The Government of India’s National Water Policy (NWP) in 2012 was the third within 25 years, first being in 1987 and the second in 2002. The NWP essentially states that water is an economic good or commercial commodity; and allows for its pricing, and sale by private-public partnerships, private or public bodies. The most conspicuously absent policy statement is the provision for a national programme for the conservation and management of the water resources in the country in totality and, an effective administrative structure to implement this.
SAF organised a meeting of concerned citizens and organisations to discuss the NWP and come up with reviews/comments. These were circulated amongst a group of interested citizens and experts, and the review of the National Water Policy was drafted. This was submitted to the Ministry of Water Resources in 2012.
Salim Ali Foundation is a part of the Chalakudy River Protection Forum and partners with Chalakudy Puzha Samrakshana Samiti (CPSS) for the conservation of Athirapilly forests and the Chalakudy River.
Below are excerpts from a document prepared by CPSS
CHALAKUDY RIVER BASIN
The 130 km long Chalakudy River, the fifth largest river in Kerala, drains the runoff from a 1704 sq.km catchment of which 1200 sq.km catchment area in Kerala is under the control of the Forest Department. Chalakudy River is unique in its rich fish diversity; at least 104 fish species have been located from this river. The National Bureau of Fish Genetic Resources based in Lucknow (NBFGR) has recommended the upstream areas of the river to be declared as a ‘fish sanctuary’. Two beautiful waterfalls; Athirappilly and Charpa and a rapid at Vazhachal attract lakhs of tourists from all over the world.
This river basin is the only home to a primitive hunter-gatherer tribal group; the ‘Kadar’ their settlements scattered in the forests of the river basin.
Five dams constructed in this river during the sixties namely Parambikulam, Thunacadavu, Peruvarippallam, Tamil Nadu Sholayar and Kerala Sholayar are part of the Parambikulam Aliyar Project (PAP). The Chalakudy River has hundreds of lift irrigation schemes and 30 Government operated drinking water supply schemes and a population of about 10 lakh directly dependent on the river for various uses. The upper catchment has a 200 year odd history of deforestation for agricultural and forestry plantations. Dams and inter basin water transfers have added to the degradation. Heavy sand mining, over extraction of water for drinking and irrigation even for other river basins and saline ingress are taking their toll on the river.
The Kerala Government proposed to start several projects in different parts of this river basin: Athirappilly Hydro Electric Project, Poringalkuthu Right Bank HEPs, the Karappara- Kuriarkutty multipurpose project, the Edamalayar Augmentation scheme. It was believed that implementation of such would lead to further deterioration of river health.
BIODIVERSITY VALUE OF THE PROPOSED ATHIRAPPILLY HYDROELECTRIC PROJECT AREA
Research by different agencies identified that the proposed project area is notable due to the following factors:
1. the elephant migratory route connecting Parambikulam WLS with Pooyamkutty forests passes through the submergence area.
2. all the four species of hornbills of Western Ghats are found in this area
3. the rare, remnant patches of low elevation riparian forest habitat occur here
4. this forms a high fish diversity zone, with the Chalakudy river being one of the highest fish diversity rivers in India (104 sp) and the upper areas has been recommended for a fish sanctuary by the National Bureau of Fish Genetic Resources (NBFGR).
5. this region forms the Mahseer Tor fish bank of India
6. forms the habitat of the rare and endangered Cochin Forest Cane turtle Vijayachelys silvatica
7. at least 215 bird species have been identified in this and its surrounding areas
8. Larger mammals like elephants, gaur, sambhar, Nilgiri langur, lion-tailed macaque, Malabar giant squirrel and the tiger frequently spotted in this area
more details are available in the Resources section.
More details on CPSS activities can be found here.
The WGEEP (Gadgil) Report, having consulted various stakeholders including technical experts (including Electricity Board, line departments), researchers (French Institute of Pondicherry, BirdLife International, Kerala Forest Research Institute, Kerala Biodiversity Board, National Bureau of Fish Genetic Resources), panchayat, tribals and public, recommended that the project should not be permitted. The HLWG (Kasturirangan) Report, however, suggested that the Kerala State Government could approach the Government of India, based on its new guidelines for Western Ghats. The matter is pending in the Kerala High Court.
1. Sequence of events on the Athirappilly Dam Project
2. Biodiversity values of Athirappilly
3. Critique and comments on the EIA reports submitted on the Athirappilly Project
4. Alternatives to the Athirappilly project
1. A booklet in Malayalam on the status of Chalakudy river ( 2002) published by the CPSS – Chalakudy Puzha -Charithram Varthamanam
2. Malayalam translation of the Executive Summary of the WCD Report 2000 for wider dissemination amongst public, political parties and legislature ( 2002)
3. Book on the Inter Linking of Rivers Experience in Kerala “Tragedy of Commons- The Kerala experience in River Linking” Published jointly by South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People based in New Delhi and River Research Centre.
4. Malayalam Publication ‘Varalchayude Kaanapurangal” (the hidden side of drought) in collaboration with the Forum for Policy Dialogue on Water Conflicts in India (2006).
5. Selected 20 articles on local water conflicts and crisis that had been published in the ‘Mathrubhumi’ news daily during World Water Week 2005 formed the basis for this booklet
6. A Campaign CD of the proposed Athirappilly project ‘Puzha Jeevanu Vendi” – River for Life prepared by Amitha Bachan of the CPSS.
The Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel was constituted by the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) in March 2010 with an agenda to assess the current ecological situation of the Western Ghats and to suggest measure for rejuvenating it. It was also mandated to delineate ecologically sensitive areas. The Panel consisted of 14 members under the chairmanship of Dr. Madhav Gadgil. Dr. V.S. Vijayan from Salim Ali Foundation was a member of the WGEEP committee.
The WGEEP (Madhav Gadgil) report is globally monumental in evolving a development and conservation program for such a large geographic region involving academic, social and administrative inputs. This report highlights how livelihood of people could be improved without damaging biodiversity and environment, in a decentralized, democratic way. It considers development and conservation in an integrated manner. It disapproves the present strategy of excluding local people from both conservation and development.
It is the first of its kind where the recommendations where put to public for debate and acceptance.
The WGEEP Report considering the biotic, geoclimatic and anthropogenic activities classified the Western Ghats into highly significant, moderately significant, less significant zones of ecological sensitivity; zones 1, 2, and 3. Methodology published as a peer-reviewed article in Current Science journal.
In Kerala, a state with the highest population density in India (860 people per sq. .km in 2011), 72% of land area falls within the Western Ghats. This region also hosts about 50% (about 17 million) of its population. This made the publication of the WGEEP Report and its perception in the society very critical and the basis for extensive public debate.
After submission of the report, and as part of Salim Ali Foundation’s focus on conservation and sustainable development of Western Ghats, several awareness building activities have been conducted.
In order to take the recommendations of the report to a larger section of the society, SAF
a) participated in / conducted discussion meetings for:
1. General public at public locations and events (No.s)
2. Schools and colleges (No.s)
3. Academic institutions (No.s)
5. Legal experts
b) published information booklets in English and vernacular language (Malayalam) (see resources)
c) wrote articles in newspapers and journals
d) conducted a public rally in Trivandrum city on 8 January 2014 to highlight the need for implementing the WGEEP (Madhav Gadgil) Report. This rally, comprising about 1500 people from across the Kerala state led to the Kerala state Legislative Assembly.
e) sent representations (including personal meetings) to the Government of India (MoEF) and the Government of Kerala.
f) distributed summary reports to all Members of the Parliament from Kerala and the Kerala State Legislative Assembly.
In Aug 2012 the Indian Government (MoEF) constituted a High Level Working Group on the Western Ghats (HLWG) comprising nine members, chaired by Dr. K. Kasturirangan to recommend the ways to implement WGEEP (Madhav Gadgil) Report without affecting the marginal and down-trodden communities. The HLWG (Kasturirangan) Report was submitted in April 2013.
The HLWG (Kasturirangan) Report divided the Western Ghats into two on the basis of vegetation and proportion of human habitation. Accordingly, the human habitations including agricultural land has been denoted as ‘cultural landscape’ (67% of Western Ghats – 104,280 sq. km.) and forested area with less human habitation as ‘natural landscape'(37% of Western Ghats – 60,000 sq. km.). It has banned certain activities in the ‘natural landscape’ but promoted many, with a ceiling, that could have serious repercussions on the ecology of the Western Ghats. In the ‘cultural landscape’ no particular restrictions were suggested for any development activities (including mining and quarrying) apart from the existing rules and regulations.
Salim Ali Foundation felt that the HLWG (Kasturirangan) Report is incomplete as it had not incorporated the full biodiversity value of different regions. It had included only vegetation (plant) cover and diversity data to classify the entire Western Ghats, ignoring important information on endemism and threat levels to various biota (including plants).
The perceptions of the implications of these reports varied across the society in Kerala, among different stakeholders, particularly different political parties and a section of the church. This led to several protests and wide-spread agitations particularly in the districts of Kerala that fell exclusively within the Western Ghats (Idukki and Wayanad). The major bone of contention in these areas was that both reports, if implemented, would adversely affect the interest of the farmers in these regions. Curiously, the first group to react to the WGEEP (Gadgil) Report was a section of the Church, representing the settlers/farmers in these regions and the same group responded similarly to the HLWG (Kasturirangan) Report. The Kerala state government also demanded that the HLWG (Kasturirangan) Report be amended as per the wishes of the agitators.
Salim Ali Foundation, in order to increase the awareness of the public and bring clarity to the issue, conducted the following activities:
a) comparative analysis of both WGEEP (Gadgil) and HLWG (Kasturirangan) reports
b) sent the comparative analysis to the Government of India (MoEF) and the Government of Kerala.
c) brought out a boooklet in Malayalam, for the public available at shop
d) the booklet was sent to all Members of the Parliament from Kerala and the Kerala State Legislative Assembly, all 978 Panchayats in Kerala, 2183 major public libraries in Kerala
e) participated in / conducted discussion meetings for:
1. General public at public locations and events (No.s)
2. Schools and colleges (No.s)
3. Academic institutions (No.s)
5. Legal experts
More details can be found in the Resources section. LINK
The Government of India, through its official orders dated 13 Nov 2013, 20 Dec 2013 and 4 Mar 2014 approved the HLWG (Kasturirangan) Report, with restrictions and made the report open for comments from public (until 4 May 2014).
The Kerala State Government formed a three member committee, convened by the Chairman, Kerala Biodiversity Board, to review the feasibility of implementing the HLWG (Kasturirangan) Report in consultation with the stake holders.
1. The WGEEP (Gadgil) Report – Facts and Concerns in English (download here), Malayalam (download here)
2. Gadgil and Kasturirangan Committee Reports on Western Ghats: A Comparative Analysis (in Malayalam) Buy online for Rs 55 or buy for Rs 20 + Postage (pay by cheque)
Wetlands around the Aranmula village in Pattanamthitta district of Kerala encompass 3500 acres of freshwater wetlands and paddy fields in the floodplains of the Pamba river. These biodiversity-rich wetlands are the major source of water for the villages of Aranmula, Mallappuzhassery and Kidangannur, and serve as natural flood breaks when the Pamba river overflows.
An airport (KGS Aranmula Airport; private-public partnership) was proposed in 2007 in the Aranmula wetlands, with direct impact on 500 acres and indirect impact on 3500 acres of wetlands. Aranmula was cited as a central location between the existing International Airports at Thiruvananthapuram and Cochin, and the proposed Airport at Aranmula was aimed at serving the increasing demands of air passengers from Pathanamthitta, Kottayam, Idukki and some parts of Alappuzha districts.
A team (Salim Ali Foundation and consultants) conducted a Rapid Environmental Impact Assessment study on the value and impact of this proposed airport, and submitted a report to the Kerala State Government in March 2012, advocating that such an airport should not be constructed, in the light of biodiversity, ecosystem services and the non-addition of tangible value by the airport.
The salient findings of the study were:
1. The Aranmula airport would be the fifth in Kerala after Trivandrum, Cochin, Kozhikode and the proposed airport at Kannur. Given the size of the state, this would have resulted in a higher density of airports than the national recommendation (150 km distance between airports).
2. The low volume of air traffic in the Kerala would have implied that the nearest two airports, Trivandrum and Cochin would lose air traffic, possibly rendering them unprofitable.
3. Given that the Aranmula wetlands are in the tropics and nested in the biodiverse Western Ghats, the estimated ecosystem services are greater than Rs. 7,39,250/ha, equalling an amount between Rs. 35.48 to 47.31 crores annually.
4. The loss of this area would result in loss of rice and fish production (800 tones of puncha paddy and 320 tones of fish) equalling Rs. 1.2 crores and 1.28 crores respectively.
5. The displacement of people, predicted rise in land prices, destruction of local traditions and culture, and diversion of natural resources (like water) would result in enormous losses to the local communities.
More details can be found in the report submitted to the Kerala State Government. LINK
The Aranmula Airport was been cleared by the Kerala State Government in 2009 and the Central Government (Ministry of Environment and Forests) in 2012, and a case countering this was filed by a local resident, Sriranganathan and the Aranmula Heritage Village Action Council (AHVAC) with the Green Tribunal.
1. The proposed Aranmula Greenfield Airport: its potential ecological, social and economic impacts – a preliminary appraisal. 2012. Report. Salim Ali Foundation, Thrissur.
1. Ananmula Heritage Village Action Council
2. Details about Aranmula, its heritage and the protests can be found on their website http://aranmula.org
3. Report submitted by the Aranmula Environmental Committee.
4. Save Aranmula Blogspot
Map of the proposed Aranmula Airport region. The region in white (map on left) is the site of the airport. The area outlined red (outline in map on left, blocked on map on right) has been declared as Industrial Area by the Kerala State Government in response to the proposal of the Airport.