Press on Environment and Wildlife
Harnessing River Water (Issue of the week, September Week 2(2005)) ‘The Hindu’ reported the news item where interlinking of two major rivers in Andhra Pradesh is all set to take off . The report has not mentioned the details of this major exercise like the areas affected, the forest area affected, plans to relocate villages coming in the way etc. Looks like the Government is hoping that performance of Puja by the entire cabinet will ensure smooth sailing of the project!
Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister, Y. S. Rajasekhara Reddy, has sought the cooperation of all the political parties, non-Governmental Organisations and people of the State to fully harness the potential of Godavari and Krishna river basins by completing the irrigation projects.
The Chief Minister said that the significance of the gigantic task taken up by the Government should be understood from the fact that 700 tmcft of Godavari water was already let into the sea and 500 tmcft of Krishna water would also join the sea. The only strategy for over all development of agrarian economy was to fully tap Godavari floodwater and divert a part of it to the Krishna basin, he added. Dr. Reddy said tenders to the tune of Rs. 30,000 crores had been finalised and 33 major irrigation projects had been prioritised for completion at a whopping cost of Rs. 50,000 crores. In accordance with the Cabinet decision, the Chief Minister deputed Finance Minister, K. Rosaiah and Home Minister K. Jana Reddy to perform Gangamma puja at Nagarjunasagar project on Thursday. The Major Irrigation Minister, Ponnala Laxmaiah, would perform a similar puja at Srisailam reservoir, while the Sports Minister, M. Satyanarayan Rao, would visit the Sriramsagar project. The Higher Education Minister P. Venkateswara Rao and Panchayat Raj Minister J. C. Diwakar Reddy would perform puja at the Prakasam barrage.
Performance of forest officers (September Week 2(2005)) The Indian Express reported the arrest of three after leopard, deer skin seizure by forest officers in Kolkatta. One person was apprehended red-handed with the skins of a leopard and a spotted deer at Gunjerpur village, near Mathurapur in South 24 Parganas. Majid Ali Naskar was arrested the moment he produced the skins for inspection.
The pioneer reported that Wildlife wing moots out-of-turn promotions for performing staff . Taking a cue from the system of out-of-turn promotions for performing staff as practiced by the police department, the wildlife wing of the Forest Department has moved a proposal to grant out-of-turn promotions to field staff who make a mark.
The Hindu gave prominence to a story of poachers turned conservationists. Thanks to a rehabilitation package, hardcore poachers at Gudalur in Theni district have now become guides to tourists visiting the Periyar Tiger Reserve (PTR) in Thekkadi. Rampant poaching used to take a heavy toll on tuskers and bisons in these forests.
The Central Chronicle of Srinagar reported strengthening of forest protection force in Srinagar. The Jammu and Kashmir Government has decided to strengthen the Forest Protection Force (FPF) as part of its multi-pronged strategy to protect forests and curb timber smuggling in the state.
The Forest Department's decision to engage ex-servicemen and deployment of additional vehicles for patrolling in wildlife reserves of Madhya Pradesh seems to be paying off. Nearly a month after the patrolling began, a gang of poachers has been apprehended.
Kanha Park is attracting more tourists now (September Week 2(2005)) Answering to a question in the ongoing Assembly Session, Forest Minister Himmat Kothari told that the number of domestic and foreign tourists was increasing in Kanha National Park in Mandla District.
There is also a rise in the revenue by Rs 65,60,207 in this year, he said. This information was furnished in a written reply to a question raised by legislature Dev Singh Sayyam.
Mr Kothari further said that in the year 2002-03 there were 55,475 tourists including 1,977 foreigners, while the figure reached 64,546 in the year 2003-04 and it was 71,782 in the fiscal year ending on March 31, 2005.
The Minister also informed that the revenue of the department from this national park was Rs 46,14,453 in the year 2002, while it reached Rs 52,07,402 in the year 2003-04 and Rs 1,17,67,609 in the last fiscal year.
Mr Kothari further added that the earning of the national park is spent on providing facilities to the animals and rehabilitation of villagers.
In reply to another question, he informed that six chitals have been killed in Southern Forest Division (Territorial) in past three year. Four out of six were killed after being chased by dogs.
He denied any instance of black buck killing stating that black bucks are not found in this division. He also denied that any of the animals were killed due to laxity by forest officials.
Bio fuel production (September Week 2(2005)) The Chattisgarh Chief Minister has asked the centre to link bio-diesel production with the new national rural employment guarantee scheme and also to implement it in the districts covered under the food for work program.
“The centre should come out with a proper policy on bio-diesel production from Jatropha seeds and promote its cultivation and extraction at the lowest level. Cultivation and extraction of Jatropha will change the social and economic structure of the landless farmers, forest dwellers and tribal population.” He told press persons.
Controlling “Parthenium” or “Congress Grass” (September Week 2(2005)) Times of India and Financial express reported on the campaign by The National Research Centre for Weed Science for biological control of the Mexican parthenium weed by importing beetles from Mexico.
The weed was imported into India along with the PL 480 Mexican wheat seeds in the ‘50s.. It is capable of re-growing from cut or broken parts. It has no natural enemies such as insects and diseases. It has spread rapidly all over India. The plant is known to cause health hazards such as skin allergy, hay fever and asthma. It is said to be toxic to livestock.
One of the ways to control the weed is to uproot the plant before flowering. Spreading seeds of self perpetuating competitive plants can also reduce the plant invading an area.
The biological control method through Mexican beetle is likely to be slow. Hence this program needs to be integrated with plantation of suitable competitive plants available locally.
Interlinking rivers: is it the solution? (Issue of the week, September Week 1(2005)) V. Rajamani, Professor of Geology at Jawaharlal Nehru University has raised some valid concerns in the Hindu.

A river flows on land in response to tectonic features and climate of the region. The ecology of the land and coastal areas also exists in response to these basic earth processes.
Rivers in India, especially those flowing in the peninsula, are geologically several tens of million years old. They are mostly rain-fed, with some contribution from glacial melting to the Himalayan rivers. Therefore, these rivers have survived through major climatic changes, monsoon variations, sea level changes, and tectonic activities. Most of them have built extensive flood plains and deltas. These alluvial plains and deltas are historically the main farmlands in India. These rivers store the excess water in the floodplains and deltas during monsoons and release it during dry periods to maintain the minimum flow and to sustain agriculture. The geological, physiographic, and climatic set-up in India allows agriculture in low lying and groundwater-bearing floodplains and deltas, and forestry in upland, river catchment areas. This was the practice in India till large dams began to be built in upland areas.
Interlinking of rivers requires construction of a large number of huge dams. In addition to several ecological and social consequences, this causes a near total removal of suspended sediment load from the stream flow, which would otherwise get deposited on land through flooding. Part of the dissolved solute load (bio-available nutrients) also gets removed along with settling silt — clay-sized (less than 60 micrometres) sediments — from water flowing downstream of the dams (in river channels and irrigation canals). Consequently, irrigation water becomes nutrient depleted and this necessitates the extensive use of chemical fertilizers for agriculture. Consequences of water pollution (both surface and subsurface) due to the use of inorganic fertilizers and pesticides and of nutrient-depleted food on the health of the ecosystem including that of humans are somewhat known. Besides, unlike a natural river channel (bed), a canal cannot provide for ecological niches for diversity of aquatic life.
We must realise that river flooding created fertile plains, by depositing nutrient-rich sediments, which had acquired the textures and mineralogy to hold enormous quantities of water and nutrients. River flooding is a constructive geological process and not a disaster as it is considered to be by the urbanised civilisation. Annual flooding removes the agricultural wastes/toxins, deposits nutrient-rich sediments, recharges the groundwater in the farmland, and sustains various riparian habitats. Low frequency and high magnitude flooding makes new cultivable farmland, in addition to all of the above. River flooding, in lowland areas particularly, is good for agriculture and ecology. If all human civilisation and development are due to sustainability of agriculture then there is no earth process that is more beneficial to mankind than natural river flooding. Flooding becomes a hazard from the human perspective when the floodplains are taken over for human habitation.
Dams in the upstream part of a river not only deprive the downstream region of its natural supply of sediments but also increases the hydraulic gradient locally. Both these factors increase the erosive power of water leading to bank erosion provided water is allowed to flow downstream. Curtailing floods in the lower reaches amounts to virtual stoppage of natural recharging of groundwater in the cultivated floodplains and deltas. These areas in peninsular India receive much lower rainfall during the southwest rainfall for direct recharging of groundwater. At the same time, the very same deltaic region has already been subjected to overexploitation of groundwater to maintain agricultural productivity.
The cumulative effect of all these on the landscape in terms of its vegetative cover and its potential for desertification needs to be evaluated. In regions of semi aridity with high inter-annual variability of rainfall, intense cultivation, without regard to groundwater recharge potential, could lead to desertification. Absence of periodic river flooding in such regions would only accelerate this process of desertification.
Along the east coast of India, all major peninsular rivers had built extensive deltas on a geological timescale and, therefore, made intensive agriculture possible for the past several millennia. Delta building activities continue even today. This clearly implies that in all cases, river action in terms of sediment transport is far more dominant than the combined action of waves, tides, and littoral currents. Damming the rivers for linking will cut down the sediment supply and this could cause coastal and delta erosion by waves and the prevailing, south-moving, littoral longshore currents.
On a geological timescale, if not on a century or a decadal scale, this will result in a loss of productive farmland as well as in small-scale sea transgressions. If the much debated discussion on global warming and consequent sea level rise has any relevance to the east coast, the cumulative effect of coastal erosion due to reduction of sediment supply and the sea level rise could lead to large scale sea transgressions into the developed coastal areas.
There is a strong symbiosis between marine and land life systems on earth. The hydrologic cycle provides fresh water to the land from the oceans. Water, fallen on land either as rainfall or snowfall, weathers rocks on land and picks up the nutrient elements as dissolved solutes, and carries them through surface run-off (rivers) as well as subsurface flows to the sea. Thus the land life gets water from the oceans and the marine life gets some essential nutrients from land.
Effect on Bay of Bengal
If only little water is returned to the oceans because of interlinking of rivers, there are at least two major consequences. (1) Marine life is deprived of nutrient supply (although wind can transport mineral dust from land, which contain nutrients but not readily in bioavailable form) and marine productivity could get adversely affected. (2) The Bay of Bengal (BoB) is uniquely characterised by the presence of a less-dense and low-saline layer of water. The presence of this low-salinity layer helps in the maintenance of high sea-surface temperatures (greater than 28 degrees C), a requirement thought to be responsible for the intensification of summer monsoon in the BoB. It is also well known that a very large part of the Indian subcontinent gets summer monsoon rainfall because of the development and maintenance of a low-pressure system in the Bay of Bengal.
It appears as though the BoB gets back more water from land than it gives by evaporation to maintain the low-density layer. If so, what will be the effect on the monsoon system of the river-linking project? Or, how much minimum water should be returned to the BoB from land to maintain the low salinity layer and therefore the monsoon system? How much land water is likely to be returned to the BoB annually after the completion of all linkages? We simply do not know. If the monsoon system from the BoB slowly shuts itself off on a decadal or a century scale in the event of land-water not reaching the sea, then rivers on the Indian continent may not exist to sustain their linkages. This is very serious. We need to generate sound and credible scientific data on the monsoon system taking into account all possible air-sea-land-life interactions.
A very thorough scientific study on all aspects discussed above including consequences of flood mitigation, lack of sediment, water and nutrient supply in the downstream and coastal region, and more importantly in the BoB, is essential for evaluating the long-term consequences of interlinking of rivers in India. At present most of these aspects are huge unknowns. Elementary wisdom tells us that when in doubt leave things as they are. Alternatively, we can take advantage of the knowledge available in this ever-flattening world.
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