Livelihoods, Ecology and Climate Change, 11th August 2018

“Trees are the Earth’s endless effort to speak to the listening heaven”

Rabindranath Tagore

In urban  planning, one deals with redevelopment of existing areas and new urbanisation around the periphery of the existing town or city.

In the former, planners using the principle of densification, aim to knock down existing structures, and create new structures which increase the population density in the area. This redevelopment is responsible for clearing existing trees and greenery. This reflects bad planning.

In new urbanisation, one can use satellite imaging for appropriate zoning of your constructions so as to mitigate loss of valuable fertile soil and green cover. This minimises the impact of emissions which contribute to global warming. Satellite imaging is a vital tool for urban planning.

Densification involves costs and benefits which have to evaluated sensibly.

Planning densification without sacrificing vital green cover should be the guiding light. Unfortunately this did not happen in the Sarojini Nagar and Kidwai Nagar redevelopments undertaken by NBCC (India) Limited.

Every redevelopment which involves densification at the cost of green cover in a congested city is a clear no, no…as it aims at one level to giving  scarce real estate in the city to outsiders which is incorrect as the driving force is profiteering from real estate sacrificing green cover.

In a city like Delhi, where air quality is poor, reduction in existing green cover impacts air quality for all citizens. The cost of this on public health is huge.

What more is there to add…Delhi has woken up to the wisdom of green cover late. The City is still not willing to regulate vehicles on the basis of carrying capacity of the cities roads.

(Guest Blog)

Rohini Nilekani dreams of making invisible water visible

The capricious nature of groundwater has resulted in so much exploitation and overuse that we now have a consistent crisis. Presenting a roadmap for groundwater governance and information transparency using technology.–Making-invisible-water-visible.html

This Man Is Helping Farmers Fight Both Dry Spells and Water Logging with a Unique RWH Technology (‘Bhungroos’)

Lake Authority not ready to take responsibility: CM

Can the Karnataka State Lake Development Authority (KSLDA) independently manage and restore 35,000 lakes in the state?

Lessons from Kolleru Lake

Kolleru is India’s largest fresh water lakes at over 90,000 hectares. It hosts upto 189 species of birds, which arrive in the thousands each year – some coming from as far as Siberia.

Unrestricted aquaculture turned the ecosystem into a prawn-only parade, forcing the water to turn saline. The prawns required manure to grow, and this seeped into the water – turning it into a nutrient soup that supported algae but smothered other life forms. Locals started buying their water in sachets as non-locals made a killing. Soon enough, even the prawns raised here became toxic.

It is a textbook case in environmental mismanagement.

India’s water crisis is hitting women hardest

Nearly 16.3 crores of India’s population of 130 crores lack access to clean water close to home – the most of any country in the world, according to a report this year by the Britain-based charity Water Aid.

On an average, a rural woman walks 5 kilometres to 20 kilometres (3-12 miles) a day just to fetch water, according to estimates by campaigners.

Apart from the physical strain of collecting water, women also suffer from the emotional stress of managing with little water, and maintaining menstrual hygiene, said Ranjana Kumari, Director of Advocacy, Centre for Social Research.

The burden is greater with the Clean India Mission, which aims to end open defecation in rural areas by installing toilets.

“But many of (the toilets) do not have running water, leaving the additional task of getting water for them to women,” she said.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has acknowledged the severity of the water crisis and promised more resources to tackle it, including cleaning up the Ganges river, which makes up 40 percent of total replenishable groundwater resources.

There is little time: by 2030, water demand is projected to be double the supply, implying severe scarcity for hundreds of millions.

“Demand is increasing, access is getting more difficult, yet the infrastructure has not improved,” Kumari said.

“Women are bearing the brunt of it.” 

Lessons from an Agriculturally Advanced State

In 1970-71, Punjab had 1.92 lakh tube wells which increased to 14.14 lakh by 2015-16. As a result, groundwater level in different districts declined between 6-22 meters during 1996-2016.

How India Could Cut Irrigation Water By 33% – And Reduce Anaemia, Zinc Deficiency 

India could reduce the water it uses for irrigation by a third and simultaneously address a persistent malnutrition problem, if it replaced its rice crop with more nutritious and less thirsty cereals, a study of irrigation-water use over 43 years has found.

Rice, which consumes the most water by tonne of output while delivering the least nutrients–iron, zinc and fibre–could be replaced with less thirsty and more nutritious maize, ragi (finger millet), bajra (pearl millet) or jowar (sorghum). To reap these benefits, however,

India must replace rice and wheat with healthier alternative cereals in its public distribution system, which provides subsidised food grain to the poor, the study said.

Information helpline improves local governance in Nuh villages

An information center in Nuh district (of Haryana state) that lags in economic and social development has created awareness about government schemes and entitlements, and has empowered villagers to claim their rights

Air Pollution in 20 cities

Air Pollution Knowledge Assessments (APnA) city program – 20 city reports online 

Earth entering “hothouse state”

Earth at risk of entering ‘hothouse’ state from which there is no return, scientists warn climate (change) scientists ‘In the context of the summer of 2018, this is definitely not a case of crying wolf… the wolves are now in sight’.

Solar India and Solar China

Even after reaching its 2020 solar target 3 years early, China continues to power ahead, installs 24.3 GW of new solar in 1st half 2018 (more than Italy or India’s total solar capacity)

Kolkata City and Global Warming

Global warming poses an urgent threat to Kolkata, a river delta city of 1.4 crores. The city’s natural defenses are being lost.

On Climate Change, Water and Food Security

If weather changes wrought by climate change destroy crops or we run out of water, we will literally die.

The Myth of Self-Governance in Scheduled Areas Needs to Be Dispelled

Since the Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act was passed in 1996, it has remained a dead letter in Gujarat.

Livelihoods, Ecology and Climate Change, 4th August 2018

31st July was World Rangers Day

Tourist magnet Ladakh facing water scarcity

For 75-year-old Tsering Angdo, today’s Ladakh is entirely different from the world of his childhood in the cold Himalayan desert. Earlier, according to Angdo and his fellow Ladakhis, water from the melting snow and glaciers would be enough to cater to the needs of the locals. But, with lower snowfall and warmer summers, some of the glaciers have vanished altogether, while others are melting faster than before. This is happening at a time when the region has become extremely popular with Indian tourists, thanks to some recent Bollywood movies.

“Now, we get a lot of domestic tourists. And the number of tourists is increasing every year. There has to be a limit,” Angdo observes though he doesn’t know what the limit could be. “We have started facing severe water scarcity in Leh because this place gets flooded with tourists”. “The government and the experts should determine how many tourists should come to Leh.” Angdo hopes Ladakh will not be spoiled like other tourist places in the Himalayas, such as Manali and Shimla.

Opinion: Focus on small hydropower in Jammu and Kashmir

The Indus River has immense hydropower potential which has mostly remained untapped. The geographic location of the state of Jammu and Kashmir gives it a unique advantage to harness hydropower from the three major rivers of the Indus.

The primary reason why the state has been unable to use its water resources for bridging its energy deficit is lack of finances.

Any water infrastructure development on the Indus River in the state is guided by the Indus Waters Treaty signed between India and Pakistan in 1960 with the World Bank as the guarantor. The treaty reserves the western rivers; the Jhelum, Chenab, and Indus for Pakistan except for specific use by India for various purposes including irrigation, domestic use, run-of-river hydropower generation and other non-consumptive uses subject to the conditions of design, water storage and other features clearly set out in the treaty

Usually established by the community, micro-hydropower projects (MHPs) work more or less like the big power corporations that supply power to cities. Like them, the MHPs come with their own power generation source and operate autonomously.

They can typically generate between five to 100 kilowatts (KW) of power. Most MHPs have a shelf life of up to 20 years. This can be extended if they are properly serviced, maintained and operated.

MHPs low cost, near-zero emissions, and ability to be dispatched quickly to meet peak electricity demand have made them a valuable renewable energy source worldwide.

But installing an MHP is far easier than ensuring its smooth running. Firstly, as water flows decrease in winter so does electricity generation, finally coming to a complete halt during the peak winter. Secondly, repairing broken MHP means downtime because of transporting heavy parts to workshops elsewhere. The third down side of the MHPs is their vulnerability to extreme weather events like floods.

Walk along the Ken river to find a world you didn’t know was there


This is based on 600 km long KEN YATRA in three different phases by the two authors from South Asian Network of Dams, Rivers and People (SANDRP) and Veditum (another NGO) respectively.

We tried tracing the river on a map using satellite data for cues, moving upstream from an established point of identity: Chilla ghat, the confluence of the Ken with the Yamuna in Uttar Pradesh. However, this exercise proved difficult and led us astray multiple times, especially in the upper catchment area. It was only later, when walking along the river, did we realise that this was because almost all of Ken’s tributaries have a larger discharge than the Ken itself.

Everyday conversations often miss out on the important role of tributaries and groundwater as vital components of a river’s health.

This has assumed significance when the Government of India was trying to expedite the construction of multiple small and large dams in the Ganga basin, including the proposed Daudhan dam on the Ken, a part of the Ken-Betwa river interlinking project.

Our walk in the upper regions of the river were largely through dried stretches, where we would regularly come across bridges and check dams with no water to be found. We also noticed the sudden appearance of pools of water in the same dry channel, sometimes so large as to be confusing. Although we couldn’t understand how the pools had come to be, the locals were familiar with them as well as had names.

These pools are called dabradabri or dabran, depending on their size and number. We were told that these pools were filled by underground springs, a phenomenon we had only read about until then. This was river science in action, the relationship between groundwater and rivers playing out in front of our eyes. Captured surface water that had filtered through layers of earth over time was now feeding the river, sustaining life when people were thinking about the imminent summer.

In some places, these springs were venerated, protected to the extent that their water could be used only if it overflowed. In other places, the pools had tens of pipes jutting out like tentacles, sucking out all that the ground could provide. Changing cropping patterns (from millets to relatively water-intensive crops like wheat and paddy) and the demand for higher acreage under cultivation (i.e. cutting down of old forests and occupying scrub lands) makes this an alarming situation because it will further stress aquifers that seem to have already reached their breaking point.

However, the same people who had had multiple points of view about protecting the river didn’t know nearly enough about the proposed Ken-Betwa river-linking project, which if approved would have a drastic effect on riparian communities.

The world’s drinking water quantity

If you could create a giant cube and pack into it all the drinking water in the world, that cube would fit nicely into the city of Bangalore. All of the waters in the world’s rivers, lakes, and wetlands are only a fraction of that, fitting inside a cube with a side of only 13 km.

(Credit: )

Village youth in Western Ghats enrich sacred grove

A bunch of passionate young men are saving big trees uprooted in the Sahyadri Mountains by transplanting them at their village’s sacred grove. And that’s just one part of their conservation work…

Online shopping means cutting billions of trees

In a developed country, according to their environment protection agency, e-commerce packaging accounts for 30% of solid waste generated. India is…, read more at:

Climate change feedback loop in action

As temperatures rise, Earth’s soil is ‘breathing’ more heavily. This ‘soil respiration’ process releases 5 times more CO2 than human activity and is up 1.2% between 1990 and 2014, further warming the planet.

While that may not seem like a big change, such an increase on a global scale, in a relatively short period of time in Earth history, is massive.

Wilderness is rare in Earth’s oceans

Just a sliver of ocean classed as wild is within marine protected areas.

Only 13% of the oceans now classified as wilderness, that is, free from pollution, fishing and commercial shipping.

 European Union and China Ocean Partnership

On 16th  July, the European Union has signed a unique ocean partnership agreement with China. Two of the world’s largest ocean economies will work together to improve the international governance of the oceans in all its aspects, including by combating illegal fishing and promoting a sustainable blue economy.

Chile enacts historic ban on plastic bags

Chile enacts historic ban on commercial use of plastic bags, first in the Americas, because a plastic bag takes seconds to make; is used for less than half an hour, and then takes 400 years to biodegrade.

Recycling won’t solve plastic pollution

NATGEO facts on plastic pollution

Droughts, heatwaves and floods: How to tell when climate change is to blame

Germany’s national weather agency is preparing to be first in the world to offer rapid assessments of global warming’s connection to particular meteorological events.

2nd to 7th December 2018. Namati Legal Empowerment Leadership Course, 2018 at Budapest Hungary

The drum beats of rural India

10th August is International Youth Day.




Livelihoods, Ecology and Climate Change, 28th July 2018

26th July is World Mangroves Day

Mangroves are rich in biodiversity.

Mangrove forest are globally rare.

Management and restoration of mangroves is achievable and cost effective.

Mangroves are the best biological barriers to soften tsunamis and cyclones.

Solar Energy

India has embarked on an ambitious program to expand solar power plants to a total installed capacity of 100 GW by 2022.

Most people assume that electrical energy from a coal power plant is less expensive.

A scientific analysis by Mitavachan and Srinivasan shows that electrical power from solar plant is more affordable than power from coal. Further, it is observed that solar power is far better than power from coal when environmental extend such as global warming, air pollution and water footprint are considered. The study estimates that coal power plants emit 23 times more greenhouse gas emissions, cause 28 times more air pollution, consume 40 times more water and lead to 15 times more external costs to society than solar power plants in India. (Divecha Centre of Climate Change, Indian Institute of Science)

Mini-cloud bursts

IITM (Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology), Pune scientists coined a new term — mini-cloud bursts, defined as rainfall in excess of 50 mm in 2 consecutive hrs. Based on hourly rainfall data from 126 stations between 1969-2015, researchers found ~200 mini-cloud bursts occurring every year in India.

Global Water Cycles

Brilliant: We hardly understand the making of rivers in the sky and how they are affected by deforestation on ground.

Mining in Chattisgarh

The Centre for Policy Research (CPR)-Namati Environmental Justice Program in partnership with Janabhivyakti and Hasdeo Arand Bachao Sangharsh Samiti (HABSS) highlight the process and findings of an exercise where the representatives of a community affected by mining tried to understand whether the impacts of dust pollution, water contamination and felling of trees faced by them were arising out of the non-compliance of law.

They systematically collected evidence and filed well drafted complaints to the concerned institutions who could affect remedies. As the final report establishes, this process led to positive official remedies in some cases. In others, the follow up is ongoing.

The great Indian irrigation deceit

Unless irrigation schemes in India are conceived with honesty and transparency reflecting the ground realities, they will continue to be disastrous to the agricultural sector 

When the rural elite hijacks welfare schemes

There are five key factors of the rural situation on the ground that may be seen as common across the ruin of all government schemes.

The first is a large and chronic deficit in the revenue streams of a bulk of rural households. This deficit arises from many factors. Three of the major ones are uncertain and depressed farm incomes, high cost of receiving health services, and highly unsuitable social customs of marriage and death ceremonies.

The second is disempowerment of women and widespread prevalence of irresponsible behavior of men who tend to ignore their family responsibilities and blow up money (as well as incur debts) on liquor. I am not a teetotaler, but I can in no way sympathize with a man who snatches money from his wife, and hence food from his kids, to get drunk.

The third is unstable leadership, weak administrative systems and human resource in development administration in general and particularly at the cutting edge of governance through Panchayati Raj institutions in villages.

Caste Class Power Nexus

The fourth is the infamous caste-class-power nexus, which renders most program implementation vulnerable to hijack through the unholy conspiracy among the rural elite to the detriment of the rural poor and finally, lax oversight and soft mechanisms to check and to correct inappropriate program implementation.

While the first two factors are about household matters — patriarchal culture, the grip of old obscurantist beliefs and irresponsible hedonism of men, the last three factors deal with the prevalence and perpetuation of socio-political order. This perpetuation of the socio-political order renders chances of meaningful reform and development reaching the poor to near zero. Where well-meaning local leaders like Anna Hazare or Popatrao Pawar can devise smart mechanisms to counter the last three factors, rural situations show much improvement.

What follows is the depiction of the scenario of the central and eastern states, where governance levels have been traditionally poor. I am told that the situation in Tamil Nadu and Kerala is much better but have no concrete evidence to assert that.

The general course of events and developments is somewhat as follows. The chronic and large revenue deficit of poor households made much worse by avoidable expenditure and debt incurred by men on alcohol; renders them indebted, subordinate and vulnerable to the local rural elite (shopkeepers, traders, school teachers and others with regular cash flows, large farmers and local political heavyweights).

Exploitative gatekeepers

This elite becomes the gatekeeper of all development exploiting the caste-class-power nexus to the hilt. Its earthy ingenuity enables it to defeat every possible mechanism chosen by the designers of the scheme to reach the poor. For examples, MNREGA required job cards to be given to the poor. The elite group ensures that the poor have got to keep their cards with the contractor and then feel satisfied with such crumbs of MNREGA wages as the elite thinks necessary to keep them the poor alive.

Jandhan and DBT have in turn found the elite forcing the poor keep their passbooks and Rupay cards where given and withdrawal slips with their thumb impressions with them so whatever is deposited can be syphoned off perfectly legally. The ration-shop dealer confiscates and keeps all ration cards of the poor with him. The agro-service Centre dealer has a cupboard full of original land ownership documents in his possession to rip the poor household of the benefit of any debt waiver or insurance payment or the subsidy under any other scheme.

Nagaland’s first Biodiversity Meet

The first ever Nagaland Biodiversity Meet was organised from 9 to 16 May 2018 to document the biodiversity of Tizu Valley Biodiversity Conservation and Livelihood Network, comprising the villages of Sukhai, Ghukhuyi and Kivikhu in Zunheboto District, and promote ecotourism in the area. Faunal surveys prior to the Biodiversity Meet resulted in a checklist of 212 species of birds, 155 species of butterflies and more than 200 species of moths. The multitude of floral and faunal species existing in these areas makes rich contributions to the biodiversity of the state. Documentation of these records will help boost nature-based ecotourism for the state, thus contributing to its revenue. The records of birds, butterflies and moths would be shared through Biodiversity Atlas – India .

 Sikkim railway project and Forest Rights Act

The Sevoke-Rangpo railway project will reportedly affect over 40,000 people in Sikkim and West Bengal. However, only 26 families have been identified as being impacted by the project and many have refused compensation, asking for the implementation of the Forest Rights Act and standard compensation.

 Compensation for Tribals

It’s a shame that when salaries of people’s representatives from Rs 75,000 per month to Rs 1.5 lakh and their personal assistants enjoyed a bump in their wages, from Rs 15,000 to Rs 25,000, no thought was spared for tribal girls who continue to get Re. 1 as daily allowance. No wonder that the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes has sought better compensation for tribals.

Adivasi songs

Shri P. Sainath of People’s Archives of Rural India (PARI) presents 7 songs that showcase the music of Chattisgarh’s Adivasi communities, caught in decades of violent conflict. It is a music of resilience – their songs speak about the beauty of their land and forests; their daily lives and their reverence for nature. 

Wasted Opportunity

Continued government reluctance to put construction projects through a robust environmental approval process and the exemption from public scrutiny awarded to massive urban real estate projects means that we have put aside a good opportunity to make “redevelopment” different from development.

In 2006.. the MOEFCC officials made a special presentation to the PMO arguing that the real estate sector deserves environmental scrutiny for impacts on energy, water, sewage and urban infrastructure. They were included but with leniency in the documentation and appraisal process.

Mumbai Monsoon Flooding

The Advanced Locality Management (ALM) in the area — a community organisation born out of a very interesting concept introduced in 1997 by the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM). The original intent behind creating these areas / neighbourhoods with Advanced Locality Management was to identify localities, and get residents to commit themselves to improving the quality of life in those, in close co-operation with the MCGM.

29th July is International Tiger Day.