News and Views

Big dams are an expensive failure – a localised and farm-centric approach would conserve and harvest available water

Devinder Sharma is exasperated by ‘armchair’ experts from universities, business schools, consultancy firms, banks and the media, who have rarely moved out from the comforts of their air-conditioned offices, and base their advice on how to revitalise agriculture on what they get from Google search.

He recommends a full-page special report by Amit Bhattacharya on the monsoon:  Let’s respect the water cycle [TOI 13.5.10], finding it informative and analytical, highlighting facts that all should read:

1. More than 60 per cent of India’s 62 million irrigated hectares is fed by groundwater. Which means it is not dams and canals that irrigate the Green Revolution belt comprising Punjab, Haryana, Western UP and parts of AP. Bulk of the irrigation is from groundwater.

2. Between 1991-92 and 2006-07, the government spent Rs 1.3 lakh crore on major and medium irrigation projects without achieving any net increase in the irrigated area. In other words, the big irrigation projects have failed to bring in any additional area under assured irrigation in the past 15-years.

3. India’s total canal-irrigated area has decreased from 17,791,000 hectares in 1991-91, to 16,531,000 hectares in 2007-08. In simple words, the canal irrigation frequency is declining every year. Big irrigation projects are slowly silting up or for other reasons becoming cost ineffective in the long run.

4. According to a 2005 World Bank report, the annual maintenance bill for India’s canal network comes to around Rs 17,000 crore. Less than 10 per cent of that money is available. So when the Finance Minister provides the Budget allocations for irrigation, it seems he is not even able to provide money for the upkeep of canals! Sharma also believes that issues of water seepage from canals, salinisation of agricultural lands, and the role of water-guzzling crops should be addressed.

He remembers former Environment & Forests Minister Maneka Gandhi remarking that 90% of India’s dams do not have canals, adding that these dams in fact add to the flood woes at the time of rains rather than providing any succour.

Before that, P N Haksar, Mrs Indira Gandhi’s advisor, once told him that the rate of siltation of major dams in India was actually 500% more than engineers stipulated in project design.

As big dams are provided at heavy cost to the public exchequer, the environment and the future generations, do not the facts listed by Bhattacharya support the adoption of a more localised and farm-centric approach, conserving and harvesting available water?

Ground Reality blogspot:

 Amit Bhattacharya’s TOI report:


Drinking Water: An Escalating Crisis
Devinder Sharma writes in the Deccan Herald:

EXTRACT – with a few added links

Parliament was informed that 1.80 lakh villages (out of the 6 lakh villages in the country) are afflicted by poor water quality. What these villages drink is nothing but slow poison. In addition, what parliament is not informed is that almost all the tributaries of our major rivers have become drain channels for the industry. Take, for instance, Ammi river flowing in the outskirts of Gorakhpur. For years now, over 1.5 lakh people who live on the banks of the river have been protesting against industrial effluents that have turned the river — the only lifeline for hundreds of villages on its banks — into a source of misery.

Ammi is not the only tributary that has turned into a drain. Almost all tributaries of the major Indian rivers flow dirty. Somehow the policy makers and planners treat the dirty rivers and tributaries as a misplaced sign of industrialisation, and thereby treat it as an index of development . . .

A parliamentary standing committee has informed us that while more than 84 per cent of households in rural areas are covered under rural water supply, only 16 per cent population gets drinking water from public taps. However, just 12 per cent of rural families have individual taps in their houses. This too is highly skewed in favour of the more progressive states. In Orissa, for instance, only 9 per cent households have access to tap water. If you travel to Kalahandi district, the percentage of population having access to tap water drops to a mere 2.76 per cent.

The picture isn’t very rosy for the urban areas. Only 37 per cent of the households have access to tap water. In other words, not only food entitlements, there is an urgent need to ensure right to safe drinking water.

Isn’t it shocking that after 63 years of Independence, only 12 per cent of the rural households have drinking water taps? This is despite the National Rural Drinking Water Programme being operative, for which Rs 8,000-crore was provided just in 2009-10.

What is more shocking is that while the drinking water taps are going dry, there is never a shortage of water supply from tankers? In Mumbai, for instance, an estimate shows that nearly 48 per cent of the drinking water gets lost due to leaks from damaged pipelines. Some think it is simply because the tanker mafia is at work. Not only Mumbai, cities across the country are under siege by tanker mafia. In the rural areas too, the water mafia has been continuously at work. If the water sources are drying up across the country, I wonder from where the tankers get water. Every one knows that the tanker mafia is leaving the countryside parched and dry, but who cares?


Read full article.

Figures from the Wall Street Journal

CHS-Sachetan would welcome, record and disseminate news of water-harvesting and well-cleaning projects.



Will today’s government respect its poorest citizens?
Anon, CHS Member
14 May 2010

 Industrial development is eroding the rights of tribal people which had been given some legal standing in a range of legislation, from state rulings such as the Chhotnagpur Tenancy Act 1908 (CNTA) to the historic Samata judgment of the Supreme Court, which upheld the cause of tribal ownership of native lands in 1997 and the Scheduled Tribes (Recognition of Forest Rights) Bill, 2006.

 In 1964, Manohar Malgonkar recorded the Bhils’ protests about the building of a dam which would submerge their land and displace them:

 “Their leaders began to argue against the explanation of its benefits: ‘Yes, but our own land will be going under water, they say to the depth of seven bamboos. We neither want canal water nor bijli-batti (– electric light). Why should we be made to give up what is ours for the sake of those who live hundreds of miles away? Was it for the Marwaris to make lakhs of rupees by running mills and factories? Even the topiwalla sarkar, the British, gave in when we protested.’  ”

 The Indian government is realising that uncontrolled and sometimes illegal mining, often involving politicians, has fuelled a rural rebellion in tribal areas.

 Much of India’s mineral wealth lies in densely-forested, remote areas inhabited by poor tribal people and belatedly, legislative changes are proposed. Mining companies in India will be blocked from tapping up to a third of the country’s biggest coal reserves after the Congress party-led government declared them “no-go” areas for mining because of their environmental sensitivity. 

 Jairam Ramesh, the environment minister, said that the decision to ban coal mining in dense forest areas was part of an attempt at better regulation of India’s mining industry, which has had little regard for its environmental and social consequences. “I cannot in clear conscience clear these projects in the ‘no-go areas’,” he said.

There are plans to make corporate social responsibility obligatory for mining companies in reaction to concern over pollution and rebel violence. Santha Sheela Nair, the secretary at the mines ministry, told delegates at a seminar hosted by the Canadian government that tribal people “see mining as a loss of livelihood, loss of life and loss of the relationship with nature that they are used to”.

But if these laws are passed, will they be enforced?

As Nik Senapati, the managing director of Rio Tinto India, said, a country might have reams of laws governing corporate conduct but at the end of the day it is enforcement that counts.



GM technology: reports of resistant pests and weeds
10 May 2010

In 2005, a team of scientists from India’s Nagpur-based Central Institute of Cotton Research (CICR), proved that the Bt cotton becomes ineffective in its resistance to bollworm after 110 days.“The decline in resistant power means that the farmer has to apply more chemical pesticides to save his crop. Already, the cost of Bt cotton seeds are high and added to this, he incurs additional costs on pesticides. Eventually, he lands up in heavy debts,” a researcher said.

The country’s regulatory authority, the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) banned cultivation of Mech-12 Bt in the entire south Indian region and Mech-162 Bt and Mech-184 Bt in Andhra Pradesh on receiving adverse reports from the concerned state government, but approved 13 new varieties of Bt cotton for different regions of the country.

In 2008 Bt-resistant populations of bollworm were found in more than a dozen crop fields in Mississippi and Arkansas between 2003 and 2006.

In most pests, offspring are resistant to Bt toxins only if both parents are resistant. In the bollworm, however, hybrid offspring produced by matings between susceptible and resistant moths are resistant. Such a dominant inheritance of resistance was predicted to make resistance evolve faster.

A new report from the National Research Council in the United States, reviewed in the Farmers Guardian, 23 April 2010, says that farmers who grow genetically engineered crops are realising substantial economic and environmental benefits.

However, it warns that the technology could add to weed problems, rather than reduce them and GM crops could lose their effectiveness unless farmers also use other proven weed and insect management practices.

GM crops resistant to the herbicide glyphosate — the main active ingredient in Roundup and other commercial herbicides — could develop more weed problems as weeds evolve their own glyphosate resistance. Farmers who grow GM herbicide-resistant crops are recommended to incorporate a range of weed management practices, including using other herbicide mixes. To date, at least nine species of weeds in the United States have evolved resistance to glyphosate since GM crops were introduced, largely because of repeated exposure.

In 2008, land planted to GM crops required more than 26% more pesticides per acre than land planted to conventional varieties. The report projects that this trend will continue as a result of the rapid spread of glyphosate-resistant weeds.



Food Wastage
Contributed by Roshni Kutty
27 April 2010

While global hunger is an issue that every body talks about, and the electronic media flashes images of African and Asian malnourished people with a flourish, what goes unmentioned or gets rarely mentioned is the utterly despicable manner in which food is wasted by those in the prosperous nations. So much so that it is creating serious waste disposal problems for their government agencies. See for their full article on the subject.

The US Environment Protection Agency estimates that more than 25 percent of the food that Americans prepare, which is about 96 billion pounds of food, is wasted each year! This happens because of lifestyles and living systems that have disconnected man far from his origins, i.e., Mother Nature. Food waste constitutes the third largest segment after paper and yard waste! And disposing of such huge quantities of food is taking away further resources from Earth, not to mention the finances involved. That leaves us with the argument that merely having a small human population does not necessarily translate into a smaller burden on earth’s resources.

The above example, underlines the fact that while the EU and US keep blaming the human populations of China and India for the climate change, they need to look into their own backyard first and see that its their highly unsustainable consumptive lifestyles that have brought the planet close to the disastrous climate changes.


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