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Digging Our Rivers’ Graves? A summary analysis of the ecological impacts of the National Waterways Bill (2015).

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Index Digging Our Rivers’ Graves?
A summary analysis of the ecological impacts
of the National Waterways Bill (2015)
Nachiket Kelkar
Introduction: The National Water-
ways Bill (NWB, Bill No. 122 of 2015)
was tabled by the current central
government’s Minister of Transport
and Shipping, Mr. Nitin Gadkari, in
May 2015. This Bill plans to convert
106 rivers and creeks across India into
waterway canals, purportedly for ‘eco-
friendly transport’ of cargo, coal, in-
dustrial raw materials, and for tour-
ism purposes. The primary reasons
provided for this bill are that 1) in-
land water transport is fuel-efficient,
cost-effective and eco-friendly, 2) the
systematic development of waterways
will create progressive economic op-
portunities in the country, and 3) the
potential of water transport is
underutilized in India. The Bill has
since been examined by the Standing
Committee appointed of Rajya Sabha
Members and experts on the matter,
who submitted their findings in Re-
port No. 223 (Rajya Sabha Secre-
tariat, August 2015). Recently, the Bill
has been cleared by the Lok Sabha,
and awaits final discussion in the
Rajya Sabha within a fortnight’s time.
As of now the NWB appears to enjoy
support across party lines, states and
political positions and agendas. There
is also a belief that waterways would
mean maintenance of enough water
flowing in our rivers – yet the means
through which this is proposed to be
achieved involve capital dredging and
large-scale conversion of floodplain
environments and riverbanks to con-
crete embankments. A serious concern
of observers has been that there has
unfortunately been but scant debate
on the high ecological and social risks
the NWB poses to riverine bio-diver-
sity and local resource users through
such irreversible engineering controls
on our rivers. There is no discussion
among politicians and administrators.
Importantly, this issue appears to
have barely received adequate atten-
tion even in environment and conser-
vation circles. Problematically
enough, the NWB thus emerges as a
threat that may go unnoticed by con-
servationists and get passed without
debate, deliberation or emphasis on
environmental clearances to the ex-
tent required. In this article I will dis-
cuss the potentially damaging conse-
quences of the NWB on river ecology,
human life and hydrological dynam-
ics of India’s riverscapes. My earlier
article on the SANDRP blog ‘Four
boats at a river crossing along Ganga’
(dated 28th December, 2015) had de-
scribed https://sandrp.wordpress.
crossing/) ground experiences related
to the impacts of large-scale inland
water transport (IWT). Continuing
there I attempt to provide a point-wise
discussion and critique of the NWB.
Policy document sources: This
document discusses various points of
contention as identified in 1) the draft
of the National Waterways Bill (2015),
and 2) the Standing Committee (SC,
comprised of select members of the
Rajya Sabha)’s initial appraisal of the
implications of the said bill provided
in its review and recommendations
(Report 223, Rajya Sabha Secretariat
Observations on the National Water-
ways Bill draft, 2015 and Report 223
of the Standing Committee, Rajya
Sabha on the Bill
Digging Our Rivers’ Graves? 1
Large Dams in Konkan
Western Ghats: Costs,
Benefits and Impacts 7
Unabated Riverbed
Mining in Saharanpur,
UP, Puts Delhi’s Water
Supply under Threat 15
River Sand Mining in
India in 2015 17
River Sand Mining in
India in 2015 – II –
Government acts of
omissions and commissions 20
River Sand Mining in India
in 2015 – III – Judicial
actions 23
Jhulelal or Zindapir:
River Saints, fish and
flows of the Indus 25
Farmers, Rivers and the
Environment in Union
Budget 2016-17 29
Dams, Rivers & People February-March, 2016
1. NWB as a river-control ploy: the Bill, at its core,
appears to treat rivers as mere canals for waterways
that can be commoditized for just this singular pur-
pose. In fact, it appears that inland water transport,
at the scale conceived by the bill, involves the central-
ized, unitary control of rivers by the Government of
India. This will involve the construction of locking bar-
rages to hold water for vessel movement, concretiza-
tion and building of embankments to create port ter-
minals, and regular (high-intensity) capital dredging
of river sediment deposition along channel bottoms and
margins. Worldwide, such interventions are known to
have seriously damaging impacts on fish fauna, aquatic
biodiversity, and people dependent on them. Although
purportedly eco-friendly, there is not a single mention
of “ecological” or “conservation” needs or concerns for
rivers in the Bill draft.
2. Rivers as nothing but water channels: The bill
shows a poor understanding of the hydrological, geo-
morphological and socio-ecological complexities of
India’s rivers. In this sense, it is a blind copy-and-paste
proposal inspired from other waterways across the
world that also conveniently ignores the failings of even
these examples (e.g. ECMT 2006). Most river courses
in the Ganga and Brahmaputra floodplains are highly
dynamic and migratory. They show flooding pulses in
the monsoons, but have little water in the dry-season.
The resulting sediment deposition and erosion patterns
in the river channels have historically made river navi-
gation highly risk-prone. By treating rivers as mere
“water-carriers” the bill dishonours the naturally dy-
namic flow regimes that involve ‘essential floods’, criti-
cal to sustaining river productivity and life-history of
organisms like fishes. There is not a single mention of
“ecology” or “conservation” needs of rivers in the Bill
3. Competing rights to and pressures on water: The
Bill does not recognize natural limits on the proposed
expansion of water use for transport in India, where
multiple competing pressures already exist on water
resources. Given the current and projected scale of
water demands for irrigated agriculture, industry, ther-
mal power plants, etc. (Pt. 18) of the Bill seems an en-
tirely unfeasible idea entirely because of the basic re-
quirement of adequate water availability. As a result
the bill seems either unconcerned or naïve about con-
sidering rights to use water for diverse social and eco-
logical needs. There is a cursory mention of “continu-
ity of state rights to river water” (page 19, pt. 6 of NWB)
yet there is no clear mechanism identified on how wa-
terways development and already ongoing activities
will be reconciled. The Rajya Sabha SC Report 223
rightly expresses concern about the conflicts that could
be potentially generated at multiple levels: between
state and central governments, between local human
users and ecological needs of rivers, and between wa-
ter allocations for transportation vis-a-vie irrigation
and drinking water demands. Point No. 9 of the Re-
port states land acquisition as a minor concern of the
waterways development plan. However, there is abso-
lutely no discussion on addressing issues of rights to
water for direct needs such as fisheries-based liveli-
hoods, pilgrimage, or rights for local navigation, which
are unresolved in most cases even today. The Report
mentions concern about rights to sediment and silt
dredged from rivers (point 15.1) but deeper security
for more fundamental water rights have been paid
rather scant attention.
4. Hazardous goods: The Bill contradicts its own claim
that waterways are environmentally friendly means
of transport because in the same breath, the statement
of object (page 18, pt. 2) says that “hazardous goods”
will also be transported by waterways. Accidental spill-
age could directly affect the health of millions of people
in India that still depend on rivers for drinking, do-
mestic uses, commerce, and livelihoods, and present
life-threatening risks to aquatic species.
5. Feasibility of Implementation: The Rajya Sabha
Standing Committee’s Report 223 recognizes multiple
lacunae and potentially serious gaps in the implemen-
tation of the proposed project. It details multiple eco-
logical, social, commercial viability, and political-eco-
nomic feasibility considerations and consequences for
the 101 proposed national waterway development
projects. Point 14 of the Report highlights that the Bill’s
implementation will be conditional on Techno-Eco-
nomic Feasibility, Environmental Clearances, and De-
tailed Project Reports, which is a welcome reminder to
the Bill itself, of its potentially disastrous impacts on
natural flowing water bodies. Point 22 of the Bill also
highlights the opinion of the Indian Chamber of Com-
merce about how the lofty ambitions of the waterways
project show strong disconnect with ground realities –
and suggest first focussing on improving the effective-
ness of the 5 existing waterways (Nos. 1 to 5 in bill) in
a sustainable manner, before taking up 101 more river/
coastal projects. Strong suspicion about the feasibility
of the projects is also evident in the risk-averse
and reluctant responses of companies towards taking
up government tenders and contracts for port construc-
tion and dredging-related work (http://www.
ntpc-river-transport-deal/article7642357.ece). A case in
point is the navigation lock of the Farakka Barrage on
the Ganga, where navigation is hugely impaired due
to high sediment loads, need for continuous and costly
dredging and maintenance.
6. Where is the Water? At present, owing to numerous
existing large and small dams, barrages, channel di-
versions, irrigation canals, thermal plants’ demand on
river water, most rivers in India have extremely low
or even NO water availability, especially in the dry sea-
son. It is indicative of the Bill’s ignorance of these re-
alities because many such rivers are proposed for in-
Dams, Rivers & People February-March, 2016
clusion in national waterways (Pt. 15.4). The author is
aware of the following rivers (enlisted with waterway
numbers) that either have no water for nearly all year,
or run as sewers carrying urban solid waste – but are
included for development as National waterways: Ajoy
(7), Aran (9), Betwa (17), Bheema (20), Budhabalanga
(22), Damodar (28), Gomti (40), Indira Gandhi Canal
(42), Jalangi (44), Manjara (67), Nag (71), Wardha (77),
Punpun (79), Sone (88), Tapi (94), Tons (97), Vaigai
(100), Wainganga/Pranahita (103) [this list is by no
means an exhaustive one].
7. Ecological impacts and effects of capital dredging on
river sediment, biodiversity, fisheries productivity (Pt.
20.1), and concerns regarding environmental clear-
ances (Pts. 17, 19.1):
a. Barrages have been planned in the Ganga River at
every 100 km, to artificially raise water levels for
11 proposed terminal ports. The impacts of barrages
on fish movements, flow (water, sediments and nu-
trients) regimes at daily, seasonal and annual scales,
and other river-dependent biota and people – given
the fateful experiences in India over the last 5 de-
cades – are anybody’s guess (again, the Farakka
barrage stands testimony to the magnitude and
gravity of the problem: https://sandrp.wordpress.
b. Capital dredging proposed to deepen, widen, and
maintain existing waterways (5 of which are sup-
posed to be operational today, though all of them
are operating at sub-optimal levels), has highly
negative environmental impacts. Such dredging
dislodges river sediment, thereby destroying fish
breeding grounds, habitats for endangered fresh-
water turtles, fishes, sensitive aquatic inverte-
brates, and other organisms. In particular, sub-
strate-breeding fish species are negatively affected
by dredging and might even become locally extinct
following failed breeding. As a bulk of fisheries de-
pends on benthic (bottom-dwelling) fishes in most
of India’s larger rivers, this will mean important
threat to the sustainable production of fish in these
systems as well. These impacts are well known and
pose serious environmental concerns to many wa-
terways across the world (e.g. Dolah et al. 1984,
Travassos et al. 2012, Freedman et al. 2013).
c. Invasive species: One of the most common modes of
spread and establishment of invasive species popu-
lations (mainly plants and fishes) is by waterways.
Aquatic invasions in India threaten native aquatic
biodiversity seriously, and aggravation of these
threats might be disastrous for fisheries as well as
navigation systems in turn (e.g. Koehn 2004,
Arbaciauskas et al. 2008).
d. The noise and disturbance caused by intensive
dredging activities is known to have deleterious
impacts on aquatic biodiversity, especially the Na-
tional Aquatic Animal of India, the Ganges River
Dolphin Platanista gangetica gangetica. The endan-
gered Gangetic dolphin is a unique, blind mammal
that relies entirely on the use of ultrasonic sound
production to forage and navigate in murky river
waters of the Ganga-Brahmaputra river system
with the use of echolocation, i.e. production and
hearing of echoes from ultrasonic-frequency sounds.
Our research predicts that dredging for waterways
at the scale envisaged by the Bill will further en-
danger this emblematic species that is endemic to
the Indian Subcontinent, owing to the following
reasons: i) Range-level declines (local extinction) of
Ganges river dolphins has been reported from many
rivers due to the complete lack of river water avail-
ability (e.g. Sone), ii) river dolphin echolocation fre-
quency might be masked by dredging and vessel
engine sounds, which might seriously limit their
ability to find food and navigate; iii) The physical
upheaval of river sediment caused by dredging ap-
pears to be disturbing to river dolphins.
e. Our field observations in the Ganga River at
Bhagalpur identify the negative impacts of heavy
dredging on dolphins. River dolphins, in May 2014,
moved about 2 km downstream from a regularly
used hotspot areas near Barari, Bhagalpur town
and stayed there for nearly one full week over which
intensive dredging operations by the Inland Water-
ways Authority of India were conducted near the
Vikramshila Setu. The authors noted that the sur-
facing frequency of river dolphins (breathing time
between dives) reduced approximately 3 times as
compared to a natural dive-rate of approx. 1.5-2.5
minutes during feeding peaks. In dolphins, this is
a clear indication of stressful physiological and body
conditions. Further, Ganges river dolphins are
highly vocal in normal circumstances but their
acoustic activity was noted to be much lower than
on an average non-dredging day. Further, river dol-
phin mortality due to boat-propeller hits have been
recorded on a couple of occasions from the same
area. During the movement of tourist cruise ships,
we observed that the impact of loud sounds pro-
duced by the engines lasted for over 2 minutes – in
which river dolphin diving behaviour showed signs
of suppression.
f. Approximately 90% of the viable Ganges River dol-
phin population in India overlaps with the extent
of the proposed waterways in the Gangetic and
Brahmaputra basins. The same is true for protected
areas especially designated for river dolphins, such
as the Vikramshila Gangetic Dolphin Sanctuary is
a river stretch of 67 km length between Sultanganj
and Kahalgaon towns in Bhagalpur district. At
present, IWAI vessels have been regularly moving
through, and conducting dredging operations
throughout the sanctuary stretch – without any
Dams, Rivers & People February-March, 2016
environmental or wildlife clearances. Appropriate
measures are a must to mitigate the impacts of
dredging on river dolphins as well as other riverine
biodiversity. Other flagship protected areas included
in the waterways declaration include the National
Chambal Sanctuary (600 km, proposed waterway
no. 24), the turtle sanctuary from Ramnagar Fort
to Assi Ghat at Varanasi (6 km, Ganga national
waterway no. 1), and others along the Brahmaputra
River and its tributaries (nos. 2,6,16,29, 31, 53, 80),
Harike Bird Sanctuary in Punjab (which has Indus
River dolphins; proposed waterway no. 15), and sev-
eral stretches in the Sundarbans Tiger Reserve (no.
91). In some of these stretches, vessels are already
plying large distances for transporting cargo, heavy
goods and for tourism packages and their ecologi-
cal impacts on riverine fauna and fisheries need to
be assessed urgently. The recent oil spill in the
Sundarbans of Bangladesh highlights the problems
of inland transport in highly biodiverse and pro-
ductive estuarine ecosystems.
g. Ganges River dolphins have the highest abundance
for any single Indian state in Bihar, with at least
800 animals in the Ganga River, and about 270-300
in the Gandak River. Similar estimates have been
reported by researchers from Patna University and
Wildlife Trust of India. The Kosi River is yet to be
surveyed properly, but 75 km river stretch surveyed
in May 2014 (Kursela to Osraha Thana) was found
to have almost 173 animals (unpublished data from
field surveys). The proposed intensive development
of waterways in these rivers is of serious concern
for a very important, high-density population of
approx. 1500 Ganges river dolphins occurring in
Bihar (estimate subject to negative bias).
h. In this context in particular, the widespread notion
that this Bill has not gone through environmental
scrutiny and navigation projects not requiring en-
vironmental clearances is also a serious flaw. Along-
side protected areas for the conservation of endan-
gered river dolphins, gharials, otters, turtles, and
fishes, similarly diverse faunal assemblages con-
tinue to persist even in rivers not covered under
protected areas. This further emphasizes the need
for detailed studies to assess the environmental
impact of waterways.
i. Impacts of pollution (noise, solid wastes, fuel leak-
age etc.) on river biota need to be assessed urgently
for the 5 existing operational waterways in the spe-
cific context of inland waterways development and
8. Social concerns: Millions of India’s people depend
regularly on the rivers for drinking, domestic uses,
agriculture, fishing, dairy, pilgrimage, local navigation
and other livelihoods. The proposed national water-
way development plans show scant regard for a sensi-
tive consideration of how these livelihood and com-
merce-sustaining activities may be affected by water-
ways. Some examples are listed below.
a. Fish breeding habitats are seriously affected by
capital dredging operations in the river substrate.
Many fishes of high market value require intact
substrates to spawn in the main channel of the river,
which in turn determines their catch availability
to fisher folk. The impact of capital and maintenance
dredging on both short- and long-term fish catch
needs to be monitored from the point of view of fish-
eries subsistence economy. Our observations sug-
gest that fish catches fluctuate towards the nega-
tive side during and after bouts of capital dredging.
b. Threats to life: There have been recent reports of
pilgrims dying by drowning due to swimming in
depths and sediment flows created post-dredging
activities by the IWAI in the Ganga River.
c. Local boat navigation will get impaired by frequent
and constant movement of large ships and vessels
and needs adequate consideration.
d. The construction of ports, harbours, barge construc-
tion zones and embankments on the river banks
can have dire consequences by increasing river ero-
sion rates. River erosion and gradual land reduc-
tion have been historically high-strung and perni-
cious problems in India’s floodplain rivers. The ef-
fects of heavy infrastructure might interfere with
sediment dynamics and reduce economic outcomes
from resource use substantially.
9. Multi-sectoral responses to the Bill:
a. A noteworthy component of Report 223 is the re-
sponse of the state governments of 18 states to the
proposed bill. While most states agree to the Bill in
principle, multiple conditions are discussed with
respect to state-specific details of river conditions
(e.g. in the response by Jharkhand). The responses
of Kerala and Madhya Pradesh, two large states
which oppose the bill by providing well-grounded
and ecologically sensitive responses, are important
to consider in discussions on balancing waterways
development with social and ecological needs of
water. Extremely important issues are raised by
both state responses, backed by detailed apprais-
als, and these pertain to 1) existing structures to
harness water for various basic needs, 2) threats of
pollution and saline ingression into waterways, 3)
impacts of dredging and solid wastes, 4) impacts on
sanctuaries for wild species, fish breeding habitats
and biodiversity such as crocodiles and river dol-
phins (with particular reference to the National
Chambal Sanctuary), 5) poor water availability in
rivers both from natural seasonal fluctuations, and
more importantly, dams and barrages that already
exist. The response of the Bihar government is cru-
Dams, Rivers & People February-March, 2016
cially important in the context of this document.
Bihar has given a conditional agreement to the
National Waterways Bill (Pt. 26.3). Bihar’s response
is important to consider as it brings up multiple
relevant issues. The conditions include: 1) water-
ways should not alter or affect flood levels, natural
surface levels, and submergence area, 2) a clear
negative response to construction of new barrages
based on the highly destructive experience of the
Farakka barrages constructed downstream of
Bihar’s Ganga River in 1975, 3) the correct recog-
nition that large-scale dredging will alter the near-
natural sediment transport loads in rivers such as
the Gandak, Kosi and Mahananda, leading to addi-
tional load on the Ganga River, 4) potential inter-
ferences with irrigation and drinking water needs,
and 5) a detailed silt conservation and management
policy and 5) ensuring that no impacts are felt on
state entitlements to water within and across the
state as per existing water-sharing agreements.
b. The statement by NTPC representatives (Report
223, Pt. 19.3) that current one-way water-based
cargo transport is only marginally cheaper than
railways is a significant one. We believe that envi-
ronmental regulations on ship design and move-
ment rates will necessitate a cap on the proposed
upscaling of waterways transport by making it both-
ways (e.g. by carrying fly-ash wastes to dumping
sites, Pt. 20.2 of Report 223). We believe that this
proposed measure might be especially hazardous
to river water quality and natural sediment load.
c. Doubts on the feasibility of the project at the scale
in which it is conceived have been raised, notably,
from multiple industrial quarters and by the In-
dian Chamber of Commerce (these responses are
briefly summarized above in Pt. 5).
d. Concerns about the impacts of waterways develop-
ment have also been raised by pilgrimage authori-
ties and temple management boards across the
Ganga River.
e. Mishra and Hussain (2012) extend this argument
to considerations for transboundary water-sharing,
of specific importance for existing water treaties
with Bangladesh and Nepal.
10. Conflict with other objectives of the Indian
Government: The earlier points have expressed con-
cerns about the pollution impacts of national water-
ways. If zero-pollution shipping models are not ush-
ered in, the waterways bill proves directly antitheti-
cal and in conflict with the Clean Ganga Mission of
the Central Government, as also for other river clean-
ups planned in the future. Further, its proposed con-
sonance with other potentially disastrous projects
such as river interlinking, can add to cumulative im-
pacts on river ecology, there is no attempt to acknowl-
edge, understand or assess such impacts. The cost-
effectiveness argument for inland waterways ad-
vanced by the Ministry is based on its low infrastruc-
ture investments. However, IWT projects appear cost-
effective because India’s riverine environments and
ecology are systematically undervalued by the Min-
istry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change,
similar to other arms of the Government. Moreover,
the costs have to be seen along with the high costs of
continuous dredging, loading and unloading at both
ends of waterways and trasportation to and from such
points from the origin and destinations.
11. Possibilities for regulation and downscaling of
impacts: Forms of adaptive management and regu-
lation of vessel traffic, dependent on dry-season river
hydrological observations, should form the bench-
mark for environmental management guidelines and
mitigation strategies for inland waterways. The pri-
ority to ensure adequate water availability across
India both for snowmelt-fed or dryland rivers as per
their seasonal fluctuations (dry to wet season) is fore-
most in this regard. Even if flows are maintained at
levels that resemble ecological dynamics and navi-
gation operations planned accordingly, navigation
schedules will need to be adapted seasonally as per
variations in flooding extent, dry-season ecological
flows, and rising and falling discharge volumes. The
Bill focusses on maximizing water transport infra-
structure but does not suggest any regulatory mecha-
nisms for sustainable management. The Government
of India’s Ministry of Transport, Inland Waterways
Authority of India (IWAI), National Mission for Clean
Ganga, National Ganga River Basin Authority, the
Ministry for Water Resources, River Development
and Ganga Rejuvenation and the Union Ministry of
Environment, Forests and Climate Change, along
with state governments need to seriously consider
strict regulation and downscaling for managing in-
land water transport (IWT) with necessary environ-
mental safeguards and guidelines. In fact, a detailed
‘Waterways Classification’ exercise has been de-
manded (
the-silt/) for efficient management of IWT by the head
of the IWAI already. Cumulative Environmental Im-
pact Assessments (phase to phase) for IWT develop-
ment are critically needed to identify the scope for
case-by-case regulations, environmental prescrip-
tions and guidelines, monitoring, compliance and en-
forcement of caps on ship traffic as per seasonal varia-
tions. Regulatory and adaptive management ap-
proaches will need to include: a) restricting allowed
upper limits of bulk cargo only (but not hazardous
goods), season-wise; with dry-season movement to
be completely restricted if water availability natu-
rally does not allow navigation securely; b) ship sizes
for horizontal and vertical clearances (Pt. 15.2 (i,ii,iii)
Dams, Rivers & People February-March, 2016
of Report 223) must be specified only in tune with
natural availability of water, and NOT by augmented
availability through interlinking, inter-basin or ca-
nal transfers, dams/barrages, or repeated dredging;
c) considerations for ship design to make them zero-
pollution/discharge and ecologically benign (e.g. with
engine noise reduction devices), and d) cap on simul-
taneous plying of both cargo and tourist ship traffic,
e) tourist and cargo vessels must be mandated to pay
substantially for the estimated costs from ecological
impacts on the river. Further, mechanisms need to
be instituted towards restoration of river-floodplain
habitats such as islands, point bars etc. (important
for seasonal farmers, as well as nesting birds, turtles,
otters, and crocodilians) through effective silt pro-
tection and conservation mechanisms. The high fre-
quency of even ongoing dredging operations by the
IWAI points to natural constraints imposed on navi-
gation by river sediment and silt, which are both
highly essential for agricultural and fisheries pro-
ductivity. Dredging operations alter depositional and
erosional processes and affect these systems. Hence
a comprehensive and ecologically sensitive river silt
protection, restoration and management policy is
essential. As past interventions have amply indicated
(e.g. embankments) capital dredging impacts need
to be mitigated with strict policies to ensure the same.
12. Despite these important insights and discussion
points proposed in the Report 223, it falls short of a
critical revisiting of the scale and scope of the con-
ceived national waterways bill. Problematically, the
Report seems to uphold the suggestion that the wa-
terways should be in consonance with the River
Interlinking Plan (though this plan has no sanctions
from any of the states, those neighbours sharing river
basins concerned or the statutory authorities) (Pt.
18 (iii)) sharply contrasts with the concerns expressed
in the same report about water scarcity, ecology, and
dry bed conditions for most rivers included in the
Schedule (ref. Section 2) of the National Waterways
Bill. This appears as a latent and somewhat uncriti-
cal acceptance of both the river interlinking and wa-
terways bills and the Report’s tone remains in broad
agreement with the intent of the Bill, in an unques-
tioning manner, of the status quo (e.g., the impacts
of the River Interlinking Plan; Lal et al., 2015).
Conclusion: The management of existing waterways re-
mains wanting on several counts. The aforementioned
discussion highlight that the current ecological impacts
of dredging in waterways are already significant. Given
this background, the scarcity of water available in our riv-
ers, scenarios of extreme climate-induced drought and
flood events, river erosion, and declining agriculture and
fisheries productivity, we believe that the proposed scale
of upgradation of inland waterways in India is not only
unsustainable but also highly destructive. In conclusion,
efforts are needed to strike balances between IWT and
numerous other more pressing water needs for people and
ecology. The National Waterways Bill thus represents a
formidable challenge to our planning as well as our ethic.
After a long history of damaging hydrological alterations,
riverine control, and social injustices and disasters, the
National Waterways Bill’s implementation does not show
that something has been learned from a troubled past. In
the current circumstances, achieving potential utilization
of waterways without impairing ecological and hydrologi-
cal dynamics, productivity, biodiversity, and social depen-
dencies, environmental regulations and safeguards are
critical for sustaining the life of the river basins of India
does not seem likely. The bill in present form is not likely
to be accepted at least by some concerned states and the
proposed waterways are not likely to be viable.
Arbaciauskas, K., Semenchenko, V., Grabowski, M.,
Leuven, R.S., Paunovic, M., Son, M.O., Csenyi, B.,
Gumuliauskaite, S., Konopacka, A., Nehring, S., van der
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Dams, Rivers & People February-March, 2016
Large Dams in Konkan Western Ghats: Costs, Benefits and Impacts
Konkan is that narrow and spectacular strip of land en-
compassing coastlines, estuaries, lateritic plateaus, foot-
hills of Western Ghats and dense forests, which runs
from Maharashtra to Goa. Bound by the Arabian Sea to
its west and the mighty Sahyadri ranges (Western
Ghats) to its east, the region has a distinct and rich cul-
ture of folklore, performing arts, music, literature, culi-
nary art. Konkan, its temples, rivers and forests have
an entire Sahyadrikand of the SkandPurana dedicated
to it. Several poems and songs have been penned about
the beauty, the mystery and the people of this region.
Many of our celebrated singers, poets and authors come
from Konkan. Community conservation practices that
thrive here include some of the most pristine Sacred
Groves, Temple Tanks, Fish Sanctuaries and sacred
Konkan of Maharashtra, the
subject matter of this report,
consists of Greater Mumbai,
Thane, Raigad, Ratnagiri and
Sindhudurg Districts, cover-
ing an area of 30,394 sq kms
and running for about 720
kms. Of the 17,000 square ki-
lometers area of Maharashtra
Western Ghats, identified as
‘Eco Sensitive’ according to
High Level Working Group
Report on Western Ghats,
majority falls in Konkan Di-
Konkan has a unique physi-
ography with an undulating
terrain and narrow coastal
plains. It receives heavy rain-
fall from South West mon-
soons averaging to about 3000
mm. Elevation difference for
a small width of about 50-60
kms ranges from mean sea level to over 1000 meters.
Due to severe slopes, the drainage pattern is dense and
dendritic, leading to poor groundwater recharge on
slopes but good recharge in plains and valleys. Geologi-
cal strata is composed of rocky basalt, lateritic plateaus,
sandy coasts and small alluvial river mouths and val-
Konkan holds 22 river basins. All rivers that flow here
originate in the Western Ghats and are swift and west
flowing, with narrow, rocky basins, smaller catchments,
shorter lengths and smaller estuaries as compared to
their east flowing counterparts also originating from
Sahaydris like Krishna and Godavari. Damanganga,
Ulhas, Vaitarna, Savitri, Shastri, Gad, Karli, Terekhol
etc., are some of the important rivers of Konkan. They
are marked by rich biodiversity, dense forests and pro-
ductive estuaries and they play an integral part in the
social and cultural lives of the Konkanis.
Traditional water systems here revolve around ground-
water from lateritic plateaus, hills streams and rivers.
Due to quick runoff, swift, overflowing rivers of the mon-
soon dry up in the summer; range of groundwater fluc-
tuation is also high. The region has several evolved tra-
ditional practices to utilize rainwater for irrigation and
domestic use. The system of making “Paats” or irriga-
tion channels off-taking from rivers, hills streams and
groundwater zones exists till date.
As a result of its singular soil-rainfall-topography, agri-
culture in Konkan is different from the rest of
Maharashtra. Traditional crops include paddy cultivated
on terraces and millets like Ragi cultivated on slopes.
Mainstay of agricultural economy is horticulture of
Mango, Cashewnuts and kokam (Garcinia fruit). These
have no specific irrigation needs and grow on slopes.
Coconut and Arecanut plantations on the precious strips
of plain land require water. In Rabi, region-specific
pulses are grown on soil moisture and dew. Due to poor
soils and hot weather, the region is not a leader in spices,
coffee, tea or rubber. Migration from Konkan to Mumbai
and other parts of the state has always been high and
farm labour is difficult to find.
Due to several factors like a rugged undulating terrain,
lateritic porous strata, poor soil, traditional crops which
do not need irrigation, etc., major Irrigation Projects and
dams are rare in Konkan. This is despite the fact that
Konkan gets 45% of the average annual yield of all riv-
ers in the state! It is here that you find one of the oldest
earthen dams in the state: the Dhamapur Dam in
Sindhudurg, which still stands proud, not only irrigat-
ing plantations but providing drinking water to the en-
tire Malvan city. Temple Tanks in Sindhudurg provide
drinking water, irrigation and recharge groundwater.
Following the surge of dams in Maharashtra, several
major and medium irrigation projects, drinking water
Index Map of Konkan
From: KonkanTrips
Konkan is the spectacular piece of land encom-
passing coastlines, estuaries and foothills of
Western Ghats. It has unique biodiversity, ge-
ology, topography and soils and has region spe-
cific water harvesting methods. How are large
dams faring here?
Dams, Rivers & People February-March, 2016
supply and hydropower projects were proposed and de-
veloped in Konkan.
A reconnaissance of the current situation is disturbing.
It indicates that despite spending more than Rs 6,000
Crores in building these dams for decades, not a single
Major or Medium irriga-
tion project has been
completed in Konkan till
date by Konkan Irriga-
tion Development Cor-
poration (KIDC). Actual
Irrigation Potential cre-
ated is less than 25%, of
which less than one per-
cent is actually used by
people for irrigation, for
projects tested by
CAG[i]. Hydropower
generation from projects
is shockingly low.
But for building these non-performing dams, not only have
we spent thousands of crores of tax-payers money, we
have displaced thousands of people, affected ways of life,
desecrated sacred conservation areas, deforested thou-
sands of hectares of forests in Western Ghats, destroyed
habitats of wildlife, affected migration routes of El-
ephants, Tigers and Fish. The sum of these impacts maybe
more tragic as compared to monetary corruption alone.
Currently, 12 irrigation projects of KIDC[ii] in Thane,
Raigad and Ratnagiri Districts of Kokan, undertaken
by FA Constructions and FA Enterprises are facing en-
quiry by the Anti-Corruption Bureau[iii] for severe cor-
ruption charges. Water Resource Minister Girish
Mahajan has indicated that a charge-sheet will be filed
shortly in which former Deputy CM Ajit Pawar and
Former Water Resource Minister Sunil Tatkare may also
be named [iv]. Stories of corruption in KIDC are varied
and amusing. According to some, when Talamba Major
Irrigation Project was being sanctioned, a Sumo full of
cash was given as a bribe to one of the leading politi-
cians of Konkan, who kept the money…and the Sumo as
Several of KIDC Irrigation projects have violated Envi-
ronmental Laws and Project Affected People of almost
all projects are protesting due to insufficient compensa-
tion and shoddy rehabilitation. Man-Animal Conflicts
are not rare in regions where dams blocked migration
This state of things requires a fundamental rethink.
When I asked a farmer in Ratnagiri about Major and
Medium Irrigation Projects in Konkan and if they have
helped, he says “Whom have these projects helped? Not
us!”. A Geologist says, “Large dams in Konkan are not
viable on multiple scales” . An Agricultural Scientist
says, “Engineers from Western Maharashtra posted in
Konkan have their own ideas for irrigation which suit
Western Maharashtra, not Konkan. They have not
worked and will not work here.” Former Head of Walmi
who has also worked in
Konkan as an Engineer
says, “Large dams in
Konkan are a reflection
of Intellectual Corrup-
tion in WRD and a reso-
lute denial to learn les-
sons from past mis-
takes. I think the area
irrigated by Major and
Medium Projects may be
less than the land sub-
merged behind them”.
However, when I ask the
same question to a se-
nior official of the
Konkan Irrigation Development Corporation (KIDC) he
says despondently: “It is Government Policy.”
This blind push for large dams has resulted in social,
economic and ecological losses, without any substantial
Farmers in Konkan need protective irrigation, but their
needs are very different from the Plateau. There is an
urgent need to take an objective look at the approach of
pushing large projects as a matter for policy for a region
that does not need or want them. A thorough audit of
Irrigation Projects in Konkan needs to be undertaken
with a scope that is wider than regular CAG Reports.
Projects like Talamba Major Irrigation Project, which
have been lying idle for several years, have been rejected
permissions, face strong local opposition, are unviable
and would need massive amounts of additional fund-
ing, need to be scrapped to stem the flow of tax payers
money down a blackhole.
Rather than spending further crores, benefiting the con-
tractors and continuing questionable projects, perhaps
there is need to acknowledge that past experience of
pushing large dams in Konkan is a lost cause.
While this may sound difficult to achieve, we hope that
the following sections make its need self evident. The
balance cost of main projects now stands at about 11,000
Crores and will only increase with time. In this context,
schemes like current government’s flagship Jalyukta
Shivar are ideally suited for Konkan and
Konkan Irrigation Development Corporation and the
damming of Western Ghats
White Paper on Irrigation Projects published by Gov-
ernment of Maharashtra in 2012 lists 4 major projects,
Despite spending more than Rs 6,000 Crores in build-
ing these dams for decades, not a single Major or
Medium irrigation project has been completed in
Konkan till date by Konkan Irrigation Development
Corporation (KIDC). Actual Irrigation Potential cre-
ated is less than 25%, of which less than one percent
is actually used by people for irrigation, for projects
tested by CAG. Hydropower generation from projects
is shockingly low.
Dams, Rivers & People February-March, 2016
11 medium projects and 4 projects under BOT (Build-
Own-Transfer) by KIDC (which are all Drinking Water
Dams for Mumbai). It has avoided mentioning several
of the more problematic projects. However, NONE of the
irrigation projects mentioned in the White Paper have
been completed till date, even after 33 years of starting
work for some. In some cases, the scope has been changed
from Irrigation to Drinking Water and the irrigation
component has been put on a back burner. (Details of
some projects in Annex 1)
Konkan Irrigation Development Corporation (KIDC)
was formed in 1998 under KIDC Act 1997 to expedite
irrigation projects in Konkan administrative division
and also independently raise capital from the market
for this purpose. Of the cultivable command of 15.68
Lakh ha in the region, estimated irrigation potential
that can be developed is about 3.67 L ha. But according
to CAG Report 2010[v], of the 90 projects handed to
KIDC in 1998, only 13 were “partially complete” in 2010.
Although KIDC is supposedly autonomous, “All plan-
ning, approval, tendering, allocation of funds was done
by the government and not KIDC”.
From the CAG Report, 2010
After spending Rs 4363 crores on 90 projects since 1990,
only 13 could be partially completed till 2010. Recom-
mendation of HPC (High Powered Committee) about
prioritizing projects where over 75% work has been com-
pleted was ignored by KIDC leading to too many incom-
plete projects, no budget
and no rise in Irrigation
Potential. KIDC vio-
lated laid down norms of
not taking up projects
unless all land required
has been acquired, For-
est Clearance has been
granted and PAPs
(Project Affected Per-
sons) have been rehabili-
tated. Starting projects in the absence of these statu-
tory requirements has led to a situation where projects
are stalled, land acquisition could not be completed,
there was no money to resettle the PAPs, and contrac-
tors had to be paid idle charges. For 16 projects checked
by CAG in 2010, work orders were issued by KIDC be-
fore acquiring lands and all of these 16 were stalled by
PAPs. KIDC did not even let the Special Land Acquisi-
tion Officer (SLAO) know of the complete land require-
ment for these projects.
In case of Nardave Medium Project in Sindhudurg, for
which the KIDC still does not have Forest Clearance,
KIDC paid Rs 7.4 Crores to contractor as idle charges,
but did not pay Rs 3.1 Crores to Forest Department as
NPV (Net Present Value of the forestland). There are
several examples where the KIDC did not pay the full
compensation amount to the PAPs, neither did it de-
posit the full amount with the SLAO. The CAG report
seethingly notes that while KIDC was short of money to
pay the PAPs who were losing their homes and fields, it
paid advances to contractors even when it was prohib-
ited by the Maharashtra Public Works Manual. In case
of Deharji Medium Project, Rs 10 Crores were paid as
advance in 2007 to an influential contractor, but the dam
work did not start in the absence of FC till 2010. For
these 3 years, no substantial recovery of advance was
made when there was no work done!
Of 30 projects test checked by CAG, 10 were under re-
pairs for more than 5 years, necessitating no irrigation.
Damningly, CAG says that although heights of dams
was increased, none are complete, nor did increase in
height lead to increased storage. The Executive Direc-
tor of KIDC justified this by stating that heights were
raised to store more water and irrigate more area. The
hollowness of this claim is clear we consider Land ac-
quisition problems, lack of clearances and of funds. For
38 projects on which Rs 800 Crores have been spent and
which have been going on for upto 20 years, no storage
has been created.
CAG Report 2013-14 [vi]
The Report states that of the 64 ongoing projects of KIDC
as of 2013, total expenditure has been Rs 6020 Corers
and the updated cost of ongoing projects is more than
Rs 11,000 Crores.
Of the 64 ongoing
projects, 54 projects
have seen massive cost
escalations. When Ad-
ministrative Approval
was given for Rs 783
Crores, expense has
been Rs 6020 Crores. In
2013, 25 of KIDC
projects needed a whopping 6303 ha of Western Ghats
Forest lands and many had proceeded without securing
statutory Forest Clearance, a punishable offence.
This CAG report was played down by the government
when a PIL against multiple irregularities in KIDC was
filed in the Bombay High Court in 2013. However, CAG
through an affidavit stood firm by its report.[vii]
Snapshot of some KIDC dams in Western Ghats
SANDRP has visited several projects undertaken by
KIDC, has talked with the Project affected people, as
well as Engineers and officials. The picture which
emerges is sordid. Some of the notable projects are men-
tioned below:
CAG Report of 201o as well as 2013-14 have high-
lighted several serious problems with Irrigation
Projects in Konkan which range from Irrigation Po-
tential Created, technical soundness to Environmen-
tal Clearances, Rehabilitation of PAPs etc. On most
of these counts, KIDC fares badly.
Dams, Rivers & People February-March, 2016
a. Talamba Major Irrigation Project, Kudal,
Talamba Major Irrigation project was planned across
River Karli in Kudal
Taluka of Sindhudurg 34
years ago. For a Project
which received Adminis-
trative Clearance and
funds in 1981 and for
which Rs 142 Crores
have been spent till
date, it is not even 20%
complete. The project
aims to irrigate 28,900
ha and has a submer-
gence area of 2618 ha,
including 626 ha of For-
est Land in Eco Sensi-
tive Area. Work on
Talamba Major Project
started without Forest Clearance (FC) and it still does
not have final Forest Clearance! In fact, the State For-
est Division has rejected its FC application in 2015.
Government continues with the project doggedly which
now costs an estimated Rs 1,772 Crores.
Bal Sawant, who has been leading the struggle on this
dam in the region tells me that the government “better
scrap” the project urgently, which will displace over 5000
people in 7 villages. “The dam officials are raking sala-
ries for doing no work for decades. The command of the
project actually includes about 5000 ha of Forest Land.
The command also overlaps with other irrigation projects
like Sarambala. What irrigation are we then talking
about? Large parts of the command[viii] is already
served better functioning by Minor Irrigation Projects
and tanks. There are several sites where smaller projects
can be built, without displacing people. We will continue
to fight. You see, even after 34 years of starting a project
the government could not rehabilitate affected people
or compensate all of the affected population. How can
we trust them?”
When I visited the dam site in January 2016, all that
could be seen of the dam was a partly made stone-pitched
dam wall. Forests in the submergence area are some of
the most luxuriant forest I’ve seen in Western Ghats of
Maharashtra. According to Sawant, when the project
received Environmental Clearance in 2001, villagers did
not receive a notice of Public Hearing in Marathi, nei-
ther was the EIA translated in Marathi and given to
people. PAPs have stalled dam work more than 4 times
in the past, but still rehabilitation and compensation is
Talamba Major Irrigation Project has been in limbo for
more than 34 years due to inefficiency, lack of will to
solve PAP issues, absence of Forest Clearance and vio-
lations. It does not have an Investment Clearance from
the CWC (Central Water Commission). The submergence
area lies in the Eco-sensitive Area of the Western Ghats
as per the High Level
Working Group on West-
ern Ghats Report
(HLWG Report).
Action needs to be taken
against responsible offi-
cials for starting work
without Forest Clear-
ance and rehabilitation
of PAPs. The affected
people themselves have
drawn out plans where
KT weirs on Karli River
can provide effective and
cheaper irrigation for
part of the command
than spending 11,000 Crores or more. When I discussed
the project with senior official in KIDC, he simply said,
“Forest Department should give clearance and project
affected should take back their struggle.”
b. Virdi Large Minor Project, Sindhudurg
When I visited the strangely-named Virdi “Large Mi-
nor” Project in Jan 2016, several Trucks, JCBs and ma-
chines were languishing at the dam site. The Dam it-
self, a huge structure, seemed almost complete, with-
out the main river plugging. Hills in the upstream were
deforested and made into pineapple and rubber planta-
tions by, I was told, rich lobbies from Kerala who are
eyeing backwater irrigation once the dam is complete.
This project, which is at the head stream (Walvanti) of
the Mhadei River, has been asked to stop work by the
Mhadei Water Dsiputes Tribunal in 2015. Mhadei is a
shared basin between Goa, Maharashtra and Karnataka
and the river is the lifeline of Goa. Maharashtra has
agreed to maintain status quo on the work through an
The project does not have an Environmental Clearance,
nor does it have Wildlife Clearance, although it is barely
3 kilometers from Mhadei Wildlife Sanctuary in Goa. In
August 2015, Union Water Resources Minister Uma
Bharti stated before the Parliament that “Maharashtra
government did not secure environmental clearances for
the Virdi dam on the pretext that the culturable com-
mand area (CCA) of the project is less than 2000 ha,
requiring no environmental clearances.” However, ac-
cording to government WRD Website itself, the project
has a command of 2937 ha[x].
When I discussed this project with the officials, I was
told that it was important to boost storages in
Bal Sawant, who has been leading the struggle on
Talamba dam in the region tells me that the govern-
ment “better scrap” the project urgently, which will
displace over 5000 people in 7 villages. “The dam
officials are raking salaries for doing no work
for decades. The command of the project actu-
ally includes about 5000 ha of Forest Land. The
command also overlaps with other irrigation
projects like Sarambala. What irrigation are we
then talking about?”
Dams, Rivers & People February-March, 2016
Maharashtra and Virdi Dam water will augment Tillari
Major Irrigation Project’s irrigated area, which is adja-
cent to Virdi Dam. Looking at the pathetic state of
completion of projects in Konkan and dismal perfor-
mance of Tillari’s distribution network, this sort of un-
dertaking violating multiple laws should be unaccept-
able. We have spent Rs 58 Crores of this project whose
costs stands at Rs 182 Crores as of March 2015.
c. Sarambala Medium Irrigation Project,
When I visited Sarambala Dam site in the heart of West-
ern Ghat forests, I was taken to the Durga Devi Temple
and sacred grove in
Dabhil, which will sub-
merge under the dam.
The villagers asked the
Goddess to protect their
village from drowning.
And the Goddess herself,
I thought.
Sarambala Medium Irri-
gation Project falls in
Sindhudurg in a region
that is extremely rich in
biodiversity. A voluntary
Vanashakti, found out under the RTI Act that the vil-
lagers in the supposed command of Sarambala had never
demanded for irrigation! While WRD claims that 22 vil-
lages will benefit from the dam, there are only 15 vil-
lages in the command, of which seven are already shown
in the command area of the Tillari and Talamba irriga-
tion projects!
The region is a part of the 35 km-long and 10 km-wide
Sawantwadi-Dodamarg wildlife corridor, connecting the
Koyna, Radhanagri and Chandoli Protected Areas in
Maharashtra with Mhadei, Bondla, Bhagwan Mahavir,
Netravali, Cotigao and
Molem in Goa, and
Anshi and Dandeli in
Karnataka. This strip of
land has over 303 spe-
cies of plants, several
with crucial medicinal
values and 18 species of
mammals, including ti-
gers, leopards, bears and several species of birds. It is
also an elephant corridor. Nevertheless, KIDC claims
this region has no wildlife while the Forest Department
claims that there are no religious, cultural or archaeo-
logical sites here. The EIA of the project has not been
made public.
Though the project is yet to receive environmental clear-
ance and a final forest clearance, KIDC issued a work
order in 2005. Neither community and individual forest
rights as per the Forest Rights Act, 2006 have been
settled nor have rehabilitation proposals been prepared.
The White Paper has pushed the project claiming that
it has spent over 25 per cent of its budget and 35 per
cent work has been completed.
Similar is case of Nardave Medium Project where work
was started without Forest or Environmental Clearance
as well as Shirshinge and Deharji Medium Projects.
d. Kal-Kumbhe Hydropower project, Mahad,
Kal Kumbhe Hydro-
power Project is an ex-
ample of an entirely
unviable project. This
Small 15 MW +10 MW
hydropower project in-
cludes two dams in
Western Ghats, one of
them over 55 meters
high and two massive
tunnels, submerging 6
villages and displacing
more than 1500 people.
The total expense now is
more than Rs 300 Crores, and the expenditure lies locked
for 4 years as the work has stopped due to protests from
people who were not rehabilitated and absence of For-
est Clearance.
When the average per MW cost for small hydropower
project is about 8-9 Crores as per the Union Ministry of
New and Renewable Energy (MNRE), the cost for Kal
Kumbhe project will be a minimum of Rs 25 Crores /
MW, mostly more than that. This is discounting the cost
of rehabilitation, impact on biodiversity and Forests. All
submergence area lies in Eco Sensitive Area of the
HLWG. I had stumbled
upon the dam site acci-
dentally, when I was vis-
iting a community con-
served fish sanctuary
just downstream the
dam site. The sanctuary,
protecting endangered
Mahseer fish, will be
rendered dry and lifeless if the dam materializes.
Similarly, Government of Maharashtra is claiming that
there is insufficient water for 60 MW Tillari Main Dam
in Sindhudurg to generate power and is pushing for
Tillari Stage II Project[xi] which includes 3 more dams
in the upstream which will require 642 ha additional
land, including about 550 ha of Forest Land in Eco Sen-
While showing a percolation tank built by the villag-
ers, leader of the dam resistance Balkrishna Gawas
asks me, “This region receives 4,000 mm rainfall. If
we villagers can build water harvesting structures
for our water security at a fraction of the dam’s cost
and with so little ecological impacts, can’t the Water
Resources Department do so? Is drowning forests and
our villages the only way forward they know?”
When the average per MW cost for small hydropower
project is about 8-9 Crores as per the Union Ministry
of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE), the cost for
Kal Kumbhe project will be a minimum of Rs 25
Crores /MW, mostly more than that.
Dams, Rivers & People February-March, 2016
sitive Area and an Elephant Corridor. Effectively, this
means much more than 700 ha of land to generate only
60 MW of power and 11.66 ha of forest for 1 MW of power!
For 1 MW power generated by Solar, only about 2 ha
land is needed. Even if
we do not include the
value of forests, this
project is entirely
Apart from Environ-
mental Impacts and vio-
lations, none of the large
dam projects in Konkan
can claim satisfactory
rehabilitation of Project
Affected People before
starting dam work, as is
mandatory. Riverside
lands which are richly
irrigated and covered with plantations are being sub-
merged under these projects, which remain incomplete
and do not deliver a fraction of benefits promised. The
case of Jamada Medium Irrigation Project in Rajapur
Taluka of Ratnagiri is stark in this regard. No Irriga-
tion potential has been created for Jamada Dam in 10
years since the work started. More than 3000 people
have been affected. Even joint surveys of their lands
have not been completed till dated. Of the 733 ha re-
quired for the project, only 44 ha have been acquired so
far[xii] but expenditure is already more than Rs 300
Crores! Same is the case with Arjuna, Devghar and
Gadnadi Medium Projects (Refer to Annex 1).
What Experts and Stakeholders Say
When I discussed Large Dams in Konkan with water
experts and people working in the region, their verdict
seems clear.
Satish Bhingare, Former Director General WALMI
Aurangabad, Government of Maharashtra states that
large dams in Konkan;
constructed for irriga-
tion; are a big mess and
a symbol of not only
monetary, but Intellec-
tual Corruption.
He says, “Irrigation in
Konkan is different from
the rest of the state. Horticultural crops, the mainstay
of Konkan agro-economy do not grow on extensive plains,
but on hills where the exercise of irrigation through ex-
tensive canal network has been a catastrophe. They are
irrigated by groundwater and hill streams (Parhye or
Pat in Marathi). Resultantly, the region does not have
an irrigation culture like say Western Maharashtra. Lat-
eritic, light soil cannot provide an ambiance conducive
to operating typical open canal network on the other
hand; water logging causes massive crop losses like Kal
Amba Irrigation Project in Mangaon. I doubt if Large
dams in Konkan are pro-
viding even as much ir-
rigation as the area they
submerge. Small
projects built at 100%
dependability backed by
a closed conduit distri-
bution network suits the
region the best. KIDC
needs to look back and
think about the Lessons
Learned from the past.
Unfortunately, such re-
connaissance rarely
Surendra Thakurdesai is a Professor of Geology in
Gogate Jogalekar College of Ratnagiri and is also a
hands-on farmer. He has spearheaded a river rejuvena-
tion program for Golap River in Ratnagiri. Prof
Thakurdesai says: “The topography and geology of
Konkan makes large dams unviable. Canals networks
are very costly due to undulating terrain and porous
basalt. We need to accept the productivity limitations of
the lateritic, light soil of Konkan. There is no logic be-
hind costly projects in such a situation. On the other
hand, whatever limited fertile land that Konkan has in
its narrow valleys, is being submerged under the dams.
There is not a single Large Project, or even a Medium
project, that is serving the people of Konkan to a signifi-
cant extent.”
“Unlike rest of Maharashtra, agriculture in Konkan is
dispersed and on hills. This region cannot be serviced
by large dams and canal network. Groundwater, hills
streams and rivulets are the lifelines of farmers here
and they need to be rejuvenated.”
“The large dams ongoing
in Konkan are not for us.
They are for the contrac-
tors and engineers and
lobbies who can afford to
buy thousands of acres
of land in backwaters of
dams like Tillari.”
Dr. Prasad Deodhar who leads an Organisation called
Bhagirath in Sindhudurg, amidst all the dam develop-
ment is also clear, “Konkan needs irrigation no doubt
but large projects are not viable for this region. Minor
irrigation tanks, small scale structures and groundwa-
ter hold a great promise in irrigating hinterlands and
are already doing so.”
“I doubt if Large dams in Konkan are providing even
as much irrigation as the area they submerge. Small
projects built at 100% dependability backed by a
closed conduit distribution network suits the region
the best. KIDC needs to look back and think about
the Lessons Learned from the past. Unfortunately,
such reconnaissance rarely happens.”
- Satish Bhingare, Former Director General WALMI
Aurangabad, Government of Maharashtra
“The large dams ongoing in Konkan are not for us.
They are for the contractors and engineers and lob-
bies who can afford to buy thousands of acres of land
in backwaters of dams like Tillari.”
Dams, Rivers & People February-March, 2016
Dr. Shrirang Kardekar, Balasaheb Sawant Konkan
Krishi Vidyapeeth, an agricultural scientist who has also
worked extensively on Konkan’s crops as well as water
problems states that large projects are simply not meant
for Konkan. He has been trying to get this across to the
government for many years. “The undulating geogra-
phy, small plains which
immediately run into
Western Ghat foothill
ranges mean that dams
in Konkan have to be
very tall and hence very
costly. This also makes
canals difficult to con-
struct. The few canal
networks we have are
broken and leaking. In
rainy season due to very
heavy rainfall, they get
clogged with sand. Horticulture in Konkan is practiced
on hill slopes and there is no way a canal can reach a
mango or cashewnut tree on a hill. What can help are
dispersed tanks built on plateaus which can give water
to plantations through drip. KT weirs across rivers and
smaller dams can help riverside cultivation.”
“See, the problem is Engineers trained in Western
Maharashtra come to Konkan and want to implement
projects which worked on a flat plateau here in our hills
and narrow valleys. This one-size fits-all attitude is a
big problem. They put forth impractical solutions and
then blame farmers for not
lifting water.”
Sanjeev Anerao, an envi-
ronmentalist and planta-
tion owner says that there
are hardly any dams
which have canal net-
works. “Engineers build
dams, but do not even ac-
quire land for canals. We
have several dams without
distribution systems and
only irrigation is some
backwater lifting. How can tax payer money be spent
for this? The river was irrigating much more land than
this! On the other hand, minor projects which are actu-
ally helping farmers are in a state of disrepair. We need
to rejuvenate these than go after huge projects like
GadNadi which go on and on.”
Executive Director, Konkan Irrigation Develop-
ment Corporation
When I discussed the impasse of non-performing dams
with KIDC Executive Director, his approach was posi-
tive but he did not have substantial answers to the is-
sues plaguing the region. He talked about the inclusion
of private forests in “Forest Lands” requiring clearance
and adding to delay, paucity of funds, protests by PAPs
as some of the hurdles behind slow development of dams
in the region. This does not answer why the projects
were started before mandatory Clearances and Reha-
bilitation in the first
He noted “Dams in
Konkan are very costly.
In the amount it takes to
build a medium project
on the plateau, we can
hardly build a minor
project in Konkan.” He
agreed that thin spread-
ing of meager funds was
one of the reasons be-
hind incomplete projects and asserted that, “This year
funds will only be spent on completing canal and distri-
bution networks of projects like Korle Satandi, Devghar
and Arjuna.” This is a welcome step.
When I enquired about the best performing Irrigation
project in KIDC, he said that there are several projects
near Mumbai (Surya, Bhatsa, etc) which were meant to
be Irrigation Projects, but are now mostly supplying
drinking water to Mumbai, which perform very well.
“But what about Irrigation Projects?” I ask. There is no
When asked about
non performance of
hydropower projects
like Kal Kumbhe, the
ED agreed that they
are extremely costly,
but that “Scrapping
them now would be a
great loss to the na-
tion”. This is a reflec-
tion of the ideological
support to large dams
and has been causing
immense harm to overall development.
Way Ahead
Dhamapur Dam, a small earthen dam in Sindhudurg,
was built in the 1600’s. It still irrigates over 100 ha of
land, while fulfilling drinking water supply needs of the
entire Malvan city. There are several temple tanks in
Konkan which store rain water in the monsoon and pro-
vide irrigation and drinking water in summer. In
Ratnagiri, small mountain streams are channelized to
various plantations and irrigate the region throughout
the year, while helping groundwater recharge.
“See, the problem is Engineers trained in Western
Maharashtra come to Konkan and want to imple-
ment projects which worked on a flat plateau here in
our hills and narrow valleys. This one-size fits-all
attitude is a big problem. They put forth impractical
solutions and then blame farmers for not lifting wa-
When I enquired about the best performing Irriga-
tion project in KIDC, he said that there are several
projects near Mumbai (Surya, Bhatsa, etc) which were
meant to be Irrigation Projects, but are now mostly
supplying drinking water to Mumbai, which perform
very well. “But what about Irrigation Projects?” I ask.
There is no answer.
Dams, Rivers & People February-March, 2016
The experts and stakeholders I talked with were unani-
mous in their opinion that Minor projects and ground-
water have fared better in meeting irrigation needs of
the farmers. They suggest a more nuanced understand-
ing of irrigation needs of Konkan before launching big
budget projects.
Suggestions include:
Assessment of irrigation needs of farming specific to
Konkan, based on the existing cropping pattern and
actual needs of farmers.
Regular maintenance of Minor Irrigation Projects and
their distribution systems
Rejuvenation of Temple Tanks as a source of drink-
ing water and irrigation
Desilting rivers, temple tanks and MI Tanks regu-
larly. Desilting has played an important role in Golap
River rejuvenation and has helped irrigation.[xiii]
Protection of Forests
in catchments and
hillsides to maintain
water levels in
streams and wells
Recharging dug wells
by rainwater
Creating small stor-
ages on plateaus
(Sadaa in Marathi) to
irrigate plantations
and fields by drip and gravity, where needed
Small ferro-cement rainwater harvesting tanks on
plateaus and[xiv] villages (Jalvardhini in
Sindhudurg) which help significantly in times of need
Building KT Weirs on large rivers which can store
water for a short duration and it can be lifted for
Converting open canals into closed conduits/under-
ground pipelines. This was tried in a project in
Ratnagiri in 1985-86 and has been successful to a
large extent.
Not allowing Thermal Power Plants/ Chemical in-
dustries/ Mining industry to exploit rivers and
groundwater or pollute these sources.
Maharashtra Government’s Flagship Program
Jalyukta Shivar holds great promise for this region.
Konkan holds answers to most of its water questions.
In such a scenario, large dams are being pushed
through by ideological/policy bias, following a uni-
form development model which does not respect re-
gional difference and strengths, disregarding the ecol-
ogy and people of the region.
Rampant corruption surrounding dams in Konkan
raises big questions about the rationale behind their
planning in the first place.
Due to their scope, reports from agencies like CAG or
Anti Corruption Bureau cannot conclude about desir-
ability, optimality, necessity or viability for large dams
in a particular region. (In fact there is no official agency
taking an objective view of these questions!) More im-
portant is to look at the holistic viability of projects in
Konkan, draw lessons from past mistakes, make neces-
sary course correction, which includes scrapping
unviable dam projects like Talamba, Jamada, Virdi, Kal
Kumbhe etc.
Like Prof. Thakurdesai says, large dams in Konkan seem
to planned more for the welfare of contractors, politi-
cians, engineers, bureaucrats, consultants and planta-
tion mafia than the Konkani people.
Is it not time to look beyond financial corruption and raise
questions about basic viability of large dams in biodiversity
rich Konkan? Is it not
wise to scrap the projects
which are stuck once and
for all, rather than limp-
ing on with them and
spending additional
crores? Due to invest-
ment and resources
locked up in large dams,
appropriate solutions are
being neglected. A region
which gets more than
3000 mm rainfall has several small and beautiful solu-
tions up its sleeves, if only we are ready to see.
Parineeta Dandekar, SANDRP,
NOTE: For full PDF file containing this analysis, see:
Like Prof. Thakurdesai says, large dams in Konkan
seem to planned more for the welfare of contractors,
politicians, engineers, bureaucrats, consultants and
plantation mafia than the Konkani people.
Is it not time to look beyond financial corruption and
raise questions about basic viability of large dams in
biodiversity rich Konkan?
Incomplete Kal Kumbhe Hydropower Project, staled for more
than two years due to lack of funds, Forest Clearance and
rehabilitation issues. Photo by author
Dams, Rivers & People February-March, 2016
Unabated Riverbed Mining in Saharanpur,
UP, Puts Delhi’s Water Supply under Threat
Delhi water supply from Yamuna River through
Munak canal has been severely impacted by Jat
quota stir as the violent mob has damaged the Munak
canal. As a result thousands of Delhiites are facing
great difficulty in securing supply of potable water.
The repairing of the canal may take about a month
to restore the water supply. Adding to Delhiites mis-
ery, effluents discharged in Yamuna by industries up-
stream in Haryana has forced shutting down of two
water treatment plants.
Delhi water supply has become so vulnerable to cau-
salities that experts have been rightly suggesting de-
velopment of own water resources in terms of wetland
protection, rain water harvesting etc. to deal with such
Apart from these two reasons there a third bigger and
still not known reason ignoring which may cause sever-
est of water crisis in national capital and that is ram-
pant mining of riverbed material around Hathini Kund
Barrage (HKB). SANDRP in this blog try to highlight
how the uncontrolled mining around HKB is endanger-
ing the structure which in turn will surely lead to sus-
pense of Delhi water supply for many months.
Hathini Kund Barrage (HKB) located in Yamuna Nagar,
Haryana (HR) on River Yamuna is primary source of
Delhi’s potable water. The barrage also serves as State
boundary between HR and Uttar Pradesh (UP) with
River Yamuna continue separating the two States for
next 200 KM before reaching the capital city.
The adjoining districts to HKB namely Yamuna Nagar
in HR and Saharanpur in UP are still infested with un-
authorized removal of minerals despite National Green
Tribunal ban on such mining. Local people have been
reporting of non-stop riverbed material (sand and stone)
excavation in the region which is further confirmed by
a news reports (e.g. The Times of India, 10 of Feb. 2016).
According to the news report a local politician has formed
111 fake companies and carries mining illegally worth
Rs 6-7 crores on a daily basis. Around 50 villages have
been reported to be adversely affected by widespread
mining and stone crushing activity in the area.
In previous decade, Yamuna Nagar district had turned
into a massive stone crusher zone. Miners have dug deep
large chunk of farmlands adjoining to River Yamuna in
the district. The huge abandoned mine pits now filled
with ground water are still visible there (See Google Im-
ages) without any post mining restoration. Local ecology
and ground water table was hit severely by unsustain-
able quarrying before Supreme Court on India in Feb.
2012 put a ban on mining in country without environ-
ment clearances. Nevertheless local people still find no
let up in mining activities and report that operators were
taking advantage of the fact that the river area was be-
ing shared by two districts belonging to different states
which was difficult to demarcate due to annual flood.
Taking cognizance of the issue the National Green Tri-
bunal (NGT) on 18 Feb.2016 has imposed ban on illegal
sand mining and extraction of minor minerals from
Yamuna River in Yamuna Nagar and Saharanpur dis-
tricts for next 45 days. On Saharanpur side the green
court has put a fine of 50 crore on five lease holders for
carrying out excessive unauthorised mining resulting
in damage and degradation of riverbed whereas in
Yamuna Nagar 69 stone crusher operators have in affi-
davit accepted not to be in operation during the ban
period. Constituting a high powered committee under
Union Environment Ministry the tribunal has asked d
both State Govt (HR & UP) to submit a complete and
comprehensive mining plan to it. The court has also
made it clear that violators of the ban would be liable to
pay Rs 5 lakhs as environmental compensation.
The decision was taken on a plea filed by activists
Gurpreet Singh Bagga and Jai Singh who had moved
the NGT against rampant illegal mining of minor min-
erals in Saharanpur and Yamuna riverbed. However it
seems that neither petitioner nor the NGT have showed
concerns towards the safety of HKB in the case. Sec-
ondly, ban on sand mining in past by respective Courts
have also proved ineffective as States of HR & UP have
failed to implement it in right spirit.
Indiscriminate Yamuna riverbed quarrying from
Saharanpur side also reportedly led to collapse of fa-
mous Tajewala barrage during 2010 flood. The British
Dams, Rivers & People February-March, 2016
era barrage was located about 5 km downstream HKB,
as can be seen in the google image. It was seen as a
heritage site even after becoming non-functioning in
2000 when its function of diverting water to Western
and Eastern Yamuna canals were taken over by HKB.
Now only ruin of the celebrated structure is standing,
also as testimony to the indiscriminate and destructive
mining (See Google Images).
As obvious from above report unauthorised stone and
sand extraction from Yamuna riverbed is going on in
Saharanpur district. The following Google images pre-
cisely post 2010 also shows large scale riverbed mining
activities happening barely 200 meters downstream
HKB which may lead to weakening of the foundation of
the HKB. Such is the gravity of the issue that many
locals have started fearing for HKB safety and guessing
that the barrage too is destined to meet Tajewala like
fate if mining goes on unabated.
Under the circumstances the collapse of HKB could hap-
pen in the event of big floods in future which periodi-
cally happen in Yamuna. In case the barrage is dam-
aged, not only there will be massive destruction in the
immediate downstream, here would be severe water cri-
sis in Delhi as the capital procures large part of its total
water demand from the barrage via Western Yamuna
Canal. In addition, the areas of Haryana and Uttar
Pradesh served by the Western and Eastern Yamuna
canals respectively will also be badly hit.
It is urgent and imperative for the HR, UP, Delhi State
Governments as well Union Ministry of Environment,
Forests and Climate Change, Union Ministry of Water
Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation,
Central Water Commission and Upper Yamuna River
Board to take urgent and immediate cognizance of the
issue and check unauthorized riverbed mining in the
vicinity of HKB. The sooner this is done, the better.
Bhim Singh Rawat ( SANDRP
Dams, Rivers & People February-March, 2016
Unsustainable sand mining from riverbeds can have
huge social, environmental, geomorphic and disastrous
impacts for rivers. In this three part report, SANDRP is
trying to provide a picture of what happened on this
issue in 2015 in India. This first part looks into 2015
putting together instances of illegal sand mining that
occurred throughout the year different Indian States.
The successive blogs would make an attempt to cover
all governmental measures and judicial interventions
taken in 2015 to reign in uncontrolled extraction of this
possibly most consumed natural resource after air and
Illegal mining of sand is profoundly linked to growth in
construction industry that have accelerated in recent
decades. Since then demand for this mineral is only go-
ing up. Today possibly there is not a single river in the
country that is not ruined by sand mining. As a result,
while the state of rivers has gone worse, the number of
violent instances around illegal sand mining is on the
Like the previous year, 2015 only saw an escalation in
numbers of violent clashes between mining operators
and law enforcing agencies. A State wise description of
some of the illegal sand mining happenings that took
place in 2015 is given here.
Madhya Pradesh The State has become known for its
mining-related incidents, which include the murder of
honest police officials in recent times. One of the first
such incident this year was registered in April 2015 when
a truck carrying illegally mined sand mowed down
Dharmendra Chouhan a 40 years old police constable
posted at Noorabad police station in Morena district.
Earlier in March 2012 an IPS Officer Narendra Kumar
was also crushed to death by sand mafia in same dis-
trict while he was conducting a raid on illegal sand min-
ing. On 4 June, 2015, a woman inspector Reena Pathak
including 8 home guard jawans were attacked by sand
mafia when they were inspecting illegal excavation of
sand from Nevaj river near Banka Khedi village
River Sand Mining in India in 2015
in Shajapur and Ratlam districts. Sand smugglers had
reportedly also attacked three ‘patwaris’ (revenue offi-
cials) a night before near village Nerukhedi. The offi-
cials were trying to stop illegal mining of sand from
Chambal River. In the same month, in most tragic inci-
dent body of Sandeep Kothari, a Madhya Pradesh based
journalist was found burnt to death in Nagpur
Maharashtra (MH). The journalist used to write against
illegal sand mining activities frequently and ultimate
had to pay the price with his life. In August 2015, wild-
life experts opposed MP Govt. move to allow sand in
Chambal Ghariyal sanctuaries. Rampant Sand mining
in Chambal sanctuary had adversely affected the habi-
tat of gharials. Experts say that miners ran mining ve-
hicles over the unhatched eggs of Ghariyal and Turtles
laid in sandy banks.
The case of Narmada valley was even more tragic where
State Govt. in open violation of norms was illegally al-
lowing mining in Sardar Sarovar Project (SSP) affected
area which was under Narmada Valley Development
Authority a State agency. According news reports cre-
ation of dams on River Narmada was actually facilitat-
ing the illegal sand mining activity. The situation was
so bad that villagers were unable in accessing the river
area. Even authorized miners were found breaking stipu-
lated norms in Badgaon and Saatdev villages in Sehore
district, the native place of Chief Minister (CM) Shivraj
Singh Chouhan. Remarkably in 2013 Pahanbarri a vil-
lage in Hoshangabad was totally destroyed by flood due
to excessive illegal sand mining. In December 2015,
Namarda Bachao Andolan (NBA) activists alleged that
Govt. has allowed mining in 5 lakh hectares which it
was supposed to protect. They alleged that mining is
also allowed in Narmada catchment area which needs
to be protected for longer life of the reservoirs.
Dams, Rivers & People February-March, 2016
Uttarakhand (UK) Mining operators have shown ut-
ter disregard even to Ganga the national river of India
in the State. In April 2015 there were reports of illegal
sand mining activities going on unabated at Haridwar
in violation of National Green Tribunal (NGT) orders.
Earlier Union Ministry of Environment, Forests & Cli-
mate Change (MoEFCC) has also found illegal mining
of sand, quaterz boulders going on at massive level in
Haridwar district. NDTV, a leading media house claimed
that corruption of crores of rupees was taking place in
mining of river. Matri Sadan’s questions under the Right
to Information (RTI) Act also revealed that there were
no document to show that who were given mining con-
tract worth Rs. 200 crore and where all the mineral had
gone. In May 2015, Jai Prakash Badoni, an activist ap-
proached High Court (HC) UK alleging that behind the
pretext of Disaster Management Act 2005 which allows
removal of accumulated river bed material to prevent
flooding, sand mining is rampant at different sites in
Haridwar. The Central Govt. in September 2015 gave
in-principle nod to quarrying in Ganga and eight of its
tributaries in the state after repeated request from UK
Earlier in 2011, the UK Govt. had enforced a ban on
sand mining in Haridwar, calling it a sacred region.
Environmentalists have also raised concerns over un-
abated quarrying leading to extinction of aquatic eco-
system. According reports there were at least 60 huge
stone crushers active in the area which procured a con-
stant supply of stones from Ganga River. In 2015 Swami
Shivanand initiated fast unto death twice against the
illegal mining in Ganga. Remarkably in June 2011,
Swami Nigmanand on fast for 72 days to highlight ille-
gal mining was allegedly poisoned to death in the same
Uttar Pradesh (UP) The illegal mining became worse
once River Ganga entered Bijnor in UP. In July 2015 a
dozen villages held Panchayat to stop sand mining in
the districts. Villagers complained that due to mining
River Ganga was changing its course and moving to-
wards the inhabited areas. Surprisingly police lodged
FIR against eight villagers for pelting stones at the
contractor’s machines. Later a farmers’ body also alleged
that cops were arresting innocent farmers instead of
sand mafia. In October 2015 there were many reports
of rampant illegal sand extraction at Narora, Ahar, Ram
and Karanvas Ghat in Bijnor district now being carried
out through nights. Illegal sand mining was happening
at such a big scale that a delegation led by Bijnor Lok
Sabha member requested Union Minister of Water Re-
sources, Ganga Rejuvenation and River Development
Uma Bharti for immediate intervention in the matter.
Following this the minister wrote to MoEF&CC pitch-
ing for a joint probe to inquire into unauthorized min-
ing leading to change in river hydrology. In August 2015
a Comptroller & Auditro General (CAG) report also
found illegal mining of minerals including sand to be
going on in UP in violation of mining plan and Environ-
ment Act.
National Capital Regions (NCR) Sand mining also
happened on massive scale in Greater Noida, Noida (UP)
and Faridabad, Palwal in Haryana (HR). In October
2015 the operators even built a bridge on River Yamuna
as a link between Noida and Faridabad to facilitate sand
mining. Reportedly it was the third bridge being built
in the area to mine sand from the Noida floodplains and
transport it to HR. In September 2015 on a brief visit to
area SANDRP team found several patches of Yamuna
riverbed ravaged by sand extraction carried out during
nights. Villagers also reported that the operators were
powerful and enjoyed full political support. Remarkably
in July 2013 Durga Shakti Nagpal an Indian Adminis-
trative Service (IAS) official had conducted several raids
on such operators. The officer was ultimately suspended
and transferred. Barely three days after her transfer,
52 year old Pale Ram Chauhan, a vocal activist working
against illegal mining was allegedly shot dead in Raipur
village in Noida by the sand mafia. In another case, a
60 year old farmer Vijay Pal Nagar of Noida was at-
tacked twice by the mafia for lodging complains against
it. In the same year, a MoEF& CC team having visited
the area, reported that illegal mining continued dis-
cretely in Greater Noida. The report also mentioned that
the mafia had even created deep pools in riverbed and
diverted Yamuna River for the smooth extraction of sand.
The operators grew so fearless that it even did not re-
frain from attacking Govt. officials. In one such inci-
dent sand mafia went on to attack a police team near
Rajpur Phulera village in Faridabad (HR) last year. The
incident took place while the police team was on carry-
ing out inspection against illegal sand mining in the area.
Five police men including one woman were injured in
the attack.
Mining ravaged river bed in NCR
Dams, Rivers & People February-March, 2016
Haryana Despite a ban illegal sand mining was wide-
spread in Yamuna river through Yamuna Nagar, Karnal,
Panipat and Sonipat districts HR. Similarly adjoining
districts of UP like Saharanpur, Muzzafar Nagar, Shamli
and Baghpat were also found involved in mining sand
illegally. Deeply affected Karnal villagers formed a vigi-
lant team to protect 52 acres of Panchayat land from
illegal sand mining after they found local police to be
Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) Even the hilly states were
found affected by illegal sand mining. Illegal sand min-
ing in Tawi River had caused looses of crores of rupees
to State Govt. The report further mention that the min-
ing was happening right under the nose of the Govt.
and concerned agency was taking no action against it.
Punjab The mafia was so restless in the State that it
started digging common village ponds when Sutlej was
in flood in monsoon. They even began
persuading farmers to allow them to
dig sand from their lands way beyond
the permissible limit of 4 ft.
Rajasthan In December 2015 Police
team from Alwar found illegal mining
taking place in Kundali River. The po-
lice could arrest only a few while many
other involved in the activity managed
to flee the spot.
Chhattisgarh In March 2015 a news
report mentioned of rampant illegal
mining on Panchayat land in
Gariyaband district in Chhattisgarh.
Rajim Nagar villagers reported that
mafia was active during nights for the
last six months and administration
took no action despite several com-
Maharashtra (MH) The situation
was no better in Maharashtra where sand mafia blew
away reservoir weir of the Nira river using explosives
in May 2015. The incident occurred during wee hours in
Baramati taluka’s Kambleshwar. Locals reported of simi-
lar attempt made by mafia about eight days before the
incident. In another incident the mafia tries to mow
down revenue officials by running over a tractor on them
when they attempted to intercept it at Mankeshwar vil-
lage in the east MH district during night.
Karnataka The death of DK Ravi, an IAS officer on
March 16, 2015 was allegedly linked to his efforts to
restrict illegal sand mining in the state. The 2009 batch
officer was famous for his strong stand against the ille-
gal sand and land mafia. A July 2015 report also high-
lighted that the State mined 4 lakh tonnes of sand in
just three months from March to June 2015 from river-
beds within the Coastal Regulation Zone in Dakshina
Kannada. The same amount of sand earlier was ex-
tracted in 11 months. The report also mentioned that
the sand was also being illegally transported to neigh-
boring Kerala where sand extraction was banned.
Kerala Despite a ban by National Green Tribunal, ille-
gal mining of sand was reportedly happening at huge
scale in Kerala. The report further said that all the 44
rivers were badly affected by mining menace in the State.
Locals alleged that the police was letting the miners scot
free after taking bribes.
Andhra Pradesh D Vanjakshi, a lady Tehsildar of
Musunuru was assaulted by Prabhakara Rao, the area
MLA for objecting to illegal sand mining activity In July
2015. One more report in August 2015 reported that
excess excavation of sand was posing a threat to under-
construction bridge on the Nagavali river.
Telangana T Harish Rao, mining minister in March
2015 while replying to a question in State Assembly ac-
cepted that large scale illegal sand mining in Godavari,
Majeera and Maneru rivers was leading to continual
decline of ground water table in Telangana.
Tamil Nadu A report in July 2015 warned that sand
mining had become a threat to fish species in Western
Thus the Year 2015 saw no respite in the cases of illegal
sand mining activity. The operators continued to bra-
zenly rob the rivers of essential ingredient and attacked
the Govt. officials striking terror in the heart of com-
mon man.
Bhim Singh Rawat,
The official addressing media after the attack
Dams, Rivers & People February-March, 2016
In this second part SANDRP presents detail of some of
the significant steps taken by Central and various State
Governments (Govt.) to control and regulate unsustain-
able excavation of riverbed sand mining.
Central Govt
Introduction of “sustainable sand mining policy” draft
notification by Ministry of Environment Forest & Cli-
mate Change (MoEF&CC) was the most significant de-
velopment pertaining to sand mining in 2015. The draft
notification was uploaded on MoEF&CC website in Sep-
tember 2015 seeking comments from all concerned. The
draft, shockingly envisioned self regulation of environ-
mental norms by miners. It also acknowledged that sand
mining was happening in unsustainable manner and
revealed that Govt. lacked reliable data on amount of
sand being mined in different rivers in the country. Ac-
cepting that sand was essential for the health of Rivers,
Prakash Javedkar, Minister, MoEF&CC stated “Sand
is for river, what RBC is for blood”. According to minis-
ter the objective of notification was to strike a balance
between increasing demand of sand and sustainable
sand mining practices which will help in achieving the
goal of sustainable development.
Earlier in January 2015 too, meeting on Mines and Min-
erals (Development & Regulation) (MMDR) Amendment
Ordinance 2015 was held in New Delhi. The objective of
the meeting was to simplify mining procedure. The
amendment envisaged self-certification of environmen-
tal norms by the miners. It also proposed penal provi-
sions up to Rs 5 lakh rupees and imprisonment up to 5
years for checking illegal mining. Earlier in the same
month the Central Govt. planned to amend of MMDR
Act to include provisions of allowing transfer of captive
mines granted through procedures other than auction.
In March 2015 MoEF&CC team conducted a field in-
spection of Haridwar and reported of large scale illegal
mining of sand and stones going on in Ganga River.
In July 2015 Central Govt. planned to conduct external
audit for all uninspected mines to check whether com-
panies are adhering to government-approved mining
plans or not. According to news report Govt. planned to
carry such third party audits at least once every year
for each mine. Later in August 2015 MoEF&CC an-
nounced to adopt a different sand mining policy to pre-
vent flooding of forest areas. The Environment Minis-
ter stated that due to no mining in forest areas, river
bed level had swollen leading to frequent flooding of for-
est area.
In October 2015 taking a note of unauthorised sand
mining in Ganga, Uma Bharati Ministry of Water Re-
sources, Rivers Development & Ganga Rejuvenation
wrote a letter to Prakash Javadekar asking him to send
a joint team of her Ministry and Environment Ministry
to inquire into the matter. One more report in same
month stated that a fully prepared River Regulation
Zone draft which can effectively control illegal removal
of sand was waiting clearances for the last 13 years.
In December 2015, replying to a question in Rajya Sabha
Prakash Javedkar, Minister MoEF&CC informed that
sand as a minor mineral came under State Govts. juris-
diction and regulation of grants to mining leases and
abatement of illegal sand mining was largely vested with
them. He also informed that no data was maintained
separately for sand mining. The Minister stated that
Indian Bureau of Mines reports on the incidents of ille-
gal mining. The statement made by the minster included
year-wise cases of illegal sand mining reported in last 4
years in three States, see table below.
MoEF January 2016 order On January 21, 2016, a
PIB press release titled “‘Decentralization of Environ-
mental Clearance for Sustainable sand Mining and Min-
ing of Minor Minerals Introduced’: Javadekar” an-
nounced new regulations. This announcement is seri-
ously probelmatic, some reasons are listed here:
The decentralisation of clearance process to district
level is good idea, but the inclusion of three district
government officers of the four members of Dist EIA
Authority is not good, they all are govt servants, likely
River Sand Mining in India in 2015 – II – Government acts
of omissions and commissions
1. Uttar Pradesh 3266 6777 10402 2020 0 0 0 7151.75
2. Rajasthan 2861 2953 2945 687 2183 52 3631 3979.294
3. Jharkhand 663 901 1162 441 1656 177 1061 1962.37
No. States Illegal mining cases Action taken by the State Governments
(upto June
No of
No of Court
case filed
Fine realized
by State Govt.
(Rs lakh)
Dams, Rivers & People February-March, 2016
to toe govt line with little independence. Similarly
DEAC (Dist Expert Appraisal Committee) is packed
with govt servants, in all these committees at least
50% members has to be from outside the govt, and
people who have proven independent credentials.
There are state govt regulations on sand mining, it
is not clear which one will prevail. For example: see:
Statements like “Shri Prakash Javadekar, said that
the Ministry has taken several policy initiatives and
enacted environmental and pollution control legisla-
tions to prevent indiscriminate exploitation of natu-
ral resources and to promote integration of environ-
mental concerns in developmental projects.” are base-
less, the MoEF has been more anti environment than
even water resource ministry recently. Its track
record on sand mining and rivers related environ-
mental issues is very poor.
There seems to be too much faith in technology and
IT with very little in the people at the grass roots
level. In issues like sand mining, there has to be much
greater role of the local communities in decision mak-
ing and also monitor-
ing and compliance.
There is any atten-
tion to the impacts of
unsustainble mining
and how to ensure
credible impact as-
sessment and capac-
ity to assess unsus-
tainable mining and saying no in such cases.
The excluded activities include some that certainly
require impact assessment. e.g. desilting of dams.
State Govt.
Kerala bans mining in rivers The State Govt. in June
2015 decided to impose a total ban on sand mining from
six rivers and to allow restricted sand extraction in five
other rivers for the next three years. The government’s
decision was based on the report of river bank mapping
and sand auditing conducted as per rules stipulated in
the Kerala River bank protection and regulation of re-
moval of sand rules. This seems like a positive develop-
ment for rivers, not seen in any other state in India.
Gujarat In March 2015 State Govt. announced amend-
ment in sand mining rules to introduce measures for
violations. The govt. also planned for prohibiting sand
mining below the water level in a riverbed, allowing
mining only during day time, ensuring protection to river
course including crops on river banks, and compulsory
submission of environment management plan while bid-
ding for the mining lease. The State imposed a ban on
inter-state movement of sand and since the last two
years the state has sold sand largely through online
auctions. This happened in response to a PIL filed by
Zarpara (Kutch district) villagers protesting against
mining activity in a nearby riverbed.
Madhya Pradesh (MP) In March 2015, the State Govt.
with an object to stabilise sand prices and bring trans-
parency formed a new sand-mining policy. Suggesting
State Mining Corporation to identify new areas for sand
mining, it allowed Govt. to conduct sand mining in all
tehsils of the 18 districts. It also scaled down the secu-
rity money for bidders from 25% to 10% making mining
much easier and lucrative. Activists alleged that that
the new policy would spell disaster for the State’s envi-
ronment and livelihoods of lakhs of people. Earlier in
2013, the Govt. amended the Minor Minerals Rules,
1996, facilitating formation of district-level environmen-
tal committees for granting environmental clearances
to mining projects. This move rendered the State Envi-
ronment Impact Assessment Authority (SEIAA) formed
under MoEF&CC redudant as far as sand mining
projects are concerned in Madhya Pradesh. In June 2015,
District Administration of Chhatarpur proposed fine of
Rs 9 cr against illegal re-
moval of sand. The offi-
cial website of Mineral
Resources Department,
MP Govt. revealed that
till 02 February 2016
the State had filed 418
(against illegal mining),
9997 (llegal transporta-
tion) and 448 (illegal storage) related to minerals in MP.
Maharashtra (MH) In Jan 2015 State Govt scarped
river regulation policy, pandering to industry at the cost
of rivers and people, as SANDRP wrote. The State Govt.
felt that the policy was rigid and had led to stalling of
industrial projects worth Rs 7000 crore. Sadly MH was
the first state to enact comprehensive river regulation
policy after prolonged research and consultation with
leading experts.
In June 2015 the State Govt. brought illegal sand min-
ing activity under the Maharashtra Prevention of Dan-
gerous Activities (MPDA) Act, 1981 which enabled po-
lice to make preventive arrests of repeat offenders and
detain culprits for up to a year. Earlier to this in May
2015 Govt. lifted sand mining ban on coastal districts of
Sindhudurg, Ratnagiri, Raigad and Thane after prom-
ising National Green Tribunal (NGT) adherence to pre-
cautions to maintain the ecological balance. NGT had
imposed the ban in 2014 on coastal regions of many
states, including MH noting that sand mining in coastal
areas and of river and creek beds was harming the en-
The inclusion of 3 district govt officers of the 4 mem-
bers of Dist EIA Authority is not good, being govt ser-
vants, they are likely to toe govt line. Similarly DEAC
is packed with govt servants, in all these committees
at least 50% members has to be from outside the govt.
Dams, Rivers & People February-March, 2016
vironment. In 2010, 2011, 2014 too MH Govt. had re-
voked ban on sand mining in State imposed by courts in
absence of comprehensive sand mining policy.
Maharashtra has framed rules for auctioning of sand
mined from river beds.
Uttarakhand (UK) The new mining policy of UK noti-
fied in July 2015 has divided mining areas in Zone A, B
& C (Hills, Middle Hills & Plain respectively). Under
riverbed dredging strategy the policy states about ex-
pert study under Geology and Mining Department for
allowing dredging of riverbed to prevent flooding in resi-
dential areas and farming land located close to rivers.
The policy also states that the muck created by digging
of tanks, tunnel and water channels in Hydro Projects
would be used in construction of projects after approval
for same is granted by District Administration in confi-
dence with Geology and Mining Department. The policy
spells ambiguity on several aspects and nowhere men-
tions environmental precautions to be taken before,
during and after mining, let alone the question of check-
ing illegal mining. This shows the desperation of UK
govt. in facilitating mining activities.
In January 2015 Chief Minister UK Harish Rawat
strongly objected to the term “Mining Mafia” used by
opposition and stated that mining is only anti-dote to
curb rising levels of rivers and save cities located on
river banks from flooding. Then in August 2015 the State
Govt. urged Central Govt. to permit dredging of Ganga
citing flood threats to Haridwar. The Centre gave in
principle approval to the plan next month. The forest
department of UK was learnt to have started Ganga
mining in November 2015.
Haryana (HR) A notification of the Department of
Mines and Geology, HR Govt. dated 19 March 2015 al-
lowed sand extraction from River Yamuna in Sonipat
district. The notification also prescribed several condi-
tions to address environmental concerns and prevent
further degradation of the river. Interestingly it was
Bhartiya Janta Party who had promised to lift the ban
on all forms of mining in the State during 2014 Lok
Sabha elections. According to a news report in June 2015,
MoEF&CC planned to approve environmental clearance
to mining of sand, boulders for 12 mines in Ambala,
Karnal, Panipat, Sonipat, Faridabad, and Palwal.
Notably the Tajewala Barrage (It was not longer in use
as it was replaced by Hathnikund barrage earlier) in
2010 collapsed as a result of unrestricted mining in
Yamuna. Local people had warned, seeing the unre-
stricted sand mining happening downstream of it, that
it could collapse and collapse it did. It was used as pic-
nic spot and a bridge before it collapsed. Now there are
local reports of Hathini Kund Barrage being under
threat from sand mining and could run down in future
if hit by big flood.
Other States
Other States were also learnt to be taking steps to curb
illegal removal of sand, e.g. Punjab Govt. decided to apply
reverse bidding policy for new mines in State to bring down
prices and discourage black marketing of minor minerals.
The State also allowed the Irrigation Department to mine
sand midstream from riverbeds of the Sutlej and Beas by
dredging it at 45 places. The State of Karnataka lodged
more than 30 police complains to combat illegal sand min-
ing. While Andhra Pradesh formed women self-help groups
for excavating sand on which it took a U-turn in Decem-
ber 2015 and decided to go for open auctioning.
The Chhattisgarh govt. revised the basic rules for grant-
ing permission of minor minerals. Himachal Pradesh
govt. constituted flying squads and made it mandatory
to secure prior approval for stocking of minor minerals.
The Jharkhand govt. tried to revise royalty for river-
bed sand to discourage its illegal exploitation. Meghalaya
classified sand as a minor mineral and put its protec-
tion under its forest department.
We see that different State Govts. took some measures
to control illegal sand mining in 2015, but majority of
these steps were forced by respective Courts. The for-
mation of Sustainable Sand Mining Policy by MoEF&CC
was in fact an outcome of NGT decision about which we
will provide details in third and concluding part.
Summing up In 2015, we find unsustianble and unsci-
entific removal of sand from rivers continues to remain
wide spread in India. The operators of mining activities
have grown stronger and have been assaulting anyone
that objects including Govt. agencies. Affected villagers
allege politicians to be either directly involved or sup-
porting the illegal mining indirectly, hence finds it diffi-
cult to raise their voices.
Sand being Minor mineral comes under State Govts.
jurisdiction and Central Govt. does not directly deal with
the mining leases, and abatement of illegal extraction,
though enforcement of environment laws is certainly
under the mandate of Union government. There is no
mechanism developed either by State or Central Govt.
which measures amount of sand being annually mined
in the country, or what is sustainable level at any given
location. State Govts. have failed in restricting the ille-
gal mining. In many cases their policies are found en-
couraging it. Central Govt. also has not developed a re-
liable mechanism resulting in unsustainable mining. It
is mainly the judicial interventions that are trying to
make the govts. correct its mistakes, but we have yet to
see effectiveness of judicial interventions.
The new notification from MoEF in January 2016 in this
regard is seriously problematic and seems like we have
long way to go before our rivers have better future.
Bhim Singh Rawat,
Dams, Rivers & People February-March, 2016
SANDRP in this third and final part provides informa-
tion on significant judicial decisions issued by different
Courts particularly National Green Tribunal (NGT) in
Previous Important Judgements
In 2012 Honourable Supreme Court (SC) of India in its
landmark judgement on 27 February 2012 had directed
all Union Territories and State Governments to seek
Environmental Clearances (EC) from Ministry of Envi-
ronment, Forest & Climate Change (MoEF&CC) for
mining minor minerals even in less than 5 ha or renew
the same after prior ap-
proval from the
MoEF&CC. Before this
order, mining areas of
less than 5 ha were ex-
empted from EC enacted
under Environmental
Impact Assessment
(EIA)-2006. The SC also
observed that quarrying
excessive in-stream
sand causes the degra-
dation of rivers as it low-
ers the riverbed which
may lead to bank erosion and result in destruction of
aquatic and riparian habitats as well.
In 2013, observing continuous violations of environmen-
tal norms in riverbed quarrying, NGT on 05 August 2013
ordered a ban on sand excavation across the country
without seeking prior approval for the same from State
Environment Impact Assessment Authority (SEIAA) and
MoEF&CC. The green court also directed all concerned
departments in States to ensure compliance of its or-
ders. Further in November 2013, bringing sand mining
rule formation under MoEF&CC ambit, NGT stated that
environment is a subject of Central govt. and States can’t
frame sand mining rules separately.
Year 2015 was full of Courts orders particularly by NGT,
issued against unsustainable riverbed quarrying going
on in violations of EC. We give here glimpse of some of
the key judgements.
High Court Orders
In January 2015, while hearing a PIL, Madhaya Pradesh
(MP) HC directed State Govt. to explain steps to curb
sand mining in Chambal River. This was in response to
a PIL that alleged that on a daily basis 400-500 trolleys
and dumpers were illegally excavating sand from
Chambal River banks, severely impacting the aquatic
life in and around the river. In April 2015 the MP HC
River Sand Mining in India in 2015 – III – Judicial actions
gave State Govt three days
to file report on State spon-
sored sand mining activi-
ties on Narmada banks
under Sardar Sarovar
Project (SSP) catchment
area. The court found that
sand was being extracted
from the banks of Narmada River and its tributaries in
various villages of Barwani, Dhar, Khargone and
Alirajpur districts in violation of norms. In May 2015
the HC put a ban on illegal sand mining in SSP catch-
ment area commenting
that State Govt permis-
sion to mining leases on
lands under the
Narmada Valley Devel-
opment Authority was a
“colourable exercise” of
power. Extending the
ban on 12 May the court
directed the MP Govt.,
the State Pollution Con-
trol Board and the
MoEF&CC to file “de-
tailed replies”.
In May 2015 Gujarat HC shut down 67 sand mining
units in Gir Sanctuary. The court observed that the units
were operating without renewing their licences and pos-
ing a threat to the lives of wild animals on the banks of
the Shetrunji River.
In August 2015, finding that most of sand mining sites
across the State were being run by sand mafia the Ma-
dras HC Tamil Nadu (TN) asked the State Govt. why
sand quarrying should not be banned from the Cauvery
NGT Judgements
In April 2015 NGT slammed MP govt. for failing to stop
illegal sand mining in Narmada & Ken Rivers. The green
tribunal also directed the concerned agencies not to re-
lease vehicles involved in mining without its permis-
sion. In November 2015, NGT served notices to SEIAA,
MP for allowing mining in SSP areas seeking explana-
tion on what basis it issued 22 mining leases in alleged
submergence area of SSP. The green court also asked
MP pollution control board to examine complaints of il-
legal mining and file prosecution proceedings. In De-
cember 2015, taking note of Narmada Bachao Andolan
complaint regarding continuing of illegal sand mining
in the submergence area of SSP, NGT appointed a com-
missioner to verify the complain.
In 2012 Honourable Supreme Court of India in its
landmark judgement on 27 February 2012 had di-
rected all Union Territories and State Governments
to seek Environmental Clearances from Ministry of
Environment, Forest & Climate Change (MoEF&CC)
for mining minor minerals even in less than 5 ha or
renew the same after prior approval from the
Dams, Rivers & People February-March, 2016
In July 2015, the green panel stayed sand mining in
MP during monsoons finding it causing significant dam-
age to river ecology. The court also ruled that mining
policy or sand extraction permission of the State should
not be in contradiction to fisheries policy. Then in Sep-
tember 2015 NGT
banned sand mining
during monsoon direct-
ing the MoEF&CC not
to grant environmental
clearance for sand min-
ing in the rivers of north
India during the rainy
season. The ban was
lifted next month.
In October 2015 NGT
Central Bench, Bhopal
fined two construction
companies Vanshika
Construction and Shiva Corporation finding them guilty
of being involved in illegal excavation of sand in
Narmada River near Bhopal. The Bench also asked the
companies to compensate the damages.
In February 2015, hearing a plea filed by Matri Sadan
Haridwar NGT ruled out complete ban on quarrying in
Ganga. The court stated that removal of riverbed mate-
rials should be done scientifically and according estab-
lished practices. Then in April 2015, putting a ban on
illegal riverbed quarrying at Haridwar, NGT ordered
that no unauthorised sand mining should take place in
Ganga without taking environmental clearance. In De-
cember 2015, while issuing judgment on Ganga Rejuve-
nation Phase-I the green court banned mechanized min-
ing of riverbed material.
The court stated that
quarrying of riverbed
materials should be
done in highly restricted
manner and under strict
In February 2015, NGT
imposed a ban on all
mining activities around
Sariska National Park,
Alwar (Rajasthan). The
court observed that 85
mining leases were operating in the area without ob-
taining EC from SEIAA Rajasthan and rebuked the
State Govt. for shutting its eyes on indiscriminate sand
mining. In 2014 also NGT Central Bench had prohib-
ited mining of stone and marbles in Rajasthan. Hearing
the petition further in March 2015, the Bench warned
Haryana & Rajasthan Govts of strict actions against non-
compliance to its sand mining ban order. The green panel
also directed the States to file a comprehensive status
reports on the issue within two weeks.
In March 2015, NGT criticised MoEF&CC for failing to
stop illegal sand mining on Yamuna riverbed in Noida
and Faridabad. In May 2015 NGT directed MoEF&CC
to present expert committee report on the river regula-
tion zone while hearing
a plea against encroach-
ments on the flood
plains of the Yamuna
and Hindon. In Novem-
ber 2015 the court im-
posed a ban on all sort
of sand mining legal or
illegal in Yamuna River.
In September 2015,
while hearing a petition
filed by two villages
complaining of rampant
sand extraction in the middle of Chapora River, Goa,
NGT Pune Bench put a ban on illegal sand mining in
Goa. The green panel also directed to Directorate of
Mines and Geology to conduct strict vigilance to check
sand miming during nights.
In October 2015 NGT halted riverbed mining in Neugal
River near Palampur, Himachal Pradesh asking State
forest and mining departments to submit their report.
In Conclusion Thus we see, Honorable Courts specially
NGT issuing numbers of orders all through 2015, di-
recting Central and States Govts. to check unsustain-
able riverbed mining. It is sad to note that despite so
many orders, MoEF&CC and State Govts failed to ef-
fectively implement the court orders and arrest illegal
extraction of sand from
different rivers. Many
State Govts like
Rajasthan & Kerala are
also finding it difficult to
implement the Sustain-
able Sand Mining Man-
agement Guidelines is-
sued in Aug 2015 by
MoEF&CC. The re-
peated court orders are
clear signs of failure of
the state and central
In 2016, the news of unchecked sand mining and at-
tacks on law enforcers & RTI activists by unauthorized
sand operators have begun filling the news spaces as if
nothing has changed on the ground.
Bhim Singh Rawat
In 2013, observing continuous violations of environ-
mental norms in riverbed quarrying, NGT on 05
August 2013 ordered a ban on sand excavation across
the country without seeking prior approval for the
same from State Environment Impact Assessment
Authority and MoEF&CC. The green court also di-
rected all concerned departments in States to ensure
compliance of its orders.
The repeated court orders all through 2015 are clear
signs of failure of the state and central government
in checking the unsustainable riverbed sand mining.
In 2016, the news of unchecked sand mining and at-
tacks on law enforcers & RTI activists by unautho-
rized sand operators have begun filling the news
spaces as if nothing has changed on the ground.
Dams, Rivers & People February-March, 2016
Jhulelal or Zindapir: River Saints, fish and flows of the Indus
Perhaps we all have our pet projects which we wish
would go on forever. I have been working on a Primer
on Riverine Fisheries of South Asia for some years now
(my office may disagree with the definition of ‘some’).
Like a magpie collecting shiny knick-knacks, I keep col-
lecting (quite serendipitously, or so I think) anecdotes
and interviews and snippets on the subject.
Some days back, I was putting together information on
the Hilsa fish from Indus in Pakistan and I came across
a composite Hindu-Islamic river deity riding, yes, riding
the Hilsa or Palla! Thrill of this discovery overflowed
into a discussion on social media, with friends from all
over, including Pakistan chipping in. Not only could I
glean lesser known insights about South Asia, I was posi-
tively pushed towards reading “Empires of the Indus”
by Alice Albinia: on my reading list for too long. After a
few weeks, some more discussions and trying to join the
dots that connect river deities, Palla, Indus and Sufism,
I can say that Zindapir (The Living Saint) of Indus has
been one of the most beautiful riverine riddles to stumble
The story is based in Sindh, Pakistan.
As much as Sindh is the land of Indus and its extensive
delta, it is the land of Sufism too…some of the greatest
Sufi Saints come from Sindh: Sachal Sarmast, known
for his poetry in search of the eternal truth, Shaheed
Shah Inayat, a reformer-poet-visionary, who laid the
foundation of a free agrarian reform in Jhook, Sindh in
the 18th Century. As a friend told me, Shah Inayat raised
the famous slogan against feudalism; “Jo Khery, so
khaey” (The one who sows is the one who reaps). It in-
cludes the unstoppable Lal Shabaz Qalander, whose
tomb in Shehwan reads “Jhulelal” and Shah Abdul Latif,
whose tomb in Bhitshah is described by Albinia as a
place where it is normal to see a “Hindu untouchable
family sleeping in a Sunni mosque of a Sufi shrine domi-
nated by Shias”. It is said that 125,000 holy men are
buried’in the yellow sandstone necropolis at Thatta’[i]
along the mighty Indus, which gives India its name.
Sufism in Sindh has evolved over centuries, and the flow-
ing Indus has had a major role to play in this heady
concoction. Sindh includes the once-extensive Indus
Delta, which was ruled by several dynasties, its age old
trading hubs and ports, including the largest city of
Pakistan: Karachi. Indus Delta is the biggest arid man-
grove system in the world, extending over 40,000 Sq kms,
but is suffering greatly due to ever-decreasing freshwa-
ter reaching the mangroves due to upstream dams.
The flowing, composite culture of the Indus Delta em-
braces poetry, philosophy, worship and very importantly,
music. Millions have been mesmerized by Sufi music
and the other day was no exception when I heard Runa
Laila, Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Wadali Brothers
and Abida Parveen, each singing their own unique ren-
ditions of Bulle Shah’s immortal Dhammal (Songs near-
ing Qawalli, but infused with a lively mix of folk ele-
ments and instruments, Nakahara, Drums, etc.,) based
on Lal Shahbaz Qalander…possibly one of the best known
Dhammals in the world: (
“Lal meri pat rakhiyo bana Jhulelaalna,
Sindadi da, Sevan da, Sakhi Shahbaz Qalandar!
Hind-Sind Pira teri Naubat baaje
Naal baje, ghadiyaal bala Jhulelaalan
Sindadi da, Sevan da
Sakhi Shahbaz Qalandar!
Damadam mast Qalandar!
Ali dam dam de andar!
Damadam mast Qalandar!”
Zindapir Shrine at Sukkur Photo from: British Library
Sufism in Sindh has evolved over centuries, and
the flowing Indus has had a major role to play
in this heady concoction. Sindh includes the
once-extensive Indus Delta, which was ruled by
several dynasties, its age old trading hubs and
ports, including the largest city of Pakistan:
Dams, Rivers & People February-March, 2016
I was intrigued by the mention of Jhulelal, a quintes-
sential Sindhi Ishta Devta in this Sufi Dhammal. But
that is what Sufism, especially Sindh’s Sufism, is all
about: synergy and secu-
larism. I have heard of
Sufi shrines in Sindh
which are frequented,
nay crowded, by Mus-
lims and Hindus alike …
even Nanakpathis, dur-
ing Urs!
An innocent riddle
about a local fish, and
I was about to find
out that Jhulelal,
that benign old man
with a white flowing
beard, has a lot to do
with it. Jhulelal is
found far and wide in
Pakistan, as Azhar
Lashri tells me,
“Thing that fasci-
nates me about
Jhulelal is inscrip-
tion of his name on
buses, trucks, vans
and taxis, He is ev-
erywhere. This is
very ubiquitous phe-
nomenon in Paki-
Jhulelal is not a regular Hindu/
Sindhi/Sufi/Islamic deity. For one,
Jhulelal or Daryalal is known and
worshipped in many forms, across re-
ligious sects. Although there are sev-
eral tales of Jhulelal known across
Sindh and the global Sindhi diaspora,
there is a complex synergy between
Jhulelal, Lal Shabaz Qalander of
Shehwan, Shaikh Tahir of Uderolal
and Khwaja Khijr, worshipped at dif-
ferent times by different groups. The
link that connects these deities and
Saints is singular: The Indus River.
Jhulelal is a part of the Daryapanthi
or Daryahi sect which worships the
Indus, a form of River or water wor-
ship which may have its links dating
back to the ancient Mohenjadaro civi-
Jhulelal and the composite sect of Saints are also known
interchangeably as the Zinda Pir or Jind Pir: The Liv-
ing Saint.
Jhulelal’s fascination is not linked only with the ebb and
flow of the Indus, or the Sindhu. I have been research-
ing Hilsa, that fabulous fish which comes back to its
rivers to lay eggs and
goes back to the sea,
only to repeat its adven-
ture in the coming sea-
son. Hilsa, or Palla, as it
is known in Pakistan is
not simply a fish. Palla
is a cultural icon… one of the strongest icons of West
Bengal and Bangladesh too. ..a strange connection be-
tween two regions on opposite sides of the Indian sub-
Found in deltas across South Asia (and beyond), the
aroma, taste and the dramatic occurrence of this shim-
mering silver fish holds all in its thrall: from fish folk in
the deltas of Godavari to Krishna to Narmada to Padma.
But Bengalis are jealously possessive about their Ilish.
I’ve seen even sane acquaintances turn a shade of puce
when told that Hilsa is found in deltas across the coun-
try and not limited to their Padma and Meghana!
I thought that the cultural significance of Ilish in Ben-
gal would be unparalleled. But in Sindh too, the place of
Palla is so very special, it is an indelible part of the
“Saqafat of Sindh” (Sindh’s rich culture). Palla is the
unofficial regional dish of Sindh, it is the delicacy of
honor in most Sindhi festivals, but is also given to ur-
ban relatives when they trudge back to their cities, with
Mango Baskets.
And Jhulelal is perched not only on the Lotus
flower, but he actually rides the Palla! It is said
that in the Zindapir Shrine of Sukkur (A shared monu-
ment of Muslims and Hindus till very recently), Palla
go to pay respect to its “Murshid” (Revered spiritual
Jhulelal on Hilsa
An innocent riddle about a local fish, and I was about
to find out that Jhulelal, that benign old man with a
white flowing beard, has a lot to do with it.
Mohana Fishermen of Indus with freshly caught Hilsa Photo from: Dawn
Dams, Rivers & People February-March, 2016
Guide). Mohana fishermen on the Indus maintain[ii]
that it is here that the Palla gets its shimmering silver
glow and “a red dot on its forehead”. Before visiting the
Sukkur Zindapir Shrine, it is an “ok tasting” black fish.
But swimming upstream to Sukkur, even till Jamshoro
gives them the heavenly fragrance, silvery visage and
the unique taste. I partly believe this Mohana tale. You
see, when Bengal tried to raise Hilsa in captivity, feed-
ing the fish at boring intervals, one of the problems was
that the fish would not breed and second, its unique
taste was eminently lacking. Its deliciousness comes
from the muscle, and like all muscle, it has to be earned,
often swimming against the tide!
Coming back to Jhulelal,
there are two major
shrines of Jhulelal in
Sindh where the Palla-
riding god and Indus is
worshipped by Muslim
as well as Hindus. One
is Uderolal near
Bhitshah and the other
is much further north, at
Sukkur. At the shrine near Uderolal, Muslims worship
it as the shrine of Shaikh Tahir, while Hindus worship
it as Jhulelal. But the celebrations take place on Cheti
Chand, on Jhulelals’ supposed birthday. There has been
no demand of separate celebrations or shrines. Shaikh
Tahir is known as the Pani ka Badshah, just like the
Jhulelal, with power to control the ebb and flow of the
At Sukkur (itself called as Darya Dino, or the gift of the
river), the Zindapir shrine is in the middle of the river
itself. Here, two separate Hindu and Muslim shrines
have been built across the River fairly recently, but devo-
tees are not too bothered with these distinctions. Same
is the case with the Jhulelal Shrine in Manora island of
Karachi, where: “Over the centuries this deity had ac-
quired a following of both Hindus and Muslims and has
become part of the shared heritage of the people of Sindh.
Sindhi Muslims believed that he was none other than
the prophet Khwaja Khizr, venerated because he is be-
lieved to guide and protect travelers and also because
he is believed to possess the secret of eternal life. (Chris-
tians know Khizr as Saint Christopher – the patron saint
of travelers.)” (from Admiral Sardarilal Mathradas
Nanda, as told by Nilim Dutta.)
Muhammad Ali Shah, Chairperson of the lively and
strong Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum (PFF) tells me,
“Sufisim in Sindh has long been serving as the unifying
force between religions in Sindh. We believe that because
of spiritual inclination, it has helped Sindh be much
lesser victim to terrorism and extremism as compared to
other provinces. Sindh bears an identity of the land that
respects all religions.
People of Sindh whether from the Islamic faith or Hindu
faith frequently visit the Sufi shrines and practice the
rudimentary form of Sufism without any religious dif-
ference. When the Urs of Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai,
Shaheed Shah Inayat, Sachal Sarmast and others’ are
observed in Sindh; their shrines are inundated by their
disciples no matter what religion they belong to.
There are shrines of Sufi saints throughout the Sindh
be it the banks of rivers, the sand dunes of the desert,
the heights of mountains, nearby the natural springs or
the lakes. The arrival and departure of the Sufi saints
in Sindh dates back to around 11 hundred years ago.
The people from urban as well as rural area had consis-
tently been paying visits
to these shrines in dif-
ferent Melas and in nor-
mal days as well.”
So, call Zindapir as Lal
Shahbaz Qalandar, who
is supposed to have rec-
ognized and guided
young Jhulelal or call
him Khwaja Khijr, literally Mr. Green, “Yaaron ka yaar”
who helps “Darya” travelers. Call him Shaikh Tahir, Pani
ka Badshah, who controls the ebb and flow of the Indus
for the Mohana fisherfolk, call him Daryanath, with a
complicated lineage reaching all the way to Nath Sect
of India, or call him Jhulelal himself, who is held dear
by Hindus and Muslims alike: The Indus River worship
transcends and brings together all these forms, across
the rigid boundaries of religions.
The silvery strands that bind together the myth and
the folklore of Indus are wrought by the water of the
river herself, and her fish that once were abundant.
However, it’s been ages since Palla reached Sukkur
Zindapir Shrine. The Sukkur Barrage cut off the migra-
tory routes of the fish, just like the Farakka has deci-
mated the fish in West Bengal and Bangladesh or the
Arthur Cotton Barrage in Godavari. Muhammaed Ali
Shah, tells me, “As per the local communities the Palla
used to be caught in the thousands in the Indus just two
to three decades back. They also claimed that the fish
could once be found all the way upstream in Multan, at
a time when three barrages in Sindh – Guddu, Sukkur
and Kotri – were not built on the river.
Palla previously accounted for 70 % of the total catch in
the past; today that figure has dwindled to just 15 %.
The production in 1980 was 1,859 metric tons; this fell
to only 265 metric tons in 1995 and just 222 metric tons
Since the last 20 years, the fish has become extinct due
to unavailability of water in downstream areas. After
the construction of Kotri barrage in 1956, the migration
of Hilsa has been restricted up to Kotri barrage which
There are two major shrines of Jhulelal in Sindh
where the Palla-riding god and Indus is worshipped
by Muslim as well as Hindus. One is Uderolal near
Bhitshah and the other is much further north, at
Dams, Rivers & People February-March, 2016
is at distance of 300 km from the sea. This obstruction
has deprived Hilsa of two-thirds of the previous spawn-
ing area. Palla fish is severely depleted due to declines
in the Indus water flow (majorly affected by the dam/
barrage building) in the deltaic region.”
The mangroves of the Indus are drying and dying, just
like the mangroves of Krishna, because we think that
water going to the sea is a waste. Indus has only been
left on the mercy of flood waters that are usually re-
leased only between March to August which does not
correspond with the Palla season.
The Indus Delta is shrinking just like the Krishna
Godavari delta due to the silt trapped by the upstream
dams which impoverish the delta further. Fish ladders
in barrages for Palla don’t work in Sindh, just like they
never worked in case of Farakka Barrage. Pakistan
Fisherfolk Forum, with the guidance of the “Martyr of
Indus” Late Tahira Ali Shah and Muhammad Ali Shah
has been fighting for the rights of Sindhi fisherfolk..for
their right to the water of Indus. The PFF has a mem-
bership of over 70,000 people from fishing and peasant
communities and is one of the biggest
social movements of South Asia,
working towards more freshwater for
the Indus Delta.
According to the remarkable Policy
Analyst and writer from Pakistan,
Raza Rumi[iii], “Indus legends are the
lived reality of the communities that
reside along its majestic banks. This
is where culture and environment ac-
quire a powerful synthesis for they are
equally important to preserve and con-
serve life patterns. Water holds a sig-
nificant position in the cultural exist-
ence of the Sindhi people. Water has
been a source of literature, mystical
beliefs and a composite way of life that
is threatened now. Reclaiming Indus
folklore along with environmental conservation is a pow-
erful way of saving the shared heritage of India and Pa-
kistan. The Indus is an all-encompassing metaphor of
securing long-term peace in the region, documenting and
preserving our cultural heritage and maintaining the sub-
lime literary standards set by the Indus followers. India
cannot be without the Indus and Pakistan cannot func-
tion as a viable ecological zone without this magical river.”
For synthesis to flourish, for a rich, synergistic and com-
posite culture to exist side by side we need a living
Indus…we need living rivers in Pakistan and India as
well. A shared Zindapir is not an aberration, not an al-
ternative narrative of this subcontinent. Such sharing,
such synergy formed the mainstream narrative, not too
many years ago.
We need a perspective towards water management which
aspires not only for improved irrigation and hydropower,
but respects the livelihoods, culture, folklore, music and
philosophy of our rivers embodied in miracles like the River
Saints of Indus…Indus is as much about the Palla reach-
ing its Murshid, as it is about dams and hydropower…
Parineeta Dandekar,, SANDRP
PS: I would like to thank several friends who helped me
with anecdotes, references and stories. Some of them in-
clude Shreekant Pol, Nilim Dutta, Azhar Lashri,
Muhammad Ali Shah, Pankaj Sekhsaria and Sunil Tambe.
Some References:
The silvery strands that bind together the myth
and the folklore of Indus are wrought by the
water of the river herself, and her fish that once
were abundant. However, it’s been ages since
Palla reached Sukkur Zindapir Shrine. The
Sukkur Barrage cut off the migratory routes of
the fish, just like the Farakka has decimated
the fish in West Bengal and Bangladesh or the
Arthur Cotton Barrage in Godavari.
Fisherfolk Protest for more freshwater in Indus,
Sindh Photo: Pakistan Fishworkers’ Forum
Fisherfolk Protest for more freshwater in Indus, Sindh Photo: Pakistan Fishworkers’ Forum
Dams, Rivers & People February-March, 2016
Massive expenditure on Large Dams will only help con-
tractors The Union Budget 2016-17 presented by Finance
Minister Arun Jaitley on Feb 29, 2016 seems to be promis-
ing in its thrust and focus towards farmers and the farming
sector of the country. For a sector which employs about 55%
of the work force of the country, this priority is much needed
and one which holds a promise of a number of multiplier
effects. He stated, ”We are grateful to our farmers for being
the backbone of our food security. We need to move beyond
food security and give our farmers a sense of “Income
Security”.” This is particularly required when the farmers
are in dire states as they are today, many of them facing
four consecutive crop failures, Kharif 2014, Rabi 2015,
Kharif 2015 and Rabi 2016. In 2015, on average 52 farm-
ers committed suicide every single day in India.
And hence, focus on farming is indeed a positive
step. As Maharashtra State Water Resources Minister for
State Vijay Shivtare once told me, “We are not very both-
ered about the high costs of Lift Irrigation Schemes per se.
If they work well, and result in prosperous farmers, it would
mean more agricultural implements, more Tractors, more
vehicles, better homes etc., increasing the government’s rev-
enue at the end of the day.” (“If they work well” was the
operative part here, which has seldom materialized in
Maharashtra). A Prosperous Farmer and strong farming
economy can help all sectors.
Mr. Jaitley opened his budget speech with an Agenda to
Transform India”, based on nine pillars. Foremost pillar
is ‘Agriculture and farmers’ welfare, with a focus on
doubling farmers’ income in five years, by 2022. The
total allocation for Agriculture and Farmers Welfare is
Rs 35, 984 Crores.
Finance Minister rightly diagnosed that ”Irrigation is the
critical input for increasing agricultural production
and productivity.” Out of 141 million hectares of net cul-
tivated area, only 46% is covered with irrigation and that
there is a “need to address optimal utilization of water re-
sources, create new irrigation infrastructure, conserve soil
fertility, value addition and connectivity from farm to mar-
For ensuring this, ”Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchai
Yojana” will be implemented in mission mode through
which 28.5 lakh hectares will be brought under irrigation”.
A major part of this will be through ”Fast tracking
and Implementation of 89 irrigation projects under
AIBP (Accelerated Irrigation Benefit Program) which
have been languishing. These will help irrigate 80.6
Lakh hectares. These projects will need Rs 17,000
Crores next year and 86,500 Crores in next five years.
23 of these will be completed before 31st March 2017.”
So, in the coming 5 years, a whopping Rs 86,500 Crores of
the taxes collected from all Indians and at least a part of
the Krishi Kalyan Cess at 0.5% all taxable services will go
into AIBP Projects, with over Rs 17,000 Crores being allo-
cated in 2016-17 itself. This is highly problematic. AIBP
was started by P. Chidambaram in 1996 and in two decades
since then, it has not delivered anything susbstantial ex-
cept huge bank balances for contractors, as also for the en-
gineers, bureaucrats and politicians,hand in glove with the
contractors. CAG reports have repeatedly highlighted this
reality in case of Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat
and now possibly Madhya Pradesh. In fact, this was the
very plank on which BJP came to power in Maharashtra.
But Arun Jaitely seems to have no new ideas to offer here,
except treading on the same path.
While it is clear that the government cannot abandon all
incomplete projects, before it decides to spend more good
money after already sunk costs on incomplete projects, it
needs to halt more Major and Medium irrigation projects
and undertake a credible, independent review of why the
projects were incomplete for so long, what were the loop
holes, what are the lessons learned from past mistakes,
which projects are worth going ahead, in what form. And
finally, which need to be abandoned. Without doing such
an exercise, the money allocated for incomplete projects is
not going to help the farmers.
1. Massive Support for AIBP Projects in Union Bud-
get 2016 17 is unwarranted
Rs 86,500 Crores over 5 years is a massive amount. Will it
be able to ensure promised Irrigation? Which are these AIBP
Projects? Why do they need so much support from the Cen-
ter? How have they performed till now? Where are they lo-
cated? Is this expenditure wise?
Here is a snapshot of some of the 89 AIBP Projects, maxi-
mum of which, 13, come from Maharashtra. Maharashtra
has had enough bad publicity following the Dam Scam but
more importantly, it now has a Chief Minister, also from
BJP, who openly stated in the State Assembly on July
21, 2015 that ”We have built Large dams everywhere
without thinking of feasibility or water availability”
and that “Large Dams are not the road
ahead”. Devendra Fadanvis wisely separated Large Dams
from actual Irrigation and said: “We pushed large dams,
not irrigation, this has to change”. He has spearheaded
a considerably successful program that focuses on small
scale interventions for harvesting and recharging water
known as Jal Yukta Shivar Yojana.
With this context, it is ironic and deeply troubling
that maximum Large Irrigation Projects under AIBP
come from Maharashtra. The name “Accelerated Irriga-
tion Benefit” is also ironic as many of these projects have
been going on for over 2-3 decades, have seen huge costs
escalations, corruption charges, question marks about their
viability, desirability, optimality, quality and final effective-
Out of 149 AIBP Projects across the country, 89 projects are
active, out of which 46 projects have been prioritized in the
Union Budget. 23 Priority I Projects are to be completed by
2016-17 and additional 23 Priority II Projects are to be com-
pleted by 2019-20. Of these 46 Projects, maximum 13
projects come from Maharashtra.
Farmers, Rivers and the Environment in Union Budget 2016-17
Dams, Rivers & People February-March, 2016
In addition to these, cost escalations of Lower Wardha,
Lower Panzara, Nandur Madhyameshwar II (which
will need 3 dams in the upstream) are also well known. (Link
to all projects in References below)
Across the country, but more sharply so in Maharashtra,
Large Irrigation Projects have not automatically meant
increased irrigated area, which is what the farmer needs.
SANDRP has shown with official data that even after
spending over Rs 600,000 crores on Major and Medium
Dam and Canal Network between 1993-2010-11, net na-
tional canal irrigated area has been decreasing and not
increasing. There are several reasons for this.
Canal irrigated area declining in the
country (Source: SANDRP)
Groundwater dominates Irrigation in India, not dams
and canals (Source: IWMI)
If Large Dam approach delivered all that it promised, then
Maharashtra, with the largest number of large dams in the
country would have had the highest irrigated area. The
actual picture is the opposite. Maharashtra has the lowest
irrigated area in the country at about 18%. This is not a
coincidence. As the dam scam highlighted, more large
projects with complicated, ever-changing plans, far away
offices and opaque funding mechanisms meant that local
people had no clue about what was happening, leaving doors
open for the unholy nexus of Babus, Contractors and
Engineers to eat away public funds, without ensuring
irrigation. Recent example is when the Maharashtra Gov-
ernment told the Hon High Court that they have resolved
all of the financial backlog in areas like Marathwada and
Vidarbha, but the PHYSICAL backlog remains nearly the
same. So is money for large irrigation projects an answer in
this scenario?
While three major projects from Vidarbha (Bawanthadi,
Bembla and Lower Wardha) included in AIBP will receive
huge support from the Center, the Vidarbha Irrigation De-
velopment Corporation (VIDC) faces some of the most seri-
ous charges of corruption, cost and time escalations, as high-
lighted by a series of government appointed committees and
even CAG. Jan Manch, an NGO from Vidarbha which was
instrumental in exposing the scam clearly stated that prob-
lems of projects here run deeper. Money is not an easy
So why are the same projects being pushed in the name of
farmers when it is demonstrated in Maharashtra that farm-
ers are NOT benefiting from these projects? Cynics would
point this out as another Jumlaa! Again, in the same state,
the power of small scale water harvesting structures and
people’s participation have shown how quickly things can
change. Maharashtra still needs to complete Anti-Corrup-
tion Bureau Inquiry against several Large Dams, it needs
to work on an Integrated State Water Plan and, as per or-
ders of the Hon High Court, it can undertake new Projects
only as per the provisions of this plan, it needs to take trans-
parent and credible action regarding its own enquiry re-
ports, which includes Special Investigation Team Report,
A brief snapshot of some AIBP Projects in Maharashtra
No. Project District Issue
1. Tillari Interstate Sindhudurg Based in hilly tracts of Western Ghats, highly unviable project, very low irrigation
Project efficiency, terrain not suitable for large dams, Protests, Land Acquisition problems.
2. Bembla Major Yavatmal Huge Corruption Charges, Work ongoing since last 24 years. High cost escalations.
Project Cracked canal Lining due to poor quality work. Enquiry ordered against Contractor for
substandard work.
3. Tarali Major Irri- Satara Whistle Blower of Maharashtra Dam Scam, then-Serving Chief Engineer Mr. Vijay
gation Project Pandhare inspected construction of Tarali Project and stated that compressive strength
of all 66 cores of the dam is as low as 42% when a difference in core strength by 1-2%
is considered serious. This indicates corruption, use of less cement and institutionalised
ill-intent. He officially wrote letter against these happenings. No action taken.
4. Dhom Balkawadi Satara Contract of Canal works given to a close relative of Ajit Pawar, Former Deputy CM and
Minister of Water Resources. Several tendering lacuna exposed by officials.
5. Arjuna Medium Ratnagiri Massive cost and time escalations, unviable project in hilly terrain, corruption charges,
Project rehabilitation issues not settled.
Dams, Rivers & People February-March, 2016
CAG Report on Irrigation Projects dated 2013, etc. Unless
all these steps are taken, and when small scale inter-
ventions are demonstrating their impacts, what is the
logic behind putting huge public resources on the same
Projects in other states like Sardar Sarovar, Narmada Sagar,
Omkareshwar and Maheshwar Projects in Gujarat and
Madhya Pradesh have not resettled the oustees and has
used repressive mechanism to still fill the dams. It has been
rapped by the Courts. Local communities in Manipur have
been opposing dams there and have gone to the National
Green Tribunal against Thaubal Dam.
In this context, maximum allocation of funds for Large Irri-
gation Projects in the Union Budget is clearly, neither con-
vincing nor beneficial to farmers.
Other Schemes included under PMKSY with budgeted ex-
penses for 2016-17 are
Har Khet ko Pani: Rs 500 Crores
Per Drop more crop: Rs 2340 Crores
Integrated Watershed Management: Rs 1500 Crores
2. Some Positive water related steps in the Budget:
A major program for sustainable management of
GW with allocation of Rs 6000 Crores and proposed
for multilateral finding: Although the amount bud-
geted is hardly comparable to AIBP Projects, when con-
tribution of groundwater in irrigation is much larger
than surface water! We do not really need World Bank
funding for this, we should be able to do this on our own.
A dedicated Long -term Irrigation Fund will be cre-
ated in NABARD with initial corpus of Rs 20,000 Cores.
Unfortunately, NABARD has no specific social and en-
vironmental policies and has been funding projects with-
out attention to the key governance issues.
5 lakh farm ponds and dug wells in rain fed areas and
10 lakh compost pits through MNEREGA.
Allocation for MNREGA is Rs 38500 crores, in real-
ity this is much less than the actual demand and also
less than what was actually spent last year. Last year,
the actual spending on the programme was Rs 41,169
crore. The additional spending of Rs 6,470 crore is the
pending liability and if adjusted the actual allocation in
2016-17 drops to Rs 32,030 crore—less than what was
allocated in 2015-16. MNREGA allocation should have
been higher.
Organic farming to be promoted: Paramparagat
Krishi Vikas Yojana 5 lakh acres under organic farming
in 3 years with allocation of around Rs 412 crores. While
more areas under organic farming is welcome, the tar-
get is more un-ambitious and allocation most meager.
As Jayapal Reddy (Secy, confederation of kisan
organisations) says we need aid for increasing carbon
content in soil all across India.
Incentives for enhancement of Pulse production.
Rs 500 Crores under National Food Security Mission to
pulses. Districts covered increased to 622. This is a spe-
cifically encouraging step taken as Pulse Farming is
mostly rainfed, require low fertilizer inputs, contributes
to protein security, is climate friendly. We spent about
Rs 15,000 Crores this year to import pulses and a fo-
cused plan for procurement and assured MSP will be of
a great help. But the FM could have been much more
ambitious here. A similar scheme was needed for oilseeds
Access to markets is critical for farmer incomes. Uni-
fied Agri Marketing Scheme has been announced where
a common e-platform will be developed for 585 regulated
wholesale markets. Amendments in APMC Acts are a
prerequisite for joining. On the 14th April Birthday of
Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar, Unified Platform dedicated
to Nation.
Revised norms of assistance under National Disas-
ter Response Fund in April 2015.
Special focus on adequate and timely flow of credit to
farmers. Against target of 8.5 Lakh Crores in 2015 16,
the target of agri credit 2016-17 will be Rs 9 lakh Crores.
Prime Minister Fasal Bima Yojana providing greater
cover against natural calamities at a low premium. Pro-
vision of Rs 5500 Crores in Budget 2016-17. However,
the amount originally estimated to cover all farmers was
Rs 17,600 crore. Why this lower allocation?
3. Where are the Rivers? In NDA’s first budget in 2014-
15, when Ganga Arati and rhetoric on Ganga cleaning were
at their peak, the Finance Minister had said during his bud-
get speech: Rivers form the lifeline of our country. They
provide water not only for producing food for the multitudes
but also drinking water.”
This year however, there is no mention of Rivers, not even
Ganga. However, Namami Gange Plan/ National Ganga
Plan has been allocated Rs 2250 Crores in the year 2016-
17. The plan itself remains unclear. A plan based on Sew-
age Treatment Plants alone does not hold promise for Ganga
with Rs 2000 Crores budgetary support, or Rs 20,000 Crores,
like the money we have spent in the past years, correspond-
ing to declining water quality of the river.
Inland Waterways Plan: The much-talked about Plan
pushed by Minister for Road Transport and Highways and
Shipping Mr. Nitin Gadkari would be getting around 350
Crores in 2016-17 as the combined budget for Sagaramala
(Ports project) and Inland Waterways is pitched at 800
Crores and Sagarmala is budgeted at 450 Crores. Inland
Waterways Program is being pushed without a thought be-
ing given to rivers in which they will operate. It is raising
some very crucial questions, elaborated here: Digging Our
Rivers’ Graves?
Interlinking of Rivers Plan: The Plan has not been men-
tioned in the budget and the scheme does not feature in the
further discussions. However, the Center is pursuing the
project, disregarding ecological cost, social costs, financial
costs and interstate conflicts.
It looks like Budget 2016-17 has no special announcements
for rivers. However, plans like 100 Urban Rejuvenation Mis-
sion (Amrut and 100 Smart Cities) have been allocated a
massive Rs 7296 Crores this FY. Projects like Smart Cit-
ies, Highways Project, Inland Waterways all have a strong
link and impact on life support systems like rivers and these
Dams, Rivers & People February-March, 2016
Edited by Himanshu Thakkar at 86-D, AD Block, Shalimar Bagh, Delhi - 88.
Printed at Sun Shine Process, B -103/5, Naraina Indl. Area Phase - I, New Delhi - 110 028
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needed to be seriously addressed. India has no policy for
Urban Rivers, and this has meant that rivers are common
grounds for encroachment, pollution and extraction, lead-
ing to their destruction, like the Ganga, among others.
4. Environment in Union Budget 2016-17
While the Environment Minister was one of the first Minis-
ters to official hail Union Budget as “Visionary”, it is a bit
sad to see that Ministry of Environment Forests and Cli-
mate Change (MoEF and CC) does not feature in the list of
Important Ministries annexed to Finance Minister’s Speech,
nor does a single Scheme from MoEF and CC feature in the
list of Important schemes.
MoEF and CC gets a slightly higher budget than the mas-
sively slashed budget for the past two years. However,
as Down to Earth has pointed out, there is a hitch here: “The
Budget document shows that allocations to the Ministry of
Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC) have
continued to rise, from Rs 1,681.60 crore in last year’s bud-
get to Rs 2,250.34 crore in 2016-17. But most of this Rs 570-
crore increase has come in the form of planned revenue ex-
penditure (salary and other operational expenses), which
has risen by Rs 540 crore to Rs 1,944.75 crore this year.
This leaves an increase of only Rs 30 crore divided between
planned capital expenditure estimates (expenditure on
schemes and programmes) and non-planned estimates. In
fact, planned capital expenditure saw a dip in comparison
to actual expenditure undertaken during fiscal year 2014-
Some Climate Change initiates like National Action Plan
on Climate Change (NAPCC), have seen an increased allo-
cation. Of the Rs 180 Crores for Climate Change initiatives,
Climate Change Action Programme (CCAP) has been allot-
ted Rs 30 crore, the National Mission on Himalayan Stud-
ies Rs 50 crore and the National Adaptation Fund Rs 100
crore. According to Down to Earth, “While this is more than
the Rs 160 crore allocated last year, there is no provision to
cover the revised estimates of total expenditure of Rs 136.79
crore for the CCAP and Rs 115 crore for the National Adap-
tation Fund.”
There has been an upward spike in the National Clean
Energy Fund, constituted mainly by Coal Peat & lignite
Cess, which has seen increase from Rs 50 to 100 Rs/tonne
in 2014-15, further to 200 Rs/tonne is 2015-16 to 400 Rs/
tonne in 2016-17. It is reported that it is this fund which
will be support Inland Waterways Project, which is likely
to destroy our remaining rivers. It will be hugely ironical if
Clean Energy Fund levied on coal because of its environ-
mental impact is used for Inland transport of Flyash and
Coal from Rivers, as envisioned in the Inland Waterways
Budget of Ministry of New and Renewable Energy has
also been increased considerablyfrom Actual 2014-15:
Rs 515 Crores, Revised Estimates 2015-16: Rs 262 Crores
and Budgeted Expenditure of 2016-17 at 5036 Crores.
All in all, the massive thrust and support for large
dam and canal network which has not delivered in
past remains one of the most problematic parts of the
Budget. The focus of farmers, encouragement to pulse farm-
ers, increased decentralized procurement, increased Clean
Environment Cess, increased allocations (marginal) to
MoEF and CC and CC initiatives are welcome steps. Fi-
nally, a budget is as good as its implementation. A look at
achievements of the last year indicates that that several
schemes are still listed as under progress. While the aim of
increasing farmers’ incomes by double in 2022 sounds very
strong and positive, it does remind one of the BJP’s election
promised of ensuring 50% profit over costs to farmers, unmet
till date and now abandoned. Agricultural growth rate has
not achieved more than 4% in any five year plans, and this
target will need about 15% Compound Annnual Growth rate
in farmers’ income, that looks nearly impossible.
It is also sobering to note, as Devinder Sharma says, that
in 17 states of the country, farmers average monthly in-
come is 1666 Rs. Doubling it in five years would mean 3332
Rs a month, nearly the same as five years back, if adjusted
against inflation!
Parineeta Dandekar
1. State-wise details on AIBP Projects here: http://
5. Failure of Big Irrigation
Projects and Rainfed Agriculture 0510.pdf
... Sand mining and dredging in particular damages the sediment balance of the river system as a whole, causing imbalances (erosion, sedimentation) affecting for example the spawning habitat of river fish species, and increased turbidity, affecting the systems' biological production (less sunlight/ more nutrients released). Such habitat degradation can destroy the breeding grounds of substrate-breeding fish species who require intact and undisturbed substrates to spawn in the main channel or along the banks of the river, which in turn determines their availability as prey to Ganges river dolphins (Kelkar 2016). Moreover, the increased water turbidity due to sand mining and dredging can cause local zooplankton community destruction (Grobbelaar 1989, Moreira et al. 2016, Prabhakar et al 2019 in rivers and since most freshwater fish feed on zooplanktons at some stage in their lives (Sharma 2020) the prey base of Ganges river dolphins can also be negatively impacted. ...
... In the Kulsi River in India sand mining created deep pools that were actually favoured by dolphins and therefore there may have been a positive impact of sand mining in that instance (Mohan et al. 1998). Kelkar (2016) reported the surfacing frequency of river dolphins (breathing time between dives) was three times longer as compared to a natural dive-rate due to dredging activities, which is an indication of severe disturbance and physiological stress. Further, the acoustic activities of Ganges river dolphins were also reported to be much less than on an average non-mining day/s (Kelkar 2016). ...
... Kelkar (2016) reported the surfacing frequency of river dolphins (breathing time between dives) was three times longer as compared to a natural dive-rate due to dredging activities, which is an indication of severe disturbance and physiological stress. Further, the acoustic activities of Ganges river dolphins were also reported to be much less than on an average non-mining day/s (Kelkar 2016). ...
Technical Report
Full-text available
This report is produced by WWF as one of the key deliverables for the World Bank ‘Global Best Practices for Effective and Sustainable Conservation of the Ganges River Dolphin’ project. This technical report intended to provide a review of the current level of scientific knowledge of Ganges river dolphin and identification and prioritization of the key information gaps.
... Significant declines in fish production have been noted after barrages were constructed on the Gandak and Kosi (in the 1960s) and the Farakka barrage on the Ganga in 1975(Shetty and Malhotra 1983, Payne et al. 2004, Vass et al. 2009). Barrage effects on flows and fish production were succeeded by impacts of local river pollution, embankments, over-exploitative fishing practices, and degradation of fish spawn Ghosh 1984, Vass et al. 2010b), along with recent threats from industrial waterways projects (Kelkar 2016). Over 60% of freshwater fish demand in the Ganga-Gandak-Kosi region is now met from cultured carp in Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal (Kelkar 2014a). ...
... The thrusting of fishers into the realm of caste politics (see Bagchi 2018) takes them away from the river, making it convenient to push imminent river infrastructure projects (e.g. national waterways, river interlinking) that can have severe negative impacts on riverine fisheries, hydrological processes, and sediment-nutrient pulses (see D'Souza 2003b, Bandyopadhyay and Perveen 2007, Lakra et al. 2011, Grant et al. 2012, Kelkar 2016, Higgins et al. 2018. The violence, conflict, and oppression that marred river fishery livelihoods and marginalized them to dire extents have been responsible for this unfortunate reality. ...
Full-text available
The thesis is based on long-term research to understand resource conflicts in capture fisheries along river-floodplain ecosystems in India's Gangetic plains.
... Past, ongoing and planned large-scale transformations of our wetlands, streams and rivers are the biggest threats to aquatic biodiversity (Dudgeon 2000;Bandyopadhyay and Perveen 2004;Vörösmarty et al. 2010;Grant et al. 2012;Gopal 2013;Jumani et al. 2018), and these will be exacerbated by climate change (Immerzeel et al. 2010). These transformations include small hydropower projects and inter-basin transfers of headwater streams, introduction of invasive species, interlinking of rivers (and its consequences for hydrology), destruction of habitats, pollution and invasive species transfer, besides the looming threat of the National Waterways, which involves changes in channel geometry, destruction of habitat and water quality through large-scale dredging, and water and noise pollution from vessel traffic (Kelkar 2016;Dharmadhikary and Sandbhor 2017). Climate change through warming and changes in rainfall regimes will impact streams and rivers in two distinct ways. ...
... In the world's largest mangrove ecosystem, the Sundarbans, this has already led to changes in the salinity regime, and shifts in species compositionand this will be further enhanced under sea level rise ( Raha et al. 2012). Overall, largescale transformations (including inter-basin transfers and waterways) are likely to reduce species richness of specialist species, increase abundance of invasive and generalist species, transform the distinctive biogeographically and geologically established patterns of aquatic biodiversity, and possibly cause the extinction of species such as the Gangetic and Indus river dolphins ( Grant et al. 2012;Kelkar 2016). However, changes in meltwater contributions could severely impact the Indus and Brahmaputra rivers and the associated aquatic ecosystems in the long term ( Gosain et al. 2006;Immerzeel et al. 2010). ...
Full-text available
River cetaceans are particularly vulnerable to anthropogenic impacts due to their constrained ranges in freshwater systems of China, South Asia, and South America. We undertook an exhaustive review of 280 peer-reviewed papers and grey literature reports (1998−2020) to examine the current status of knowledge regarding these cetaceans and their conservation. We aimed to better understand the scale of threats they face, and to identify and propose priority future efforts to better conserve these species. We found that the species have been studied with varying frequency and that most of the research on threats has focused on habitat degradation and fragmentation (43%, mainly driven by dams and extractive activities such as sand mining and deforestation), and fishery interactions (39%, in the form of bycatch and direct take). These threats occur across all species, but more information is needed, primarily on quantifying the population impacts as a basis for designing mitigation measures. Other threats identified include pollution, vessel collisions, traditional use, and poorly managed tourism. Emerging methods such as environmental DNA and unmanned aerial vehicles are described for studying these species. Promising conservation interventions include cetacean-specific protected areas, natural ex situ protection, community-led conservation, and education programmes. However, transnational political will is required for a step change towards broad-scale protection in freshwater environments. In addition, we propose in creasing capacity building, developing management plans, working closely with fishing communities, enhancing public awareness, expanding regional collaborations, and diversifying funding.
The channel and adjacent floodplain tracts of rivers comprise the riparian zone, which is sensitive to a variety of natural/environmental and human-induced hazards. The degradation of this riparian zone leads to the loss of landscape connectivity, interruption of biogeochemical cycles and material fluxes and engenders adverse impacts on the flora and fauna occupying it, both physiologically and through habitat loss and fragmentation. This brief review paper examines the salient characteristics of the riparian zone and the common hazards that afflict it. It also provides insights into the various mapping, measurement and modelling methods construed over time that are in vogue to investigate and characterise such hazards, gauge their impacts and devise possible ameliorative frameworks for the same. The natural hazards considered here are annual floods and high stream flows, soil loss occurring due to overbank flow and runoff, river erosion and bankline failure. Alongside this, the marked degradational impacts engendered by sand mining within the river channel (both on the bed and from in-channel deposits) and from the adjacent floodplain on the local environment are detailed. Word clouds have been used to highlight the most oft-repeated or used catchphrases and terms while undertaking the above researches in the respective hazard domains. We also provide a temporal overview of how these concepts and concerns have come more and more into the fluvial geomorphologic and riparian ecosystem subject purviews, reflecting the rising focus in these areas and the need for further research on the discussed aspects.
Full-text available
1. Human activities affect fish assemblages in a variety of ways. Large-scale and long-term disturbances such as in-stream dredging and mining alter habitat and hydrodynamic characteristics within rivers which can, in turn, alter fish distribution. Habitat heterogeneity is decreased as the natural riffle–pool–run sequences are lost to continuous pools and, as a consequence, lotic species are displaced by lentic species, while generalist and invasive species displace native habitat specialists. Sediment and organic detritus accumulate in deep, dredged reaches and behind dams, disrupting nutrient flow and destroying critical habitat for habitat specialist species.
Full-text available
Dredging and dredge-spoil disposal are among the major problems in coastal management. Many of the scientific contributions concerning the impacts of this practice are based on the study of sessile organisms and subtropical environments. We evaluated changes in the composition and abundance of a fish assemblage resulting from dredging and sediment disposal at the mouth and in the adjacent waters of the Caravelas River on the north-eastern coast of Brazil. Samples were collected in two directly impacted and three adjacent areas. Differences among stations were not significant, but the dredged site had the least diverse station, as expected. The stations farthest from the directly impacted areas apparently were not influenced by the coastal work, thus suggesting localised effects. The contribution of the present study is particularly important because of the study area's proximity to others that have high conservation value such as mangrove forests and coral reefs, and the relevance of the subject given the continuing dredging activity.
Full-text available
Summary1. The invasion of carp (Cyprinus carpio L.) in Australia illustrates how quickly an introduced fish species can spread and dominate fish communities. This species has become the most abundant large freshwater fish in south-east Australia, now distributed over more than 1 million km2.2. Carp exhibit most of the traits predicted for a successful invasive fish species. In addition, degradation of aquatic environments in south-east Australia has given them a relative advantage over native species.3. Derivation of relative measures of 13 species-specific attributes allowed a quantitative comparison between carp and abundant native fish species across five major Australian drainage divisions. In four of six geographical regions analysed, carp differed clearly from native species in their behaviour, resource use and population dynamics.4. Climate matching was used to predict future range expansion of carp in Australia. All Australian surface waters appear to be climatically suitable for carp.5. This assessment strongly reinforces the need for immediate management of carp in Australia to include targeted control of human-assisted dispersal, such as use of carp as bait by anglers, distribution to new locations by anglers and the use of the ‘Koi’ strain in the aquarium industry.6. Given their historical spread, dispersal mechanisms and ecological requirements, the expansion of carp across most of the remainder of Australia is to be expected.
Full-text available
Approximately 28,475 m3 of muddy sediments were dredged from a shoal in a South Carolina estuarine system and released near the surface at a nearby site having high tidal current velocities. Effects at the dredged sites included decreased macrofaunal abundance and changes in species composition. These effects appeared to be short term, with substantial recovery occurring within 3 months. Rapid recovery was primarily attributed to immigration through slumping of channel wall sediments similar to those dredged. Detrimental effects on benthic macrofauna in the area of open water disposal were minimal. Most differences noted in community structure between collection dates were attributed to sampling and seasonal variability. The absence of a major longterm disruption to the benthos in the disposal area was probably due to (1) strong tidal currents, which rapidly dispersed the moderate amount of mud sediments released; (2) surface disposal, permitting wider dispersal; and (3) disposal during late autumn, a period of low faunal recruitment.
Full-text available
Introductions of alien species, regardless of their actual or potential impacts, can be considered as a biocontamination of the ecosystem. A simple method to assess biocontamination is described and tested on benthic macroinvertebrate communities from European inland waterways. This method includes calculations of abundance contamination and richness contamination at ordinal taxonomic rank, from which integrated estimations of biocontamination are derived. Our method can be applied to data collected during routine water quality monitoring, and allows estimation of biocontamination at specific study sites as well as integrated assessment of ecosystems or assessment units. Results clearly show that the main European inland waterways are highly biologically contaminated. They also indicate that richness contamination precedes abundance contamination, and that severe abundance contamination may be caused even by a single ecologically aggressive alien species. Comparison of biocontamination indices and ecological quality status by conventional methods suggests that these metrics are negatively correlated, and richness contamination has a stronger negative affect than abundance contamination. Biocontamination warrants inclusion within the development of holistic estimates of ecological quality status and should be considered in water management policy.
This report reviews experience in mitigating the environmental impacts of inland waterway development. It examines effective consultation and planning procedures across Europe. In particular it assesses the ways in which the EU Water Framework Directive affects the planning environment for international waterways and sets a new agenda for improving the ecological value of waterways. The report makes recommendations on good practice and identifies the Danube river basin as the critical area for improvement.
India plans to overhaul rivers for shipping
  • N Lal
Lal, N. (2015) India plans to overhaul rivers for shipping. (accessed 01.02.16).
Situation Analysis on Inland Navigation. IUCN Ecosystems for Life: A Bangladesh-India Initiative, IUCN, International Union for Conservation of Nature
  • D K Mishra
  • S M Hussain
Mishra, D.K., Hussain, S.M. (2012) Situation Analysis on Inland Navigation. IUCN Ecosystems for Life: A Bangladesh-India Initiative, IUCN, International Union for Conservation of Nature, Gland, Switzerland. National Waterways Bill (NWB). (2015) Government of India, April 29, 2015. New Delhi, pp. 22.