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Ganga more important than development, its ecological entity is non-negotiable

Written By Gopal Krishna on Sunday, December 28, 2008 | 8:36 AM

True Basin Approach a Must to Combat Adverse Water Quality & Depletion of Ecological Flow
Citizen Groups Seek Environmental Audit before formation of Ganga River Basin Authority

A Round Table held at Indian Social Institute tdwelt on how water quality in Ganga can be positively impacted by seeking Zero tolerance towards hazardous chemicals, wate water and how depletion in ecological flow due to uncalled for hydro projects adversely affects the water quality.

In view of the declaration by the Prime Minister's Office of its sane intent with regard to basin approach for development, the participants sought review of Industrial Policy, Environmental Policy, Water Policy, Agriculture Policy and the recently announced Integrated Energy Policy. They called for an environmental audit of all the industrial activities in the Ganga basin. As auditing and accounting are inextricably interlinked, the important pre-requisite for effective environmental auditing is sound environmental accounting.

Taking note of the unregulated industrial pollution in general and chemical pollution in particular, the participants called for inventorisation of chemicals so that certain chemicals whose environmental health impact is known can be phased out.
Participants were highly critical of the current externalization the cost of pollution and criminal neglect of it impact on human health and ecosystem.

The fact that "Polluter Pays Principle" has been only lip service so far even as the heavily polluting industries to continue to poison the food chain with impunity due to their donations to political parties illustrated what was referred to as absence of state and death of accountability.

Responding to the declaration of Ganga River Basin Authority in the aftermath of the recent acknowledgment by the Prime Minister's Office which says, "there is a need to replace the current piecemeal efforts taken up in a fragmented manner in select cities with an integrated approach that sees the river as an ecological entity and addresses issues of quantity in terms of water flows along with issues of quality," the participants at the Round Table agreed that the ecological flow of water too impacts the quality of water.

In pursuance of the same identifying chemicals is important in order to seek its elimination from the water resources in general and Ganga in particular was stressed. The key player and key body with regard to Ganga is all set to be the River Basin Authority. Therefore, it was opined that if the Ganga basin approach is indeed adopted then as per Comptroller Auditor General's audit reports there was a need to strengthen the environmental clearance process emanating which has been manifestly weakened.

In the backdrop of misplaced enthusiasm about mega projects like Ganga Expressway and 'interlinking of rivers' scheme, it was unanimously agreed that these are ecologically destructive. Driven by free market fanatics such "economic growth at any cost" mindset of development fundamentalists bulldozing massive land use change in the Ganga basin, oblivious of the grave threat it poses our ecosystem. It emerged that it is pursued by an economic ideology that led to a financial collapse in US and Europe and which has brought about the climate crisis.

Participants concluded Ganga is more important than development and the ecological entity of the river basin is non-negotiable.

Given the fact that parliamentary standing committee on science and technology, environment and forests has concluded that Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), the nodal body for regulating environmental norms parliamentary standing committee on science and technology, environment and forests is "a near-defunct body", in the context of the Ganga basin, there is an immediate need to conduct full fledged Environmental Auditing (EA) reports with Performance Audit framework, applying guidelines and benchmarked best practices.

Data on environmental costs and liabilities can be used for better decision making in areas like use of inputs, choice of technology for processing and handling of hazardous chemicals, hazardous wastes and byproducts. These can in turn help decision making of the River Basin Authority 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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