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Down a slippery slope in Uttarakhand

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The devastating landslips were caused by the undercutting of fragile hillsides for highways rather than by dams, which actually helped mitigate the floods

The natural calamity of June 16 through 19 that devastated the whole of Uttarakhand and large areas of Himachal Pradesh and western Uttar Pradesh — an area of almost 20,000 sq.km. — was one of extremely rare severity among all the hydro-meteorological disasters to have struck India.

Intense point rainfall exceeding 200 mm occurred within a 24-hour spell and continued with lesser intensity for a few more days over several locations in the Alakananda and Bhagirathi basins. Two stations, Devprayag and Srinagar, recorded 283 mm and 320 mm in this spell (source: IMD) with rainfall progressively increasing toward Kedarnath in the Mandakini sub-basin. Such short-duration intense rainfall in June has a statistical recurrence interval exceeding 500 years.

In the past, more intense rainfall — exceeding 300mm in a day — has occurred over extensive areas in the peninsular basins of the Mahanadi (1982, 1994, 2009), the Godavari (2003), the Krishna (2009) and the Narmada (1968, 1970 and 1994). Overbank flooding of 10 to 30,000 sq.km. of flat terrain occurred in these basins, causing extensive agricultural damage and loss of hundreds of lives. In contrast, lower intensity rainfall leading to loss of several thousands of lives and colossal property damage in Uttarakhand can be attributed to poor geology and extremely steep topography of the terrain leading to massive landslips.

The heavy rain on the glacier above Kedarnath led to increased glacial melting with a massive landslip, reported as 1,200 feet long by Dave Petley, Professor of Geography at Durham University, U.K. The downslide burst the Chorabari moraine lake, which then caused catastrophic debris flow down Mandakini and Alakananda rivers.

The human intervention in the region over the last 10 years also played a major role in intensifying the disaster. To cater to the unprecedented growth religious tourism, a large network of new highways and road-widening schemes are cutting into the toes of delicate, fragile and marginally stable slopes that hug the highways on river edges. Highways — around 500 km long — on the banks of the Alakananda and the Bhagirathi are constantly being widened at narrow stretches, leaving extremely steep conglomerates of rock and soil exposed to the vagaries of the weather. The recent spurt of construction of hotels on river edges, particularly on low over-banks prone to flooding, has further deteriorated the over-bank stability. The heavy tourist traffic adds to the destabilising process.

Sequence of failure

A logical sequence of failure can be inferred as follows: massive and progressive landslips on the banks of the rivers following the intense battering of storm rainfall; the crevices and fractures on marginally stable undercut slopes, which had no specific protective drainage measures, were flooded by thick sheet of rain water; trees which provided cohesion were uprooted by widening crevices; rain water penetrating into root openings further segregated the rock mass leading to massive slope failure.

Subsequent to the cloud burst on June 16-17, a very high flood stage caused saturation of low overbanks and heterogeneous slopes of poor strength, and with receding of water level, pore water pressure built up inducing slips. Such failures continue progressively to upper levels.

Environmentalists have pointed to hydro-projects in the region as having a role in intensifying, even initiating the slips, and have alleged that the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) while giving clearance to such projects has been glossing over some critical environmental issues arising from them. Such an observation needs prudent and unbiased analysis.

The Himalayan region is attractive for hydro-power generation because all the rivers in Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh descend from around 3,500m to 500m in a short, 200-km stretch. This water wealth is nature’s gift and a bounty for these relatively underdeveloped States, and for the country as a whole. This is not to say that abstraction of fresh water by blocking of rivers for power generation is being indiscriminately allowed disregarding either the geotechnical/seismic safety of the terrain or the riparian need of the river to support the needs of humans as well as terrestrial and aquatic ecosystem down the river.

This is precisely what the MoEF ensures by conducting, through an accredited consultant, an impact study and evolving mitigation measures, along with a cumulative study of adjoining projects followed by a public hearing. Through a critical and stringent examination of all environmental documents, the Expert Advisory Committee of the MoEF recommends environmental clearance (EC) in conjunction with the clearance of technical formalities of the projects by the Central Water Commission, Central Electricity Authority and Geological Survey of India. Issuing an EC, which is required for forest clearance, is neither a standalone activity nor does the prerogative rest solely with the EAC. A project normally takes five to eight years to go from the concept stage to getting the EC from the EAC.

Minimal impact

The selection of hydro projects in the Himalayan region was carried out in early 2000 by the Central Electricity Authority in consultation with the Central Water Commission. Against 50 feasible projects with the potential of 20,000 MW, the present status of hydro development in the Alakananda and Bhagirathi basins is that only four major projects — Tehri, Maneri-Bhali-I & II and Vishnuprayag of 3164MW capacity — have been commissioned. Another five projects are in different stages of implementation. Less than 40 km of riverine stretch has been impacted by these projects out of 800 km of main river and tributaries. No project component or its vicinity has suffered from landslip-induced failure, except flooding of debris into partially completed components.

On the contrary, the Tehri reservoir on the Bhagirathi held back the incoming devastating flood which attained a peak of 7000 cubic metre per second (cumec). And since the release was restricted to a mere 400 cumec — causing the reservoir to rise by 25 metre a day — the flood damage below the Tehri dam was minimal. Without the Tehri dam the combined flood of the Alakananda and the Bhagirathi would have exceeded 25,000 cumec at Rishikesh, possibly wiping out the prosperous urban river stretch at Rishikesh, Haridwar and Saharanpur.

It would be naive to say that the EAC of the MoEF, with members of proven domain expertise, is giving ECs without due diligence to hydro or river valley projects of which irrigation projects constitute a large share. The path ahead should be to learn lessons by an informed debate, analysing the technical issues of the hazard dispassionately. The immediate need is to enforce flood-plain zoning below Rudraprayag on the Alakananda and Maneri Bhali on the Bhagirathi and disallow permanent structures in flood-prone zones. The flattening and stabilisation of all highway slopes dictated by geological consideration is of highest priority.

Courtesy: The HIndu

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Indian coal mining scam – Indian officials exposed over Coalgate

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DailyMail reported that the government’s admission on the missing Coalgate files in the Supreme Court has exposed PMO officials who claimed that the critical files were not missing.

As the government faced the heat in Parliament, the officials had blamed the media for raking up the issue at the behest of ‘vested interests’ but worried that the courts may haul them up.

The worry is that if the CBI’s sealed cover report to the apex court confirms fears that the big fish may get away, it will only add to the problems of the government and the PM’s spin doctors.

The Central Vigilance Commission has called Mr Ranjit Sinha director of CBI for a meeting to discuss the missing coal block allocation files. It is likely to take place sometime next week. It was following the CVC’s directive to the CBI to look into complaints of alleged irregularities and corruption in the coal block allocations that the CBI had registered 13 cases.

The government has made headlines for spending money on its Bharat Nirmanad campaigns but it turns out, it might also make a small amount of cash for the investment. Jamunia and Priya, serialized radio shows on All India Radio that extol the UPA’s achievements, cost the government around Rs 9 lakh. But the shows have managed to pull in an anticipated INR 70 lakh in advertising revenue, in addition to being a vehicle for the Bharat Nirman brand.

The Ambassador was summoned by Mr Sujatha Singh Foreign Secretary while the external affairs ministry put out a statement conveying the country’s strong concern at the detention of the ship by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps, saying it expected the ship to be released at an early date. Russia might be facing stiff competition from the US and Israel when it comes to supplying arms to India but it continues to enjoy the numero uno position.

Mr AK Antony defence minister of India has disclosed that Russia had bagged 5 army, 3 navy and one air force contract last year. This is when Israel also won 5 army contracts but one navy and air force deal.

The US with three navy and an equal number of air force contracts was in third place. Apart from these 3 countries, the Indian armed forces gave contracts to Germany, France and Switzerland.

Courtesy: http://www.dailymail.com

Industry’s Fear on Land Bill Exaggerated: Ramesh

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With the passage of the land bill, cost of acquiring land will go up, Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh today said but dismissed as “exaggerated and overblown” the industry’s fear about the measure.

Ramesh, the architect of the path-breaking legislation, justified the stringent provisions in the bill saying any measure that empower farmers, livelihood losers, tribals and Dalits is in the interest of nation.

“Will the cost of acquisition go up? Yes. Will the time taken for the acquisition go up? Not necessarily. Will acquisition be more humane? Yes. Will acquisition prevents long-term agitation? Yes,” he said and asked the industry to judge the bill in totality and not from sectional point of view.

He was reacting to certain queries a day after Lok Sabha cleared “The Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill, 2012”.

“Fears (of industry) are largely exaggerated and overblown. Any bill that protects the interest of farmers, livelihood losers, tribals and Dalits is in national interest. Any bill that closes the door on forcible acquisition (of land) is also in the interest of the nation,” Ramesh said.

The bill, which will replace over a century-old act, is likely to be taken up in the Rajya Sabha on Tuesday for its consideration and passage.

“The 119-year-old Act was draconian, and led to immiserisation of farmers, and pauperisation of the livelihood losers. We need to recognise the historical injustices that resulted from 1894 Act,” the minister, who often faced flak from the industry over the bill, said.

“Farmers will benefit, tribals will benefit, Dalits will benefit livelihood losers will benefit and India will benefit,” Ramesh said when asked about the benefit of the law.

Elaborating how farmers will be beneficiaries of the legislation, he said, they will get four times compensation in rural areas. “A few people pay a higher cost… That will benefit a larger number of people. I don’t think that anybody should grudge…Frankly,” he said.

Describing the legislation as a “transitional measure”, Ramesh said, “20-25 years from now we should move to a situation where if industry wants to buy the land, then go and buy.

“Ultimately 20 years from now, you shouldn’t have a Land Acquisition Act. Twenty years from now, our land records should be good. Our farmers should be better educated and there should be direct transaction between the buyer and seller of the land.”

Without referring to Trinamool Congress’s opposition to the bill, the minister said it was the agitation in West Bengal’s Singur during Left rule that led to the “inclusion of livelihood losers” in the Act.

“For the first time, livelihood losers are recognised, their rights are recognised… So far we give compensation only to farmers, we now give compensation to livelihood losers. In fact, it is Singur which led to the inclusion of livelihood losers in this Act,” he said.

When asked what revolutionary changes the new law will bring in the society, Ramesh said, “Tribals will be more empowered and gram sabhas will be more empowered to take decision.

“That it is wrong to think that they don’t want economic development. They also want economic development. They want development on their terms. Not on terms that we decide it is good for them.”

Industry certainly is one important stakeholder, he added.

Courtesy: OUTLOOK india

PM Should Have Ensured Safe Custody of Coal Files: BJP

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BJP today expressed its ire against Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s remarks that he is not responsible for the missing files in the coal ministry and insisted that he should have personally ensured that the sensitive documents were kept in safe custody.

“The Prime Minister is missing on the basics of his constitutional responsibility. He is the first among equals in his ministry and in this case he also held the coal ministry portfolio. He should have personally seen to it that the files are kept in safe custody,” Deputy Leader of BJP in Rajya Sabha Ravi Shankar Prasad told reporters.

BJP has been attacking the Prime Minister on the issue of missing files and alleged that since he held the coal portfolio between 2006-09, he should be held responsible. The party has alleged that coal mines were allocated in this period without following proper procedure and there was favouritism while giving contracts.

The coal block allocation scam is estimated to be worth Rs 1.86 lakh crore. CBI investigation into the case is being monitored by the Supreme Court.

The Prime Minister has denied that he is in any way responsible for the scam or the missing files.

“I am not the custodian of the files in the coal ministry,” Singh said in the Rajya Sabha during a discussion on his statement on the state of the economy.

Courtesy: OUTLOOK india

3rd survey finds 17 leases within 1km of wildlife sanctuaries

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PANAJI: Of 54 mining leases surveyed in the third phase, no lease was found to be within wildlife sanctuaries (WLS) and national parks (NP), but 17 working mining leases were within 1km of WLS, two beyond 10km of WLS and 35 within 10km of WLS. The survey report was sent to the Union ministry of environment and forests (MoEF) on Friday.

Directorate of mines and geology (DMG) and forest department jointly conducted the survey in Bardez, Sanguem, Ponda, Bicholim, Sattari and Quepem talukas to determine the distance from the periphery of the mining leases to boundaries to WLS and NP.

With this, DMG has submitted survey reports of 145 mining leases to MoEF. Mines officials said the survey of the remaining 25 non-operating mining leases would be completed soon.

On July 22, DMG had submitted the first survey report of 54 mining leases to MoEF. In that survey, one mining lease was found to be within the confines of a WLS, 49 within 10km of WLS and NP and four mining leases beyond 10km of WLS and NP.

On August 21, DMG sent its second report of 37 mining leases to MoEF, which had stated that the 12 non-working mining leases are within Netravali Wildlife Sanctuary (NWLS), five working mining leases adjacent to it and four partly in the sanctuary, three mining leases are within 1km of NWLS, 12 within 10km of NWLS and one beyond 10km of NWLS.

Goa had around 118 mining leases in operation over the last five years and 82 mining leases were in operation for the year 2012-13. For Goa the state government has proposed a buffer zone of up to 1km from WLS, while the proposed buffer zone for the rest of the country is 10km.

DGM has furnished the information based on a letter from MoEF secretary V Rajagopalan asking the state government to send a proposal for notification of ecologically sensitive zones (ESZs) around parks and WLS in the state and the distance of all iron ore mines in the state from the NP and WLS. Rajagopalan also informed the state government that the proposal will be placed at the meeting of the Expert Appraisal Committee on ESZs. Goa has one NP and six WLS.

Courtesy: THE TIMES OF INDIA

Naveen takes strong objection to Polavaram, writes to Centre again

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Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik on Thursday reiterated the demand that the Polavaram project in Andhra Pradesh should not be declared a national project and its construction work should be stopped immediately until all the pending issues with Odisha are resolved.

“Since the construction of the project has been challenged in the Supreme Court and technical issues which have bearing on the submergence in Odisha are yet to be sorted out, it is my earnest request not to declare the Polavaram project a national project,” the Chief Minister said in a letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

Stating that he was shocked and surprised to know from media reports that the Centre is likely to declare Polavaram project a national project, Naveen said many technical issues on design, reservoir operation schedule, adherence to Godavari Water Disputes Tribunal (GWDT) award having a bearing on backwater effect and the extent of submergence in Odisha are yet to be resolved.

A flood of 36 lakh cusecs was considered in GWDT award, considering the flood moderation from the proposed upstream major projects, Naveen said and added that in 1979, the Central Water Commission (CWC) considered the Polavaram as a barrage for flood purpose. Stating that the CWC revised the flood capacity to 50 lakh cusecs, he alleged that while considering the flood design for the project, CWC and Andhra Pradesh violated the norms.

The Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF) and Ministry of Tribal Affairs (MoTA) had given clearance to the project with the stipulation that there should not be any submergence of forest land and displacement of people including scheduled tribes in Odisha. The MoTA had suggested embankments to avoid submergence in Odisha which was objected by the latter on technical grounds.The Chief Minister said if the Andhra Pradesh government plans the embankments following the Bureau of Indian Standard (BIS) codes, there will be increased submergence with more displacement in tribal areas.

Besides, the State Government has filed a suit in the Supreme Court on October 9, 2007 for issuing direction to the Andhra Pradesh Government not to proceed with the construction of Polavaram project and declare the clearance given by MoEF and MoTA as null and void, Naveen said.

Courtesy: The New Indian Express

Govt plans to wriggle out of tribunal ban on sand mining

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UDAIPUR: The directorate of mines and geology has received the National Green Tribunal’s (NGT) order banning sand mining from river beds in the country without license and environmental clearance (EC) from the Union ministry of environment and forests.

However, in an attempt to seek relief from the ban, the state government has appointed senior mining engineer, Jaipur, BS Soda as the officer in-charge for initiating proceedings of legal aid to get exemption from the NGT. If the attempt fails, Rajasthan too will feature in the lists of states where sand mining is restricted.

“We have complied with the Supreme Court order of Feb 2012 regarding sand mining by drafting state law on the issue. The government has permission for sand mining till October 14, from the high court. The officer in charge will put up this case before the tribunal,” said D S Maroo, director, mines and geology.

Of the 127 lease granted for sand mining in the state, tenders for 94 firms has been issued but no firm has got the mandatory clearance yet. “This is not a state specific case, it is applicable in the entire country. We can only present our facts, its up to the tribunal to decide,” Maroo added.

The NGT had passed orders early this month on the plea filed by the National Green Tribunal Bar Association on sand mining in major rivers of Ganga, Yamuna, Chambal etc. The tribunal stated that majority of people removing minerals from the river bed had no license to extract sand.

Miners are required to obtain license from competent authorities depending upon the area of mining. The tribunal also stated that the order would be applicable across the nation as the petition raised substantial environmental issues. The clearance has to be obtained from the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) or State Environment Impact Assessment Authority (SEIAA). The Tribunal also directed all the mining officers and police officers concerned in all states to ensure compliance of its orders.

Supreme court order

The Supreme Court in February 2012 directed states to grant lease for mining of minor minerals including sand, gravel, clay, marble and other stones – even in a less than five hectares area only after getting environmental clearances from the Union ministry of environment and forests. Earlier, plots which were less than five hectares didn’t needed any permission for mining. The Supreme Court also took into account the adverse effect of such activities on the biodiversity.

The state powers

As per environmental rules, the state government has the power to allow mining in an area of less than five hectares. For the above five hectares permission of the Union environment ministry is required. This provision has been manipulated by the state governments by breaking bigger mining areas into smaller than five hectare units to bypass the mandatory permission from the Union environment ministry.

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