GUWAHATI, Jan 2 - Over 50 experts and concerned citizens have written an open letter to Union Minister for Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) Dr Harsh Vardhan, urging him to make environmental clearance process mandatory for the inland waterways.
According to a press release issued by senior water expert and river activist Shripad Dharmadhikary of the Pune-based Manthan Adhyayan Kendra, the letter has been written in the context of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) order in Original Application No. 487 of 2015, directing the MoEFCC to submit its opinion by January 31, 2019 on whether environmental clearance in respect to indian waterways is required or not.
It needs mention here that Union Government has launched a massive programme to convert 111 rivers or river stretches of the country into national inland waterways, facilitating large-scale, commercial navigation for the movement of large barges, container vessels and cruise ships.
Creating and maintaining these waterways needs massive interventions in rivers like dredging, river training works, construction of ports, terminals etc. Movement of vessels leads to increased noise, turbidity and spillage of oil and lubricants. All of these have severe environmental and social impacts.
But the work on many of the waterways is being allowed to proceed without any legally binding environmental clearance. This is despite the fact that the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Notification 2006, which governs prior environmental clearance, clearly mandates environmental clearance for at least some components of the waterways like dredging and ports.
It is alleged that there is a systematic attempt to exempt waterways from the clearance regime. It is in this context that the NGT Order in the O.A. 487 of 2015 assumes importance.
The letter written by experts and concerned citizens urges the MoEFCC to make environmental clearance mandatory for waterways, and presents several reasons why this should be done. The reasons include the huge environmental impacts of waterways as well as a recommendation of the MoEFCC’s own expert committee that waterways should be brought into the ambit of the environmental clearance regime.
The signatories of the letter include senior water experts and river activists like Manoj Misra, Himanshu Thakkar; scientists like Jagdish Krishnaswamy, Nachiket Kelkar, Tarun Nair; former Chairperson of Thermax Limited and supporter of river conservation movements Anu Aga.
Besides, mass organisations from areas where waterways are planned like Mahanadi Banchao Jivika Banchao Aviyan, Odisha-Chhattisgarh; Shramik Kranti Sangathana, Raigad, Maharashtra; Sarvahara Jan Andolan, Maharashtra; Sajha Sanskriti Manch, Varanasi; national mass organisations and forums like National Alliance of People’s Movements, and Forum for Policy Dialogue on Water Conflicts in India, environmental researchers and activists like Nityanand Jayraman, Kanchi Kohli, Shweta Narayan, Rohit Prajapati, Sarang Yadwadkar, Ashish Kothari; academics like Amita Baviskar and many others have put their signature on it.