High Level Expert Group on the Bhagirathi river lacks required expertise

All is not well with the High Level Expert Group (HLEG) constituted on an order of the Government of India to determine the flow required to keep the Bhagirathi river 'alive and to ensure perennial environmental flow in the river'. It may be recalled that on June 30, 2008 the Government of India committed itself to "suitably ensure perennial environmental flow in all stretches of river Bhagirathi."This commitment was made in response to a representation of the Alumini Association of IIT- Kanpur to the Prime Minister of India requesting his intervention in the fast-unto-death undertaken by Dr. G.D. Agrawal , a former Dean of IIT-Kanpur -- to ensure the natural and uninterrupted flow of the Bhagirathi river between Gangotri and Dharasu (Uttarkashi). Subsequently the Ministry of Power, GoI, directed Shri R.S. Sharma, Chairman & Managing Director of NTPC, to constitute a high level expert group. The biggest problem with the HLEG is that it lacks the necessary scientific expertise to comprehensively address the issue. In a letter to Shri R.S. Sharma, rejecting his invitation to be a member of the HLEG, Dr G.D. Agrawal wrote, "Several members of the HLEG as constituted (including its Chairman) fall extremely short on any sort of expertise on river ecology and environmental flows...The commitment of most proposed members towards conservation of Bhagirathi Gangaji as the mother of India's faith, unity and culture is also questionable and I cannot afford to provide credibility to its deliberations and conclusions by being an ordinary member of the group." "Environmental stream flow determination is a highly specialized subject that requires a multi-disciplinary approach based on knowledge of the natural functions of a river, its ecology and social and cultural importance,"says Dr. Ravi Chopra, Director, People's Science Institute and a permanent invitee to the HLEG. But the HLEG is mainly packed with engineers from various government organizations. "Even though the concept of environmental stream flows means variable ecologically acceptable flows across the year, these engineers repeatedly talked in terms of the 'minimum flow required' at the last meeting of the HLEG," reveals Dr. Chopra. "It is obvious that they want to leave only a minimum flow in the river and not the ecologically required flows. They are neither interested in keeping the Bhagirathi alive nor in ensuring perennial environmental flows, as stated in the terms of reference of the HLEG,"he adds. In the first significant scientific attempt to assess the environmental flow requirements of Indian rivers, the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) , an international research organization supported by the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research of the World Bank , classified Indian rivers into various classes from A to F. Class A refers to a river in its natural, pristine form while class F refers to a river that is almost dead, devoid of any life form. Despite being repeatedly asked by Dr. Chopra to classify the Bhagirathi's stretch from Gangotri to Uttarkashi as class A, the government representatives (engineers) in the HLEG steadfastly refused to do so. Their reluctance to do so can be understood from the fact that the environment management strategy for class A entails that no dams or diversions be built on the river. "If the Bhagirathi between Gangotri and Uttarkashi is not class A then which river of India can be categorized as class A?"asks Shri Rajendra Singh, Magsaysay award winner and a member of the HLEG. He is also unhappy at the way the Group is dominated by the government nominees. "The government and its nominees have not shown any spirit of accommodation. Neither of the two eminent scientists proposed by the IIT-Kanpur Alumni Association was invited to join the group. If IITians are not fit to recommend suitable experts, then who are? Can such a lopsided Group, stacked with seven government nominees versus only two non-government ones, give an unbiased recommendation?"he asks. Download the Press Note as a doc file: Press Release

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