Committee to look into River Widening-Deepening welcome: But too many gaps

26.07.16

To,

The Chief Minister, Maharashtra State

And The Chairman, State Water Council

Mantralaya, Mumbai

Subject: GR Dated 4th July 2016 on constituting a Committee to look into River Rejuvenation Proposals (नदी पुनर्जीवन कार्यक्रमा अतर्गत प्रस्ताव मंजुरी देण्यासाठी समिती गठीत करणे बाबत)

Hon. Shri. Devendra Fadnavisji,

It is good to see that through a Government Resolution dated 4th July 2016[i], the Government is seeking to regulate uncontrolled and unregulated River Widening, straightening and Deepening Works being undertaken under Jalyukt Shivar Abhiyaan (JSA) and outside JSA. The GR states that a committee under the Chairpersonship of Minister of Water Conservation is formed to give permission to “River Rejuvenation Projects”.(नदी पुनर्जीवन)

It is welcome that a committee will examine Detailed Report of such proposal for Rivers, which will be prepared by the District Collector. This was also one of the requests we had made to you in our submission in June 2016.[ii]

However, there are some major gaps which need to be addressed by the GR, in keeping with the past GRs passed by the government as well as major environmental issues.

  1. River Rejuvenation is not the same as desilting, straightening and deepening of rivers (गाळ काढ़णे, सरळीकरण व खोलीकरण करणे) as the GR states in its opening line itself. In fact such works are neither necessary nor sufficient to achieve river rejuvenation and it is scientifically wrong to equate such works to rejuvenation of rivers. Straightening of Rivers is entirely opposed to their ecological integrity, is environmentally destructive and downright dangerous to the river-banks and riverine population. We request you to immediately omit this word and not to equate Deepening and Widening works with River Rejuvenation.
  1. Constitution of the Committee:

The committee to provide permission to River deepening widening proposals consists only of Ministers and Bureaucrats from the Water Conservation Department. River Rejuvenation, or even for that matter River Widening-Deepening, is closely linked to Environment and Groundwater Issues about which the Water Conservation Department or their Engineers do not have expertise.

We request that the ambit of the Committee, which should look at River Rejuvenation, be expanded to include

  • Officials from Environment Department, Officials from Groundwater Survey and Development Agency/ Central Groundwater Board and Water Resource Department. It is also an integral part of their duty under various Laws.
  • Non-governmental representation: Ecologists/Groundwater experts/River experts
  • Local representatives for each specific case: Farmers/ Local Universities/ Citizens
  1. Adhering to the existing Government Resolutions

The current 4th July 2016 GR refers to GR issued by Water Conservation Department dated 8th December 2015[iii] (जलयुक्त शिवार अशियानाांतर्गत लोकसहभागाद्वारे राबवण्यात येत असलेल्या नदीपुनगजीवन कायगक्रम विविध योजनाांचे अभिसरण (Convergence) करून प्रभावीपणेराबवणेबाबत). However, there are several issues with the 8th December GR.

While 8th December GR states that the guidelines of another GR dated 9th May 2013[iv](अस्ततत्वातील सिमेंट नाला बाांधातील गाळकाढणे व नाला खोलीकरण करणे खोलीकरणािह नवीन सिमेंट नाला बाांध बाांधणे : मार्गदर्शक सुचना) should be “Strictly followed”, the GR of Dec 8, 2015 neglects some important guidelines issued in the GR of May 9, 2013. The 9th May 2013 GR is important as it is based on an expert committee of the GSDA and has technical sanctity, unlike 8th December 2015 GR.

The 9th May 2013 GR:

  1. Is clearly limited only to desilting of Cement Nallah Bunds (CNB) and Nallahs and NOT rivers. All its recommendations are only for CNB and Nallahs. On the other hand, it clearly states that Rivers (main channels), the 4th Order (or higher) streams are storage zones and work should be undertaken only in the recharge zone of 2nd and 3rd order streams and not main channels. So while stating that guidelines of 9th May, 2013 GR should be strictly followed, 8th December 2015 GR, dealing with Rivers, oversteps the applicability of May 9, 2013 to rivers, which it was clearly not meant for.
  2. The 9th May 2013 GR, Government accepts the report submitted by GSDA which stated clearly that the aim of Nallah deepening is NOT surface water storage, but groundwater recharge. However, the 8th December 2015 GR talks of increasing “Surface Water Storage” in “rivers”. This is contradictory to the earlier GR, which it is supposed to “strictly follow”.
  3. According to 9th May 2013 GR, Nallah deepening works have to be undertaken only in places where there is a scope for increasing groundwater levels, only after requisite Groundwater studies. The 8th December 2015 GR and the present 4thJuly 2016 GR play down or just ignore the importance of groundwater studies, making them non-binding. The 8th December 2015 GR says that GSDA opinion should be sought only where necessary, without making it mandatory, which is against the May 9, 2013 GR and GSDA consent is clearly necessary.
  4. According to 9th May 2013 GR, Length of Nallah deepening works should be decided based only on “detailed Surface runoff calculations”. No such study is required by the 8th Dec 2015 GR.
  5. According to 9th May 2013 GR, in all Stream beds which have a depth of more than 3 meters, works should be undertaken under the guidance of GSDA. The 8th Dec GR does not even mention this. In the 4th July 2016 GR, there is no mention of GSDA, nor the Groundwater experts are included in the Committee proposed under this latest GR.
  6. According to 9th May 2013 GR, there should be no deepening below murum layer and maximum deepening should be limited to 3 meters and Nallah deepening should not be undertaken in alluvial regions. None of these restrictions are mentioned in subsequent GRs of Dec 2015 and July 2016.
  7. Following the 9th May 2013 GR, the Commissioner, Agriculture, through a Circular dated 21 May 2013 stated clearly that:
    1. In no case will the widening of Nallah be more than the width of the base of the nallahs, in order to protect the nalla banks. (कोणत्याही परिस्थितीत नालातळाच्या मूळ रूंदीपेक्षा जास्त रूंदीकरण करू नये. जेणे करून नाल्याच्या काठास बाधा पोहचणार नाही)
    2. While widening, the slope of the Nallah should be maintained at 1: 0.5 and the excavated mud should be discarded on the nallahs banks only after leaving a 1 meter berm from the immediate bank. (खोलीकरण करताना नालाकाठास १: १/२ एवढा उतार (side slope) ठेवावा.खोलीकरणातून निघालेली माती १ मीटर बर्म सोडून नालाकाठावर टाकावी.)
  • Nallah banks should be protected through riparian zones and tree plantation (नालाकाठास हरळी अथवा स्थानिक गवताचे जैविक अस्तरीकरण करावे व नालाकाठावर वृक्ष लागवड करावी)
  1. Only those nallahs should be deepened where in the upstream soil and water conservation works have been completed to avoid silting up again. (ज्या नाल्याच्या पाणलोटातील upper &middle reaches मधील क्षेत्रीय उपचार व ओघळ नियंत्रणाची कामे पूर्ण झाली  आहेत अशा नाल्यावरच खॊलीकरणाचे काम करावे. म्हणजे त्या नाल्यात पुन्हा गाळ येणार नाही)

None of these recommendations are either written in 8th December 2015 GR, nor being followed on ground. The current GR does not even refer to these important stipulations of earlier Circulars or GRs.

The Maharashtra Irrigation Act (MIA) 1976 gives powers to the Canal Officers of the Water Resource Department for removal of obstructions to the drainage in rivers and canals. Engineers of WRD are supposed to function as Canal Officers as per MIA 76 in respect of First Class Irrigation (Sections 1 to 116 of MIA 76) Similarly under section 6 of the MIA 76, Revenue Officers are the Canal Officers in respect of Second Class Irrigation (Sec 117 onwards of MIA 76). Even though we do not entirely agree with some provisions of MIA, these provisions hold canal officials accountable to ensure uninterrupted downstream water flow in the rivers, avoid drainage problems & to protect the downstream water rights. Any encroachment or obstruction on a river or canal invites penal action under said Act. Even though forty years after the passage of this act, the rules are still to be formed, it is the current law of the land on which others Laws are also based. Indiscriminate river widening and deepening could result in reduced water availability on the downstream reaches and it is a legal duty of the WRD to ensure that downstream uses are not affected and there no excessive obstructions to river flow.

The point is that a legal frame work for governance & regulation of rivers /streams in the context of widening and deepening of rivers is in place & the same has not been duly considered while constituting the new committee. Ensuring unobstructed flow in rivers is also the responsibility of the Water Resource Department and they should be involved in this exercise so that they do not escape this duty. 

Finally:

As can be seen above, some important GRs are in conflict with the 8th December 2015 GR on which the current 4thJuly 2016 GR is based on. It is unclear how Rivers, which are extremely important ecological and social entity, groundwater recharge mechanisms, suddenly came in the ambit of Jal Yukta Shivar Abhiyan on 8thDecember 2015 without any studies, when all other government orders before that specifically left them out of JSA ambit.

Clearly a detailed study is needed before tampering with rivers because any damage wrought on rivers has far reaching social, environmental, livelihood and water security implications, and is likely to be irreversible on a long term basis: for the society as well as the ecology of the region. If at all any decision is to be taken, it has to be well studied by experts and communities. In other words we need to take a informed and democratic decision. A Detailed Report made by the Collector Office, scrutinized by the Water Conservation Dept committee will not suffice. It seems that rivers have been included in 8th December 2015 GR through backdoor, perhaps because hap-hazard works were already being undertaken on them. But this is clearly not well thought out decision. This interference into rivers, without proper studies or process is dangerous and even illegal.

We hence request the Government to kindly limit the ambit of widening and deepening works to 2nd and 3rd order steams and not main rivers, in other words, limit the ambit as defined in earlier GR of May 9, 2013. Even here, the guidelines laid by earlier GRs and Circulars from Agriculture Department need to be followed.

If at all highly silted rivers are to be desilted (not widened or straightened), then a proper Environment Impact Assessment report should be sought from expert organizations, including a public hearing and only then permission for any such work should be given, that too the permission should be statutory clearance given under Environment Protection Act, 1986.

Having said this, the committee recommended in the current 4th July 2016 GR, with inclusion of Environmentalists, Groundwater experts and local communities can be a good starting point for encouraging true River Rejuvenation initiatives which start from ridge to valley and include best standard practices used across the world and also in India and is indeed welcome. Some steps to river rejuvenation are outlined in our earlier submission.[v]

We request you to kindly amend the 4th July 2016 GR, or issues a new GR in the light of the above. We would be happy to discuss this with you in person.

Looking forward to hearing from you.

Yours Sincerely,

Pradeep Purandare, Independent Researcher and Retired Professor, WALMI, Aurangabad (pradeeppurandare@gmail.com)

Parineeta Dandekar, SANDRP, Pune (parineeta.dandekar@gmail.com)

Copy To:

Minister, Water Conservation Department

State Minister, Water Conservation Department

Secretary, Water Conservation Department

Minister, Water Resource Development 

Secretary, Water Resource Development

Minister, Environment Department

Secretary, Environment Department

Director, Groundwater Survey and Development Agency (GSDA)

~

END NOTES

[i]https://www.maharashtra.gov.in/Site/Upload/Government%20Resolutions/Marathi/201607041059147426.pdf

[ii]https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2016/06/02/concerns-about-unplanned-river-widening-deepening-and-straightening-works-being-undertaken-under-jal-yukta-shivar-and-other-projects/

[iii]https://www.maharashtra.gov.in/Site/Upload/Government%20Resolutions/Marathi/201512081509169326.pdf

[iv]https://www.maharashtra.gov.in/Site/Upload/Government%20Resolutions/Marathi/201305091328481526.pdf

[v]https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2016/06/02/concerns-about-unplanned-river-widening-deepening-and-straightening-works-being-undertaken-under-jal-yukta-shivar-and-other-projects/

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