|September 2012 Yatra Report|
SAVE GANGA MOVEMENT
A GANDHIAN MOVEMENT FOR A NON-VIOLENT CULTURE OF DEVELOPMENT
The Ganga, symbolizes all rivers and water bodies; the Giriraj Himalaya, symbolizes all mountains, forests and wildlife; Gandhi symbolizes a culture of Truth and non-violence, i.e. a culture of pursuit of ethical perfection as the ultimate goal of life and pursuit of selfless ethical life of universal love as its means
Report on the 3rd Phase of the Save Ganga & Save Himalayas Yatra from Badrinath to Rameswar (27th September to 29th September 2012)
The 3rd Phase of our Save Ganga & Save Himalayas Yatra commenced with a visit to the sewage and waste treatment system of East Kolkata Wetland on 27th September followed by a Save Ganga & Save Himalayas Meeting cum Panel Discussion at Kolkata on 28th September at the Institute of Public Health Engineers,(IPHE, Building,CK-58, Sector II, Salt lake City, Kolkata-700091) and concluded with a visit to Ganga Sagar on 29th September 2012.
(1) Report on Save Ganga Meeting-cum-Panel Discussion
Summary Record of Discussion during “Save Ganga Meeting-cum-Panel Discussion”
Held at Seminar Hall of IPHE at CK -58, Salt Lake, Kolkata – 91 on 28th September 2012 at 2.30 p.m.
28.09.12 1st Session (3P.M. – 4.30 P.M.): “Saving the Ganga from its Slow Death”
Sri S. K. Bhattacharya , Secretary Concern for better living welcomed the guests and briefly discussed his association with the river Ganga since his college day till date and stated about the GAP Phase I & Phase II programme, their impact on river regime .
Prof. K. J. Nath , Chaired the session , and invited the panelists to deliberate on related issues.
Smt. Rama Rauta, Expert Member, NGRBA detailed the role of general masses and gave out a call for a people’s movement. She spoke about the Gandhian ideology about sustainable development and observed that his idea of development was equal opportunity to all including the downtrodden and appeal for saving nature without abuse and over exploitation of nature. She said that since our rivers are the source of drinking water for crores of people and STPs cannot convert sewage into potable water, we must discontinue the present policy of allowing treated sewage into our rivers. Sewers must be separated from rivers, using treated-sewage water only for non-drinking purposes. Industrial effluents and hospital wastes, treated or untreated, must not be allowed to enter into the rivers and to mix with the sewage, which must be converted into natural manure for organic farming. Since the utility, ecological, aesthetic and religious value of the highly earth quake prone and eco-fragile Himalayan region of the Ganga Basin is invaluable, it must be declared “Ecological Fragile” and its rivers “wild river” and all steps must be taken to protect them and the natural eco-systems they support.
Prof. Dr. Tare of IIT Kanpur in his short address tried to bring out the different view points between earlier programme and the present Ganga Basin based approach. He spoke about zero pollution, ecological flow and proper co-ordination and observed that above all, it is necessary to have discipline which calls for Prohibition of Certain activities Regulation and Promotion of some activities
In the first case, discharge of any water to the river whether treated or untreated is to be prohibited and in the second case, Reuse and Recycle of waste water is to be promoted. And for this he called for promulgation of National River Ganga Basin Management Act and setting up of National Ganga River Basin Management Commission.
Sri Paritosh Tyagi, former chairman CPCB, stressed about the importance of Bio-diversity, which is much dependent on the flow in the river. He agreed that storage of water is needed for Hydro Electric Power generation, but considered that such storage was possible in Himalayan region in gorges and bowl-shaped topography, away from the river. This calls for re-orientation of knowledge base of Engineers which should include Environment & Ecology.
Dr. K. Rudra, River Expert, spoke on river front development as also measure for controlling over exploitation of ground water withdrawal. He stated that the ultimate aim should be both to have “Aviral Dhara and ” Nirmal Dhara” in the river.
Dr. Indrajit Dubey spoke at length about the legal issues involving both National Ganga River Basin Management Act as also formation of National Ganga River Basin Management Commission. The commission should be like the Election Commission of India with similar statutory empowerment to act as an independent body. He added that it was important not to tread on the role and authority of the States in the domain of management of water.
There was a small interactive session where the participants spoke about general apathy and isolation, overbinding religious sentiments, feasibility, implementability as well as adaptability.In summing up, Prof. K.J. Nath, the Chairman of the Session, remarked that the problems and challenges of protecting the river’s space (the flood plains) and ensuring uninterrupted and unpolluted flow (“Nirmal” and “Aviral Dhara”) in the same are inextricably linked to the problems of poverty and poor sanitation in the habitats on the banks of the river, urban, peri-urban and rural populations. He emphasized that no amount of legal and regulatory actions and technical interventions would be successful unless the fundamental demographic and socio-economic problems of the people are addressed comprehensively.
2nd Session (4-45 PM – 6-15 PM): Saving the Ganga in West Bengal
Sri Debashis Sen, IAS, Principal Secretary to the Government of West Bengal, Urban Development Department chaired the session and briefly narrated Ganga Action Plan Programme in general and GAP Programme in West Bengal in particularThereafter, he invited the panelists to deliberate on the related issues.
Sri B.K.Sengupta, Former Director General (Operation), KMDA and President, CONCERN for better living ( Cfbl ) mentioned about Late Prof ( Dr ) Nilay Choudhuri’s pioneering contribution in this field and observed that now a holistic approach is being tried for both ‘Aviral Dhara’ and ‘Nirmal Dhara’ in the river by resorting to area sanitation as a whole including Abatement of Pollution to River Ganga with full house connection programme. However, enough attention is not being paid in managerial and institutional aspects of the local bodies. Vigorous steps need be taken for preservation of ground water including avoidance of over use and abuse for maintaining minimum ecological flow in the river. He had also reservation of recycle and reuse of treated waste water in toilet flushing requiring dual plumbing fixtures which might invite contamination and asked for positive steps towards control of non point sources of pollution. He stated that GAP ( Ph I & Ph II ) Programme were taken up with the river as the sole beneficiary and did not become a people’s programme. He wondered what would happen to sewage of Kolkata if sewage-fed fisheries were not allowed.
Sri Sujit Kumar Bhattacharya, Former Chief Engineer, Ganga Action Plan, KMDA and Secretary, CONCERN for better living ( Cfbl ) mentioned about non functioning of many completed schemes under GAP ( Phase I & II ) programme and stressed a one point agenda which is to set right and make effective the assets already created at an expenditure of nearly Rs. 560/- Crore to optimize the investments already made along with new initiatives. He also stated that a state level sanitation policy must be framed with the provision of imposing user charges to meet O&M expenditure.
Prof. A.Majumdar , Emeritus Professor, Jadavpur University spoke about the efficacy of earlier works and observed that even after completion of GAP ( Phase I& Phase -II ) works , there have not been any appreciable change in water quality characteristics. He stated that spade work necessary for sustenance of such programme was not sufficient to carry on the programme forward. With existing municipal laws and rules about house connection, even if the state provides finance for the same, it may be a difficult proposition in absence of necessary political blessings and statutory backing. The GAP Policy paper in the initial stages presumed earning from sewage farming, manure, gas and pisciculture etc. which could cause a surplus after meeting operation and maintenance cost of the sewerage system, but in practice it did never materialize making maintenance of the created assets a difficult proposition.
Dr. T. K. Ghosh, Former Director Grade Scientist, NEERI, Nagpur narrated at length the GAP related R & D works undertaken at NEERI Nagpur. He had reservations about construction of large number of dams which always have a deleterious effect on river regime including disruption of bio diversity, loss of land and habitation and flow of fresh upland water in the downstream riparian states. He also specifically mentioned that Ganga has the unique quality of self purification capacity due to the presence of uranium, thorium and different types of coli phages in river sediment.
Dr. Deepa Dubey of IIT Kharagpur spoke about the legal aspect of the proposed Basin Management Act and observed that provisions are being kept in the back ground of the social, political and behavioural conditions which should be adaptable and acceptable. And for that, vigorous campaigning will be necessary to make the programme a transparent one. She also stated that law would evolve with experience.
Sri Debashis Sen, Chairman of the 2nd session summed up the deliberations saying that by taking lessons from the past, actions are now being taken to make it a people’s programme and make it acceptable. Steps are now being initiated to see that there is equal incentive on the part of all stake holders and more emphasis is now being put to better co-ordination, transparency, and people’s participation – in fact making it a participatory management programme. Operation and Maintenance for the first five years after implementation shall be a built-in- item in the approved project if self and the programme will not be allowed to make a headway unless the local bodies become a part and parcel of the programme for which a bi-partite MOU will be signed between the State Govt. and respective local body. He stressed on flexibility in the scope of the project and reliance on tested technologies such as the sewage-fed fisheries. He requested all to take a positive view in achieving the targeted goals
At the end, Sri B K Sengupta offered vote of thanks.
(2) Report on the East Kolkata Wetlands and Ganga Sagar
The East Kolkata Wetlands
The East Kolkata Wetlands covering an area of 4000 ha (hectares) form an urban waste recycling system through natural bio-treatment of the city’s waste water and utilizing the nutrients-rich treated water for fish culture and agriculture and also serve as a natural sponge absorbing excess rainfall. It host the largest sewage fed aquaculture in the world. It provides about 13000 tons of fish per year from it’s about 300 wastewater fed ponds, 150 tons of fresh vegetables per day from the small scale horticulture plots irrigated with the wastewater, water for irrigating paddy cultivation and livelihood for about 50 thousand common people. Some 35000 tons of municipal waste and 680 million liters of raw sewage enter the wetland system every day. Still, only 30% of the total wastewater is used for aquaculture or irrigation, while the remaining70% flows directly in to the Bay of Bengal, which pollutes the estuarine region, and subsequently reduces aquatic biodiversity and causes large scale deaths of fish seeds. This problem could be mitigated by taking necessary steps for 100 % use of the total wastewater for aquaculture and irrigation.
East Kolkata Wetlands show an immense diversity of flora and fauna both at macro and micro level which were designated a “wetland of international importance” under RAMASAR Convention on August19, 2002. About 12 different species of fish are farmed in its sewage fed ponds and there are about100 plant species and 40 species of birds, both local as well as migratory, found in and around the wetlands. The plantations on the sides of wastewater canals (such as Neem, Banyan, Kadam, Mango, Guava, etc. in the upstream non-saline part which decrease some amount of pollution of waste water and bring an extra income to the local people and Sundari, Garana, kankara, Keya, etc. in the saline part of the canal) maintain the environmental stability through preservation and restoring the ecological balance. In the wet land area environmental friendly integrated farming such as lotus farming, duck, poultry, diary, pigs, and goat farming, etc. could be started along with fish culture for the best possible utilization of farm space and optimum reuse of waste.
This system is now facing slow death because of the problem of urban development, pollution from industrial effluents and siltation of the ponds. The system is declining due to encroachment and developments fed by a real estate boom starting from the end of the 1980s, which must be stopped. It had once about 12000 hectares but currently it has been reduced to less than 4000 hectares. Releasing of industrial effluents, treated or untreated, into sewage are contaminating the produced fishes and vegetables from the wetlands, hence must be stopped. For the same reason, entry of non-biodegradable waste into the wetlands must also be stopped. The buildup of silts through natural processes h as reduced the capacity of fish ponds over time, which must be removed. Some fish ponds, which were initially six feet deep, have silted up to within two feet of the surface, cutting fish production by two thirds.
It is claimed by experts that integrated resource recovery and institutionalization of urban solid liquid waste management can reduce substantially costs to municipalities. The East Kolkata Wetlands system could be developed as an ideal example of low-cost urban waste management & recycling for organic farming and sanitation technology, especially for developing countries. Let Kolkata be made an ideal river friendly city where (a) sewage, industrial effluents and hospital wastes, treated or untreated, are not be allowed to enter into the rivers, (b) industrial effluents, hospital wastes or any other harmful materials, treated or untreated, are not allowed to mix with the sewage, and (c) where all the sewage is treated and the nutrient rich treated-sewage water are used for organic farming, aquaculture and other non-drinking purposes only.
Gangasagar is located on an island at the Mouth of the Ganga. We found the water at Ganga Sagar to be highly polluted. Since the island is situated at the mouth of the Hooghly and is the main channel for ships entering Haldia or Kolkata ports, pollutants carried downstream end there. Every year on Makar Sankranti lakhs pilgrims converge and take a dip in Ganga’s confluence with Bay of Bengal and prayers offered at Kapil Muni’s ashram. With so many people defecating in the open within three days on a 4 sq km stretch, the resultant pollution causes severe environmental degradation. NGRBA must create the necessary infrastructure to meet the need of toilets and collection of the vast garbage generated during the Ganga Sagar Makar Sankranti Mela.
Remarks and Recommendations
(1) I have come to know that Kolkata Municipality Corporation (KMC) has taken up River Front Development work from Millennium Park towards North under NGRBA Programme, under which it is constructing a concrete desk at Nimtala Burning Ghat for viewing the beauty of the river up to 20 meter inside the river. (Similar decks are likely to be constructed at other ghats.) Since it will obstruct the normal flow of the river and will also be a hindrance to navigation, such construction work must not be allowed. Construction work inside the riverbed should be stopped immediately and an expert committee should be engaged to inquire the matter. Projects on river front-development seem to be construction-friendly: it should be made eco-friendly. 1st Priority should be given to make the Ganga completely free from pollution.
(2) At present most of the sewage treatment plants (STPS) are not functioning properly. Most of the intercepting structures are either damaged or non-functional. As a result the objective of pollution abatement to river Ganga has almost failed even after completion of GAP (Ph-1&Ph-2) works. It is recommended to review these works with a one point agenda to set right and make effective the assets already created (at an expenditure of nearly Rs 560/ crore in W.B.) under GAP (Ph-1&Ph-2) to optimize the investments already made along with new initiatives in the light of the recommendations of the Ganga Basin Management Plan of the Consortium of IITs.
(3) The East Kolkata Wetlands provides an ideal example of a system of natural bio-treatment of urban waste water through “Pond System and Plant Based Management of Sewage Treatment” and utilizing the treated water for fish culture and agriculture, which is the cheapest, durable and need least management and no electricity. This eco friendly, urban and rural friendly, farmers, fishermen and poor people friendly system of various invisible services such as wastewater treatment, collection of rain water run-of, preservation of biodiversity, mitigation of environmental degradation and reduction of health risks, organic food production, income generation, etc. must not be allowed to have slow death. We must save it and increase its capacity to treat the remaining 70% of waste water of Kolkata which flows directly into the Bay of Bengal and implement this system of urban waste treatment in other cities and towns wherever it is possible.
(4) The utility value, ecological value, aesthetic value and religious value of the age old pristine wild mountains, forests, rivers and wildlife of the of the highly earth quake prone and eco-fragile Himalayan region of the Ganga Basin is invaluable which cannot be created by us once we destroy them through construction of large hydropower plants and various other eco-hostile development activities. Hence it must be declared “Ecological Fragile and a sanctuary for Himalayan flora and fauna” and its rivers “wild river” and all steps must be taken to protect them and the natural eco-systems they support. We must not allow our greed for wealth and lust for luxuries to deprive the masses in the name of development the various invaluable services they have been getting freely since ages from the Himalayan region of the Ganga Basin.
Although hydropower is a form of renewable energy, construction of big dams is likely to cause irreparable damage to the age old invaluable ecosystems of the Himalayan region of the Ganga Basin. Since we have only a partial scientific understanding of the very complex ecology of this region, we must not experiment with development activities there until a complete scientific understanding of the invaluable natural ecology of the Ganga Basin in the Himalayan region is available. Decision on the controversial issue of construction of big dams for hydropower in this region must be postponed till we reach a general agreement on this issue through an in-depth transparent national debate on the basis of the holistic knowledge about the benefits our nation gets and will continue to get from its eco systems and the benefits we will get from the construction hydropower plants in this region and at the cost of what benefits. Posterity will condemn and curse us if we destroy this age old invaluable ecology for our short term gains in the name of development.
Smt Rama Rauta,
Convener, Save Ganga Movement
Expert Member, National Ganga River Basin Authority, Govt of India
President, National Women’s Organization, Pune
3rd Phase of the Save Ganga & Save Himalayas Yatra from Badrinath to Rameswar (27thSeptember to 29th September 2012)