Experts issue SOS over Ganga

'Bihar must have more say on barrage'

By Dev Raj
  • Published 27.02.17

Environmentalists and water conservation experts on Sunday came up with a "Patna Declaration" on the concluding day of "Incessant Ganga" conference here to demand all dams and barrages upstream from Bihar must release 50 per cent of the environmental flows until site-specific scientific assessments are done.

Environmental flows describe the quantity, timing, and quality of waterflow required to sustain freshwater and estuarine ecosystems as well as human livelihood that depend on them.

The demand applies to all hydropower projects such as Tehri and Vishnu Prayag in Uttarakhand, irrigation barrages like Hathinipur, Bhimgoda and Narora in Haryana, Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh, respectively, and for dams on Sone, Kosi, Chambal and Damodar rivers, which are tributaries of the Ganga.

"Bihar and Bengal should get their fair share of original water of the Ganga from Gomukh and Badrinath. It should be a joint responsibility of the Ganga basin states to provide water to the Ganga to meet India's obligation to Bangladesh," said the declaration.

Eminent environmentalists and water experts such as Bala Balbir Singh Seechewal, "Waterman" Rajendra Singh, Chandi Prasad Bhatt of Chipko Movement fame, Bharat Jhunjhunwala, Himanshu Thakkar, Bratindi Jena, Nadeem Khalil, Snehal Donde and several others framed the 11-point declaration. Professor Murli Dhar Singh of Water and Land Management Institute, Patna, read it out in the presence of water resources department minister Rajiv Ranjan Singh alias Lalan Singh and principal secretary Arun Kumar Singh.

Speaking in the valedictory session of the conference, Rajiv said: "The issue of Ganga is the issue of Bihar. Heavy siltation has made huge shoals in the river, while the riverbed at several places is almost in the level of its banks. Central Water Commission and other such agencies do not work deeply. Ganga is in ICU (intensive care unit) and we need to put it into the general ward."

The experts suggested immediate measures that should be taken to ensure that all 109 gates of Farakka barrage are opened from next monsoon and Bihar gets a say in the operations of the barrage on a day-to-day basis henceforth. They also sought mobilisation of the people of Bihar on conservation and rejuvenation of the Ganga. Many gates of the barrage have become dysfunctional owing to lack of maintenance and repair.

"Being the centenary year of Champaran Satyagraha, it will be an apt tribute to Mahatma Gandhi to launch a people's movement demanding "Farakka khol do, Bihar ko badh se bacha lo" (Open Farakka and save Bihar from floods)," the declaration mentioned.

A Ganga river and basin rejuvenation council would be formed as an interim steering body comprising various experts from different disciplines and sectors, including civil society organisations.

The council will take up an all-inclusive study of the Ganga and its tributaries in the light of a wide range of issues to align the population and the government with globally evolving response to climate change. A comprehensive and time-bound study of Farakka barrage will also be undertaken on siltation due to it and socio-economic losses due to it.

The Patna declaration also asserted that the dredging for National Waterway-1 was increasing erosion in Bihar and the project should be put on hold until a scientific study of impact of dredging on erosion is carried out. It pointed out that cultivation of water-intensive crops must stop and organic farming in the entire river basin should be adopted.

The experts vowed to work unitedly to save the Ganga and applauded the initiative of Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar, as the no other state was raising the issue.

"We will take the campaign for 'Incessant Ganga' from Bihar to all over the country, and will fight shoulder to shoulder with the state government for it. We will do all this in a mission mode," said Rajendra Singh.