Pollution in India Could Reshape Monsoons

Local emissions over the subcontinent make summer storms more erratic, and may have global consequences.

Over the next decade, more than 400 large dams will be built on the Himalayan rivers—by India, China, Nepal, Bhutan, and Pakistan—to feed the region’s hunger for electricity and its need for irrigation. New ports and thermal power plants line the coastal arc that runs from India, through Southeast Asia, to China. India and China have embarked on schemes to divert rivers to bring water to their driest lands: Costing tens or hundreds of billions of dollars, they are the largest and most expensive construction projects the world has ever seen. At stake in how these plans unfold is the welfare of a significant portion of humanity. At stake is the future shape of Asia, the relations among its nations.

The Indian subcontinent is the crucible of the monsoon. In its simplest definition, the monsoon is “a seasonal prevailing wind.” There are other monsoons, in northern Australia and in North America; none is as pronounced, as marked in its reversal between wet and dry seasons, as the South Asian monsoon. More than 70 percent of total rainfall in South Asia occurs during just three months each year, between June and September. Even within that period, rainfall is not consistent: It is compressed into just 100 hours of torrential rain across the summer months.

Despite a vast expansion in irrigation since 1947, 60 percent of Indian agriculture remains rain-fed, and agriculture employs about half of India’s population. Unlike China, unlike most large countries in the world, India’s population will continue to be predominantly rural until the mid-21st century. No comparably large number of human beings anywhere in the world is so dependent on such intensely seasonal rainfall. In the first decade of the 20th century, the finance minister in the imperial government declared that “every budget is a gamble on the rains”; more than a century later, the leading environmental activist Sunita Narain reversed the terms but retained the substance of the observation: “India’s finance minister is the monsoon,” she declared.

Climate is woven into the fabric of Indian social, economic, and political thought in a way that it is not (or is no longer) elsewhere. In the late 20th century, that claim would have raised hackles among scholars of South Asia; it might still do so today. A fundamental assumption of modernity was that we had mastered nature. The notion of India in thrall to the monsoon would seem to perpetuate a colonial idea of India’s irredeemable backwardness. To emphasize the power of the monsoon would be to portray Indian lives as so many marionettes moved by a climatic puppet master. That is how this story would have been understood a generation ago.

But now, alarmed by the planetary crisis of climate change, a reminder of nature’s power has different implications. This is not a story of geography as destiny. It is a story of how the idea of geography as destiny provoked, from the mid-19th century on, a whole series of social, political, and technological responses within and beyond India.

The South Asian monsoon has effects far beyond South Asia. We know this, at least in part, because of climate research undertaken in India in the 20th century. Sir Gilbert Walker, a pioneer of global climate science, wrote in 1927 that “the climate of India is of special interest, not merely as that of the greatest tropical region in the British Empire, but also because it seems to have been designed by nature with the object of demonstrating physical processes on a huge scale.” That sense of scientific opportunity, combined with the pressing material need to understand the monsoon, inspired a century of study in India. Charles Normand, Walker’s successor as head of the Indian weather service, insisted that the monsoon is “an active, not a passive, feature in world weather.”

Subsequent research has confirmed his view—the Asian monsoon is entwined with many aspects of the global climate. It has an important influence on global atmospheric circulation. The future behavior of the South Asian monsoon has implications for the whole world. Arguably no other part of the global climate system affects more people, more directly.

The breakthroughs in tropical meteorology of the late 20th century shed new light on the scale and complexity of internal variability in the monsoon on multiple timescales—from the quasiperiodic impact of the El Niño–Southern Oscillation system to the tropical-weather fluctuation pattern known as the Madden-Julian Oscillation. In recent years, the focus of scientific research has been on how the effects of anthropogenic climate change interact with the monsoon’s natural variability in dangerous and unpredictable ways.

The most fundamental forces driving the monsoon are the thermal contrast between the land and the ocean and the availability of moisture. Climate change affects both of these drivers of wind and rain. The warming of the ocean’s surface is likely to augment the amount of moisture the monsoon winds pick up on their journey toward the Indian subcontinent. But if the ocean surface warms more rapidly than the land, which appears to be happening in equatorial waters, this would narrow the temperature gradient that drives the winds, and so weaken circulation. Put simply, many climate models predict that the first of these processes will predominate: “Wet gets wetter” as a result of greenhouse-gas emissions. They predict, that is to say, that the moist monsoon lands will see an increase in rainfall.

Mahanadi Study Report released at Raipur, calls for interstate cooperation!

Raipur: At a time when the dispute between Odisha and Chhattisgarh governments over Mahanadi waters is rife and that is being heard by a Tribunal, participants attending a roundtable held at Raipur to release an important study report on the dispute have urged upon the governments to keep the doors to dialogue open. “It is high time governments of both the states came together to build a cooperation framework to address the issue”, said noted water expert Ranjan Panda, who has authored this study titled ‘Mahanadi: Coal Rich, Water Stressed.’ He was addressing a group of participants including academicians, politicians, civil society representatives, eminent citizens, activists and community members at a roundtable organized by Heinrich Boll Foundation, New Delhi and Mahanadi River Waterkeeper at Raipur today. Read more

In three years, Centre has diverted forest land the size of Kolkata for development projects

The Indian government has diverted over 20,000 hectares of forest area for developmental activities such as mining, thermal power plants, dams, road, railways and irrigation projects in the past three years (2015-’18) across India.

According to the official data revealed by the National Democratic Alliance government in Parliament in December 2018, a total of 20,314.12 hectares of forest land (almost the size of Kolkata) was diverted in three years 2015-2018 (till December 13, 2018). During this period, the ministry had received a total of 4,552 proposals and of those 1,280 (28.11%) got approved.

Under the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980, forest areas can be diverted by the environment ministry for non-forestry purposes like mining. In lieu of the land, money is collected by the government which is then used by the authorities for afforestation.

But the diversion of forest land for developmental projects has always been a contentious issue and in the past 10 years the opposition to diversion has increased with environmentalists repeatedly alleging that the union environment ministry only works like a rubber stamp clearing whatever projects come to it, seeking diversion of the forest land.

However the ministry officials say this is untrue. “Many proposals are in different stages of approval. Contrary to popular belief, the ministry is very sensitive to giving clearance for diverting forests for non-forestry purposes,” said an environment ministry official on the condition of anonymity.

According to information revealed in the Parliament, Telangana topped the list with 5,137.38 hectares of forest land diverted, followed by Madhya Pradesh with 4,093.38 hectares and Odisha with 3,386.67 hectares of forest area diverted. The three states together account for over 62% (12,617.43 hectares) of the total forest land diverted during the said three-year period.

With close to 70.82 million hectares of forest area, about 21.54% of India’s land is under forest cover.

The reasons for diversion of forest area varied from irrigation, hydropower, road and railway projects to defence, mining, transmission line, schools and wind power projects. Of the total forest area diverted during the said time, the highest amount was diverted for irrigation projects, followed by mining and thermal power plants.

“Proposals for diversion of forest land for non-forestry purposes under the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980 are received in the ministry from the concerned states and UTs [union territories]. The proposals are examined in the ministry [Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change] and after due diligence the proposals are either approved or rejected within the framework of Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980 and its supporting rules and guidelines,” said Indian government’s Minister of State in the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Mahesh Sharma. while replying to a query in Parliament in December 2018.

According to another set of data of the environment ministry, since the enactment of the Forest Conservation Act 1980, nearly four decades ago, a total of about 1.51 million hectares has been diverted for 27,144 projects. To put it in perspective, it means forest land equivalent to over ten times the size of India’s national capital has been diverted in the last four decades for various kind of developmental projects.

Poor monitoring is a worrying factor
Environmentalists argue that they are not against country’s development but against the procedures and poor monitoring of the conditions on the basis of which such projects are cleared.

“Monitoring of conditions on basis of which forest land is diverted is an important factor but it is poorly done. There are enough cases to indicate that India’s environment ministry does not have the adequate wherewithal to monitor the land it diverts and the numerous conditions they put,” said Sanjay Upadhyay, a senior environmental lawyer in the Supreme Court and managing partner of the Enviro Legal Defence Firm.

“The mandate of the ministry is to be the conscience keeper for every piece of forest land and how it is to be protected. Somehow, we have got lost in the money that forest diversion brings! Forest and forest land are actually irreplaceable, let’s explore all alternatives before losing even an inch” he added.

The issue may find a mention in the Parliamentary elections that are scheduled in the first half of 2019. During his election campaign for 2014 polls, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had highlighted the slow pace of green clearances from the environment ministry and had promised to speed up the process and simplify it.

The NDA government led by Modi did exactly that once it came into power. Since 2014, the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change has taken series of steps to ease clearance process for the industry as a result of which, by the end of 2017, the average processing time for green clearances came down from 580 days to 180 days. The Modi government has a target of bringing the average time for green clearances to under 100 days.

To speed up the green clearance process, the environment ministry, in August 2018, released standard environment clearance conditions for 25 industrial sectors including major ones like coal mines, oil and gas exploration and hydropower projects. In the same month, the prime minister had also launched PARIVESH (Pro-Active and Responsive facilitation by Interactive, Virtuous and Environmental Single-window Hub) – a single-window online system for green clearances, aimed at further speeding up the system.

Courtesy: Scroll.in

Interview | Agnes Kharshiing, the Woman Meghalaya’s Coal Mafia Tried to Silence

Shillong: On November 8, Agnes Kharshiing and Amita Sangma were brutally attacked by a gang in the Sohshrieh area of Meghalaya’s East Jaintia hills. Kharshiing, a well-known activist, and her colleague Sangma were visiting to verify information they had received – that coal had been mined illegally and transported out of the area in large quantities, despite a state-wide ban on ‘rat-hole mining’.

Although the National Green Tribunal, which forced the ban, had allowed transportation of already-mined stocks, it is widely believed that not all coal leaving the mines was from old stock.

Local police rescued 55-year-old Kharshiing and Sangma from their attackers in a critical condition. Kharshiing spent more than a month in hospital in Shillong, before she was released on December 10.

Six people have been arrested for the attack so far. The main accused, Nidamon Chullet, working president of the East/West Jaintia Hills of the ruling National People’s Party (NPP), is reportedly in hiding. The state government ordered an independent enquiry into the incident, but Kharshiing and Sangma have doubts about the quality of the investigation. They have demanded a CBI inquiry instead.

The Wire spoke to the firebrand activist to learn what happened that day in Sohshrieh, in her own words.

What led you travel to Jaintia Hills on November 8?

Having been in this field for so long, I keep getting information – a lot of people regularly inform me about coal-laden trucks moving on the highway without papers, which is nothing but cheating the public and looting natural resources. It is a loss to the state, and the money from coal revenue is supposed to also fund the rehabilitation of the people affected by coal mining.

So that morning, we decided to verify the information we have been getting. Before starting from Shillong, I called a senior officer to inform him about the coal trucks and the need to seize them as they were ferrying coal without making any payment to the government. Just a day earlier, police confiscated many trucks with illegal coal on the highway to the Jainita Hills.

Did you find any proof that confirmed the information?

Yes, we found many waiting trucks loaded with coal. Before reaching Lad Rymbai, we saw police checking a number of trucks and three men were detained. Thereafter, we went to Kong Ong to check some trucks which police said had been stopped too. People looked at us suspiciously. I particularly remember a lady in a white vehicle. We took photos of those trucks and left.

We then paid a visit to the Lad Rymbai police outpost to inquire about whether they had made more arrests. While coming out of it, we spotted a Scorpio car which had just arrived. A man in the vehicle covered his face on seeing me. Some policemen were with him.

I waited outside, hoping to catch a glimpse of that man. But he did not come out. We left after some time and went to other nearby places. We spotted more coal-laden trucks on a road going into the countryside. It was then that Amita told me we were being watched. We went to another side-road and found more trucks parked. Again, we took photos. Then we realised that people were coming towards us.

We got into the vehicle and tried to drive out, but by then a person came to the car window and asked if we could ‘negotiate’ with them. A crowd surrounded us. The road leading to the highway was blocked with vehicles. It was at that point we realised that we would be attacked.

Did you recognise anyone in the crowd?

I distinctly recognised one of them, later identified as Hamlin Rymbai. He has been arrested. I remember seeing him before, when we had some run-ins in that district earlier over illegal coal truck seizures by police based on information provided by local people. Hamlin hit me first and then the blows rained on me. I passed out after some time. I was found by police with Amita Sangma’s help.

There has been a campaign to discredit you and your activism. Accusations are levelled against you for being insensitive to the woes of the poor people of the coal mining areas of Jaintia Hills who need a livelihood. They say your activism against coal-based livelihood is depriving people of daily bread.

The poor people never attack anyone. They have no reason to. They eke out a living, whether in the coal areas or in the other parts of the district, mainly from agriculture. Livelihood is not dependent only on coal. Land was traditionally apportioned to villagers to use for livelihood; whether it was agriculture, stone or limestone quarrying, all were at a cottage-industry level. People lived in sustainable harmony with nature.

Now it is different. It is the rich who are grabbing all the land. They are pressuring people to fall in line. Even in the case of the attack on me, it was not the common people who were out to kill us. We could see that the road was blocked by vehicles which meant it was the rich who were involved in the attack.

Even people like Hamlin or Nidamon Chullet are not the real instigators. They are just the dalals of the big powers behind it. They get paid per truck, which they share with the authorities. The real owners never show their faces. It is corporate greed. It is destroying our land and environment.

In the coal mining areas, people do not even have potable water anymore. Water is all poison, red and brown in colour. The rich can buy water from anywhere. But what will the poor do? So how can we say that the coal trade is for the benefit of the common people? The poor cannot speak up because they fear for their lives. If common people at all attacked me that day, it was because they were told to; they should think why they were asked to do such a thing.

Will you continue your work after facing such a brutal attack?

The attack has made me even more sure of what I am doing and why I should continue. My fight is for the poor people, for the survival of our people and the environment. If the government does its duty, there is no need for people like us. As long as persons who are paid a salary from public funds to look after the welfare of the people work exclusively for their political masters and the rich, the fight has to continue. I’ll definitely have to be more careful next time about my safety, but the fight will go on.

Do you see your work making any difference to the situation?

I wish it was. But the situation is getting worse. That village, Ksan, where the mine collapsed on more than 13 labourers, is an example of how wrong things are. Unless stringent steps are taken by the government to stop it, we will see more such incidents.

The entire East Jainita district is ridden with deep mining shafts. The whole region is unsafe now. But the mining continues. All that coal being illegally transported by the coal mafia comes from areas where mining goes on despite the NGT ban. The government and the police should understand that the ban was put in place because everything was being done in an unsafe manner.

We keep hearing the term ‘coal mafia’. Even politicians and journalists use the term. What exactly do you mean by it?

It’s a network that allows illegal coal mining and transportation. It is a nexus of wealthy coal-mine owners and financiers with selected government officials, including from the police, and politicians of ruling parties. This nexus is clearly visible. For example, when we complain about trucks carrying coal illegally and police are forced to seize them, calls are made by the powerful to free them. Then, people are used to accuse us of depriving the poor of their means of livelihood.

A coal laden truck in East Jaintia Hills departing for a destination outside the state. Credit: Special arrangement

It is the big politicians who control the officials and cops. If any policeman sincerely works and starts seizing these illegal trucks, he is targeted, quickly transferred out. Look at what happened to the former superintendent of police of Ri-Bhoi district, Ram Singh. He was transferred out because he acted against the coal mafia. The power to transfer an officer lies with politicians; without them, this illegal business would not thrive.

The NGT says the limit of coal to be carried per truck is nine tonnes. But the trucks we saw that day had about 30 tonnes and did not have any papers.

Will the investigation ordered by the state government give you justice and expose the nexus?

Without a CBI inquiry, I doubt that anything will come out of it, because it is a nexus. It may be that the government has changed and it is another party now, but it’s the same people overseeing it. They are all in it together.

We want a change. We want the investigation by the CBI to ensure that the nexus will be exposed. Also, the government has to stop the lawlessness. We want the government to work for the people and not for the politicians and their private businesses.

Courtesy: The wire

Odisha plans real-time pollution monitoring stations in mineral-rich areas

For monitoring of environmental quality in mineral-bearing areas, the Odisha government has drawn up a proposal for installing monitoring stations.

The State Pollution Control Board (SPCB) has identified eight mineral-rich districts for monitoring pollution by installing online continuous ambient air quality monitoring stations (CAAQMS) and continuous river water quality monitoring stations (CRWQMS) with real-time data transmission systems.

The identified districts are Angul, Sundargarh, Keonjhar, Rayagada, Jharsuguda, Koraput, Mayurbhanj and Jajpur.

In this regard, the board has submitted a proposal to the Odisha Mineral Bearing Area Development Corporation (OMBADC), a special purpose vehicle (SPV) formed by the state government following the Supreme Court order to carry out developmental activities in mineral-rich regions of the state.

While CAAQMS are proposed to be set up in six locations, CRWQMS will be installed in Rayagada and Jajpur.

Occupying an important position on the country’s map, the state’s rich mineral reserves constitute 28 per cent of India’s total deposits of iron ore, 24 per cent of its coal, 59 per cent of its bauxite and 98 per cent of its chromite reserves.

The state’s comparative advantage on this account has attracted the attention of many mining and metallurgical companies.

OMBADC’s objective is to improve social infrastructure such as provision of drinking water, sanitation, livelihood promotion, irrigation, skill development for alternative livelihood and supplementary income in the mineral-bearing areas. Besides, environmental upgradation, construction of roads, anganwadi centres, power supply infrastructure, health services, development of sports and other activities would also form part of the action plan. The task of the corporation is separate from the District Mineral Foundation concept introduced by the new Mines and Minerals Development and Regulation (MMDR) Act.

Courtesy: Business Standard

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