Monday, April 27, 2015

Sewerage, water top concerns for Delhi’s budget (Hindustan Times 26 April 2015)

HT Correspondent

NEW DELHI: The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government conducted a series of public meetings in six constituencies on Saturday before finalising Delhi’s budget.
The first consultation meet was held on April 19 in Patparganj, deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia’s constituency. On Saturday, budget meets were held at Dwarka, Chattarpur, Karawal Nagar, Okhla and Bawana.
According to officials, about 300 people turned up for each of the 11 public meetings. Issues such as cleaning of sewers, dirty water and lack of security were discussed.
Along with the local MLA, the sub-divisional magistrate (SDM) and representatives from the revenue and finance departments were present at the meeting.
“This is the first party that is going to the public after the election. Previously, MLAs used to forget the public after winning the election. This effort has sent a positive message to the public and they feel empowered,” said a Delhi government official.
In Dwarka, people discussed the problem of water they have been facing since years in addition to security concerns and bad roads. According to government officials, an estimate is being made on the basis of voting for top issues. These will be tabled during the final budget that is expected to be presented in the Delhi Assembly in the first week of June.
Maximum votes went for CCTV cameras and gates for security at residential areas in Karawal Nagar, an official said. Demands of a sewage system, clean water and libraries were common in all the meetings.

The Delhi government has planned to hold such public meetings on Sunday and the next week, before finalising the budget in June.

Subsidy on free water scheme may go soon (Hindustan Times 26 April 2015)

Darpan Singh
The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government may remove the subsidy on its 'free' water scheme, while asking Delhi Jal Board to up its revenue ensure that targeted consumers continued to get the benefits.
The move half addresses the criticism that the government had made the free water promise to rake in the votes and was now using the taxpayers' money (Rs 250 crore a year) for the 'freebie'. 
Currently, up to 20,000 litres of water per month is provided free to each household that has a functional meter. The catch, however, is that families consuming even a litre more than 20,000 litres need to pay for the whole supply.
To ensure that the beneficiaries (1.9 million households) of the free water scheme are not affected, Delhi Jal Board will have to generate revenue, government sources said.
DJB will have to sell cleaned-up waste water for horticulture purposes and produce electricity from bio-gas and fertilisers at sewage treatment plants.   
DJB's vice-chairman and AAP MLA Kapil Mishra said: "It's feasible to remove the subsidy and still continue the free water scheme. We are in touch with various organisations for suggestions and solutions. We are looking at increasing revenue without burdening consumers."
A social organisation, Citizens Front for Water Democracy, too has a plan ready in this regard and will submit the same to the government soon.
The NGO had worked closely with the Aam Aadmi Party before elections when the party was preparing its poll manifesto. 
Citizens Front for Water Democracy's creative head Sanjay Sharma said he has discussed the proposal with AAP's top leadership and it can be implemented in a year's time. "Each clean-up plant has a system to catch methane. We need to ensure we also have bio engines to produce power worth Rs 250 crore," he said. At one point, some power used to be generated at some treatment plants.  
The Delhi Jal Board is already looking at selling 80 million gallons per day (MGD) cleaned up waste water to various government agencies for horticulture purposes at
Rs 7 per kilo litre. This will generate around Rs 100 crore per year.
Aam Aadmi Party's pre-election white paper on water said that the DJB loses around Rs 1,000 crore every year due to mismanagement and corruption. It has spent Rs 32,000 crore on water and sewerage services in the last 10 years, but nothing much has improved.
Of the 3,800 million litres of sewage generated in Delhi every day, 2200 million litres per day flows into the Yamuna through storm drains. It kills the river and Delhi misses out on potential revenue. 
The Aam Aadmi Party government is also providing a 50 per cent subsidy on monthly power consumption of up to 400 units.
This benefits around 3.6 million or 90 per cent of the consumers.
The government has said even this subsidy (Rs 1,400 crore per year) will not be needed once the Comptroller and Auditor General submits its report on the finances of the discoms.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Uttarakhand: In the shadow of the quake Bhagirathi eco zone faces quiet burial (The Indian Express 27 April 2015)

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Uttarkashi, the flash flood of 2013: a lesson not learnt. (Source: Express file photo)
Written by Jay Mazoomdaar | New Delhi | Updated: April 27, 2015 1:43 am
Even as Nepal revives memories of the Uttarkashi earthquake and Rahul Gandhi trekked to Kedarnath to heal wounds caused by the devastating flash floods, the Congress government in the state has abandoned work on the much-delayed zonal master plan for the Bhagirathi Eco Sensitive Zone.
The quiet burial came after the NDA government at the Centre, in a volte face, decided to review the 2012 notification of 4179.59 sq km in the watershed of the Bhagirathi river between Gomukh and Uttarkashi as a green zone to safeguard it from unplanned growth.


Part of the fragile Himalayan ecosystem, Uttarkashi suffered one of India’s deadliest earthquakes that killed 727 people and affected 3 lakh in 1991. In the last six years, this district has been jolted as many times by quakes of magnitude 4 to 5.1. In 2012 and 2013, flash floods and landslides killed hundreds and left thousands homeless.
Documents accessed by The Indian Express show that days after Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar refused to modify the ESZ notification, the ministry reversed its stand on January 13 at a PMO meeting chaired by Nriprendra Misra, principal secretary to the PM, “to discuss issues relating to Hydro-Electric projects in Uttarakhand”.
At the meeting, the ministry accepted an ESZ cannot be declared without a proposal from the state government after Uttarakhand claimed the state had not been consulted while notifying the Bhagirathi ESZ, which restricted most development projects in the area and impacted livelihoods.
However, when Chief Minister Harish Rawat made the same arguments in a letter to Javadekar in May 2014, the latter assured him the provisions of the 2012 notification in “no way hamper the development aspirations and livelihood options of the local people”. In his reply on December 26, Javadekar also wrote, “My ministry in consultation with the Ministry of Water Resources is preparing minor amendments to the notification. However, consideration of small hydropower projects in this extremely fragile region do not figure [in] the minor amendments.”
The Bhagirathi ESZ was notified on December 18, 2012, after a series of natural disasters. But from the very beginning, the state was opposed to notifying around 100 times the area proposed in a July 2011 draft notification that sought only 100 metres on either side of the river as ESZ. It also objected to the ban on hydropower projects above 2 MW since the 2011 draft proposed a ban on only those above 25 MW.
On December 18, 2014, a reluctant Uttarakhand missed the two-year deadline for preparing the Zonal Master Plan for the management of the ESZ. Soon after, in an affidavit submitted to the National Green Tribunal on December 24, the state sought a stay on the implementation of the 2012 notification till it was amended in consultation with the state government.
In the same affidavit, however, the state also assured the tribunal that six proposals were received after expressions of interest for preparing the Zonal Master Plan were sought through advertisements in the media and four of those six parties already made presentations before the monitoring committee of the Bhagirathi ESZ.
The affidavit further claimed that the monitoring committee “also decided to examine whether the Zonal Master Plan could be prepared by a core committee of the government departments with the help of a consortium of national level institutions”.
Four days after Uttarakhand submitted this affidavit, the state cabinet passed a resolution on December 28 to request the Centre for withdrawal of the December 2012 notification itself. Soon after, a state delegation met key PMO officials and the Environment Ministry agreed to review the 2012 notification. While the issue comes up before the NGT again on April 30, not even a single meeting of the ESZ monitoring committee has been held in 2015.

“Our last meeting was on December 3 when it was decided that work on the Zonal Master Plan would continue. But no meeting of the committee took place since,” said Mallika Bhanot, independent member of the monitoring committee.

Those who dare speak up against sand mafia are silenced (Hindustan Times 24 April 2015)

Ramesh Babu

The inundated bank of the river Neyyar which locals say is a victim of unregulated, illegal sand mining. 

At a destitute home in Kerala’s capital Thiruvananthapuram, 75-year-old Darley stares dejectedly at an empty wall.
She says she ended up here after fighting the powerful sand mafia for more than two decades.
Her home on the banks of the Neyyar river in Olathani area, 16 kilometres from the city, collapsed two years ago after miners carved up her land from all sides. Darley says many critics called her insane but she kept fighting with the belief that forests were the lifeline of humankind. But her pleas fell on deaf ears.
Construction industry experts estimate Kerala will consume about 60 million tonnes of sand annually by 2020, a massive incentive for the illegal mining lobby to keep digging while its actions threaten the environment and wipe out vital ecosystems.
Darley says she grew up on the banks of the gushing river, surrounded by lush greenery, chirping birds and sparkling fish. Now the mighty water body is a shadow of its former self, changing course often.
Reckless sand mining to feed imposing concrete structures in the neighbourhood dealt it a fatal blow.
“People who exploit rivers and forests don’t know they are doing a big injustice to the next generation. Like us, animals and birds have a right to live,” Darley said.
Illegal mining well above permissible limits eroded the riverbed and led to loss of precious land. Many turned rich overnight, but the 100 to 150-foot-deep gorges on the banks turned into death traps with around 500 people drowning here every year.
Darley’s is not an isolated case. A panchayat in Thirvananthapuram district’s Pallichal area declared activist VV Vijitha a public nuisance.
The reason: she filed at least three-dozen RTI pleas in the past two years about the flourishing stone and sand quarries in the area.
“In the RTI replies it was quite evident that panchayat authorities and quarry or sand mafia were hand in glove. Stipulations were flouted nakedly and permits were given randomly. Those who raised questions were bullied,” she said.
Residents of Mukunnimala, on the outskirts of Thiruvananthapuram, and surrounding areas have been on the warpath for several years, blaming quarry units for their ravaged neighbourhood, pollution, heavy traffic of truckers, water contamination and incessant blasting.
“Authorities are keen to silence those who raise their voices rather than solving the issue that will cripple Mother Nature forever,” Vijitha said. The 33-year-old was arrested twice for leading the movement.
“The mighty Neyyar river is beyond repair now. At many places, it has adopted new courses due to excessive mining. Sadly, we never had the sagacity of a semi-literate granny like Darley,” said activist M Raj Mohan, who also produced a half-hour documentary on Darley, titled “The Daughter of the River.”
Endowed with 44 rivers, Kerala, popularly known as God’s Own Country, now has a frightening tale to tell.
Every river portrays a sorry sight, with banks eroded, valleys slumped and channels dried up, contaminating water in surrounding areas.
Though the green tribunals banned sand mining from riverbeds and coastal areas two years ago, illegal excavation is rampant in many areas. divers are in great demand as they move in country boats in the dead of the night and hit the river bottom with the prowess of catfish.
At least 60 cases were registered in six months in Kerala, but policemen are often paid off, say sources. Many officials own trucks and boats that ferry sand and top department representatives try to get assigned to regions where mining is raging.
“We are treading a suicide path. At this rate all the rivers will dry up soon. Building laws will have to be regulated to control excess use of sand,” said 93-year-old Gandhian P Gopinathan Nair.
Eminent ecologist Madhav Gadgil, who prepared a report to protect the ecology of the Western Ghats, recently said more than 1,700 illegal quarries operate in this region of the state.
Demand still outstrips supply. Feeling the pinch, some major construction firms are planning to import sand from Vietnam and Cambodia. Kochi port was in the news last year after nearly thousand tonnes of Cambodian sand lay there unsold for months.

“Kashmir to Kanyakumari, the mafia has spread its wings. To feed growing urban needs, rural areas and natural sources are shrinking alarmingly. How can we realise Swaraj and Gandhiji’s dream of the country living in its villages?” asked Nair. 

Freak storm batters Bihar, leaves 42 dead, 100 injured (Hindustan Times 23 April 2015)

Aditya N Jha and Avinash Kumar (With agency inputs)

PURNIA/ PATNA: At least 42 people were killed and over a 100 others injured in a storm that lashed the northeastern region of Bihar. Seven districts of the state are the worst affected, with several hamlets flattened and trees, electric poles uprooted.

A family in Saharsa, Bihar, examines the ruins of their house that was flattened in the storm that struck the state late Tuesday.
Officials said the numbers could increase as only the primary assessments have happened so far. Authorities have said they were finding it difficult to access the areas due to the damage inflicted by the storm.
“Communication and electricity has been disrupted in the storm-hit areas and roads blocked with fallen trees,” said Vyasji, principal secretary of Bihar’s disaster management department.
RK Giri, the director in Patna of the Indian Meteorological Department said such storms are common at this time of year and are called ‘Kal Baisakh’ or ‘nor’westers’. According to him, the wind speeds in the storm was around 65 km per hour.
The agriculture department believes that the crop damage could run into crores since most of the maize crops in the region were destroyed in the rains, and thousands of mango trees uprooted.
Chief minister Nitish Kumar visited the affected areas and announced a compensation of ` 4 lakh to the kin of the deceased.
Thousands of poor people have become homeless as a result of the storm, he said.

Authorities have also launched relief efforts in 10 districts hit by the storm.

The unbreachable sand fortresses of MP (Hindustan Times 23 April 2015)

Neeraj Santoshi and Shruti Tomar ■ (Additional reporting by Mahendra Thakur and Mahesh Shivhare)


AXIS OF EVIL The mafia has such a strong network — including in the CM’s home district — that it can stop the police from reaching the riverbanks each time there’s a raid

VINCENT RAHEEM, Morena district forest officer

As many as 170 villages along the mighty Chambal river in Madhya Pradesh have been taken over by the flourishing sand mafia, turning the vast swathe into a veritable fortress that even police dare not breach.

Policemen search vehicles in Morena after a constable was mowed down allegedly by the sand mafia.
To protect the lucrative trade worth about ` 30 lakh a day, HT discovered, people in these parts of Morena district are ready to kill anyone, be it a commoner, a constable or a senior police officer.
The murder of policeman Dharmendra Singh Chauhan this month who tried to stop a sand-laden truck is the latest example of the clout the syndicate wields.
India’s construction boom and the spiralling demand for sand needed to build offices, factories, malls, high-rises and highways spells good business for the mafia but the rampant excavation is taking a toll on river systems and the environment.
The mafia has developed such a strong network in this out-of bounds region in MP that it can stop police from reaching the riverbanks almost every time there’s a raid, thanks to tip-offs from local villagers.
“Whenever police makes a plan to search the banks of the river, the villagers unite and attack the team. Clearly they get advance information,” said district forest officer (DFO) Vincent Raheem.
On the rare occasions when sandferrying vehicles are seized, an army of villagers on the payrolls of the mafia is always at hand to even storm police stations where confiscated trucks are parked.
The mafia-babu-politician nexus works like a well-oiled machine in Madhya Pradesh and the illegal trade has now spread beyond borders.
“Now, miners have also started interstate supply of sand to builders at a cheap rate. In selling a dumper full of sand, they make a profit of ` 9,00010,000,” said Ram Swaroop, a sand dealer in Morena.
Given the substantial revenues, the syndicate doesn’t mind shelling out kickbacks of ` 500 to ` 2,000 to policemen, said a resident of Essah village on condition of anonymity.
During police questioning, the owner of the dumper truck that crushed constable Dharmendra Singh Chauhan said he had support from local politicians. However, superintendent of police Navneet Bhasin said, “Police never support illegal work. They work independently.”
Politicians have found ingenious ways to back the mafia. Sand mining from Chambal was stopped in 2006 after the Supreme Court ordered a ban to protect endangered gharials, or fish-eating crocodiles.
Soon after, Congress and BJP legislators started demanding that a portion of the river that doesn’t affect the gharial sanctuary be legalised for mining.
“The problem of illegal sand mining is getting worse by the day,” said chief conservator of forests (CCF) Rajesh Kumar. “I have been seeing this illegal mining since two decades, when I was posted as district forest officer in Morena.”
While the mafia has shown its violent ways in the Chambal area, it operates silently along the banks of the Narmada, a river that is revered as “mother” by villagers.
The Narmada flows through chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s ancestral home of Sehore and here too the administration has failed to stop the plunder.
Mining secretary Sheo Shekhar Shukla said the state’s new sand mining policy, announced last month, will bring in transparency through an e-auction process and ensure there is no dearth of supply. But the unlawful trade has found silent social acceptance.
HT visited various parts of Sehore where illegal sand mining was going on with impunity under the nose of authorities, but most district officials were not forthcoming when questioned on the issue.
In 2012, when Sehore’s joint collector Girish Sharma started taking action against such violations and imposed a penalty worth crores of rupees on a sand mining company, he was simply transferred from the position.
The hunger for sand is so great, trolleys and dumpers are loaded far above sanctioned limits and the quarrying goes on beyond allotted boundaries.
HT found thousands of trolleys and dumpers transporting sand to Sehore’s Ichhawar region and storing it there, as the area resembles a desert with countless sand dunes.
“We are exploring how we can use advances in various technologies to help us monitor or keep tabs on the sand mining activities across the state. We are checking possible technologies, be it satellite imagery or GPS-based technology,” said chief secretary Anthony de Sa
At Pangri Khadi Jodey village near Ichhawar, hillocks of sand, each over a 100-feet-high, were clearly visible. Local sources said over 50,000 dumpers of sand were stored there with hundreds more coming in.
Local authorities said there was nothing wrong with the storage process, but sources told HT the quantity cannot exceed 200 dumper trucks for each contractor.
According to area collector Sudam Khade, sand mines are spread over 136 hectares in the district. “In the last seven to eight months, we have taken action in 280 cases of illegal sand mining and collected penalty amounting to ` 77 lakh,” he said, when asked what action had been taken.
Khade said lack of manpower was a key handicap in monitoring and cracking down on mining violations.

May 2012: Attempt to mow down police officer at Chinnoni, MP, after he tried to stop tractor-trolley carrying illegally mined sand
December 2012: Police station attacked by scores of armed men of the sand mafia and police vehicles set afire after trolleys with illegally mined sand were seized in Morena
March 2014: Forest department personnel shot at in Morena
March 2014: Special Armed Force jawan shot at, critically injured in the same area ten days later
June 2014: Sub-divisional magistrate overpowered and shot at during an official mission against illegal sand excavation in Bhind


The state approved a mining policy last month to “make available sand to people at rational rates”, abrogating mandatory provisions of furnishing mining plan and environment clearances
Policy removes limitations that said any mine should not have another one in a 10-km radius; gives free-will to rural inhabitants to obtain and use sand free of cost
Govt says new guidelines would create opportunities for state to generate revenue of ` 880 crore against existing ` 180 crore from auction of 2.28 crore cubic metre of sand each year
Under new policy, state mining corporation to undertake sand excavation throughout all tehsils of 18 districts; collectors to e-auction mines in remaining 33 districts
In August 2013, the National Green Tribunal banned sand mining across India without environmental clearance
The Supreme Court last year ordered prosecution under the Indian Penal Code for those found mining sand from riverbanks and beds without valid licence

The penalties are clearly not much of a deterrent. Penalty of ` 77 lakh over an entire year is a small speck in the ocean of the illegal sand mining business in Chambal worth ` 30 lakh a day.

DDA to recycle water in transit projects (Hindustan Times 22 April 2015)

HT Correspondent ■

Development body allays fears that massive infra projects will aggravate water distress in Capital

NEW DELHI: Environmentalists and water activists may have raised doubts about the feasibility of the land pooling policy and Transit Oriented Development (TOD) projects but the Delhi Development Authority has maintained that they have assessed the feasibility of the projects.
According to the body, the two policies have been prepared after years of deliberation with various stakeholders, NGOs and experts working in the relevant field. Due to the essential highdensity mixed-use development nature of both policies-- local recycling and reuse of water-is bound to be much more feasible and cost-effective, the body states.
The body plans to focus on recycling and reusing water to make the project feasible. “Residential units require more potable water (which can partly be recycled water) and generate less waste water. Comparatively, commercial developments require less potable water but generate more waste water (which can be recycled). Therefore the two uses are symbiotic and complement each other. Due to this, approx. 60% of the overall water supplied can be reused even at local project level, with very little piping costs,” said officials at DDA.
Environmentalists have raised questions regarding the feasibility of high-density projects owing to the already problematic water stress and unavailability in the city. Most suggest the development of TOD projects not in the city but outside it to reduce pressure on resources.
According to DDA, the TOD project at Karkardooma has been developed in a way that within the 2.7 MLD of “water budget” already available from Delhi Jal Board, 21,000 residential and 27,000 employment population can be accommodated without demanding any additional water from DJB.

DDA also plans to use working landscapes, which will be mandatory. Instead of decorative parks and concreted rainwater harvesting systems, it plans to use more biological/ plant based treatment systems.