At a time when India is busy interlinking rivers to resolve water crisis, environment activist and researcher Himanshu Thakkar demands, “Show me one honest Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) that was done to show the impact of such projects on people, their resources and the climate.”
On World Earth Day 2021, The Quint spoke to Himanshu Thakkar, an engineer who graduated from the Indian Institute of Technology-Bombay. He is currently the coordinator of South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers & People (SANDRP) and editor of "Dams, Rivers & People" magazine.
Public Hearing Just an Eyewash: Thakkar
SANDRP is an informal network of organisations and individuals working on issues related to water, with the special focus on large dams, hydropower projects and interlinking of rivers among others. Thakkar believes that transboundary water issues in South Asia and Central Asia can have lessons for each of the countries involved, since climate change affects them all.
He has been associated with the work of World Commission on Dams, ‘Narmada Bachao Andolan’ and Centre for Science and Environment.
"“Climate change is already happening. If we destroy the forests, biodiversity and water bodies, then the impact is going to be much larger in the future. The people who live near these developmental projects are the most vulnerable but their opinions are never factored in.”" - Himanshu Thakkar, Environmental Activist and Expert
He critiqued the National Action Plan for climate change that has been endorsing dams and hydropower projects. According to Thakkar, the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) projects in the Himalayas and the Ganga river have not helped in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
“Even a small hydropower project of 24MW that is proposed as a green development project, doesn’t have an EIA – no compliance, no public hearing and no environment litigation. The issue with public hearings is that the environment ministry does not care to look at their quality and the questions that were raised,” he argued.
River-Linking Not the Solution to Water Crisis: Thakkar
For the last few years, Thakkar has been protesting the Ken-Betwa project (KBLP) as he thinks that it reflects the ill-conceived rationale behind river-linking. The project proposed to link the Ken River that flows through Panna in Madhya Pradesh and the Betwa river that flows through central Madhya Pradesh and southern Uttar Pradesh, is expected to provide irrigation and drinking water to 13 districts in both the states.
He said that the project with an estimated cost of Rs 38,000 crore, can lead to adverse impact in the region and it should not have got wildlife clearance.
He estimated that the KBLP will lead to a loss of “10,500 hectares of wildlife habitat in the Panna Tiger Reserve. The river is a geological marvel with rare and indigenous species of vultures, tigers , gharials and marshy animals, that will all be wiped out.”
"“As many as 23 lakh trees will be destroyed if the project is implemented. When you encroach the Ken river and drain its downstream, you are destroying this natural groundwater recharging system. No assessment of the impact has been done as well.”" - Himanshu Thakkar, Environmental Activist and Expert
He also pointed out that that there are several flaws in the EIA report on the Ken-Betwa interlinkage. “The EIA actually says that the fish will get a shortcut through the link canal from Ken river to the Yamuna. This is the level of environmental understanding that the consultants have,” he mocked.
Use Artificial Methods to Recharge Natural Aquifers: Thakkar
Recollecting Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s words during launch of the 'Jal Shakti Abhiyan: Catch the Rain' campaign for conserving water, on World Water Day, 22 March 2020, Thakkar said, “The campaign slogan was ‘Harvest rain where it falls and when it falls’. This is what should be done, he added.
“Groundwater is our lifeline and takes care of most of our water needs. It sustains two-thirds of irrigated farmland in our country, accounts for 85 per cent of rural water supply and 55-60 per cent of urban and industrial water supply,” he explained.
"“The interlinking of rivers will destroy ecosystems, cause irreversible change in the climate and not allow recharge of groundwater.”" - Himanshu Thakkar, Environmental Activist & Expert
Thakkar pointed out that the need of the hour is to conserve natural systems, recharge aquifers, desilt tanks, river beds and reservoirs, create natural forests, build reverse bore-wells to recharge groundwater artificially and work with the indigenous people to fight climate change.
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