A river running dry
Mains Paper 2: Governance
Prelims level: Clean Ganga project
Mains level: Issues relating to development
- The Clean Ganga project has been on setting up sewage treatments
plants and cleaning ghats and banks.
- The main issue, which is that the river does not have adequate
flow of water, has been ignored.
- With severe pollution destroying the river, and developmental
projects critically affecting its flow, the Ganga is in a dire strait.
- A fragile region
- Today, several hydropower projects are mushrooming at the source
of the river, which is the Garhwal range of the Himalayas. Unlike
other ranges, the Garhwal is narrow. It is from here that many rivers and
tributaries of the Ganga basin emerge.
- These spring- or glacier-fed rivers join one another at different
points to form an intricate riverine ecosystem in the Himalayas.
- The entire basin falls in the seismic zone 4-5, and is highly
prone to landslides and land subsidence.
Impact of hydropower projects
- The understanding that hydropower projects mean development needs
- To construct a hydropower project, large sections of land are
cleared of forests. But what happens when such deforestation takes place in
an already fragile mountain area?
- Many studies have been conducted near the existing dams along the
course of the Ganga.
- The immediate impacts of these projects have been loss of
agriculture, drying of water sources, and landslips.
- As construction in such projects progresses, there is also dumping
of muck, which can pose severe threats.
- Muck dumping during construction of the Alaknanda hydropower
project caused devastation downstream in Srinagar in the 2013 flash floods.
- Such muck is dumped either into the river or in forest areas.
- All the massive deforestation, muck dumping, blasting and
tunnelling, the hydropower projects thus constructed eventually dry up the
river bed as the water is diverted into tunnels.
- This causes severe distress to aquatic life, and the river bed is
no longer even wet in certain stretches.
- As the Ganga is diverted into long tunnels, de-silted, and
directed to powerhouses to churn turbines and generate power, the barren
landscape, dried water sources and the obscene muck slopes narrate a story
- This affects the fertility of the delta downstream and also
destroys the unique self-purifying properties of the Ganga.
Reports of committees
- Twenty government committees and reports warn about the
anthropogenic activities in these fragile areas and recommend conservation
of these areas for food and water security.
- When the late G.D. Agarwal, crusader of the Ganga, fasted to
invoke the government to act against these projects.
- The government proposed an e-flow notification for the Upper Ganga
River Basin. It specified that during the dry season (November-March), 20%
of monthly average flow has to be maintained, and during the monsoon season,
30% has to be maintained.
- The notification stated that existing hydel projects that do not
meet e-flow norms must comply within three years.
- The 20% recommendation is less than the scientific recommendation
of 50% (only for existing projects).
- If the government intended to rejuvenate the river, it would have
specified that e-flows are only for existing projects.
- Instead it has opened the floodgates for several such projects as
long as the compromised e-flows are maintained.
- The result of such a relentless push for hydropower projects is
that only 80 km of a 2,500 km-long river now remains in the Aviral-Nirmal
- Unless we question these projects now, we will not be able to save
the Ganga, the lifeline of millions of people.
Q.1) As per the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS),
a state has the right to resource extraction in
a) Territorial Sea only
b) Territorial Sea and Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) only
c) Internal waters only
d) Continental shelf, Territorial Sea and Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ)
Q.1) To what extent the Ganga basin will become more fragile if more and
more hydropower projects come up. Explain it.