the judge said.
He added: "If a department meant to look after sewer lines is unable to stop flow of sewage and sullage into storm water and Yamuna river, questions can be asked about the utility of such a department. repeated failure of sewer system shows the quality of work being done by DJB...If two and a half years isn't enough to stop flow of sewage, what period of time is needed by DJB nobody knows."
The Delhi High Court must be congratulated for its no-nonsense attitude. TOI has always maintained that those in public office must be held accountable and the HC's order is a landmark step in that direction. There should be zero tolerance for this kind of callous negligence as it shows total disregard for taxpayers' money with which our utilities are run and with which these officers are paid their salaries. Hopefully, "powerful" people will now realise that they are in fact servants of the public.
26 Nov 2008
Delhi dumps 70% pollutants in Yamuna, says CPCB study
New Delhi, November 26 : There is a reason why the High Court is slapping the Delhi Jal Board (DJB) with contempt of court — and it’s a problem Delhiites have been living with.
The latest data on the quality of water in the Yamuna has confirmed the worst: at 70 per cent, Delhi contributes most polluting load to the river.
In 2005, the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) found that at Wazirabad, the point where Yamuna enters the city, coliform levels (caused by sewage, and severely unhealthy) were at 40,842 parts per 100 ml. Since 2005, the figures have only gone up. This month, the river at Palla, just before it enters the city, had a coliform level of 1,60,000. And compared to the rest of the city, that is a meagre amount.
As per the ‘C’ category the river falls in, coliform levels should be around 5,000 MPN (Most Probable Number, or units) per 100 ml. But the levels of coliform are staggering in the rest of the city, becoming critical at the points where drains meet the river. This month, it was recorded that just downstream of Wazirabad coliform levels are at 2,30,000 MPN per 100 ml. At ITO, the coliform levels are at 7,50,000. And downstream of Okhla, the figure breaks through the roof: after the river meets the polluting Shahadara drain, coliform levels have been found to be at 12,00,000 MPN per 100 ml.
That, the CPCB says, means Delhi contributes 70 percent of pollution load to the Yamuna. Drains, sewage and stormwater are together taking away life from the river. Literally.
The November data also shows that after Najafgarh drain meets the river, Biochemical Oxygen demand (BOD) — oxygen consuming substances sapping away oxygen from the water — are at 42 miligrams per litre. The experts at CPCB say this is 14 times the amount a C-category river is supposed to have — a maximum of 3 mg per litre.
BJP fishes in murky waters, finds poll issue in Court order
The court order has added much colour to the Bharatiya Janata Party’s poll ammunition. Candidate for chief minister Vijay Kumar Malhotra said: “Sheila Dikshit was the chairman of the DJB. It is clear the agency’s functioning under her has been shady. People have now noticed that.”
Several campaigning leaders, including Narendra Modi, touched upon the court order in their rally speeches. At a meeting in Najafgarh, Modi said: “Congress makes promises and then forgets to keep them. The officers have been punished for that. It is time you punish the Congress.”
The BJP will keep rubbing it in, party sources said. Malhotra added, “The DJB has suffered a revenue loss of more than Rs 2,000 crore. Nearly 16 lakh consumers are slapped with water bills not generated by proper meters. This has led to horrific corruption in the DJB. In addition, defective meters also cost the exchequer Rs 175 crore every year.”
Party MLA Vijay Jolly said, “Shortage of water has been a constant problem in my New Delhi constituency. It now seems whatever we get is also a mix of sewer water.”
The Times of India
Himalayan glaciers may disappear by 2035
The glaciers in the Himalayas are receding faster than in any other part of the world and, if the present rate continues, a large number of them may disappear by 2035 because of climate change, warn Indian and foreign environmentalists and geologists.
The Himalayas have the largest concentration of glaciers outside the polar caps. That is why, they are called the “Water Towers of Asia.”
The Himalayas lie to the north of the Indian subcontinent and to the south of the central Asian high plateau. They are bound by the Indus on the west slope of Mt Nanga Parbat (near Gilgit), and in the west, by river Jaizhug Qu on the eastern slope of Mt Namjabarwa.
The Geological Survey of India claims that the Himalayan glaciers occupy about 17 per cent of the total mountainous range, while an additional 30 to 40 per cent area has seasonal snow cover.
In the whole of the Himalayan range, independent geologists claim that there are 18,065 small and big glaciers with a total area of 34,659.62 km2 and a total ice volume of 3,734.4796 km3. The major clusters of glaciers are around the 10Himalayan peaks and massifs: Nanga Parbat (Gilgit), the Nanda Devi group in Garhwal, the Dhaulagiri massif, the Everest-Makalu group, the Kanchenjunga, the Kula Kangri area, and Namche Bazaar.
The Indian Himalayan glaciers are broadly divided into three-river basins of the Indus, Ganga and Barahmaputra. The Indus basin has the largest number of glaciers (3,538), followed by the Ganga basin (1,020) and the Barahmaputra (662).
The principal glaciers are: Siachen 72 km; Gangotri 26 km; Zemu 26 km; Milam 19 km and Kedarnath 14.5 km. The Gangotri glacier has retreated by about 850 m.
One may believe it or not but the climate change is real and happening now and it is causing a serious impact on fragile ecosystems like glaciers. Seventy per cent of the world’s freshwater is frozen in glaciers. Glacier melt buffers other ecosystems against climate variability. Very often, it provides the only source of water for humans and the biodiversity during dry seasons.
The Himalayan glaciers feed seven of Asia’s great rivers: the Ganga, Indus, Barahmaputra, Salween, Mekong, Yangtze and Huang Ho. About 70 per cent of glaciers are retreating at a startling rate in the Himalayas due to climate change.
The Glacial melt has started affecting freshwater flows with dramatic adverse effects on the biodiversity, and people and livelihoods, with a possible long-term implication on regional food security.
The WWF’s India, Nepal and China chapters some time back carried out a massive study ‘Glaciers, glacier retreat and its impact’ on freshwater as a major issue, not just in the national context but also at a regional and trans-boundary level.
New data collected by scientists at the Jawaharlal Nehru University has shown that glaciers in the Himalayas are retreating faster than anywhere else in the world. Together with those on the neighbouring Tibetan mountain plateau, the Himalayan glaciers make up the largest body of ice outside the Polar regions.
The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI)’s scientist, professor Syed Hasnain, in a recent study claimed that “All the glaciers in the middle Himalayas are retreating, and they could disappear from the central and eastern Himalayas by 2035.”
As the chairman of the International Commission for Snow and Ice’s (ICSI) working group on Himalayan Glaciology, Hasnain was then quoted by The New Scientist in the June 5, 1999, issue, in which also he had warned that “most of the glaciers in the Himalayan region will vanish within 40 years as a result of global warming”. The article also predicted that freshwater flow in rivers across South Asia would “eventually diminish, resulting in widespread water shortages.”
The Tribune in mid-July carried a special report quoting American environment guru Lester R. Brown, who warned that the way Indian glaciers were melting because of climate change, the Ganga may turn into a ``mausmi nadi’’ before the turn of this century as its origin - the Gangotri glacier - was shrinking at an alarming speed. “Many Himalayan glaciers could melt entirely by 2035,” Brown has also warned.
The giant Gangotri glacier supplies 70 per cent of the Ganga flow during the dry season. A study carried out by the India’s Department of Science and Technology has found the Gangotri glacier shrinking at a pace of 17 m a year due to global warming and climate change. Its mammoth neighbour Pindari glacier is also reportedly melting at a speed of about 9.5 m a year. The Gangotri glacier is the outlet of one of the largest glacier systems in the Himalayas, and the source of the Bhagirathi, one of the major tributaries of the Ganga.
A Tribune Special
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