Open letter to Uma Bharti, Minister for Water Resources

Chhatris on the banks of the Betwa river. (Source: Vadaykeviv Wikimedia Commons)
Chhatris on the banks of the Betwa river. (Source: Vadaykeviv Wikimedia Commons)

Hon’ble Madam,

Kindly accept my hearty felicitation for your Ministry’s Gazette Notification dated October 7, 2016 regarding Ganga Rejuvenation, Protection and Management. It is a very timely and bold step that reflects your personal deep concern for the rivers, particularly for Mother Ganga. The fact that the notification is rooted in the Environment (Protection) Act of 1986, provides its provisions enormous strength for their implementation. I sincerely hope that the State and District level Ganga Protection Committees will be constituted without delay and that the NMCG will start functioning as the Ganga Authority very soon.
Respected Madam,

I wish to draw your kind attention to two major errors and omissions in the Notification. 

First, the requirement of flows in the river and its tributaries has been mandated by several expressions such as ‘continuous flow’, ‘adequate flow’, ‘continuous adequate flow’, ‘ecological flow’ and ‘environmental flow’ which all have different meanings and hence cause confusion in the determination of the flow requirement. The problem arises because the term ‘ecological flow’ itself is not included in the long list of definitions in Para 3. Subpara (1) and (2) of Para 5 call for ‘uninterrupted flow’ and maintenance of ‘ecological integrity’ which again requires a clear definition. 

May I, therefore, suggest that the issue of flows be examined thoroughly and the flow requirements be expressed by a well-defined term that is used uniformly throughout the text. ‘Environmental Flows’ is today an internationally accepted and used term that take care of both water and sediments.

Second, the notification has direct implications for the Ken-Betwa Link project. Both rivers Ken and Betwa are direct major tributaries of River Yamuna and are covered by the para 3(1)(ze). Further, Para 6(3) clearly prohibits any construction of any kind for “any purpose in the River Ganga, Bank of River Ganga or its tributaries or active flood plain area of River Ganga or its tributaries”. Accordingly, the Ken-Betwa link project cannot be pursued further now without passing through various provisions in this notification. Each of the concerned District Ganga Protection Committees and the two State Ganga Committees (UP and MP) are required to deliberate and approve the project in accordance with the provisions of this notification for further consideration of the Empowered Task Force on Ganga.
Third, Para 20 read with para 2 (applicability) provides for the constitution of State Ganga Rejuvenation, Protection and Management Committees in the states of Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh among others. These two states contribute a significant share of flow and pollution to the river Ganga through tributaries of river Yamuna flowing through their territory. However, despite this fact, the notification does not provide for representation of the states of Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh on the Governing Council of the NMCG. It is therefore of utmost importance that these two states should also be represented on the NMCG governing council. 
Hon’ble Madam,

I humbly request you to kindly consider the above-noted suggestions expeditiously in the interest of River Ganga for which this useful notification has been issued. I sincerely hope that appropriate actions will be taken at the earliest. 

With respectful regards

Brij Gopal
Coordinator, Centre for Inland Waters in South Asia
Chairman, SIL Working Group on Inland Waters of Tropical Asia

Views expressed by the author are personal.