Kerala rivers turn grazing lands

G. K. Nair


Facing extinction threat: A file photo of sand being mined from rivers near Kochi. Rivers are singing their swan song as the riverine ecology has been affected by the alarming rate of unrestricted sand mining.

Kochi, April 19: 

The indiscriminate human intervention mainly by unscrupulous removal of sand from the beds of the major rivers in Kerala such as Pampa, Periyar, Bharathapuzha, Manimala etc., has transformed them into vast stretches of grazing lands following prolific growth of vegetation.

Urging all the authorities concerned to initiate concerted efforts to regulate the sand mining activities based on sand auditing as envisaged in the ‘Kerala River Bank Protection and Sand Mining Regulation Act, 2001' a team of experts warned that failure to do so might ring the death-knell of several rivers in the God's Own Country as the very characteristics of the rivers have been changed.

"Although pure sand seldom supports vegetative growth, the silt admixture in sand could support vegetation. The sewage outfalls and disposal of solid wastes from developmental centres located on the banks of the rivers may fertilise the deposit further, and hence provide a favourable substratum for dense growth of plants," experts said.

As a result, vast stretches of such grasslands in the rivers can been seen from the bridge across Periyar on the Perumbavoor - Kalady road and in the holy river Pampa down stream the Kozhencherry bridge.

Water scarcity

"While it would lead to the gradual death of the rivers, it is threatening the very existence of natural water resources in the State as removal of sand lowered river bed and that in turn reduced the water holding capacity of rivers. Acute water scarcity is experiencing in the river basin even though Kerala have received moderately fair summer rains, pointed out experts.

The expert team of scientists and engineers under the auspices of the Pampa Parirakshana Samithi (PPS), an environmental organisation, conducted a field survey last week to study the present status of River Pampa found further environmental degradation of the river following continuous human intervention.

Sand budget of Pampa

The study report on the sand budget of Pampa river prepared by Dr D. Padmalal of Centre for Earth Science Studies (CESS), Thiruvananthapuram, was taken as a bench mark for assessment of the extend of degradation caused by the river over the past 15 years, Mr N.K. Sukumaran Nair, the PPS General Secretary told Business Line.

The expert study team observed that that the river has lost it's continuum in summer months as it is turned to a series of pools and grassy islands. The individual pools of 4-8 m water depth, resulted from indiscriminate scooping of sand, are often connected by a stream-let of water in certain stretches, especially in the downstream side. Most of the sand deposits and sandy plains, recorded by CESS previously, are either partially or completely disappeared.

Some sand deposits are turned into grass isles/ grasslands. Local people use the grass blanketed areas for grazing their livestock. The unscientific removal of construction grade sand using pole and net mechanism widespread in the river is the Villain to these changes.

The process could enhance many folds the Total Suspended Sediment (TSS) level in the river water column which in will be deposited in sheltered environments during flooding. This along with the channel incision (river bed lowering) is responsible for the prolific growth of vegetation over the sand deposits. The degradation has reached such a level that several stretches have become stabilized vegetated islands.

In fact, the sand deposit at Maramon is now totally changed to a grass land. The discharge of nutrient rich sewage from the Kozhenchery township and silt reaching from the sand mining centres upstream during high flow seasons are responsible for the accelerated growth of grass and other vegetations.

The unscientific granite structure for about 417m length, indented mainly for protecting the sandy plain at Maramon is counter productive as it contribute a low energy zone behind the granite construction.

On the other hand, the narrow active channel between the granite structure and the right bank acts as a flow amplifier and hence accelerating erosion of sediments in an area naturally meant for deposition. All these, in one way or the other, contribute a favuorable environment for the prolific growth of weed plants over the sand deposit.

Poor drinking water schemes

Another important observation made by the team is on the sad State of drinking water supply schemes. The river is the major source of drinking water to several lakhs of people in the Pampa river basin. The lowered water level consequent to channel incision and river degradation adversely affected the water storage capacity of the river, especially in summer months.

In order to make water supply steady, the Kerala Water Authority has to construct newer and newer intake structures every year. Last year, Mr Nair said, the authorities have to abandon the old intake structures and construct a new deep well in the middle of the river close to the active channel for water abstraction.

He said the authorities are now coming with a new proposal to remove the grass blanket over the sand deposit. The team of experts strongly feels that the proposal has to be implemented only after proper scientific studies by a competent agency. Mere removal of vegetative growth will not give fruitful and sustainable results as the root cause for degradation still persists. Treatment is needed for the root causes of environmental degradation and not for the surface.

The team also had three learned Senior Citizens residing on the bank of the River Pampa, apart from Mr N K Sukumaran Nair, Professor M.V.S. Namboothiri (Executive committee member), K.R. Vinayachandran Nair (Vice-President) and Professor T.N. Ramakrishna Kurup (President) of the PPS.

Ganges: A River in Peril

by V. K. Joshi (Bijji)

"The land where the Ganges does not flow 
  is likened in a hymn to the sky without the sun, 
  a home without a lamp, 
  a Brahmin without the Vedas

So writes Jean Tavernie in 
Travel in India.

The Ganges, popularly known as 'Ganga' occupies an integral and sacrosanct place in India's history making her presence felt from the geopolitical to the socio-economic sphere. The river originates at Gaumukh in the Southern Himalayas flowing through Cities, Towns and quiet landscape before reaching theTriveni Sangam close to Varanasi (Banaras). There are innumerable sites all along the river which are legendary in Hindu history and mythology. Endearingly, the river is often referred to as ‘Ganga-Ma' [meaning, ‘mother Ganga']. It is also the very soul of India where half the population directly or indirectly depends on the Ganges for drinking water and agricultural needs. 

In her book "
Banaras: City of Light," Diana Eck articulately wrote:

"There are few things on which Hindu India, diverse as it is, might agree. But of the Ganges, India speaks with one voice. The Ganges carries an immense cultural and religious meaning for Hindus of every region and every sectarian persuasion."

A sacred river revered by the Hindus and glorified in mythologies, stories, songs and poems, the Ganges is the very heart and soul of India. One would naturally expect that a river this dear to its own people would be cherished and protected with zeal. But alas, perhaps it is the very significance of the river in Hindu customs and belief that has and continues to push it to its nadir.
Today, the Ganges is threatened by the very divine prominence it has been accorded by its own people. Every year, thousands of worshippers congregate on the banks of the river to attend various festivals such as the Sangam, Sagar Mela and Kumbh Mela. This mass gathering of people that the river attracts has an environmentally adverse effect on it. Over the years the glaciers that the river emerges from have been decreasing by hundreds of feet and the decline in average snowfall in the region has prevented their replenishment.

According to a number of glaciologists, part of the problem facing the Ganges may lie in the burning of fossil fuels by pilgrims who assemble in tents near the glaciers. Sadly, the reverence given to the river seems to be limited to rituals wherein one takes away from it or ‘uses' it, without any thought or consideration for what it does to
Ganga-Ma. For example, the emersion of idols of deities and practices such as immersing ashes of the dead in the Ganges may have a divine impetus behind them, but have deadly effects on the river and environment. 

The similar callousness is evident all along the Ganga basin, where it is estimated that almost 350 million people reside. As it flows through several towns and cities, untreated human, animal and industrial wastes are discharged into the river. In Kanpur, for example, chromium and other harmful chemicals from the nearby leather industries seep into the river unrestricted. The rise in contamination of ground water around the Ganga Basin areas is evident in the ever increasing cases of water borne disease such as cholera. According to the Sankat Mochan Foundation (SMF) that launched the Campaign for a Clean Ganga, fecal coliform pollution in several bathing areas is more than 3,000 times above the level acceptable and safe for human beings. Decomposed corpses that have not been cremated properly are left to float in the river, polluting the sacred waters but also threatens marine and human life. 

The seriousness of the problem has been acknowledged by the Indian Authorities who realize that unless serious measures are taken, the water supply generated from the Ganges will dwindle over a period of time. In April 1985 The Ganga Action Plan (GAP) was established to clean the Ganges. Several waste treatment facilities were constructed with the help of British and Dutch companies to stop the sewage at a certain cut-off point and redirect the water for treatment. Many electrical crematoria were also built for this purpose. GAP seemed like a positive step when it was launched but could not live up to the expectations and the activities were shut down by the Government in 2000. Some environmentalists believe that more than $600 million spent to implement the GAP over the 15 year period failed to yield the desired results and benefit the Ganges. The core of the problem was an absence of a strong political will combined with erroneous technology and lack of vision to address the problem effectively and adequately. For instance, to operate the sewage treatment plants there was a need for a continuous supply of power which was unavailable and as a result the sewage treatment plants were rendered useless. 

The perception of the Ganga itself as a purifying river reduces the sense of urgency as some view the problem as grossly exaggerated. The Ganga is said to contain bacteriophages that can overcome bacteria and so on as well as an unexplained ability to retain dissolved oxygen. However, whether these are seeped in age old beliefs or supported by scientific evidence is debatable. 

The President of SMF, Dr. Veer Bhadra Mishra, strongly believes the struggle to clean our river is ultimately a battle about information rather than technology. It is a battle to create much greater public awareness to break through the firewall of official indifference in India. There is also an urgent need to promote greater environmental consciousness and responsibility among people to manage our waters more efficiently.

The organization in 2001 launched an ambitious three-year "public awareness" project in Varanasi to better inform and encourage citizens to be part of the solution by adopting measures that would make a difference. Workers from the campaign patrol the 7 km stretch along the Varanasi ghats on a daily basis, removing human and animal corpses along with plastic bag and other litter from the river. Although it is an effort that does make a difference there remains a need for a more concrete long-term vision to save the Ganges.

The initiative by environmentalist and concerned citizens has propelled the Government to become more pro-active in their approach to clean the Ganga. In October, 2009 under the Chairmanship of the Prime Minister the first meeting of the National Ganga River Basin Authority (NGRBA) was held. Initiatives such as the ‘Mission Clean Ganga' to prevent untreated municipal sewage and industrial effluent to enter Ganga by 2020 and a comprehensive river basin management plan by December 2010 were put in place. In Februaray 2010, the government allocated substantial budget for the programmes to clean up the Ganges.

In the Ganges lies our future water resource and a failure to protect the Ganges could prove detrimental to our own lives, as water scarcity becomes one of the biggest crisis in the near future. India's first Prime Minter, Late Jawaharlal Nehru famously said: "intertwined her memories, her hopes and fears, her songs of triumph, her victories and her defeats. She has been a symbol of India's age-long culture and civilization, ever changing, ever flowing, and yet ever the same Ganga." 

Every evening as one sits at the river banks in Haridwar looking across the tranquil waters of the Ganges, one can witness the devotion and religious fervor of the worshippers. The skies darken and the chants of the holy priests grow louder at the culmination of the 
Ganga Aarti (prayers) creating an enchanting atmosphere. One needs to realize that it is not an option to save the life sustaining waters of the Ganges but a necessity for in her survival is interviewed our own salvation and century old traditions and religious beliefs.

India's Beloved Ganges

Raj Balu

Where the Ganges flows, there is joy. - Hindustani proverb

According to the Hindus of India, it is a sacred river. Their belief is that bathing in it washes away sins and helps one to attain salvation. Dying in Varanasi, the holy city through which it flows, ensures that the soul is released from an endless cycle of death and rebirth. Millions of people make pilgrimages to the river every year.   
The Ganges is the symbol of India, representing the country's ancient civilization. It possesses both religious and economic significance and its importance to the country is enormous. However, consistent polluting over the years from sewage and boats has created massive problems. In addition, global warming is threatening to cut the source of the river's flow. If nothing is done to remedy these problems, the river could be completely dead and gone within the next few decades. 
The livelihood and religion of millions of Hindus are being threatened. India, as one of the most culturally rich nations in the world, should attempt to preserve its most precious symbol of beauty.
Embodiment of the Goddess
At 1,560 miles long, the Ganges flows through four countries including China, India, Nepal and Bangladesh. Its source is the Ghaumukh glacier in the southern Himalayas on the Indian side of the Tibetan border.
The river basin of the Ganges is 400,000 square miles and one of the most densely populated basins in the entire world. It flows through over 100 cities and towns, many with populations over 100,000. The people of the Ganges basin are ethnically diverse including Arabs, Turks, Mongols, Afghans and Persians. The Hindus regard the river as the holiest of rivers. In India, pilgrimage sites along its shores are numerous and significant. Seeing people bathe and cleanse in the river for ritual purposes is a common sight. For Hindus who do not live near the river, bathing in it is often a lifelong ambition and making a pilgrimage to it can be a life-changing event. It is a regular occurrence that ashes of the deceased are scattered in the river with the belief that the water will guide the souls to their next destination. Hindus also frequently take water from the Ganges back to their homes, mixing it with a larger amount of water from another source and turning it holy. 
In addition to religious significance, the Ganges also possesses economic significance. Since ancient times, water from the Ganges has been used to irrigate crops such as sugarcane, cotton, potatoes and lentils. The river has historically been used for boat transportation of goods including teas and grains, though less in the last many decades due to the advent of the railroad. The river generates significant hydroelectric power, up to 13 million kilowatts. Nearly half the power is generated for use in India. The river also holds much tourist appeal, not only for purposes of pilgrimage, but also for river rafting and other forms of leisurely boating.       
The Ganges is everything to Hindus, including the embodiment of the goddess Ganga and the opportunity to attain nirvana. But in its current condition it is getting further and further away from the holiness and beauty it is best known for. 
Murky Waters
It's a sad fact, but the problems that are greatly affecting much of the natural world are also affecting the Ganges.  
Pollution has been destroying the river for many decades. Millions of gallons of untreated sewage enter the river on a daily basis. Improper cremation of the deceased results in partially burnt corpses floating in the water. Numerous industries along the river, especially the leather industry, uses substantial amounts of chromium during processing, contributing heavily to the river's chemical content. Furthermore, the damming of rivers for hydroelectric power and increase in boat traffic has left the waters filthy and dangerous. Dolphins that once populated the river in high numbers have dwindled down to about 5,000.  
The river faces another major problem due to global warming. According to climatologists, the Ghaumukh glacier -- the Ganges' Himalayan source of water, is rapidly drying up due to climate change. It provides up to 75 percent of the water for the Ganges during the warmer months of the year. It is estimated that the glacier is receding at a rate of 120 feet per year. If things continue the way they have been and the supply of glacial water completely runs out, the Ganges could end up being merely a seasonal river, dependant upon the strength of the monsoon rains. The shrinking of the glacier is not only bad for the Ganges, but for much of Asia which depends upon it as a fresh water resource. 
In 1985, the Indian government set up the Ganga Action Plan in order to build sewage treatment facilities. The government also has scientists and climatologists working to determine what can be done about the glacial recession of the Ghaumukh.  
Damage to Religion
To Hindus, the Ganges is not only a source of life, but it is also a portal into the next life and beyond. At the rate pollution and climate change are negatively affecting the river, there is a chance that in as soon as 20 years, there may be no river left to worship. Pollution and climate change in India is on the verge of destroying thousands of years of cultural history and religious beliefs. 
But as one Hindu worshipper praying on the banks of the river in Varanasi stated, "I have absolute faith that my river can and will heal." In the case of the Ganges, faith alone is likely not enough.

Rice Bowl of Andhra Pradesh in Peril
by V. K. Joshi (Bijji)

Rivers and sea coasts have been a weakness for humans. Fertile soils, easy access to water or seafaring have always lured the mankind to these places. When it comes to nature's fury, water is perhaps one of the best agents the nature has. Populations settled along the water bodies have been facing the ire of the nature since times immemorial. Many a civilizations have proliferated along the coasts and perished too, as a consequence of natural hazards. Despite this knowledge our love of water remains unabated and in today's story we will read about the peril being faced by the farmers on the coasts of Andhra Pradesh due to environmental hazards.  

Rapidly multiplying population of the Indian subcontinent has put a tremendous pressure on the resources and environment. Each area has its characteristic problem in terms of environmental degradation. The fertile area between the Godavari and Krishna rivers in Andhra Pradesh is known as the rice bowl of A.P. It is facing the perils of natural and man made environmental hazards. In order to understand the gravity of situation, it is essential to know something about the geography and geomorphology of the area. 

The coastal belt of Andhra Pradesh extends over 1034 Km from Ichchapuram in the north (border with Orissa) to Pulikat Lake in south (border with Tamilnadu). Ten districts of Andhra Pradesh, viz. Srikakulam, Vizianagaram, Visakhapatnam, West Godavari, East Godavari, Krishna, Guntur, Prakasam, Nellore and Chitoor fall in the arcuate coastal tract. They cover an area of 20,000 Sq. Km. The width of the coast varies from less than five kilometers to 80 km. The ground rises westward, ultimately leading to the Eastern Ghats. The coastal plain is widest in parts of Guntur, Krishna, East Godavari and West Godavari districts. Godavari and Krishna rivers form major deltas. The area between the two major rivers is traversed by the distributaries of these river systems. Kolleru on the north and Pulikat on the south are the two major lakes. These are in fact remnants of earlier lagoons. Kolleru is a fresh water lake and Pulikat Lake's water is saline. The fertile fields end up towards east and are taken over by several lagoons, mangrove swamps and salt marsh. The coast is narrow and rocky in Srikakulam'Uppada area. The deltas of Krishna and Godavari project 37 and 35 km respectively from the coast.

The maritime districts of Andhra Pradesh represent a unique environment as they fall in the interface between the marine and river borne environment. During the months of October and November each year cyclones play havoc on these districts. The cyclonic storms bring in flash floods in their wake thus doubling the misery and hardship. The sea offers plenty of vocation like fishing to the residents of the coasts. The cyclones shatter their lives. 

The knowledge and interpretation of geomorphology and geology of any area plays a vital role in assessing the nature and extent of damage caused by the nature over a period of time. While attempting to work out the details of the natural damage through the millennia the earth scientist works like a forensic expert. Geological Survey of India (GSI) has extensively worked on the coastal geology in Andhra Pradesh. Their studies published recently have lucidly brought out the environmental hazards the fertile coasts are facing and their remedy too. The seacoast of Andhra Pradesh as already mentioned is quite wide. Ground rises gradually from zero level at the sea to almost 180 meters westwards. The marks of earlier shoreline on the ground, called strand lines, indicate that the sea has been receding there. The sea-level was at least 18 meters higher than where it is today at the deltas of Krishna, Godavari, Penner and Eleru rivers. This is confirmed by dating the age of the marine sediments found at higher elevations than the present shoreline. These sediments are more than 6500 years old. The marine and fluviatile landforms respond differently to natural agencies. Landforms like tidal flat, salt flat; mangrove swamps etc are more prone to flood hazards. In case a mantle of clay is present in these landforms, it holds water. Thus results water logging in the post flood period. 

Canals, and drains in this area are often encroached by humans and the flow of water is restricted. Rainy season complicates the situation and a huge tract gets water logged. Chebrolu'Garikepalem stretch is one of the examples. Similarly in Bhadrachalam area in Godavari valley a number of canals and smaller streams are choked due to growth of weeds and continuous silting. Come monsoon and the beautiful looking streams or canals become menacing for the population. A better management, regular cleaning and dredging of all waterways can ease the situation considerably 

Saltwater incursion is another hazard felt by the population of the coasts. Mostly it is due to ignorance of people and negligence of authorities. Excessive withdrawal of fresh water from the underground resource causes salt water to creep in. Being heavier it settles down and then it is almost impossible to remove. Instead of growing Paddy, people have taken to Prawn farming in the area. The latter involves less labor and gives more profit. Naturally society is attracted towards such recourse. The saline water required for Prawn tanks is handy. It is said ignorance is bliss. What the farmers do not realize is this seawater once brought inland for Prawn farms percolates to subsurface. They start blaming the Government for not doing anything about the salinity in their drinking water. Unless regulated, this practice can lead to large areas turning saline. The salinity does not remain subsurface. By capillary action the salts travel to surface and render the fertile areas barren. 

Erosion of the coasts is yet another hazard faced by the population residing along Visakhapatnam coast. Unlike Godavari' Krishna segment, here the coast is rocky. There are engineering solutions to this problem. Construction of jetties, seawalls, breakers etc can control the process considerably. Erosion has to be controlled because the precious land is lost in the process and at times the habitation is also endangered. 

Compared to other states Andhra Pradesh is developing fast. A number of industries like sugar mill, rice and paper mill saw mills etc have come up in the coastal districts. The indiscriminate discharge of effluents, wastes etc has added to the woes of the pollution along the coasts and at several places even the free flow of the streams is hampered by the muck. Only a serious effort by the authorities concerned can check the malpractice. The ash dumps of Visakhapatnam Thermal Station at the apex of Krishna delta are turning the delta hazardous. Department of Science and Technology, Government of India has already developed the technique of making bricks from fly ash. The progressive state of Andhra Pradesh should adopt the new technology and convert the waste ash to gold (bricks). 

Despite cyclones the granary of Andhra Pradesh has all the scope to develop in to one of the best in the Country. The norms laid by the Coastal Regulation Zone Authorities for development of such zones needs to be strictly followed. It is high time that scientists, engineers and the society of the coastal districts join hands for conserving the ecosystem and achieve sustainable development of the Rice Bowl of Andhra.  

Jhelum River source in peril: Wullar Lake drying up fast

By Iftikhar Gilani

NEW DELHI: As India and Pakistan begin talks on the Wullar Barrage/Tulbal navigation lock issue, the last item on the table in the four rounds of composite dialogue, here on Thursday, they are still to find time to actually discuss the health of Wullar Lake, the main source of water to Jhelum River and a lifeline for the Punjab and Sindh plains downstream.

Experts in both Srinagar and New Delhi have constantly warned in the last few years that the lake, which is Asia's largest freshwater reservoir, is fast drying up. They believe that the lake has already entered the eutrophic stage, the process that stimulates the growth of aquatic plants resulting in the depletion of dissolved oxygen.

Quite recently, while Pakistan had expressed concern at the rising pollution levels in the Jhelum River, it has still to make conservation of Wullar Lake an issue, which is the main source of water for Mangla Dam. Experts say it is time both countries combine their efforts to conserve the crucial reservoir.

Of late, although the Jammu and Kashmir government has decided to constitute a separate development authority for Wullar Lake, India's official focus still remains the picturesque Dal Lake in Srinagar.

Despite declaring Wullar Lake a ‘Wetland of International Importance' in the Ramsar Convention in 1990, official agencies still lack proper data concerning the water body. Different figures are doled out about the elliptical lake, which is said to be 16x7.6 kilometres. While the Wetland Directory, published by the Indian government, puts the lake's area at 189 sq km, Survey of India maps reduce it to 58.7 sq km.

Indian Water Resources Minister Prof Saifuddin Soz, who had led a campaign to save the lake, says it has shrunk from its earlier area of 200 sq km to barely 24 sq km now.

Claiming that they have made calculations on the basis of satellite imagery, a senior functionary in the Jammu and Kashmir Directorate of Environment and Remote Sensing (DEARS) said, "We found out that the lake has shrunk from 202 sq km to 65 sq km, of which an area of 30 sq km has massive vegetation."

The International Water Management Institute (IWMI) has also recently raised the alarm, saying that sewage disposal, weed infestation, sedimentation and excessive willow plantation have badly damaged the lake.

Demanding that more funds be allocated to the preservation of the lake, a joint IWMI-Tata Water Policy Programme report claims that its research has found that the lake gives benefits worth Rs 2.19 billion every year. Moreover, the population of about 60,000 villagers around the lake are solely dependent on it for their living.

The report says that municipalities of adjoining towns dump garbage on the banks of the lake. Jhelum, Kashmir's main river, drains the entire south and central Kashmir and enters the lake on the eastern side at Bonyari, after completing a 140km journey from Verinag springs in southern Kashmir, and dumps silt into it.

A dozen other rivulets of northern Kashmir also add tones of organic and inorganic wastes to the lake every day.

Moreover, the Indian navy's only outpost of Marine Commandos, an elite security force unit, is located at the lake for counter-insurgency operations. The Marine Commandos were deployed to Wullar Lake under Operation Rakshak in 1995.

Save Kosi river corridor, save tigers: WWF

IANS Mar 18, 2012, 08.13PM IST

Description: http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/images/pixel.gif

NEW DELHI: Highlighting the importance of the Kosi river corridor in the Corbett tiger reserve in Uttarakhand, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) said Sunday that the crucial pathway is facing a threat from upcoming resorts and hotels.

Recent photos taken in the corridor, situated in the Terai Arc Landscape (TAL) at the heart of which lies the Corbett tiger reserve, have shown as many as 13 tigers using the pathway.

In one of the photos, a tigress with her two sub-adult cubs was camera trapped in west Terai feeding on a domestic cow.

"In January 2012, the same tigress was photographed carrying an approximately one-month-old cub in her mouth, further south in the Kosi corridor," said Meraj Anwar, Senior Project Officer, WWF.

"The sighting comes a few weeks after the first photo of a tiger crossing the corridor," he added.

However, an ever increasing number of resorts to cater to tourists is threatening the tigers with an increase in the number of conflicts between the big cat and humans.

"Ramnagar forest division has witnessed increased human-animal conflict over the years owing to human movement in forests and the expansion of tourism in the area, particularly the tourist resorts that have sprung up here in the recent past," said K.D. Kandpal, Landscape Coordinator, TAL.

"If unchecked, the resorts mushrooming in the area will choke the corridor and block the free movement of tigers through it. If the tiger in India is to be saved for posterity, the Kosi River tiger corridor needs to be protected at all costs," he added.

New Delhi, July 9, 2012  The Hindu

NALSA to move SC against sand mining

J. Venkatesan

The National Legal Services Authority will file a social justice litigation petition in the Supreme Court for protection of rivers from sand mining operations.

The decision was taken at a meeting held here on Saturday under the chairmanship of Justice Altamas Kabir of the Supreme Court and NALSA executive chairman.

According to NALSA member-secretary U. Saratchandran, "Rivers are the important lifelines for water requirements of riparian lands and also for the watershed areas of such rivers. Environmental scientists say that due to sand mining, the river bed goes deep and that the capacity of water to dissipate to riparian lands is diminishing, resulting in drought on either side of the rivers. Deepening of the rivers results in landslides also."

Call for policy

He said: "Due to the rapid growth of construction activities, the need for river sand has increased. As a result, the ‘sand mafia' has become avaricious and tends to flout the court orders and the local laws. Police and politicians also collude with them. Taking into account the needs of the construction industry and the need to protect the rivers in our country, a policy needs to be framed, in tune with the principles of sustainable development, for regulating sand mining activities in a sustainable manner, meeting the needs of the present generation, without endangering the opportunities of the future generation to enjoy the natural resources."

He said the petition would be taken up by the Green Bench, which deals with the pending environmental litigation Godavarman Thirumulpad vs. Union of India.

NALSA decided to utilise the services of students of law universities and law colleges to monitor environmental issues including sand mining, and plans to make a request to the Supreme Court to this effect.

Social justice mandate

Under Section 4(d) of the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987, NALSA has the mandate for initiating social justice litigation for protection of environment and the rights of the weaker sections, consumer protection, etc.

It filed a social justice litigation petition to protect the rights of Vrindavan widows. The Supreme Court has already passed orders constituting a committee to conduct an enumeration so that the widows will benefit from different laws and government schemes.

NALSA is about to file a writ petition to protect the legal rights of the transgender community.

July 1, 2012  The Hindu

Unearthing the excesses

Bharat Dogra

Unbridled sand mining in many parts of the country can have grave repercussions

While small-scale extraction of sand by villagers for local use had never posed any problem, excessive extraction of sand and silica sand using heavy machinery and huge trucks has become a big ecological and safety threat in many parts of the country.

This issue has been highlighted recently in the context of the movements against excessive sand extraction from the Ganga in Uttarakhand and also the public interest litigation against violation of mining laws in huge silica sand mines in Shankargarh, which lies in the Allahabad district of Uttar Pradesh.

What is particularly alarming is the threat to the very survival of several rivers due to excessive sand mining. As heavy machines dig deep into these rivers to extract sand from as deep as possible, all forms of river-life are highly affected. Porous sand is capable of absorbing a lot of water and releasing it gradually. With the heavy removal of sand from rivers and river-banks, the possibility of the drying up of rivers or being reduced to a trickle in dry seasons increases significantly. Water table in adjoining villages may also fall drastically. This possibility increases if groundwater in villages is drawn towards the deeper river-bed.

Excessive sand-mining can also lead to many adjoining fields getting submerged or eroded by river water and the river can change its course too. A lot of mining rubble is often deposited in the near-by fields. Trucks overloaded with sand damage riverside farming while rushing to and from rivers. The possibility of floods is increased as heavy rainy season flows are no longer absorbed by sand. The water rushes towards the settlements following the new paths created by trucks and machines.

In these areas, the village roads and the bigger roads get badly damaged by overloaded trucks, bringing a sharp increase in the number of road accidents. In places like Bundelkhand, sand mafias are known to be well-armed with strong political connections at higher levels such that the villagers are scared to oppose their destructive activities. Shankargarh area of Allahabad district is widely known as the biggest supplier of silica sand to the glass industry. In an inspection made by Director of Mines Safety, Varanasi, in August 2011 in silica sand mines of six villages of Shankargarh, glaring violations of mining rules were noticed. Unqualified persons without any duly qualified blaster were given the task of blasting, thus endangering the life and safety of persons employed in the mine.

The inspection report of the Mining Safety Directorate noted further that the sides of the opencast workings in all the above-mentioned six mines were not kept benched or sloped, and stood near vertical over a height of 6m-10m. Loose boulders were allowed to remain within 3m of the top edges of opencast workings. Undercuts and overhangs were also observed on sides of opencast workings. Mines in Gadwa and Parvezabad were being worked by deployment of heavy earth moving machinery, without obtaining any permission from this Directorate.

At none of these mines was the top of the opencast working kept fenced. Out-of-use pits had also not been backfilled. Protective footwear and helmets were not provided to workers in any of the mines. Employment and attendance records of persons employed in the mines, including in washing/beneficiation plants were not maintained. Furthermore, this report also noted that proper facilities of drinking water, first aid, ambulance and rest shelters were not provided anywhere.

Pointing out glaring violation of rules, this report said that quarterly and annual returns of the mines were not being submitted to the Safety Directorate. None of the mines were placed under the sole charge of a manager, holding qualifications as prescribed by these regulations.

Much earlier, a team of the National Human Rights Commission, of which the writer was a member, had also drawn attention to the violation of rules and norms in these and other mines of this area. Several of the recent violations of rules have received public exposure due to the use of RTI and public interest cases filed by a small voluntary organisation named Jagriti Sansthaan. Its activists faced a serious threat to their lives while trying to reveal various irregularities committed by silica sand miners. Clearly, there is a much greater need for vigilance.

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