Is it business as usual?
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. Does basin approach mean undertaking that assessment?
The declaration of Ganga River Basin Authority in the aftermath of the recent acknowledgment by the Prime Minister's Office saying, "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" merits attention.
Will the Third Phase of Ganga Action Plan (GAP-III) or the proposed the Ganga River Basin Authority which is to consider its formation in a meeting likely to be held on January 15 and its proposed river basin approach affect the quality of surface water, ground water and the survival of natural flow of the rivers in the basin? (The GAP-I, which was to be completed by March 1990 was extended till March, 2000 when it was declared complete but Phase I of the Plan is not yet fully complete and GAP-II which was to be completed in 2001 was extended till December 2008. This too remains incomplete)
What is the meaning of the official ceremonial and ornamental status being accorded to Ganga just prior to the upcoming parliamentary elections?
Does this River Basin approach apply to only 79% of Ganga basin, which is in India? Will it include 13 % of Ganga basin that is in Nepal, 4 % in Bangaldesh and 4 % in Tibet? What is its relationship with the river systems and with the composite Ganga-Brahmputra-Meghna basin and its consequences?
How does it affect 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?
a. National Interlinking of Rivers project,
b. UP’s Ganga Expressway project,
c. Uttarakhand’s Bhairon Ghati, Loharinag-Pala, Pala Maneri and Maneri Bhali hydro-projects
d. Some 191 heavily polluting industries in the Ganga basin states
e. West Bengal’s Farraka Barrage
f. Bihar’s Interlinking of Rivers project or Kosi High Dam
g. Pollution from “Religious” Activities
h. Corporate funding of political parties
Given the poor track record of the National River Conservation Directorate, it would be naïve to believe that the threats will be identified and mitigated. If the Ganga basin approach is indeed adopted then as per Comptroller Auditor General's audit reports there is a need to strengthen the environmental clearance process emanating which has been manifestly weakened. And enthusiasm about mega projects like Ganga Expressway and 'interlinking of rivers' scheme must factor in the fact that Ganga is more important than development and the ecological entity of the river basin is non-negotiable.
Whether or not the Ganga Basin Authority gets the support of concerned states remains to be seen but what can be done even under current scheme of things is 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.
In the face of limitations encountered by National Water Quality Assessment Authority, one of the immediate need of the basin is to take urgent steps to restore the water quality by seeking Zero tolerance towards hazardous chemicals, waste water and depletion in the natural flow due to uncalled for hydro projects adversely affects the water quality.
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