The Centre’s October 9 notification on minimum environmental flows in the Ganga, notified two days before Ganga activist G D Agarwal’s death, draws heavily from a March 2018 report, put together by three government agencies and IIT-Delhi, an RTI application has revealed.
The report follows at least six previous attempts since 2010 at drawing up an acceptable quantum of environmental flow in the river, particularly in the upper reaches of the Ganga, which is heavily dammed. The notification specifies minimum flow releases only in the downstream stretch between Haridwar and Unnao, while remaining vague about the Upper Ganga River Basin.
Environmental flows, or e-flows, are defined as “water regime provided within a river…to maintain ecosystems and their benefits where there are competing water uses and where flows are regulated”. Environmentalists point out that the Ganga’s flow is restricted, and its rejuvenation under threat, due to more than 900 dams, barrages and weirs built on the river.
The report, which heavily influenced the government notification, was put together by the Central Water Commission, the National Mission for Clean Ganga, the National Institute of Hydrology in Roorkee, and IIT-Delhi, according to documents accessed by The Sunday Express under the RTI Act. The committee was set up by the Ministry of Water Resources in August 2017.
The study analyses inflow and release data of Bhimgoda barrage in Haridwar, Bijnor and Narora barrages, and quantifies minimum flow releases immediately downstream in non-monsoon months (October to May) and monsoon months (June to September). The report makes the case for “storage-type reservoirs” such as the Tehri reservoir — the subject of much ire for environmentalists, who believe large structures block crucial sediments needed in the lower reaches of the river.
The notification provides a range of 20 per cent in the dry season, 25 percent in lean season, and 30 percent in the high flow season for monthly average flow in the Upper Ganga River Basin stretch. This is in stark contrast to recommendations made by the consortium of seven IITs, which was tasked with preparing the Ganga River Basin Management Plan in 2013. The IIT Consortium assessed environmental flows in upper Ganga in the “range of 35 to 59%, 37 to 71% and 42 to 83% of the average virgin flows in the monsoon, non-monsoon and lean period, respectively,” documents show.
Prof Vinod Tare of IIT-Kanpur, convenor of the consortium, said environmental flow in the stretch between Haridwar and Unnao is already higher than what is laid down in the notification. “The focus should be on the upper reaches of the Ganga,” he told The Sunday Express.
“All studies commissioned do focus on e-flows but at different stretches. A scientific study looking at the entire stretch is crucial considering specific characteristics of that stretch,” former Union Water Secretary Shashi Shekhar told The Sunday Express. “This (notification) is at least a beginning – the notification should have mentioned that a scientific study will be conducted within a certain number of years.”
The IIT consortium report was also backed by two members of a three-member committee formed by the ministry in April 2014. “Due to huge gap in environmental flow stipulation of this committee report in comparison to the other reports, one of the members gave dissent note,” documents show.
Following this, the CWC was asked to prepare a draft policy paper considering all previous studies on e-flows in the Ganga, and later went on to head the committee which led to notification.
The methodology employed between reports vary, likely explaining the differences in quantum. The IIT consortium uses the “building block method” which is a holistic method accepted globally to assess environmental flows. Studies show that it is a “prescriptive approach” that describes the flows required to “maintain a chosen ecological condition in the river.”
However, an internal policy document assessing this report, notes the “hydraulic rating method” has been employed in places. The March 2018 report uses the “hydraulic rating cum habitat simulation method” which it says estimates e-flows “on the basis of flow parameters such as depth, velocity etc required for sustenance of riverine biota…”
Studies so far
2010: Assessment of Cumulative Impact of Hydroelectric Projects in Alaknanda-Bhagirathi Basins, Alternate Hydro Energy Centre, IIT Roorkee: 5 to 25% of mean annual flow.
2012: Assessment of Cumulative Impacts of Hydroelectric Projects on Aquatic and Terrestrial Biodiversity in Alaknanda and Bhagirathi Basins, Wildlife Institute of India: range from 20-30% of monthly average flow depending on season.
2013: Inter-Ministerial Group under B K Chaturvedi, Member, Planning Commission, on Upper Ganga: range from 25-50% of daily uninterrupted flow depending on season.
2014: Central Water Commission: range from 15-30% average flow depending on season.
2015: Consortium of 7 IITs report on Ganga River Basin Management Plan: range from 35 to 83% of average virgin flow depending on season.