Bihar government fails to adopt holistic land-water policy and to abandon asbestos factories in its budget for 2012-13.
While the ecologically disastrous plan to rewrite geography of Bihar unfolded in Patna on February 24 with the presentation of Bihar Budget for 2012-13 through its scheme of interlinking of rivers is extremely worrying, passivity of Bihar’s citizenry in the face of such proposal is a matter of grave concern.
When the river basins are disrupted through diversion of rivers, budgetary provisions of Rs 1200 crore for agriculture is of no consequence.
On page no. 18 of the 82 page budget speech delivered in Hindi, it is mentioned that Detailed Project Report (DPR) the links in South Bihar namely, Dhanraje-Phulwaria link, Sakari-Nata link is under preparation and in 2012-13, the work on latter link can be started. Under the interlinking of rivers project, 13th Finance Commission has approved Rs 333 crore for Burhi-Gandak -None-Baya- Ganga link. The work is planned to start in the financial year 2012-13.
As per Bihar government’s plan, the proposed links include: 1. Kosi – Mechi, 2. Barh – Nawada, 3. Kohra – Chandravat (Lalbegi), 4. Burhi Gandak – None – Baya – Ganga Burhi Gandak 5. Bagmati [Belwadhar]and 6. Kosi – Ganga. The pre-feasibility report of Kosi – Mechi, Kohra – Chandravat (Lalbegi) and Burhi Gandak – None – Baya – Ganga has been completed and sent to the state government.
It must be noted that Union Minister for Water Resources, Pawan Kumar Bansal had informed the Rajya Sabha on September 5, 2011 that National Water Development Agency (NWDA) “has taken up works for preparation of DPR of 2 intra state links namely Kosi-Mechi Link and Burhi-Gandak -None-Baya- Ganga link of Bihar. He also informed that NWDA was set up under the Union Ministry of Water Resources “in 1982 for carrying out various technical studies to establish the feasibility of the proposals of for National Prospective Plan (NPP) for interlinking of Rivers and to give concrete shape to them.” But by not informing the Rajya Sabha that National Prospective Plan (NPP) for interlinking of Rivers was rejected in September 1999 by a high powered National Commission on Integrated Water Resources Management, the minister chose to keep the august house in dark. In October 2002 even the then Chief Justice of India was misled into passing seemingly executive orders for the execution of interlinking of rivers because the recommendations of the Report of the National Commission for Water Resource Development was not brought to his notice.
Both Modi and Bansal feign ignorance about the relevant recommendations of the two volume Report of the National Commission for Water Resource Development set up by the Union Ministry of Water Resources. Volume-I of the report says: “The Himalayan river linking data is not freely available, but on the basis of public information, it appears that the Himalayan river linking component is not feasible for the period of review up to 2050.” The report underlines that the problems are in the entire plan of linking the Himalayan rivers. It also shows that centre and the state government refuse to learn from the embankment disaster and drainage crisis in the Kosi basin.
It is germane to note that out of 30 links in the controversial national plan to network rivers through diversion there are six links in the Himalayan component which were related to Bihar, one of which has been rejected by National Council of Applied Economic Research (NCAER) in its study on “Economic Impact of Interlinking of Rivers Programme” in April 2008. These six links are: Kosi-Mechi Link Canal, Kosi-Ghaghara Link Canal, Sone dam-Southern tributaries of Ganga Link Canal, Chunar-Sone Barrage Link Canal, Brahmaputra – Ganga (Manas- Sankosh- Teesta- Ganga Link Canal and Gandak-Ganga Canal. Brahmaputra – Ganga (Manas- Sankosh- Teesta- Ganga Link Canal has been dropped as per NCAER study.
As per the 10th Plan document, there were 1,300 irrigation projects that have been taken up for implementation, out of which, only 900 have actually been completed. Even Jairam Ramesh who later became Union Environment Minister and currently the Union Rural Development Minister contended in the Rajya Sabha saying, “in this country today, there are 400 irrigation projects being implemented at some critical levels of financing, and I think, really this reinforces the point that I want to make that it is really project implementation, projects under implementation, that need to be completed. You don’t need a new category called ‘projects under contemplation'”. Both state and central project are ‘projects under contemplation’. It seems to be a political escape route akin to Ostrich policy instead of proposing decentralized and workable projects with public consent.
The fact is that interlinking of rivers project is based on the flawed assumption that there are surplus and deficit rivers. It is claimed that 220 bcm of water can be usefully transferred. As per 11th Five Year Plan document, “there are apprehensions that the assessed surplus is somewhat illusory for many basins and future generations would actually need all the water.” It takes congnisance of “reservations about the economic viability of such large projects. Environmental concerns would need to be addressed through the environmental appraisal process of each project.”
This document reveals that “For the implementation of such a mega project, an authority may have to be set up akin to the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) with full autonomy for raising loan, approvals, etc.” This poses a threat to “sound federalism” and good relations with neighboring countries.
Unmindful of this Bihar government is committing the ecological sin of pursuing the path of diverting rivers for interlinking them.
In the central proposal of Kosi-Mechi Link Canal there will be a 112.55 km. long canal that will mainly pass through the “Terai” area in Nepal. It will start from the left side of Chatra barrage and fall into Mechi river after crossing over three small rivers Bakra, Ratuwa and Kankai through syphon aqueduct. The canal’s receiving capacity will be 1407.80 cubic metre per second (cumec) and discharge rate will be 97.64 cumec. The canal would provide irrigational facility to 4.74 lakh hectares of land. Out of this, 1.75 lakh hectares shall be irrigated in Nepal and 2.99 lakh hectares in Bihar. Besides this, provision of 24 MCM water has been made for domestic and industrial requirements of the towns falling in between. As proposed, it would divert 883 MCM water at the rate of 28 cumec to Mechi river for increasing the water in Mahananda river. The canal would also provide navigational facility from Chatra to Ganga via Mechi and Mahananda rivers.
In the Kosi-Ghaghara Link Canal, there will be 428.76 km long canal, which will start from the right side of the Chatra barrage, will fall in Gaura river, a tributary of Chaghara river, in Uttar Pradesh after crossing over Tiljuga, Khanro, Bagmati and Lalbakkeya rivers in Nepal and Gandak river in Bihar. The canal’s receiving capacity will be 1021 cumecs while it will discharge 67 cumec in Gaura river. The total benefited area through this link canals is 10.58 lakh hectares. Out of this, 1.74 lakh hectare area shall be of Udaipur, Saptari, Mahoitari, Sarlahi and Bara districts in Nepal and 8.17 lakh hectare and 0.67 lakh hectare area of North Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, respectively. The canal would also provide 48 MCM water for domestic and industrial requirements of the towns on its way.
In Sone dam-Southern tributaries of Ganga Link Canal there will be a 339 km long canal will begin from the right side of the proposed dam across Sone river near Kadwan in Jharkhand. The canal would fall into Badua river after crossing over Morhar, Lilajan, Dharmajayi, Sakri and Kiul rivers. Two hydal projects of 3.5 MW and 1.5 MW capacities would be finalised near the junction of Sakri river. The total benefited area through this canal will be 3.07 lakh hectares in the districts of Patna, Nalanda, Gaya, Jehanabad, Munger, Bhagalpur, Nawada, Jamui and Aurangabad of Bihar and Palamu district of Jharkhand.
In the Chunar-Sone Barrage Link Canal there will be a 149.10 km long canal will start from the right side of Ganga river near Chunar Tehsil of Mirzapur district in UP. It will fall into Sone river near Indrapuri barrage in Rohtas district. There would be a lift of 38.8 meters, 16.10 meters and 4.4 meters at three different places on route. In addition to taking over substantial command areas of Western Sone High Level and low level canals, this link canal will provide irrigation in 66,793 hectares of new area in Mirzapur, Varanasi and Gazipur districts of UP and Bhabhua, Rohtas, Buxar and Bhojpur districts of Bihar.
The Brahmaputra – Ganga (Manas- Sankosh- Teesta- Ganga Link Canal which was proposed by Union Water Resources Ministry has been rejected by the NCAER.
In the Gandak-Ganga Canal, there will be a 639 km long canal, which would start from the right side of the proposed dam across Gandak river in Nepal, will fall in Ganga river near Mustafabad in Rai Bareli district of Uttar Pradesh. It will run through Nepal and various districts of Uttar Pradesh. Though this canal would not cross through Bihar it would make a big impact on the State by taming the flood waters of Gandak. There will be no irrigational facility in Bihar from this canal.
Continued refusal to learn from Kosi embankment blunders that has led to unprecedented drainage crisis has resulted in creation of more embankments on Bagmati. The budget speech of Sushil Kumar Modi Bihar’s Finance Minister does not reveal that he is also the Environment Minister. It would have been better to allocate greater portion of budget for Water Resources Department i.e. Rs 2192.46 crore and Rs 100 crore for Environment and Forests Department for clearing the water logging in the Kosi basin and restoration of the drainage system that got disrupted due to fiddling with Himalayan rivers.
Instead of stopping ecologically insensitive sand mining in the rivers and stone quarrying in the hills, the constitution of inter ministerial sub-committee has been announced for the former in the budget and as far as the latter is concerned while there were promises made to stop .
In the last year’s budget, land was allocated for hazardous asbestos based industries which are banned in 55 countries. Despite the fact that bitter resistance of villagers in Muzaffarpur led to winding up of a asbestos plant, finance minister who is also the environment minister has failed to revise his industrial policy in the matter of asbestos factories that has been set in Bhojpur and are proposed to set up in Vaishali, Madhubani and West Champaran illustrating that the government gives priority to lust for profit instead of public health. State govt should take note of Italian crimnal court’s verdict of February 13, 2012 imprisoning asbestos company owners for causing environmental and health catastrophe. Given the fact that health is a state subject, it is high time the government banned asbestos and set a precedent for others to follow.
(The writer is Activist, Public Policy Analyst and member of Citizen’s Forum for Civil Liberties.)
The views expressed in this article are writer’s own, and it does not necessarily reflect BH’s editorial policy.