Supreme Court go-ahead for interlinking rivers

Author(s): Bharat Lal Seth
Date: Feb 28, 2012
Court had earlier said it would not favour interlinking of rivers if it puts a huge financial burden on the Centre

riverlinkingIllustration: Karno GuhathakurtaThe apex court of India has given the go ahead for the controversial inter-linking river project, seeking to transfer water from surplus to water deficit areas in the country. In its final judgement dated February 27, 2012, a three-member bench, headed by the chief justice of India, expressed the “pious hope of speedy implementation” to bring the project to a success. The project, in the pipeline since 1980, has been touted by the Centre as one solution to a number of problems: making water available for irrigating 35 million hectares; enabling full use of existing irrigation projects; generating power to the tune of 34,000 MW with added benefits, including flood control.

It has been repeatedly emphasised in the court over the past decade that the cost is negligible when compared to the potential benefits. But this is hard sell considering there is no true estimate of the project cost. Earlier this year, the apex court had said that it would not favour interlinking of rivers if it causes huge a financial burden on the Centre. A decade ago the cost of the project was estimated at 5,60,000 crore; the true cost can known only when the detailed project reports of the 30 river link projects are drawn up, of which currently one—Ken-Betwa—has been completed.

Panel to expedite projects

The court’s latest and final judgement on the matter mandates the formation of a committee to “take firm steps and fix a definite time line to lay down the guidelines for completion of feasibility reports or other reports” and “ensure the completion of projects so that the benefits accrue within reasonable time and cost”. The committee, with representation from various government departments, and nominated civil society representatives, must meet at least once in two months, says the order (see box). All existing reports are to be placed before the committee, which is ordered to take note of the suggestions in the reports and to take decisions as to how the same are to be implemented. The committee is mandated to submit a bi-annual report to the Cabinet of the government of India, placing before it the status and progress reports. The Cabinet will then be expected to expedite the matter within thirty days from the date the matters are first placed before it for consideration.

First link proposal was derailed

The interlinking of rivers can be traced back to the plans of British engineer Sir Arthur Cotton who sought to link the Ganga and the Cauvery. At the time, the idea was to improve connectivity for navigation purposes, but with the expansion of the rail roads, the idea was shelved. The idea of inter-basin transfers (from surplus to deficit regions) has been mooted off and on over the past century. But it was not until 1980 that the project gathered steam, when the Ministry of Irrigation formulated a national perspective plan for optimum utilisation of the country’s water resources. In 1982, the National Water Development Agency (NWDA) was formed as an autonomous body entrusted with the task to carry out the water balance and feasibility studies of the river linking program. The work was divided into two components: Peninsular and Himalayan river development, with 16 and 14 link schemes respectively (see maps).

inter basin
himalayanSource: National Water Development Agency

The apex court has stated that “a greater element of mutuality and consensus needs to be built between the States and the Centre on the one hand, and the States inter-se on the other. It will be very difficult for the courts to undertake such an exercise within the limited scope of its power of judicial review and even on the basis of a Public Interest Litigation (PIL)”. A PIL, as per the judgment, has to fall within the contours of constitutional law and can hardly take unto itself tasks of making a policy decision. “Such an attempt may amount to the court sitting in judgment over the opinions of the experts, without any tools and expertise at its disposal, ” states the judgment.

High-power committee members
  • Minister of Water Resources
  • Secretary, Ministry of Water Resources
  • Secretary, Ministry of Environment and Forests
  • Chairman, Central Water Commissions
  • Member Secretary, National Water Development Authority
  • Nominated expert from Ministry of Water Resources
  • Nominated expert from Ministry of Environment and Forests
  • Nominated expert from Planning Commission
  • Nominated expert from Ministry of Finance
  • Minister for Water or Irrigation from each of the concurring states, with the principal secretary of the concerned department of the same state
  • Two social activists to be nominated by each of the concerned ministries
  • Ranjit Kumar (amicus curiae)

The judgement goes on to say: “We see no reason why any state should lag behind in contributing its bit to bring the Inter-Linking River Program to a success, thus saving the people living in drought-prone zones from hunger and people living in flood-prone areas from the destruction caused by floods”.

Many states oppose

The project has not received consent of all states. It is argued that if not for the writ petition and judicial intervention, river linking projects would not presently be under consideration. “It is not the mandate of the Supreme Court to tell the Government which project to take up or expedite”, says Himanshu Thakker, convener of South Asia Network for Dams, Rivers and People (SANDRP), a non-profit and member of a court appointed committee representing civil society to look in to the matter. There are certain procedures for taking up projects such as formulating feasibility reports, detailed project reports and environmental impact assessment. “Mandating that the project be expedited, is in violation of these existing legal procedures,” says Thakker.

The Ken-Betwa river link, for instance, is the only project for which the detailed project report has been prepared, following a tripartite memorandum of understanding signed in 2005 between the Union minister for water resources and the chief ministers of Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. The environmental clearance, however, to transfer excess water from Ken to Betwa through a 231 km canal, has been categorically denied by the Ministry of Environment and Forests. Approximately 8,650 ha of forestland in Madhya Pradesh is likely to be submerged for the project; part of the forestland is a part of the Panna National Park. Yet the Supreme Court in its judgement mandated that this be taken up on a priority basis. “We would direct the Committee to take up this project for implementation at the first instance itself,” reads the judgement. This is a case of judicial overreach, says Thakker.

The genesis of the case lies in another case adopted suo moto by the Supreme Court. While hearing this case, a reference was made to a speech made by the then president A P J Abdul Kalam who, among other things, called for a network of rivers to deal with floods and droughts. The Supreme Court directed that this be taken up as an independent writ petition. A notice was issued in 2002 to all the states as respondents in the case. None of the states, barring Tamil Nadu, filed an affidavit, supporting or opposing the project. The time was extended but no further affidavits were received. This was taken as in-principle consensus amongst all states to go ahead with the project.

Rahul Gandhi has been quoted as being vehemently against the idea of large-scale inter-basin transfers. For his stand, he has drawn flak from DMK leaders of Tamil Nadu who are all for it—no major river originates in the state; it is dependent on inter-state rivers. The states of Assam, Sikkim and Kerala have protested on the grounds that they should have the exclusive right to use their water resources and that such transfers should not affect any rights of these states. Due to reluctance of certain states, the Centre has not been allowed to undertake detailed surveys.

The apex court formed a task force in 2002, which set an action plan for all detailed project reports to be completed by 2006, and projects to be implemented by 2016. This is not done till today and no project has reached the implementation stage. “The projects can only be completed if states give their consent or if there is a Constitutional amendment, water being a state subject,” says Mohan Katarki, Supreme Court advocate. “It is doubtful that either of these will happen for the execution of the proposed link projects, although some links may come through, eventually,” he adds.

For more information on the river linking project, read articles posted on the India Environment Portal.

Farmers Suicides data from 1995-2010 state wise gender deseggregated

Farmers’ Suicides State wise, Year wise(1995-2010)

The state wise farmers suicide rate per 1000 population

Chhattisgarh  5.61
Karnataka     3.57
Maharashtra  3.35
Kerala           3.34
Andhra          2.58
WB              1.17
TN                1.3
If you calculate based on suicide victim farmers families/1000 farmer families the numbers would be much higher

Do not disagree: Blaming NGOs reveals the diminishing space for dissent in our democracy

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s stray remarks on NGOs have unwittingly revealed two bitter truths about Indian democracy. First, Indian democracy has diminishing place for dissent. Second, our diminishing capacity for dissent paradoxically stems from a government that is both technocratic and weak.

On the surface, Indian democracy has a cacophony of voices. But if you scratch the surface, dissent in India labours under an immense maze of threats and interdictions. Of course, NGOs should be transparent and accountable in terms of their sources of funding. And the reporting requirements for NGOs are immense. It is not the threat that NGOs pose that should worry us; it is the ease with which government can go after them. However, what was disturbing about the prime minister’s remark is its construction of what dissent is about. We all pay lip service to the idea that in a democracy there can be genuine differences. But the only terms in which we can understand deep disagreement is by constructing it as extraneously motivated. Nothing is more fatal for disagreement and dissent than the idea that all of it can be reduced to hidden sub-texts or external agendas. You may be a supporter of Bt brinjal or nuclear energy. But you ought to worry if we became a culture in which no one was spooked after Fukushima, or suspicious of data on agricultural technologies. The idea that anyone who disagrees with my views must be the carrier of someone else’s subversive agenda is, in some ways, deeply anti-democratic. It does away with the possibility of genuinely good faith disagreement. It denies equal respect to citizens because it absolves you from taking their ideas seriously. Once we have impugned the source, we don’t have to pay attention to the content of the claims. The necessity of democratic politics arises precisely because there is deep, good faith disagreement. Reducing disagreement to bad faith betrays a subconscious wish of doing away with democratic politics.

This has serious consequences for dissent. Our actions and rhetoric are sounding increasingly like China’s. The state, when challenged, will often resort to all power at its disposal to pressure organisations and institutions. Make no mistake about it: seriously taking on the state is still an act of bravery in India. The state has enough instruments to hold NGOs accountable. But it chooses not to do so in areas that are legitimate, like transparency. Instead, it uses its power selectively when its interests are crossed. But this government is determined to increase the asymmetry between state and civil society. The new FCRA regime, the proposed changes in the Direct Tax Code for not-for-profits, are symptoms of the desire to control. Second, the rhetoric, that the world outside, particularly of NGOs, is a conspiracy to hold India back, is second nature to paranoid regimes. The Chinese construct dissent as motivated. Indira Gandhi revelled in it. But in her case, in the backdrop of Allende, global geopolitics, the CIA and the KGB, there was a touch of plausibility. Now these arguments have so much a touch of farce to them. But they are pretexts to increase state control. Third, think of the pattern with this government. Like the Chinese, we have used the power of granting research visas to regulate research. Our visa regime for scholars is a shame for a liberal democracy. So great is our paranoia that in the small print of even PIO cards, you will see a prohibition on doing research. Like the Chinese, films showing India’s human rights record in an unflattering light are hard to release. Censorship, through formal and informal pressures, is legion. To be sure, politicians are often easy and unfair targets in Indian political discourse. But this surface politician-bashing disguises how hard it is to seriously interrogate the power structure in India.

Like the Chinese, we construct civil society as a special site of threats. What is appalling in this singling out of people who do research, or of NGOs, is this: private corporations are allowed to move money practically as they please, they can even advertise or lobby in ways beneficial to them, but NGOs have to be watched and blamed for obstructing the country’s progress. To be sure, NGOs are being given an increasing place in a range of service-delivery activities. This is more to compensate for state failure in those areas. But NGOs as sources of dissent are still suspect. Corporate activities and capital are constructed as a privileged site. The space of ideas and protest is represented as presumptively subversive, and anti-national. This is deeply revealing of what we think of dissent.

The hallmark of technocracy is that it cannot countenance the possibility of radical disagreement. Since there is a technically right answer, disagreement can only be explained by attributing motives. But while the mindset is technical, the capacity for political negotiation has also diminished.

The simple fact is that, for whatever reason, the government has not been able to bring Jayalalithaa on board on the nuclear plant issue. If it did, its capacity to negotiate with dissenting groups would be different. But this is a political failure, pure and simple. There is a systematic reason why the government’s arguments often lack credibility even among open-minded people. How do you trust a government’s claims on dams, when it keeps data on water flows a secret and publishing such data a crime? How do you trust a government on environmental assessment when there is general consensus that Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) are so flimsy? How do you trust claims on radiation and chemical poisoning when there is no reliable data on incidence of cancer? The problem is not foreign funding. The problem is that government’s secrecy, lack of engagement, has diminished its capacity to produce authoritative and trustworthy knowledge. This is the breach which opens up the need for different sites of knowledge production. This is a governance failure. But instead of attending to a political or governance failure, the technocratic mind will go for impugning dissent.

Jairam Ramesh did the right thing. He did something rare in this government: he owned up to his decision and his responsibility plain and simple. But the prime minister unwittingly showed what a banana republic India can be. If a few crores here and there, given to NGOs which have no instruments of power other than their ability to mobilise, can bring this country to a standstill, then we are indeed in deep trouble. Banana republics are more paranoid about dissent than self-confident democracies.

The writer is president, Centre for Policy Research, Delhi,

Manmohan blaming NGOs for Bt brinjal moratorium criticised

Special Correspondent

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The Hindu

The Coalition for a GM-Free India has expressed “outrage” at Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s statement that foreign-funded NGOs were the reason for the moratorium on Bt brinjal.

“It is a clear attempt to undermine and disrespect the exercise of democratic rights by the citizens of this country regarding critical issues that concern one and all,” Sridhar Radhakrishnan, convenor of the coalition has said.

In a statement, Mr. Radhakrishnan said the issue was not one of NGOs or foreign funding; that was merely a ruse that the Prime Minister had seized upon to cover his and his government’s unwillingness to listen to the people.

The more troubling aspect of Dr. Singh’s stand was that he seemed to have made up his mind on pushing agricultural biotechnology and ignoring the genuine scientific concerns, with or without the consent of the people.

In the recent past, the same approach was apparent in the issues involving the Jaitapur and Kudankulam nuclear plants and FDI in retail.

In all these cases, transnational corporations, with enormous clout, stood to make tremendous profits, he said.

The Bt brinjal moratorium decision was taken by the then Minister for Environment and Forests, who clearly detailed the rationale to the nation, Mr. Radhakrishnan said.

According to him it was a deep irony that Dr. Singh was resurrecting the “foreign hand” ruse from the 1970s and the Emergency era – while being at the forefront of inviting foreign investment and allowing the U.S government and multinational companies to push policy changes.

Five Agricultural Innovations to Improve Biodiversity

Nourishing the PlanetBiodiversityBreedingFood SecurityIndigenousPermacultureSeeds

By Graham Salinger

According to the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, a quarter of the world’s known plant species—some 60,000 to 100,000 species—are threatened with extinction. And even though plants may not receive as much attention as endangered animals, they are essential. Among their many attributes, plants are a vital source of food, they can help stabilize the climate, and they also provide shelter, medicines, and fuel.

Seeds of diversity; seed banks are one innovation that helps increase biodiversity. (Photo credit: GREEN Foundation)

Today, Nourishing the Planet introduces five agricultural innovations to improve biodiversity and protect these important providers.  

1. Seed banks:  Seed banks help preserve seed varieties, while protecting against famine and disease. Storing seed varieties in seed banks helps protect farmers from seed loss while reducing their overreliance on monoculture crops that makes agricultural economies vulnerable to price shocks.

Seed Banks in action: In Norway, the Svalbard Global Seed Vault protects thousands of seeds that farmers in developing countries can rely on to help re-harvest crops that have been affected by disease, climate, or conflict. And in Karnataka, India, community seeds banks are open to any member of the community as long as they don’t use pesticides or chemical fertilizers when farming.

2. Permaculture Designing a farm based on the principles of permaculture helps increase biodiversity. Permaculture refers to designing land to take advantage of natural ecological processes by integrating a variety of crops, animals, and pests into one farming system.

Permaculture in action:  In Lilongwe , Malawi,  Stacia and Kristof Nordin have developed a permaculture project that teaches farmers about methods to  incorporate composting, water harvesting, and intercropping to help build organic matter in soils while conserving biodiversity. In Botswana , the Mokolodi Wildlife Reserve teaches students and the community about conserving and protecting wildlife in a way that is in harmony with an agricultural system that helps produce spinach, tomatoes, onions, lettuce, green peppers, garlic, basil, parsley, coriander, and other crops. Students come to learn how to grow nutritious food as well as how to protect their native wildlife.

3. Cultivating indigenous crops:  As a result of the Green Revolution many countries started relying on growing western crops, such as maize, instead of local crops. To help increase biodiversity, farmers are going back to their roots and growing more indigenous vegetables, fruits, and grains.

Cultivate indigenous crops in action:  In South Africa, Richard Haigh discovered that by cultivating more indigenous crops he was able to improve biodiversity on his farm. His 23 acre farm saw higher yields than ever before when he started integrating indigenous vegetables, fruits, and livestock into his production. And in Tanzania, farmers learned that growing native trees not only helped improve soil fertility but also helped to increase biodiversity. The tree planting project was part of a strategy implemented by CARE International’s Equitable Payment for Watershed Management that aimed at improving ecological farming methods in the region.

4. Protecting indigenous livestock breeds: The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) warns that around 1,710 breeds of livestock—21 percent—are at risk of extinction worldwide. Indigenous livestock are often better suited to local conditions and are better at resisting pests and disease than exotic breeds.

Protecting indigenous livestock in action: In Uganda, cattle herders have learned about the benefits of raising indigenous cattle and started introducing local breeds into national parks for grazing. This helps raise healthier animals while also increasing the health of local eco-systems through the use of the cattle’s manure.

5.  Crop Breeding : Breeding crops that are resistant to pests and diseases and better adapted to drought or flooding can help make sure that many crops don’t  disappear.  In some parts of Africa, if a disease strikes wheat before breeders are able to make a strand that is disease resistant, for example, as much as 80 percent of the breed can be lost.

Crop breeding in action: The FAO’s Global Partnership Initiative for Plant Breeding Capacity Building works to introduce biotechnologies to developing countries, train farmers in breeding practices, and develop national breeding strategies for target countries. The Global Crop Diversity Trust, whose executive director Cary Fowler is an adviser to Nourishing The Planet, focuses on increasing biodiversity through an endowment that funds projects aimed at crop diversity. The trust, working with the FAO, helps fund pre-breeding programs that help farmers identify which traits are useful to improving crop resistance to disease and pests.

Graham Salinger is a research intern for the Nourishing the Planet project.

To read more about the importance of preserving biodiversity, see: USDA Genetic Resource Database Expands Opportunities to Conserve Global BiodiversityAfrican Biodiversity Network: Sowing Seeds for Grassroots ResilienceInnovation of the Week: Banking Today to Conserve Plants for the Future, and Who’s Counting?

Climate change to affect small farmers: ActionAid

Submitted by admin4 on 28 February 2012 – 6:50pm


New Delhi : More than 80 percent small farmers, contributing to half of India’s crop production, will be affected by climate change, which is impacting faster than predicted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), says a recent study.

The study, conducted by ActionAid and Centre for Sustainable Agriculture, was released Tuesday.

“Around 80 percent of small and marginal farmers who contribute about 50 percent of the total crop production will be the most affected by the changing climate,” said the study.

The study was was shared and deliberated upon at a National Consultation on Climate Change and Agriculture – Adaptation and Mitigation by Small and Marginal Farmers.

Birendra Sahariya, 40, a farmer from Sipri village in Bundelkhand region in Uttar Pradesh, was in Delhi to share his testimony.

“The pattern of rainfall has changed. It is so scattered that at times it rains but fields remain dry. The rainfall pattern was not like this about 10-15 years ago, and we are unable to understand it,” he said.

Stating that he lost everything due to changing weather, Sahariya said one of his sons committed suicide as he was unable to pay back a loan of Rs.2 lakh.

The cost of fertilisers, except urea, has increased by more than 300 percent after the nutrient based subsidy scheme was introduced and manufacturers were given a free hand to fix the price, the study noted.

Despite this, there is increased dependency on chemical fertilisers to meet soil fertility needs, given the emphasis on the chemical fertiliser-intensive green revolution model.

“The small and marginal farmers who are the largest food producers of our country can only sustain their production system if the policies and practices on climate resilient sustainable agriculture is widely adopted,” said Amar Jyoti Nayak of ActionAid India.