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Government of India ready to "reconsider" inter-linking of rivers project if it is environmentally harmful

By Our Representative
Is the Government of India reconsidering its plans for interlinking of rivers? A top non-profit organization – quoting Union minister for water resources, river development and Ganga rejuvenation Uma Bharti – has said that this may well happen, in case the senior minister sticks to what she said on the last day of the India Rivers Week 2014, November 27. “Government will not proceed with interlinking of rivers if environmental consequences are adverse”, Bharti was quoted as saying. “if we want to save our rivers, the first step is to ensure that no untreated effluent or sewage is mixed with treated water and finds its way into our rivers.”
The South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People (SANDRP) said in a statement, Bharti “assured that minimum environmental flows will be maintained in the river itself”, even as Manoj Misra, member of the organizing committee of India Rivers Week “cautioned her not to proceed hurriedly on the project given its adverse social and ecological consequences.”
Speaking at the conference, Justice Madan Lokur, judge, Supreme Court of India stressed on the need to put in place alternative dispute resolution mechanisms to resolve water conflicts. “Courts are not the best option for this”, he said. Anupam Mishra of the Gandhi Peace Foundation spoke on the value of “time-tested systems of water harvesting and the need to promote the use of indigenous knowledge to solve water problem instead of gigantic and destructive schemes like interlinking of rivers.”
KJ Joy of Society for Promoting Participative Ecosystem Management, Pune, speaking on the issue of community initiatives for conflict resolution on rivers said that “there is a need to recognize the complexity, diversity and heterogeneity of conflicts around rivers. These conflicts often end up in courts for redressal. The experiences and struggles reveal limitations in the processes being handled in the court, thus raising the question of whether courts/tribunals are adequately equipped to redress these conflicts.”
Joy further said, “At the same time there are several community evolved and driven resolution mechanisms, sometimes in the form of customary practices. These are often co-opted and/or sabotaged by vested interests and inappropriately mandated state agencies/ laws. There is a need to search for policy, legal and institutional avenues for legitimizing these resolution practices, and also frame alternative mechanisms within a normative framework of social justice, sustainability, and equity and democracy.”
Bhai KK Chatradhara on behalf of the group, “Campaigns for protection or rejuvenation of rivers”, said, “River rejuvenation should be looked at from a holistic perspective – from source to sea. Cumulative Impact Assessment including downstream impact assessment should be done before taking up of any new project. That should require consultations with and consent of Gram Sabha and local panchayat raj institutions.”
He added, “Local community people should be involved in discussions and decision making processes at all levels. Effective cost benefit analysis including options analysis and direct and indirect costs incurred such as cost of decommissioning, aesthetic and landscape loss, disaster potential of an area should be assessed. Sand auditing should be carried out.”
Preeta Dhar, representing the group on “Good legal interventions and secured rivers”, pointed out that “there is a need for addressing outdated laws and standards, gaps and for accounting for changes in technology.” The greater role of panchayati raj institutions and local communities in governance was stressed. The group also recommended the need for use of legal spaces to develop best practices and do go for strategic litigation.
Sudhirendar Sharma, speaking on behalf of the group on “Dams decommissioning and restored rivers” said that “decommissioning of dams is new in the Indian context and in the light of the Mullaperiyar Dam, highly contentious and political. The arguments favoring decommissioning, if at all, are in a nascent stage both in terms of arguments, language and its presentation. The idiom of decommissioning has yet to be located. Locating decommissioning in the context of potential politics is weak in argument and smells of what critics might argue as a case of kinetic politics.”
The India Rivers Week event was organized between 24-27 November, 2014 by a consortium of NGOs including WWF India, INTACH, SANDRP, Toxics Link and PEACE Institute Charitable Trust, with additional support from Arghyam (Bengaluru), International Rivers (Mumbai), and Peoples Science Institute (Dehradun) to discuss, deliberate and exchange their experiences and ideas aimed at the conserving, rejuvenation, restoration of rivers in the country. With ‘Rivers in crisis’ as the theme, the Conference endeavors to devise a National Charter for Rivers and promote a National Forum for Restoration of Rivers.
The Indian Rivers Week-2014 conference awarded individuals and organizations the “Bhagirath Prayas Samman” for their dedicated work on river integrity and safety. Those who were awarded were Dr Latha Anantha of the Chalakudy Puzha Samrakshana Samiti, who has worked on safeguard the integrity of the river Chalakudy (Kerala); Akhil Gogoi of the Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti, who has successfully utilised the Right to Information Act in conjunction with mass mobilization of communities with respect to ill conceived projects in river Subansiri (Assam); and Koel Karo Jan Sangathan for its efforts to safeguard the integrity of the rivers Koel and Karo (Jharkhand).

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