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Nature, Water

Bangladesh gave all its rivers their own legal rights

By Sigal Samuel

Bangladesh is sometimes known as the “land of the rivers.” It’s got hundreds of them — and over the years, they’ve been getting more and more polluted. But as of early July, every single one of them has a remarkable new level of protection: The Bangladeshi Supreme Court has given all rivers in the country legal rights.

Now, people who damage a river can get taken to court by the government-appointed National River Conservation Commission. They’ll be tried as if they’d harmed a living entity, because each river now has the right to life. That means the river’s government-designatedhuman representatives can sue on its behalf when it’s being endangered.

Bangladesh isn’t the first placeto pass such a law. In the US, Ohio voters in February granted Lake Erie the legal right to “exist, flourish, and naturally evolve,” and recent years have also seen national and state laws granting rights to rivers and forests from New Zealand to India to Colombia.

It’s all part of the nascent “rights of nature” movement, which argues that instead of viewing nature as property to be owned, we should recognize that it has its own inalienable rights similar to the ones we enjoy. Activists in the movement want us to give the environment a more central place in humanity’s expanding moral circle — the imaginary boundary we draw around those we consider worthy of moral consideration.

But even among the countries that have embraced the rights of nature, Bangladesh now stands out as having done something unprecedented. “What’s unique about Bangladesh is that they declared all rivers to have this status,” said Ben Price, the national director for the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF), a nonprofit public interest law firm that helps people facing threats to their local environment. By contrast, other countries have granted rights only to individual bodies of water.

“In Bangladesh, the river is considered as our mother,” Mohammad Abdul Matin, general secretary of the Dhaka-based environmental group Bangladesh Poribesh Andolon, told NPR. “The river is now considered by law, by code, a living entity, so you’ll have to face the consequence by law if you do anything that kills the river.”

The country already had fines in place to discourage people from harming the waterways, but those penalties weren’t working well enough to prevent pollution, illegal dredging, and the encroachment of human settlements. The Supreme Court hopes its landmark ruling will change that. Noting that “water is likely to be the most pressing environmental concern of the next century,” it called for rivers to be protected “at all costs.”

That’s music to the ears of environmentalists, but others argue that granting rights to rivers does come with real costs, and that they’re too high. With more communities getting interested in enshrining the rights of nature in law — Price said that activists in Europe, Asia, and Australia have reached out to CELDF for help — now is a good time to explore the difficulties that are likely to arise as this movement spreads.

Three problems with enforcing the rights of nature

Even as the rights of nature movement has inspired new legislation around the world, it’s also made clear how ill-equipped governments are to enforce it.

For one thing, once a river gets rights, what happens to all the people who live off it? In Bangladesh, millions — fishers, farmers, and their families — live in informal settlements or slums alongside the rivers and depend on the waters for their livelihoods. Now some are being evicted.

“The government must take stock of poor communities who need resettlement or protection from industries and real estate developers,” said Matin. “If enacted well, the verdict will be helpful in returning the rivers to the people who have historically depended on them.”

It’s also important to note that in some countries where these laws have been enacted, including Bangladesh, nature may now enjoy more rights than some humans in those societies do.

Bangladesh is currently hosting hundreds of thousands of refugees who have been driven out of neighboring Myanmar; these refugees, many of them women and children, lack legal status in Bangladesh and are restricted from attending Bangladeshi schools or working. The Bangladeshi government is also trying to find ways to get rid of the refugee population — through forced repatriation to Myanmar or sending refugees to a remote island accessible only by boat. Local officials have sought to justify this by saying the refugees are destroying the local environment.

A second problem is jurisdictional. Rivers don’t obey borders — they often traverse more than one country. If a certain country has granted rights to a river but a neighboring country hasn’t, that makes it difficult to legally protect the waterway from environmental harm. Bangladeshi environmental activists are already talking about how they won’t be able to compel India to comply with the new law on rivers.

Children collect plastic bottles from a polluted river in Dhaka, Bangladesh.
Children collect plastic bottles from a polluted river in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

India itself dealt with this conundrum after the high court in Uttarakhand state granted personhood status to the Ganges and Yamuna rivers in 2017, appointing the state government as the rivers’ legal guardian. The state government soon challenged this law in India’s Supreme Court on the grounds that it was impractical because the river stretched far beyond Uttarakhand.The court agreed and stripped the rivers of their short-lived legal rights.

A third, related problem is that rights of nature laws tend to get tied up in court — and not everybody has the kind of money required to file a lawsuit. The risk, then, is that whoever has the funding may get to impose their will.

We’ve already seen an example of this in Ecuador, where an NGO called the Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature sued a construction company that wanted to build a road over a river. The NGO won in court, but the company didn’t obey the ruling — and the NGO reportedly didn’t have enough money to launch a second court case against the company. So the ruling wasn’t properly enforced.

In Ohio, the Lake Erie Bill of Rights — the groundbreaking legislation that allows citizens to sue on behalf of the lake when it’s being polluted — is caught up in legal wrangling right now. The day after Toledo residents passed the bill in a special election in February, a corporate firm representing agribusiness interests filed a federal lawsuit against the city.

“We expect this kind of pushback because there are competing interests: The community needs healthy drinking water, while the business community has an interest in making money,” Price told me. The lake is currently experiencing severe algae blooms, and the city of Toledo just filed a new motion trying to get the lawsuit against the bill of rights dismissed.

How the rights of nature idea took off

In 1972, the case of Sierra Club v. Morton came before the US Supreme Court, leading to a deliberation over whether nature should have its own rights. The Court decided the answer was no, but Justice William O. Douglas dissented. “Contemporary public concern for protecting nature’s ecological equilibrium,” he wrote, “should lead to the conferral of standing upon environmental objects to sue for their own preservation.”

That same year, law professor Christopher Stone made a splash with an article titled “Should trees have standing?” It catalyzed other academics to write a slew of articles and booksconsidering whether natural environments ought to have rights enshrined in law.

In 2006, that question left the ether of academia and came to bear directly on toxic sewage sludge, which had been dumped in Tamaqua, Pennsylvania. Residents fought for — and won — the first rights of nature law in the world. Two years later, Ecuador became the first country to enshrine the rights of nature in its constitution, thanks in large part to the work of indigenous activists.

Since then, the victories have come fast and furious. In 2014, New Zealand recognized the legal rights of the Te Urewera forest. In 2017, it also declared the Te Awa Tupua river to have legal personhood. That same year, Colombia granted rights to the Atrato River and India recognized the Ganges and Yamuna rivers as legal persons.

In 2018, the Amazon rainforest got rights, and for the first time, so did a specific plant species: the wild rice known as manoomin, one of the Anishinaabe people’s staple crops. And this February, Ohio voters passed the Lake Erie Bill of Rights.

Granting the status of personhood to a natural environment may seem like a bizarre legal fiction, but it’s no more bizarre than the idea that corporations should enjoy that same status, which has been with us since the 1880s.

If we find it strange to view nature the way we view people, that may just be because we’ve grown up in an anthropocentric intellectual tradition that treats the natural world as an object to be examined and exploited for human use, rather than as a subject to be communed with and respected.

“The idea that we can be separate from nature is really a Western reductionist way of looking at the world — we can trace it back to Francis Bacon and the scientific method,” said Price.

He told me that just as women’s suffrage and the abolition of slavery were once unthinkable but gradually became accepted and normalized, the rights of nature idea seems odd now but will eventually gain social currency. “For the rights of nature to be understood and become something we’re comfortable with is going require a paradigm shift, just like the end of slavery did,” Price said.

That paradigm shift may entail nothing less than a total rejection of capitalism, according to Eduardo Gudynas, the executive secretary of the Latin American Center for Social Ecology in Uruguay. He argues that attempts to reduce environmental devastation while staying within a capitalism framework won’t be enough to address the climate crisis.

“The debate around the rights of nature is one of the most active frontlines in the fight for a non-market-based point of view,” Gudynas told me. “It’s a reaction against our society’s commodification of everything.”

Dam, Water

Indian Government helps Bhutan to generate hydropower plunging Indian downstream people

Happy Bhutan had unleashed unhappiness in the form of water to the people of Assam for years. While the Union Government and stakeholders are opposing Chinese dams on the Himalayan rivers flowing into India, our government is not concerned over dams built by Bhutan over trans-boundary rivers. On the other hand, the Union government is patronizing hydro projects upstream in complete disregard to the interests of the people of Assam downstream.

by Chandan Kumar Duarah

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, on his second visit to Bhutan, inaugurated the Mangdechhu hydroelectric power plant in Thimphu on Saturday and also launched stamps to commemorate five decades of India-Bhutan hydropower cooperation.

With the inaugural of 720MW Mangdechhu Hydroelectric Plant and opening of official discussion on the Sunkosh, the biggest project targeted, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit is in a way commemorating five decades of hydropower cooperation between Bhutan and India.

“I am very happy to come to Bhutan at the beginning of my second term,” Mr. Modi said in a joint press statement after delegation-level talks with his Bhutanese counterpart at the historic Simtokha Dzong. The two countries signed 10 MoUs in the fields of space research, aviation, IT, power and education.

The commissioning of Mangdechhu takes Bhutan’s installed power capacity to 2,326 MW from 1,606, an increase by 44.8 percent. Mangdechhu is the fourth project implemented under inter-government (IG) model.
The first project under the IG model was 336MW Chukha project financed with 60 percent grant and 40 loan grant from the government of India and commissioned in 1986.

The 1,020MW Tala and 60 MW Kurichhu were other projects implemented under IG model. The two projects of Punatshangchhu are also being implemented under the IG model with 70 percent loan and 30 percent grant.

Sunkosh, which has the potential to generate over 2,500MW of power is the priority for the government currently. Discussions during PM Modi’s visit  revolves around the modality of implementation and financing.
But Dams in Bhutan continues to be a nightmare downstream, having created havoc at regular intervals. In the last 10 years, over one lakh families were rendered homeless while more than one lakh hectares of farmland were devastated in the downstream districts of Baksa, Bongaigaon, Barpeta, Kokrajhar, Chirang and Nalbari.

But Modi’s stand with Bhutan makes a grave concern to downstream people of Assam (India) living along the rivers originates in Bhutan. In last week of July, after a little relief, the flood situation has deteriorated once again in Assam with Bhutan releasing the excess water from 55 meter tall dams in eastern Bhutan adjoining western Assam.

Although there is an agreement between India and Bhutan to share information on the release of water from the Kurichu dam, Bhutan allegedly continues to release water from the dam without sharing the information with the Indian (Assam) authorities. There are instances when unannounced release of water Kurichu dam by Bhutan jeopardized the lives of thousands of people downstream.

The sudden surge of water release again caught Assam authorities off-guard. It so happens that during incessant rains, waters from the dam is released flow down to Assam. In July this year, there was a sudden rise in the water levels of the Beki river that washed away a part of the embankment at Panchmile, inundating the entire Manas National Park.

Last month Druk Green Power Corporation Limited (DGPC) of Bhutan, which runs the 60MW Kurichhu project in eastern Bhutan, had announced that it would release excess water from its dam. Several flood-affected districts in lower Assam are on alert following the release of excess water from the dam of Kurichhu hydropower plant in Bhutan early on July 25 morning.

In Barpeta district, the administration has sounded a red alert for people residing on the banks of the Beki and Pahumara rivers appealing them to move to higher and safer locations.

Further, the threat of Kurichu looms large on pristine wildlife habitats like Manas—a world heritage site, an elephant project, a tiger project and a biosphere reserve.

Situated on the western flanks of Assam, Manas National Park is one of the most vibrant forest ecosystems in India. Situated on the foothills of the eastern Himalayas, brushing the Bhutan border, this pristine and primordial wilderness reserve is a treasure trove of bio diversity.

Situated on the foothills of the eastern Himalayas, brushing the Bhutan border, this pristine and primordial wilderness reserve is a treasure trove of bio diversity. Conservation activists voiced the concern of the downstream people. The situation prevailing in Manas is likely to happen in wildlife habitats of upper Assam when hydro electric power projects are commissioned in China, Butan and Arunachal Pradesh (India).

Happy Bhutan has been unleashing unhappiness in the form of water to the people of Assam for years without informing concerned authorities except last time. While the Union Government and stakeholders are opposing Chinese dams on the Himalayan rivers flowing into India, our government is not concerned over dams built by Bhutan over trans-boundary rivers.
Conservationist activists expresses the concern of the downstream people and the situation prevailing in Manas is likely to happen in wildlife habitats of upper Assam when hydro electric power projects are commissioned in China and Arunachal Pradesh.

It is another matter of concern that on July 18, 2019 the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA), chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, gave the go-ahead to the Dibang hydropower project in Arunachal Pradesh. Pegged at a capacity to yield 2,880 megawatts, the project is going to be India’s largest hydropower venture. When completed, it would reach the elevation of a staggering 278 metres – also making it the world’s tallest concrete gravity dam.

The central government has decided to build the project without any public consultation or study of the potential impacts in downstream Assam state. Anti-dam activists are now concerned Modi’s government will now push ahead with a series of mega dams planned in the northeast region, ignoring all expert and advisory committees in an attempt to harness “green” hydropower.

The Dibang is just one of 168 massive dams slated to produce 57,000 megawatts of hydropower in Assam and Arunachal Pradesh states. This strategically important region, which borders Myanmar in the east, Bhutan in the west and China in the north, is described by politicians as India’s ‘future powerhouse’ and is a key focus point of the country’s dam building programme.

China is involved in a major dam building programme on its side of the border, also using the waters of the Brahmaputra – which it calls the Yarlung Tsangpo. China’s plans to build a massive dam three times the size of the Three Gorges Dam on the Great Bend before the river swings round into India.

The Brahmaputra is one of the world’s major rivers, winding across the Tibetan Plateau through China, India and Bangladesh before joining with the Ganga and flowing out into the Bay of Bengal.
The dam building programme in north-east India has been highly controversial. Opponents say it not only ignores geological and ecological factors – it also fails to take into account the impact of climate change in the region.

Experts also say no proper overall plan has been put in place: though India and China have signed a limited agreement to data on river flow, there is no specific deal on managing the Brahmaputra’s waters.
Protests about the dams have been growing, with work on the 2,000 megawatt Lower Subansiri dam on one of the Brahmaputra’s tributaries – repeatedly held up.

Broken promises
In the build up to 2014 elections, Narendra Modi held a rally in Pasighat in the East Siang district of Arunachal Pradesh in February where he acknowledged peoples’ concerns about large dams and committed to developing small hydropower instead.

“I know citizens of the region are against large power projects,” he had said. “I respect your sentiment. But hydropower can also be harnessed using smaller projects, while protecting the environment” Modi pretended.

Indigenous People, Nature, Water

Meghalaya Cabinet approves draft water policy

The Meghalaya Cabinet has approved a draft water policy to address water usages, issues of conservation and protection of water sources in the state.

Chaired by Chief Minister Conrad K Sangma, the cabinet on Friday discussed at length the various aspects of the policy before approving the draft policy, Deputy Chief Minister Prestone Tynsong said.

“All issues related to utilization of water and livelihood and how to preserve water bodies have been outlined in this policy including community participation in the implementation of this policy by constituting a water sanitation village council at the village level,” Tynsong said.

The policy was drafted by the state Water Resources department in consultation with experts in water conservation and protection of water bodies.

The deputy chief minister said that Meghalaya being a hilly state, receives a lot of rainfall but the same water cannot be retained and all water reach Bangladesh in no time.

Among the other issues discussed on the policy was the need to optimize usage and conservation of water, steps needed to protect water bodies and water sources including ground water and protection of catchment and springshed areas.

Recently, the state government has launched the Jal Shakti mission to address the problems related to water.

The state cabinet has also approved the proposal of the Finance department to hike the salary of chairman and members of the Meghalaya Public Service Commission based on the recommendations of the fifth Meghalaya Pay Commission.

Water Mission

The Water Resources Department is implementing one new initiative which is the Integrated Water Resources Management Programme (IWRMP) which covers the activities under the Water Mission under the aegis of the IBDLP through the Meghalaya Water Resources Development Agency (MeWDA). This Programme is a process which promotes the coordinated development and management of water, land and related resources in order to maximize the resultant economic and social welfare in an equitable manner without compromising the sustainability of the eco-system. Under this Programme, activities for management and maximum utilization of the available water resources through the implementation of water harvesting structures, Jalkunds and Multipurpose Reservoirs are being taken up. Further, other Programmes relating to water quality, capacity building and awareness, monitoring and evaluation of projects, policy and regulation have also been initiated.

Activities under the Mission

Briefly the present status of the different activities and Programme taken up under the Integrated Water Resources Management Programme is as follows:

Multipurpose Reservoirs (MRs)

During March 2013, an amount of Rs. 29.15 crores was sanctioned under Special Plan Assistance for development of Multipurpose Reservoirs (MRs). Multipurpose Reservoirs (MRs) are water bodies created in a cascade that will cater to the different water needs of the community. It may be mentioned that the Multipurpose Reservoirs (MRs) will have the following components:

  1. Structural components having a combination of components for different uses such as Drinking & Domestic Water, Irrigation, Fisheries, Livestock, Micro hydel (< 100kw; where ever feasible) etc.
  2. Non-structural components like capacity building, institution building, Management Information System (MIS), monitoring & evaluation, entrepreneurial promotion, etc.
  3. Ancillary Components like water filtration, soil fertility testing, water testing kits, improvement of traditional sources, improvement of catchment areas, conveyance systems through canals and pipes, etc. Presently, the District Water Resources Councils (DWRCs) have been instructed to identify feasible sites for which this Programme can be taken up shortly. The consultant engaged to support the Meghalaya Water Mission is also helping out to carry this work forward.

Jalkunds/Water Harvesting structures

A total amount of Rs. 28.00 crores has been sanctioned for the construction of Jalkunds and Water Harvesting structures for which the funding is as shown below:

  1. Under Special Plan Assistance – Rs. 15.00 crores
  2. Under Special Central Assistance – Rs. 10.00 crores
  3. Under the State Plan – Rs. 3.00 crores Total – Rs. 28.00 crores
  4. Out of this available fund, Rs. 7.99 crores has been allotted to the 164 schemes as proposed by the Water Resources Department, while Rs. 10.00 crores has been sanctioned for 385 schemes proposed by Soil & Water Conservation Department. The schemes are being implemented through the District Water Resources Councils (DWRCs). In order to sensitize the public on the implementation of Jalkunds and Water Harvesting structures, capacity building Programme have been taken up in the 7 district head quarters. A separate Programme on this subject was also held at Mawkyrwat in collaboration with the Mawkyrwat Farmers’ Association. Officers from the MeWDA, the Water Resources Department and the Soil & Water Conservation Department were deputed as resource persons for the Programme. Further, it is also proposed to implement Roof Top Rain Water Harvesting projects in Government and School buildings, PHCs and CHCs and accordingly the District Water Resources Councils have been instructed to identify and submit proposals.

Capacity Building & Awareness Programme

MeWDA and Water Resources Department, in collaboration with Central Soil & Material Research Station (CSMRS), New Delhi, has organized Awareness Programme on the topic “Save Water , Save Earth” in Khliehriat & Tura. The Programme at Khliehriat was held on 17th May 2013 and 200 students from different schools in the district had participated. In Tura, the Programme was held on 21st May 2013 with 250 students participated in the Programme. Competitions were held and prizes were distributed to the winners. Apart from competitions, presentations relating to water were made by the resource persons from Central Soil & Material Research Station (CSMRS), New Delhi.

Investigation, Planning & Preparation of Water Resources Projects

MeWDA has procured 2 (two) nos. of Light weight reflectorless Total Stations for the Soil & Water Conservation Department, one each for the Garo Hills and Khasi-Jaintia Hills Circle amounting to Rs. 9.2 Lakhs. These instruments will help the Department to take up more survey & investigation works and also help in preparing Detailed Project Reports (DPRs).

Monitoring & Evaluation of projects

MeWDA through the Integrated Water Resources Management Programme has funded an amount of Rs. 13.77 Lakhs for engaging an agency for third party monitoring of projects under the Accelerated Irrigation Benefit Programme (AIBP), implemented by the Water Resources Department and Soil & Water Conservation Department. The work is under progress.


Others MeWDA with the assistance of the engaged consultants are in the process of preparing two proposals for funding by Asian Development Bank (ADB) and Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) for the creation of Multipurpose Reservoirs (MRs) in the State.

Chandan Kumar Duarah

Bhutan, Water

Bhutan Border Dwellers Repair Lifeline Canal

For centuries now, people living on the foothills of Bhutan have been dependent on rivers and rivulets flowing down from the mighty Himalayas. The sharing of water and other natural resources has been much dependent on the geo-political climate between the two countries.

Fortunately, the diplomatic relations between the Government of Indian and Royal Government of Bhutan have always been cordial except for localized conflicts in different border areas. Taking positive advantage of the congenial atmosphere between the two countries, NERSWN (North East Research and Social Work Networking), a Kokrajhar-based civil society organization, has been mobilizing communities on both sides of the Indo-Bhutan border along the Saralpara-Sarphang area to participate in sustainable sharing and governance of the trans-boundary river — Saralbhanga.

As part of the similar endeavour, more than 500 people from 36 villages of Saralpara area participated in the voluntary work to repair the traditional diversion-based irrigation system, which the locals call ‘Jamfwi/Dong’. During the ‘shramdan’ work, one of the members of the Irrigation Committee, Amarsingh Iswary said, “We are so grateful to our neighbouring country Bhutan that they have always been kind enough to allow us to draw water from Saralbhanga/Swrmanga River. This irrigation canal is the lifeline for more than 15,000 farmers in the Saralpara area alone. If the flow of water stops in this Jamfwi, we will have no option but to migrate or perish.”

The general secretary of the Irrigation Committee, Matla Mardi said, “The Saralbhanga River is the lifeline for human beings, wildlife, flora and fauna and all the living beings in Ultapani Ripu Chirang Reserve Forest. One cannot imagine life without the flow of water in this Jamfwi. We feel so fortunate that people here have become organized due to the active mobilization of NERSWN to further develop this trans-boundary irrigation system.”

The South Asian region, including India, has already started witnessing the impacts of climate change. The 2017 floods had a devastating impact in the region. India alone had a casualty of 1,046 people. Climate change-induced disasters have wider impacts and are affecting multiple countries. The ever-increasing frequency and intensity of disasters have already overwhelmed capacities of countries to respond. The regional fragilities have increased manifolds and water stress and its impact on riparian livelihoods is also an emerging problem.

There are several rivers that flow down from Bhutan to India; 56 such rivers flow down from Bhutan to Assam itself. Though these rivers are the lifeline for riparian communities in both the countries, many a time these rivers wreak havoc with flash floods, long-term inundation, erosion, cyclone and siltation. Unscientific mining, unsustainable fishing and improper water management and flood protection measures can be the determining factors for cumulative risks and vulnerabilities in the region. These rivers if governed effectively can help both the countries thrive in trade and tourism and also lead to prospering livelihood among the riparian communities.

Historically, Bhutan and India always enjoyed a friendly and cordial relationship. Both the countries exchange goods and goodwill through different established gateways called ‘Dooars’. Formal diplomatic relations between India and Bhutan were established in 1968 with the establishment of a special office of India in Thimphu. Before this, India’s relations with Bhutan were looked after by the Political Officer in Sikkim. The basic framework of India- Bhutan bilateral relations was the Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation signed in 1949 between the two countries, which was revised in February, 2007.The India-Bhutan Friendship Treaty not only reflects the contemporary nature of relationship but also lays the foundation for their future development.

The golden jubilee of the establishment of formal diplomatic relations between India and Bhutan was celebrated in the year 2018. In addition to the bilateral diplomatic relations, people-to-people ties through exchanges in the form of culture, goods and services also have been cordial between the citizens of both the countries.

Pratibha Brahma, a renowned social activist said, “Our efforts to bring together the two friendly nations for meeting the developmental aspirations of people living along the Indo-Bhutan border are bearing fruits. People-to-people ties are facilitating cordial sharing of natural resources, especially water on the border area. The Saralpara initiative for trans-border river sharing is one of the best things that I have ever seen in my life.”

Flood, Water

What Use Is Dredging the Brahmaputra?

Jogendra Nath Sarma

The Brahmaputra River has the second highest sediment yield per square kilometre in the world, exceeded only by that of the Yellow River in China. India’s central government and the state government of Assam have planned to dredge the Brahmaputra, with an initial amount of Rs 4 billion ($57 million).

One purpose of this dredging is to reduce flooding by allowing more water to stay in the river. The second is make the Brahmaputra navigable for large vessels – the river has been designated National Waterway 2 by the Inland Waterways Authority of India. It is planned as a vital component of trans-boundary inland waterways transport between India and Bangladesh.

Before the dredging starts, it is important to understand the nature of sediment transport in the Brahmaputra, because the dredged-out river is likely to be filled up again, partly or completely.

Sediment load of the Brahmaputra

The sediment deposited in the Brahmaputra varies across its length. At Tsela Dzong in Tibet it is about 150 tonnes per square km. But as the river crosses the Himalayas and reaches Pasighat at the foothills of Arunachal Pradesh in India, the deposit increases tenfold to 1,495 tonnes per square km. This shows that the river gathers sediments from soft rocks and landslide-affected areas of the Himalayas. The Higher Himalaya Range contributes about 70% of the sediments of the Brahmaputra, as explained by S. Krishnaswami and K. Singh in the September 10, 2005 issue of the journal Current Science.

The Brahmaputra then flows through Assam – forming the Assam valley, with the high Himalayas in the north and the Meghalaya plateau in the south – before entering Bangladesh. As measured at a station in Majuli – the largest river island in Assam – the suspended sediment load is slightly higher at 1,513 tons per square km, higher than at Pasighat, due to the contributions from the rivers Dibang and Lohit, which also flow down from the Himalayas on the north bank of the Brahmaputra.

Since the Brahmaputra is a trans-boundary river, data on its water discharge and sediment load are classified and thus the public has no access. Researchers can get the data after a lengthy process and only if they pledge not to share the data in public.

Sediment loads are measured as both suspended load and bed load. Suspended load is the sediment being carried by the water at the time of measurement, while bed load is the sediment that has settled down on the riverbed. Old data – published despite the ban – reveal that on an average the Brahmaputra transported 402 million tonnes of suspended sediment annually between 1955 and 1979 at the Pandu measuring station in Guwahati, the largest city of Assam.

According to Water and Power Consultancy Services, the average annual sediment yield between 1978 and 1991 was 527 million tonnes at Pancharatna near Goalpara, just a little upstream of the place where the river enters Bangladesh from India.

But this average means little. During the monsoon from May to October, the Brahmaputra transports 95% of the annual suspended load at Pandu at an average daily rate of 2.12 million metric tonnes. It would need over 141,300 trucks – of 15 tonnes each – to carry this away.

Although suspended sediment is measured at a few stations on the Brahmaputra, no convincing attempt has been made to measure its bed load. Dulal Goswami wrote in the 1989 (15.1) edition of the Indian Journal of Earth Sciences that he had estimated the bed load using several empirical equations and concluded that the bed load at Pandu was of the order of 5-15% of the total sediment load of the river.

Dredging feasible? Desirable?

Since suspended sediments form the majority of the load, will it be possible to maintain the dredged channel suitable for large vessels at the desired width and depth during the monsoon, when there is daily input of 2.12 million metric tonnes of sediments into the river?

And to what extent is this desirable? The authorities have stated that the main purpose of dredging the Brahmaputra is to prevent high flows from inundating its banks, which result in floods. But the valley of Assam has been created from the sediments deposited by floods of the Brahmaputra and its tributaries. During last two million years it has deposited 200-1,000 metre thick sediments by flooding and lateral channel migration.

Natural floods have several benefits besides increasing soil fertility. But artificial heavy floods have been created in Assam either due to breaching of embankments or sudden release of impounded water to keep dams safe. Such floods deposit enormous quantities of sterile sands rather than fertile sediments. For flood control, the solution should lie with improving or disbanding embankments and dams rather than with dredging.

Dredging seems to be a superficial answer to the challenge of drainage congestion and managing floods. Proper planning and a detailed study of the basic aspects of this government project are needed. A critical analysis of the data on both sediment input and dredging depth, together with a far better idea of the bed load, is necessary before starting this mega project.

Jogendra Nath Sarma is a retired professor of applied geology at Dibrugarh University, Assam, and the author of two books on the Brahmaputra.

This article was originally published on The Third Pole.

Indo - China Relation, International, Water

China Begins Sharing Hydrological Data On Brahmputra With India; Expected To Share Sutlej Data From 1 June

With the onset of monsoons, China has begun sharing hydrological data with India on the flow of Brahmaputra river for this year and is also expected to start sharing data on the Sutlej river from 1 June, reports Economic Times.

Originating in China’s Tibet and flowing into India’s Arunachal Pradesh and Assam, the Brahmaputra then flows into the Bangladesh before ultimately draining into the Bay of Bengal. Meanwhile, Sutlej, a tributary of the Indus river, also originates in China’s Tibet and flows into India before entering Pakistan.

The data on the flow of these rivers holds significance for the Indian government as it is necessary for flood management in peak monsoon seasons when the rivers swell up in size because of the heavy rains.

It should be noted thought that China had stopped sharing the data on Brahmaputra river in 2017 following the Dokalam stand-off between the two South Asian giants. It had then claimed that the hydrological data gathering sites had washed away due to heavy flooding. It was later in 2018 with the strengthening relations that China resumed the sharing of data.

The data on Brahmaputra river is shared from 15 May while on Sutlej from 1 June and the sharing of data continues till 15 October every year. Last year, China provided the data even beyond the October deadline after the Brahmaputra had witnessed formation of a lake due to a landslide that had increased the water levels.Tags: 

Environment, Water

The Himalayas are staring at a grim water future, says study

by Mayank Aggarwal

  • The Himalayan region in four South Asian nations, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Nepal, which is home to about 100 million people, has witnessed rapid urbanisation over the past few decades.
  • A study now stresses that rapid urbanisation in the region, driven mainly by tourism, is threatening water security in the area which will only be exacerbated by climate change.
  • The researchers argue that unless a long-term and mountain specific strategy is devised, millions living in the region would face a severe water crisis.
  • Today is World Water Day and globally, organisations and individuals are campaigning for water as a human right and ensuring access to water for all.

Millions of people living in the Himalayan region of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal may face a grim water future if the rapid and unplanned urbanisation taking place in the ecologically fragile mountains is not quickly addressed, said a study which recommended long-term mountain-specific urban planning to tackle the threat.

The study by researchers Sreoshi Singh (Nepal), S.M. Tanvir Hassan (Bangladesh), Masooma Hassan (Pakistan) and Neha Bharti (India), was published in the journal ‘Water Policy’ in February 2019. The findings are significant as the Himalayan region in these four south Asian countries is home to over 100 million people. The study emphasised that the Himalayan region is witnessing rapid urbanisation due to factors like migration, tourism and religious pilgrimage and one of the inevitable consequences of rapid urbanisation is water shortage.

“Unfortunately, the unprecedented population growth has led to overexploitation of water sources in the region pushing the inhabitants to a state of despair,” it added.

The entire Himalayan region is spread across an area of 4.2 million square km across eight countries, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, India, Myanmar, Nepal and Pakistan, sustains the livelihood of 240 million people. It is also the source of 10 major river basins and home to four of 36 global biodiversity hotspots.

Explaining further, the study stated that urban centres in the mountains largely depend on springs and rivers, but as these sources are snow and glacier-fed, the impact of climate change may affect the quantity of water available from these sources, leaving groundwater sources as more critical for these cities in different seasons.

“Several mountain urban centres are now augmenting their water supplies through water transfers from distant sources, as existing water sources are insufficient to meet rising water demands. However, due to the inherent fragility of mountain environments, such water transfers may not always be feasible due to the high infrastructure and energy costs involved,” the study said.

The study highlighted that the “uniform definition of urban centres applied with equal weight across plains and mountains, often tends to ignore important strategic locations as ‘urban’ in the mountains, although, in terms of water security, the capacity of mountains is much lower than that of the plains.”

“In the mountains, smaller settlements like district headquarters or market towns perform a number of functions typical of an urban centre. However, they are not formally classified as urban centres because they do not meet the nationally set criteria. This calls for a mountain-specific definition of urban areas, which takes into cognisance mountain specificities like fragility, limited water sources and remoteness,” said the study.

It, however, noted that Nepal is an exception as it has a mountain-specific criterion for demarcating urban centres.  

S.M. Tanvir Hassan, who is one of the authors of the study, told Mongabay-India that, “for better planning and management, first, a mountain-specific definition of urban centres needs to be introduced in Bangladesh, India and Pakistan, which Nepal has already done.”

Haphazard growth is making the Himalayas vulnerable to water stress

The study emphasised that the “haphazard growth of mountain urban centres coupled with their fragile geography makes them particularly vulnerable to water stress and insecurity” and that the majority of urban areas in the Himalayan region “cannot meet water demand from municipal sources.”

“Some of these mountainous urban centres are of historical importance while some are popular tourist destinations. The present planning process has failed to provide alternative systems incorporating seasonal influx of population in these urban centres leading to acute water scarcity, congestion and pollution,” it said.

As per the study, highly visited tourist areas in the Himalayan region in the four south Asian nations include Bandarban district (Bangladesh), Jammu and Kashmir, Shimla, Haridwar and Rishikesh, Darjeeling and all north-eastern states in India, most of Nepal and the Himalayan region of Pakistan.

Last year, Shimla witnessed serious water crisis, which according to reports was due to deficit in rainfall and snowfall.

Unplanned growth in the Himalayan region in South Asian nations is threatening water security. Photo by Kartik Chandramouli/Mongabay.

The study also noted that using groundwater, either from spring sources or through dug-wells and bore-wells, is one of the most commonly adopted strategies by people for coping and adapting to water scarcity.

“However, unless supplemented with adequate and well-planned recharge programmes, excessive reliance on groundwater will lead to further potentially deleterious consequences in the future, given that aquifers in mountainous regions are inherently fragile,” the study warned.

The study called for long-term strategies such as mountain-specific urban planning which takes into account “the myriad fragilities of mountain ecosystems and ecological restoration of forested uplands that feed the urban water systems.”

“Without long-term and sustainable urban planning and accountability of the stakeholders, many of these urban centres in the HKH are poised for a grim water future, which will only be exacerbated by climate change,” it added.

Tanvir Hassan emphasised that “it is not just climate change that is threatening the water security in the Himalayan region but also uncontrolled and unplanned urbanisation which is leading to water scarcity, pollution and congestion in the region.”

“A long-term and well-planned strategy is needed to address this problem otherwise the whole region and millions living in this area would face a severe crisis,” Hassan added.

A recent report by the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) had noted that the Himalayan region provides two billion people a vital regional lifeline via water for food, water for energy and water for the ecosystem.

It had also stressed that India, Bangladesh, Pakistan and China together account for more than 50 percent of the world’s groundwater withdrawals which mostly take place in the plains of river basins that originate in the Himalayan region.


Sreoshi Singh, S. M. Tanvir Hassan, Masooma Hassan, Neha Bharti; Urbanisation and water insecurity in the Hindu Kush Himalaya: Insights from Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Pakistan. Water Policy wp2019215. doi:

Banner Image: The Himalayan region covering the four south Asian countries is home to over 100 million people. Photo by Kartik Chandramouli/Mongabay

Source : Mongabay

Politics, Water

Congress will restore special category status to Arunachal, other Northeast states: Rahul Gandhi

Itanagar: Arunachal Pradesh is special to the Congress party, leader Rahul Gandhi said at an Itanagar rally on Tuesday, promising to restore the special category status to the state and others in the Northeast if voted to power.

“There are some states in the country which require special status because of their ‘unique problems and difficulties’ such as connectivity, terrain, infrastructure,” Gandhi said at the election rally.

During the Congress rule at the Centre, he said, Arunachal Pradesh and other NE states enjoyed special category status.

“Arunachal Pradesh has a special place in the heart of the Congress party and we would like to have a dil ka rishta with the people of the state,” he said.

Rahul also said the Congress would not pass in the Rajya Sabha the controversial Citizenship Amend Bill that has got the BJP much flak in recent times. Calling the Bill ‘detrimental’ to the Northeast people, he said the Congress would never allow the “suppression of the people of the Northeast”. The NDA does not have majority in the Upper House.

The Congress would never attack the indigenous language, culture, customs and traditions of Arunachal and other Northeast states, Rahul said.

The government plans to change the definition of illegal migrants with the Citizenship Amendment Bill 2016. It seeks to amend the Citizenship Act 1955 that gives citizenship to illegal migrants of Hindu, Sikh, Busshist, Jain, Parsi and Christian origin. The Act, however, does not have a provision for Muslims who are Shias and Ahmediyas and who face persecution in neighbouring countries.

The Assam Gano Parishad has threatened to cut ties with ally BJP over this, stating that this law attacks the cultural and linguistic identities of population here. Opposition parties have also slammed this attempt to grant citizenship on the basis of religion.

Election to the 60-member Arunachal Pradesh Assembly and two Lok Sabha seats will be held on April 11.


Environment, Water

‘Ganga pollution rise claim unscientific’

NEW DELHI: Strongly rebutting claims of a substantial increase in level of
pollutants in Ganga in a report by Varanasi-based Sankat Mochan
Foundation, the National Mission for Clean Ganga said such high levels of
biochemical oxygen demand (BOD) have never been reported for the
Questioning the capacity of the Foundation to carry out such tests, the
NMCG – a central agency which has been implementing the government’s
ambitious Ganga rejuvenation programme – said the high level of BOD
claimed were not “scientific at all” as such a scenario could lead to sudden
depletion of Dissolved Oxygen (DO) level severely impacting aquatic life.
Only the Central Pollution Control Board had the wherewithal to monitor
pollution along the length of the river.

Referring to CPCB data of the last six years, the Mission said the DO level has, in fact, been found to be within “acceptable limits” of notified primary water quality criteria for bathing. The BOD level should be less than 3 mg/L, DO should be 5 mg/L or more and desirable faecal coliform should be 500 MPN (most probable number)/100 ml with maximum permissible level being 2,500 MPN/100ml.

The Foundation has gone by data collected by its laboratory at Tulsi Ghat in Varanasi and claimed that the BOD level has increased from 46.8-54 mg/L to 66-78 mg/L during January 2016 to February 2019. Similarly, the NGO claimed faecal coliform in the river at Varanasi have increased from 4.5 lakh (upstream at Nagwa) and 5.2 crore (downstream at Varuna) in January,2016 to 3.8 crore (upstream) and 14.4 crore (downstream) in February, 2019. Calling these claims “incorrect”, the NMCG flagged
the scientific data of the CPCB which carried out continuous water quality monitoring at two locations in Varanasi.

It said, “Analysis of water quality monitoring data of CPCB for these two stations located on main stem of Ganga in Varanasi for the month of January for period 2016-19 indicates that minimum value of DO varied between 6.7 to 7.6 mg/L and indicated healthy state of river.”  Source :  TNN

According to a report by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), only one out of 39 locations through which the Ganga river flows had clean water in the post-monsoon period this year.

As many as 37 of the 41 locations through which the Ganga river flows reported moderate to severe water pollution in the pre-monsoon period this year, according to the ‘Biological Water Quality Assessment of the River Ganga (2017-18)’ report that was recently made public by the CPCB in compliance with a Supreme Court direction.

The water quality of the river was either clean or slightly polluted at only four out of 41 locations during the pre-monsoon period and at only one out of 39 locations post-monsoon, it said, adding that Haridwar is the only location where the river was ‘clean’ in the post-monsoon period.

In the report, qualitative analysis of samples that were taken during pre- and post-monsoon period were analysed and put under five water quality classes — clean (A), slight pollution (B), moderate pollution (C), heavy pollution (D) and severe pollution (E).

According to the report, 34 areas showed moderate pollution in the river while three areas recorded severe pollution in the pre-monsoon period in 2017-18.

The report also said in Uttar Pradesh, two major tributaries, River Pandu and River Varuna, are increasing pollution load of the Ganga.

“On mainstream of River Ganga, although none of the locations were found to be severely polluted but most are in moderate pollution range,” the study said.

As many as 37 of the 41 locations through which the river flows, reported moderate to severe pollution in the pre-monsoon period this year, it said.

In another study titled Comparison of Biological Water Quality of River Ganga (2014-18), it was found that Ramganga and Garra river water was in heavy pollution range in post-monsoon season during 2017-18.

It showed hardly any improvement at most of the locations in the past four years. Water quality at some locations (Jagjeetpur in Uttarakhand and Kanpur, Allahabad and Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh) had deteriorated in 2017-18 as compared to 2014-15, the study said.

In 2017-18, water quality at Haridwar Barrage was cleanest during both pre-and post-monsoon period while it was reported to be severely polluted at different monitoring locations in Kanpur and Varanasi during the pre-monsoon phase, it said.

“Efforts must be made to control the pollution so that all locations may comply with at least ‘B’ class water quality,” the study said. Class B water quality means the river must be rejuvenated to support aquatic life.



Profile: Into the heart of the glacier

by Xinhua writers Cheng Lu and Wang Qin’ou

BEIJING, March 9 (Xinhua) — For most of his career, Yao Tandong has led researchers to drill into the heart of glaciers on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau to collect ice cores, a key to understanding climate change.

In the process the plateau has also grabbed his heart, even when the eminent glaciologist steps into the Great Hall of the People in Beijing for the annual “two sessions.”

Known as Asia’s water tower, the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau is the source of major rivers of Asia, including the Yangtze, Yellow and Yarlung Zangbo, and a key eco-safety barrier.

Yao, 64, was among more than 2,000 members attending the ongoing session of the 13th National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), the top political advisory body.

From all walks of life — economists, scientists, teachers, doctors, artists and religious leaders — they are expected to offer proposals and insight on running state affairs.

In Fengda International Hotel in south Beijing, top scientists from various fields such as space exploration, quantum, climate change and medicine are gathering together to pool their wisdom for the country’s development.

This year, Yao’s proposal is related to the prevention and treatment of the more frequent disasters on the plateau including glacier collapses, floods and glacier lake outbursts.

Glaciers collapsed last October at the Yarlung Zangbo River in southwest China’s Tibet Autonomous Region, blocking the river and forming a barrier lake.

“The climate on the plateau, with a fragile ecosystem, is becoming warmer and more humid. Temperature rise here is twice the global average,” said Yao, honorary director of the Institute of Tibetan Plateau Research with the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

The reasons are yet to be totally clear, and Yao’s team have been working with other scientists at home and abroad to figure them out.

“Changes on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau is not only Tibet’s business. It matters to other parts of China, its neighbors, and even the world,” he added.

Nearly all of the proposals submitted by Yao since he became a CPPCC member more than a decade ago were regarding the plateau. They have attracted the attention of Chinese authorities who regards the plateau’s ecological protection as a vital task.

In June 2017, China launched its second comprehensive scientific expedition to the plateau after more than 40 years. The expedition, which will last five to 10 years, aims to study changes in climate, biodiversity and environment over the past decades.

As the chief scientist of the expedition, Yao revealed the initial findings in September. One of the discoveries was that glaciers on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau and neighboring regions have shrunk by 15 percent in the past half century.

“The Qinghai-Tibet Plateau is always at my heart. As a scientist member of the CPPCC National Committee, my job is to tell what I know, see and think, and offer my own suggestion based on the research,” Yao said.

Scientists believe that the information embedded in the ice core will help them solve the climate change mystery.

Despite his age, Yao still ascends the mountains at an altitude of around 6,000 or 7,000 meters, and often stays there with other glaciologists for several months. They drill into the heart of the glaciers to collect ice samples for further analysis.

The process is dangerous. One of his students described the scene: “You can see a board installed on different sections of the road, inscribed with the names of victims and the dates they left this world.”

The cracks on the glaciers, gales and blizzards pose dangers to researchers, who have to carry heavy equipment up the mountains on their shoulders.

When being asked what drives him, Yao said: “When you’re really interested in doing something, challenges will not hold you back.”

Growing up in Tongwei County in northwest China’s Gansu Province, Yao’s childhood was far removed from the glaciers. It was not until he visited Tanggula Mountains during an expedition in 1978 that he fell in love with Tibet and glaciers.

“In our traditional impression, Tibet was supposed to be cold and dry. It was August, and I saw rainy days and rivers,” he recalled. “It’s very beautiful.”

A climbing pack is always ready in his office, containing everything necessary for a scientific expedition.

Over the past decades, Yao and his colleagues have left their footprints on many mountains such as Qomolangma, Muztagh Ata, and Shishapangma. He received the 2017 Vega Medal in Stockholm, recognizing his contributions to the study of glaciers and the environment on the plateau and its surrounding areas.

China is one of the first countries to sign the Paris Agreement on climate change. As the topic has gradually attracted global attention, Yao said the once “cold” discipline of glaciology has gained popularity.

The Qinghai-Tibet Plateau is still one of the cleanest regions on earth, according to the white paper “Ecological Progress on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau,” published by the Chinese government in 2018.

China is investing big and promoting international cooperation in the scientific research of Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, which is key to the world’s ecological environmental protection.

In 1984, Yao started cooperating with foreign counterparts: “Over the past years, we have never encountered hurdles in cooperation. Climate change has no boundaries.”

Source: Xinhua|Editor: Liangyu