Category Archives: Environment and Energy

No wasteland in India, only wasted land: Jairam Ramesh

Sowmini G Prasad

Jairam Ramesh speaking on the New Draft National Forest Policy and the Deteriorating State of Environment in India in Bengaluru on 13th April, 2018.

Jairam Ramesh, Member of Parliament (Rajya Sabha)

Mr. Jairam Ramesh, Member of Parliament (Rajya Sabha) and former Minister of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC) (independent charge), spoke on the new draft forest policy and the deteriorating state of environment in India in an interaction organised by the Environmental Support Group and Actionaid Association (Bangalore). The interaction, a question and answer session, covered a wide range of issues. However, this blog post focuses mostly on the discussions held around the new draft National Forest Policy, 2018 (NFP), the Forest Rights Act, 2006, (FRA) and the importance of institutions like the National Green Tribunal (NGT) and Parliamentary Standing Committees.

On the new draft NFP, Mr. Ramesh was of the view that while there are certain elements of continuity from previous policies, there are certain significant departures as well. The new draft NFP, uploaded by the MoEFCC for public comments in March 2018, has been criticised for its attempt to shift the approach to forestry in India – specifically, from a local community and ecology-centric approach emphasised in the 1988 policy – to one on timber and forest-based industries (The Wire 2018). While the requirement to maintain one-third forest cover in the country as per NFP, 1952 continued into the NFP, 1988, it has received additional focus in the new policy as forests have been recognised to act as huge carbon sinks. However, he did admit that the policy gives an idea of the government’s thinking on forests and environment, as the departure from the previous policies can viewed to be geared towards a business led GDP growth. The thrust on forestry in the new policy can be seen to be driven by two forces – one, to meet the COP21 commitment on increasing the carbon sink through a faster rate of increase in forest cover and two, with around 40 percent of India’s forest cover considered to be degraded, it opens up an opportunity for participation of private sector, satisfying its long standing demand to create captive plantations for wood-based industries. On the issue of grassland ecosystem not finding place in the current policy like the previous policies, he admitted that the progressive loss of grasslands is a great tragedy and attributed it to the spread of agriculture and irrigation. He also pointed to how for many years grasslands have been considered as wasteland and that in reality there no wastelands in India, but only wasted land. Addressing apprehensions on the potential of the policy to change or water-down existing legislations in the long term, by changing the definitions of forest areas which are protected under current legislations for example, he pointed to how the government cannot meddle with the definitions too much and that the forests were a state subject.

On FRA and its objectives, Mr. Ramesh spoke about how the legislation is an important instrument which can aid in redressing historical injustices meted out to the forest dwelling communities and how it can be used to deliver justice in the future as well. The objective of FRA is to recognise both individual and community forest rights. While around 14 lakh families have received individual rights, he mentioned how there has been a failure to recognise community forest rights. He pointed to the existence of a fear, especially in the forest department, that granting community forest rights might lead to a sudden empowerment of community-based institutions like the gram sabhas. He quoted the transfer of rights over revenue from such forest land from the forest department to the gram sabhas arising from a situation of recognition of community forest rights as an example of the source of such fears. However, he stressed on the importance of having gram sabhas as the pivotal point of community rights. He gave the examples of Jamaguda village in Orissa and Gadchiroli district in Maharashtra where community forest rights have been successfully recognized to emphasise that not all hope was lost. On the arguments that the FRA is in conflict with the need for maintaining sacrosanct spaces for wildlife, Mr. Ramesh highlighted the importance of the legislation and the need for a consultative process. He also added that any project in a forest area cannot be cleared unless the rights have been settled, pointing to the fact that on account of this requirement, many mining and coal projects had to go through a due diligence process. He emphasised that the key is to recognise due rights of the forest dwelling communities, make them partners in regeneration and conservation of forests, and where necessary, provide them with viable and attractive options to relocate.

The third issue that Mr. Ramesh stressed on was the role of institutions like the National Green Tribunal and the Parliamentary Standing Committees. On NGT, he spoke about the importance of ensuring its independence and maintaining its control outside the reach of the government. He spoke about this in the context of the provisions contained in Finance Bill, 2017 which sought to give the power to appoint NGT members to a government appointed nominee, while the NGT rules provide for such appointments to be made by a committee headed by a sitting Supreme Court judge (The Hindu 2017). He added that NGT is a people’s institution and that it has brought environment related grievance redressal closer to people through its dispute settlement mechanism. He also stressed the importance of having forums where elected representative come to the people to hear their voices. In this context, he spoke about how the standing committee of the environmental ministry can play a significant role through its powers to review policies and call for evidences, including the suo-motu power to call for a review.

Finally, on the difficulties that the environment ministry faces in carrying out its tasks, he spoke about the importance of balance in decisions relating to environmental conservation and how economic growth cannot be dismissed. While India has good policies and legislations, he pointed to weak and sometimes missing enforcement and the need for people holding political power to walk the talk on environmental decisions.

References

Agarwal, Sushant. 2018. National Forest Policy Draft 2018 Takes One Step Forward, Two Steps Back. The Wire. 02 April 2018 (https://thewire.in/environment/national-forest-policy-draft-2018-takes-one-step-forward-two-steps-back). 

Rajagopal, Krishnadas. 2017.Govt.’s response sought on Jairam’s plea over Finance Act. The Hindu. 04 August 2017 (http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/govts-response-sought-on-jairams-plea-over-finance-act/article19429207.ece). 

(Sowmini G Prasad is a 2017-19 participant of the Master Public Policy programme at National Law School of India University. She can be reached at sowminigprasad@nls.ac.in)


Image source – http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/land-acquisition-act-will-help-tribals-and-farmers-jairam-ramesh/article5182406.ece

A Participatory Integrated Urban Water Management Approach: Jakkur Lake

NAKULAN N

Jakkur is one of the largest lakes in the inter-connected grid of man-made lakes in the city of Bangalore. With a water spread of 50 Ha and a catchment area of 19.2 sq.km the lake is not only primarily responsible for recharging the groundwater in Yelahanka, Alasandra and Kogilu but also has historical and cultural significance.  Over the years, increased pace of urbanization and a transformation of land use pattern around the lake changed the lake from a scenic freshwater lake into a dump of the city’s domestic sewage and solid waste. The biodiversity around the lake was declining rapidly and lake was having a slow painful death. However, the timely intervention by the city and a concerted effort by citizen groups has not only resurrected the lake but has also opened the possibility of replicating this model in other parts of the country plagued with similar problems.

Jakkur – Participatory Approach

In 2005, the Bangalore Water Supply and Sewage Board constructed a 10 MLD (million litres per day) Sewage Treatment Plant (STP) in the northern corner of the lake (Srikantaiah 2016). The STP receives wastewater from neighbouring areas and releases the treated water into an artificially constructed wasteland adjacent to the lake. The wetland has natural vegetation that absorbs excess nutrients still present in water after treatment and the water flows into the lake.

The water quality has improved over the years with biodiversity in and around the lake steadily bringing the lake back to its pristine beauty and ecological function. In order to understand how and when a participatory approach was followed in the rejuvenation of the lake, it becomes imperative to understand the regulatory structure in place and the roles performed by these regulators over the years.

Organization Role
Bangalore Development Authority Built infrastructure around the lake
Bangalore Water Supply and Sewage Board Owns and operates the STP
Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagar Palike Owner of the Lake
Fisheries Department Regulates fishing in the lake
Forest Department Responsible for Vegetation around the lake
Groundwater Authority Supervises groundwater extraction
Karnataka Lake Development Authority Apex body for lake management
State Pollution Control Board Parent regulator of pollution and STPs

In 2005, the Bangalore Development Authority developed physical infrastructure around the lake including construction of bunds, pathway, lighting and barriers to prevent solid waste from entering the lake. In the same time, a citizen group with residents from the neighbouring areas was formed to assist and guide the authorities. The group slowly took a formal shape into ‘Jala Poshan’ and entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with the BBMP to manage the lake.

Amidst the network of regulators and delegated authority between institutions, the citizens group has found greater efficiency in handling the day to day management of the lake. First, they see to that the infrastructure built around the lake is not damaged and sensitize local populace on how to best use the lake. Second, they try to have maximum vigilance over miscreants who try to pollute the lake. Cases of medical waste, farm waste and poultry waste being dumped into the lake have been spotted immediately. Though said actions could not be prevented by the group, the rapport shared between the group and the authority led to the timely intervention to clean up the mess and prevent it from harming the lake in the long run. Third, they try to build awareness about their activities and involve other people viz., students, activists etc. and organize lake walks and other leisure activities around the lake. In addition to increasing their visibility, it also breaks the perceptional barrier that people towards an urban lake where alpine like attributes are expected. Fourth, the group ensures the real stakeholders which includes the fishing community and adjacent peri-urban area that derive their water from the lake (though recharge wells) are integrated into the management process and their connection to the lake is maintained.

A citizen-led approach diffuses the principal-agent problem and transfers ownership to the real stakeholders. The approach also diffuses the regulatory complexity and simplifies problems into simple variables upon which the concerned authorities can swiftly act. The reminder of ownership and the importance of the lake, helps local communities to have a strict vigil over the lake and they act as the first line of defense against miscreants. The cost of such enforcement techniques is much cheaper than centrally controlled techniques.

Integrated Urban Water Management and Jakkur Lake

“IUWM is described as the practice of managing freshwater, wastewater, and storm water as components of a basin-wide management plan. It builds on existing water supply and sanitation considerations within an urban settlement by incorporating urban water management within the scope of the entire river basin.” (Tucci and Goldenfum 2009)

In other words, integrated urban water management is an approach by which the city’s water resources are conceived as one single entity and managed towards satiating the water requirements in its entirety. The method enables a framework in which the true ecological cost of water is paid by all stakeholders who consume water.

In Jakkur, the freshwater the lake receives from rainfall, the sewage water received through BWSSB pipeline (from the STP) and the storm water received through the storm water drainage are all passed through the artificial wetland to the benefit of entire lake ecosystem. It does not differentiate between the source of water. Such an approach maintains the ecological flow of water in the lake.

Benefits

The approach has yielded rich benefits to various stakeholders over the past decade. The fish population in the lake has increased substantially with the catch reaching as high as 600 kg/day during season. In a rapidly urbanizing city, this provides direct employment to communities that have traditionally depended on the fish in the lake for livelihoods and maintains their historic connection and sense of responsibility to the lake. The recharge wells in the vicinity are regularly recharged and the peri-urban population outside the city jurisdiction are able to meet their domestic water requirements.

The increased recharge rate of groundwater around the lake has enabled the extraction of groundwater which is then transported to the city through tankers which reduces the water stress in the city. The ecological landscape around the lake has increased the usage of lake for leisure and cultural purposes which has modified the complexion of the lake. Such sustained benefits to various stakeholders has placed this model as a potential game changer to be replicated.

Problems

While the STP treats the sewage water, the storm water largely enters the artificial wetland untreated. Over time, this has eroded the capacity of the wetland to filter out nutrients and the lake is seeing an increased growth of algae with turbidity of water increasing. Unless this is corrected there is every chance that Jakkur might fade into oblivion.

The 370 MW Yelahanka Thermal Power Plant, which is currently under construction will receive 15 MLD water from the Jakkur STP (Joshi 2016). While the current capacity of the STP is 10 MLD, authorities are increasing the capacity to 15 MLD with funding from Karnataka Power Corporation Limited. In order to sustain the ecological flow and maintain its characteristic as an IUWM practice, the lake requires 7 MLD from the STP. Any reduction in this quantum will adversely affect health of the lake along with its biodiversity.

In this context, the limited role of a citizen’s group has been founded wanting as there is no resource and mobilizing capability for a citizens group to undo decisions that are taken by regulatory agencies with powers above the citizen.   

Future Prospects

As observed earlier, Jakkur is a model that has the potential to change the way we perceive the sustainability of urban water management. While there is a merit in arguments that claim replication of the model is not possible as water management cannot follow one-size-fits-all approach, there can be little doubt over the fact that there are attributes in the model that definitely warrant attention in a populous, rapidly urbanizing country.

In order to ensure the survival of the lake as well as to scale up the model, there are two immediate concerns that need to be addressed:

The proposed diversion of water from STP might have economic justification as most STPs are planned and operated as cost centers under both PPP and Government owned model. This is chiefly due to a lack of understanding of the revenue potential of waste water. The nutrient contents of the sludge and the irrigation potential of waste water is largely untapped. The moment a demand is created around them, the STPs have the potential to become ecologically-sustainable revenue generating entities. To operationalize such a scenario, the city immediately requires changes to its Waste Water Policy which can create a market around a STP.

The second concern is that participatory water management can become effective only when the movement gains traction and becomes visible to the larger population. This will not only ensure the sustainability of the movement but also place a caveat to the decision makers higher up the ladder that decisions taken against the collective interest of stakeholders cannot be sold in a democratic polity when there is a concerted voice of stakeholders.

(Nakulan is pursuing his Master’s Programme in Public Policy at the National Law School of India University. He can be reached at nakulan@nls.ac.in)

References

Tucci, C., & Goldenfum, J “Integrated Urban Water Managemet: Humid Tropics”,2009 .

Joshi, Bharath. “Yelahanka Power Plant Could Kill Jakkur Lake – The Economic Times“. The Economic Times. N.p., 2017. Web. 9 June 2017.

Srikantaiah, Viswanath. “Water for Sustainable and Inclusive Cities“. http://www.cseindia.org/. Web. 9 June 2017.

Featured Image Source: https://images.eventshigh.com/venues/d40cff21b203d4b82081c62b47571ee5/v__processed_original.jpg

A peek into the mise en scène of climate diplomacy

APOORVA S

“Paris Agreement is not ambitious enough since it has only given effect to soft obligations,” says Mr. Raman Mehta, an expert on climate change. 

In his special lecture with Public Policy students of the batch 2016-18, Mr. Mehta spoke on “The Science of Climate Change: Feeding into the politics of Climate Change and Paris Agreement” on 10th and 11th of January 2017. He gives a glimpse into the seriousness of the Indian government in integrating climate change concerns into development strategies, plans, and programs.

In the past, Mr. Raman Mehta has worked on the issues of forests and wildlife at The Indian Institute of Public Administration, Department of International Development at the British High Commission, on conservation and management of protected areas at World Wide Fund for Nature – India, on developmental issues, climate change, social inclusion and public policy at ActionAid – India. He is currently the Policy head at Vasudha Foundation. He works on demystifying the different facets of sustainable development and climate change through umpteen number of research work and participation  at international conferences.

The following article is the gist of the author’s own  research paper submitted for the course Political Economy of India addressing the question of “why Paris Accord will fail to address climate emergency”, it is supplemented with insights from Mr. Mehta’s lecture.

The design of climate pledge

Paris Accord glorifies the bottom-to-top approach giving the freedom for all the countries to design their own INDC’s (Intended Nationally Determined Contributions) justifying on how the contribution is fair towards achieving the objective of the UN’s Climate Convention and delineate the approach regarding the calculation of the Green House Gas emissions. Each country can show a different base year from which emissions will be reduced obliterating the historical responsibility of the largest producers of industrial carbon emissions from leading the cause. The developing countries feel this is the cheating point or, the flimsy deal. However, the pledge being decided by countries themselves is somehow intended to guarantee that the governments are unlikely to violate it. This point of view, indicates that the format of INDC’s hovers between top-down and bottom-up, with the UN monitoring their seriousness (Yeo 2015). The threshold required to give legal force to the agreement was achieved on 5th October 2016 when countries accounting for 55 per cent of global GHG emissions deposited their instrument of ratification. Speaking on this, Mr. Raman Mehta observed that only certain clauses which deal with the reporting of GHG emissions are legally binding in the Paris Agreement. Hence, except for the progressive nature of INDC’s, there seem to be no other pressure points.

The call for climate justice

Food security is a common sensitive challenge. Deficit rainfall and natural disasters worsen poverty and hunger as vulnerable economies bear the brunt of climate change rapidly. More socio-economic issues directly related to the climate changes are encountered on a day-to-day basis which is irrevocable in nature. India reformulated the concept of ‘common but differentiated responsibilities’ by adding ‘respective capabilities’ (CBDR – RC) calling it the bedrock of collective enterprise. This is to clearly indicate that equitable carbon and development space are straightforward requirements of developing countries. The commitment to combat climate change by the developing countries is limited in many ways, since their development is invariably tied to a proportional increase in GHG emissions. This is true so far as history indicates. However, in certain sectors like transport, China and India are decoupling by building metro rails in their busiest cities to bring forth affordable and zero carbon emissions in the mass public transport sector.

Unaddressed climate migration and environmental refugees

The Paris Agreement missed the crucial aspect of providing relief and alternative to those who are affected by climate change induced migration, which is expanding every day. The section on climate-refugees
‘Loss and Damage’ makes recommendations for setting up a task force for addressing climate migration. However, the task force has no binding authority and its operations, functions, funding sources are not clear because of which the problem of migration will not be considered as the first priority. The ‘Loss and Damage’ is, therefore, a mere deliberation process under the Warsaw Conference of 2013. Furthermore, the draft of Paris Agreement which contained provisions for Climate Change Displacement Coordination Facility intended to secure emergency relief, target organised migration and planned relocation of displaced people, compensating for those displaced does not feature in the final text of the Accord.

Concern regarding the climate finance

The most contentious issue of the climate change agreement is regarding the investment – the funding and disbursement processes for efficient technology transfer to enable green transition and carbon peaking of developing economies. The developed countries are hesitant with this responsibility and are often unclear and silent on the ways to enable the processes like sources of funding, terms of funding, purpose of funding, the agencies (public sector or private sector) of funding and the kind of funding. Very often the use of political ambiguous language of ‘financial compensation’ and the ‘rehabilitation’ is spoken about extensively. Mr. Raman Mehta reflects on the fact that ‘compensation paradigm’ of the Paris Agreement has caused immense pressure and anxiousness among the developed countries which is inhibiting the cooperation for a seamless flow of finance from the developed to the developing countries. This diluted mindset is a threat and a menace as it can stall the process of implementation of clean energy systems, which are undoubtedly expensive, leading to disproportionate burden on the developing countries.

The common thread for the all the countries

Helvetas06So far as the extreme weather changes are concerned and maintaining the balance between inclusive economic growth and social development, the policy matrix in developing countries is stratified with priorities of Sustainable Development Goals, which seeks to eradicate poverty and ‘leave no one behind’.

India’s two major international efforts in launching the International Solar Alliance to form a group of 107 sunshine countries to enable them to switch to a low-carbon path by solar power utilization and ratifying the Paris Agreement on 2nd October 2016 on the International Non-Violence Day expresses its aspiration to tackle climate change with a forethought to internalize the principles of Mahatma Gandhi in all its endeavours. However, the local urban environment in India tells a different story in the efforts to switch to low-carbon path. In the year 2000, New Delhi mandated the use of CNG in all public vehicles to mitigate vehicular air pollution showing improvement in air quality, yet in the past two years Delhi is among the top cities in the world highly affected by air pollution. The lack of constant innovation, preparedness for urbanization, awareness about the growth of personal vehicles, lack of pollution checks on the industries in rapidly growing cities and biomass burning have negated the gains of focused policies on curbing sectoral air pollution. India must, therefore, invest in comprehensive planning, legislation and finance the grassroots level of governance on recycling, renewable energy, critical infrastructure and technology, encourage community-centric territorial planning that control rural-urban continuum. 

        Mr. Raman Mehta explained how the process of climate change leads to dangerous feedback loops – increased number of warm and cold days accompanied by extreme weather fluctuations, heavy precipitation and submergence of deltaic regions and islands, mass displacement of ice sheet and melting of glaciers such as the recent breaking of massive ice block in Antarctica and the rift that grew by 18 kilometers. He further said, this has put a focus on the need to look for innovative mitigation measures more intensely than the adaptation measures, as the latter is finite and limited.

It is often understood that climate change is only part of the problem but there are other factors like human-led land use changes and deforestation that pose immediate and deeper problems affecting daily life. Humanitarian crisis related to civil unrest like migration and military conflict influenced by climate change are becoming more prominent, such as the ongoing Syrian crisis which illustrates the culmination of agricultural drought, with political failure and willpower to mitigate the challenges of dwindling resources (Shank and Wirzba 2013). Therefore, wide-spread negotiations continue to be focused on climate change on the principle of equity and shared vision. These have in the past lead to formulation of initiatives like international emissions trading, clean development mechanism, joint implementation. More recently, carbon capture sequestration has emerged as a niche effort in energy sustainability. The cornerstone is to invoke global solidarity in action plans without the vested business and diplomacy of trying to pressurize the finance receiving nations to manipulate their national economic policies. Policy decisions which require adequate assessment of nature’s resilience capacity, conserving forest wealth, disaster management and rural livelihood security are immediately required to be chartered out with expertise and institutional capacities indigenous to each economy.

(Apoorva is pursuing Master’s Programme in Public Policy at the National Law School of India University. She can be reached at apoorvas@nls.ac.in)

References

Yeo, Sophie. 2015. “Explainer: What Are ‘Intended Nationally Determined Contributions’?”. Carbonbrief.Org. https://www.carbonbrief.org/explainer-what-are-intended-nationally-determined-contributions.

Shank, Michael, and Emily Wirzba. 2013. “How Climate Change Sparked The Crisis In Syria”. Usnews.Com. https://www.usnews.com/opinion/blogs/world-report/2013/09/13/syrias-crisis-was-sparked-by-global-warming-and-drought.

Live Mint (e-paper). 2017. “Massive Antarctic Ice Shelf Ready To Break Apart”. http://www.livemint.com/Science/Co2Gpz7ccx7v2yX7l0BuQN/Massive-Antarctic-ice-shelf-ready-to-break-apart.html.

“Renewable Technology Is The Future: Raman Mehta | State Knowledge Management Centre On Climate Change”. 2014. Climatechangeportal.Mp.Gov.In. http://www.climatechangeportal.mp.gov.in/en/news-events/interviews/renewable-technology-future-raman-mehta.

“Lack Of Clarity On Legal Nature Of Paris Deal A Concern For India | ORF”. 2015. ORF. http://www.orfonline.org/research/lack-of-clarity-on-legal-nature-of-paris-deal-a-concern-for-india/.

Featured images source:

https://climate.nasa.gov/effects/

http://science.howstuffworks.com/environmental/green-science/climate-refugee.htm

http://www.welthungerhilfe.de/en/sustainable-development-goals.html

Energy Policy Research and Advocacy in India

NANDITHA KALIDOSS

 

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“The path to the sustainable energy sources will be long but the world cannot resist the transition”, said Barack Obama in his interview on sustainable development. The National Law University of India has had the privilege to host Prof. Ashok Sreenivas Senior Research Fellow at Prayas (Energy Group), Kothrud, Pune, to deliver a guest lecture on Energy Policy Research and Advocacy in India.

Prof. Ashok has covered extensively on the cause of geopolitical conflicts, the importance of coal industry and the correlation between per capita energy consumption and HDI during the lecture. With heavy investments, long lead times and Social & Environmental implications, it is evident that the energy sector is picking up its momentum across the globe.

What is interesting to know is that while 1/4th of the country’s population uses modern energy, 18 crore households still use natural resources for their livelihood. Thus, he emphasised on the dire need of policy innovation and intervention to understand and solve this energy poverty and demystify the sector.

“The new challenges for policy makers is combining crafts and skills that are tangible and involves multidisciplinary approach”, said Prof. Ashok. As interesting and challenging as the sector is, one of the toughest questions facing traditional energy companies is that the world is moving towards a low-carbon economy while India, as a developing nation, depends heavily on the coal industry for its commercial energy. With loud and clear signals from climate agreements, the focus is on renewable energy and building alternate energy storage capacity and investments in smart power grids. If the coal industry is a harbinger, to survive in the coming decades, is it essential that energy sector re-invents itself or shift away from fossil fuel industry to adapt to a low-carbon world?

(Nanditha Kalidoss is pursuing Master’s Programme in Public Policy at the National Law School of India University. She can be reached at kalidoss@nls.ac.in)

Field work: Story of SCOPE

SCOPE – Society for Community Organization and Peoples’ Education, started in 1986, which works mainly on health and sanitation. For more details on the organisation, visit: http://www.scopetrichy.com/

Have a look at the journey of students of MPP who visited the rural spaces of Tiruchi District, Tamil Nadu as part of the fieldwork. In order to understand the sanitation practices prevalent in the area, people, institutions and infrastructure were studied in Thuraiyur and Musiri blocks under the guidance of SCOPE.

 

The following candidates of MPP participated in a month-long field work with SCOPE, Trichy:

Anyesha Mitra
Drupa Dinnie Charles
Kiran A. B.
Roshan Mishra
Vijeth Acharya