Missing evidence


Cloudburst in Uttarakhand: 30 killed, many missing

Torrential rains and landslides hit Pittoragarh and Chamoli districts of Uttarakhand Friday morning. Several homes in remote villages have been buried by the landslides. The death toll has reached 30 and several people are missing.

About 100 mm of rains were the result of a massive cloudburst. Worst affected villages are Singhali, Patthakot, Ogla and Thal. All the major rivers in the region have swollen following the heavy rains, while the Mandakini and the Alaknanda have crossed their danger marks.

The National Disaster Response Force has announced the deployment of two teams at the affected districts for relief and rescue operations. The teams have also been hampered by rains and landslides in the Devprayag stretch of the Rishikesh-Badrinath National Highway NH-58.

The India Meteorological Department had earlier this week predicted heavy rains over Uttarakhand and has issued a warning of heavy to very heavy rains in isolated places over the next 72 hours for the districts of Nainital, Champawat, Tehri, Pauri, Champawat, Udhamsingh Nagar, Haridwar, Uttarkashi and Dehradun.

An orange code alert has been issued for Saturday to warn of a possible continuation of the heavy rains in the state.

Tweets from the Prime Minister’s Office and the Home Minister have expressed grief over the incident.

Uttarakhand Chief Minister Harish Rawat, in an initial statement on the sidelines of his official visit to New Delhi, has announced an immediate compensation of Rs 2 lakh for the kin of the victims.


30 Years of Bhopal Gas Tragedy

Quick Overview

On the intervening night of December 2-3, 1984, methyl isocyanate gas leaking from Union Carbide’s factory in Bhopal claimed more than 5,000 lives. More than half a million people still suffer the side effects of the exposure to the gas; the soil and groundwater have been contaminated and toxicity has crossed over to the second and third generations. This book describes the criminal negligence, incompetent governance and the apathy towards victims that have made Bhopal a continuing disaster. It gives voice to people’s anguish and is also a testimony to the Centre for Science and Environment’s and Down To Earth’s long engagement with Bhopal. This book argues that India cannot afford to let Bhopal fade from public memory and concludes with a blueprint to avoid a similar tragedy.

Editors: Sunita Narain, Chandra Bhushan, Richard Mahapatra, Vibha Varshney, Archana Yadav, Kaushik Das Gupta, Aruna P Sharma
Research and reportage: Kundan Pandey, Amit Khurana, Soma Basu
ISBN: 978-81-86906-78-1
Publication : Centre for Science and Environment
Format: Paper Back
Language: English

Rs 400.00
To buy: http://csestore.cse.org.in/books/environment/bhopal-gas-tragedy.html

Non-profits organise conference to draw up a national river charter

Former environment minister Jairam Ramesh on Tuesday criticised the Narendra Modi-led BJP government for diluting environmental regulations.  He said this while inaugurating the India Rivers Week in the national capital, organised by non-profits to deliberate and discuss conservation and rejuvenation of rivers. Ramesh also said that while hydro projects were a “painful choice”, India could not close its doors to them, adding that it was necessary to meet the growing energy needs of India.

Over 125 river experts, planners, researchers, artists, enthusiasts and activists from different parts of the country are attending the event from November 24-27 to discuss, deliberate and exchange their experiences and ideas on conserving and rejuvenating the rivers of the country. The event is being organised by a consortium of NGOs, including WWF India, INTACH, SANDRP, Toxics Link and PEACE Institute Charitable Trust, with additional support from Arghyam (Bengaluru), International Rivers and Peoples Science Institute, Dehradun. The participants would prepare and adopt a Nation River Charter at the end of the meeting on November 27.

Ramesh said to keep rivers healthy, stricter environmental regulations and their enforcement, a cumulative assessment at “basin”, not “project”, level and that the minimum environmental flow in the river had to be ensured.

“While we show a lot of respect for rivers socially, we deal with rivers with utmost unconcern and disrespect… India Rivers Week and India Rivers Forum are most welcome, will look forward to participate in it… If we want to save our rivers, the first step is to ensure that no untreated industrial effluent or sewage finds its way into our rivers,” he said.

Ramesh said that more debates and discussions were necessary for water-agreement treaties and better co-operation within states and also between neighboring countries. “We seem to be indulging in the romance of inter-linking rivers. We need to be more cautious in hurrying up the proposed inter-linking rivers projects and understand their ecological and environmental consequences better,” Ramesh added.


NGT orders continuous inspection of Okhla incinerator


The National Green Tribunal (NGT) on Thursday ordered the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) to carry out continuous inspection of Okhla municipal waste incinerator in south Delhi for a period of seven days.

The case of dioxins emitting municipal waste incinerator of Timarpur-Okhla Waste Management Co Pvt Ltd (TOWMCL) of M/s Jindal Urban Infrastructure Limited (JUIL), a company of M/s Jindal Saw Group Limited owned by Prithviraj Jindal, was listed before the NGT on Thursday for the 17th time. After these 17 hearings in the NGT and 28 hearings in the Delhi High Court, the bench headed by Justice Swatanter Kumar directed CPCB to carry out inspections and to give the court a report in case the online system of monitoring emissions of the plant operator was non-functional at any time.

The bench also issued directions to municipal authorities to implement segregation of municipal solid waste at the point of origin—houses, offices and hotels—and charge a fee for the facility. The order was issued after the counsel for the applicants, Sukhdev Vihar Resident Welfare Association, said that the large quantity of solid waste brought to the plant daily is difficult to segregate at the plant and so waste should be segregated at source or origin. It was pointed out to the bench that the segregation of garbage source at the household level has already been introduced in Mumbai.

The bench also ordered CPCB to report whether the conditions specified in the environmental clearance granted to the incineration plant are being adhered to by the plant operator. The Union environment ministry, a respondent in the case, was directed to file its policy on the standards of emissions specified for MSW plants, with a further direction to clarify its policy on the location of municipal solid waste incineration plants.

Collusion alleged

Rakesh Kumar Matwa, advocate for applicants, submitted before the bench that the plant has a design flaw due to which its inspection cannot be carried out during the night time. He said that applicants of the case are suspicious of “collusion between the MSW plant management authorities and officials of CPCB” because the plant ceases to emit smoke just before an inspection is due.

Photographs, showing excess smoke emitted by the plant on October 17, 21, 26 and November 12, 2014, were also submitted to the bench to counter the claims being  made by the counsel for CPCB who said that that there was no pollution.

In September 2013, the National Green Tribunal warned Jindal Urban Infrastructure Ltd (JUIL)  to control emissions and segregate waste or else face closure. The tribunal gave the company three weeks time to comply with its directions. The tribunal had declined the plea of the petitioner to shut the plant outright. The tribunal order said the JUIL shall, within a period of three weeks, ensure that all the parameters of emissions are brought within the prescribed limits and that steps are taken to ensure automatic and proper segregation of waste before it is disposed of, as prescribed by the Municipal Solid Waste (Management and Handling) Rules of 2000.

However, the case has been going due to complaints about non-compliance of the court orders by the plant authorities.


Bhopal gas disaster: Dow Chemical fails to comply with court summons


US multinational Dow Chemical Company failed to comply with the summons issued by the Chief Judicial Magistrate of Bhopal on a criminal complaint filed in connection with the 1984 gas leak in Bhopal that has claimed more than 20,000 lives till date. The company had been called to appear on November 12 to explain why it has not produced its wholly-owned subsidiary, Union Carbide Corporation, before the court.

The court has ordered another summons notice to be issued on November 22 and the hearing has been rescheduled for March 14, 2015.

For 13 years, Dow Chemical has denied that it has any responsibility towards the victims and survivors of Bhopal. In 2001, Dow acquired UCC, the US-based multinational that was the majority owner of the company that operated the plant at the time of the leak. UCC has repeatedly ignored orders to appear before the Indian courts to answer criminal charges concerning the disaster. Non-profit Bhopal Group for Information and Action (BGIA) had filed an application in the court on February 26, 2004, seeking explanation from Dow Chemical on why it could not compel its 100 per cent subsidiary to appear before court.

The summons, the second issued to Dow, on August 4, this year made it clear that, as UCC’s sole owner, Dow has a responsibility to ensure UCC faces these charges.

Under a treaty between India and the US on criminal matters, the summons will be communicated by the Indian government to the US government for service on Dow at their US headquarters in Michigan. “Earlier summons, issued in February 2014, was sent to Dow through registered post and Dow had stated that this was not the correct procedure to send summons and that it should be routed through the US department of Justice. This gave Dow an opportunity to evade the case,” says Rachna Dhingra of BGIA.

Dhingra also complained that the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has been very lax when it came to serving the summons through proper channel, giving Dow an opportunity to wriggle out of the legal case. She says that the progress report on initiating the summons submitted in the CJM court by CBI shows that Union home ministry forwarded the summons, which was sent to it by CBI in the last week of August, to the US justice department on October 22, this year. “What was MHA doing for such a long time? Why did they sit on the summons for so long before sending it to the US?” asks Dhingra. She says that BGIA has also filed an application in the court to carry on the proceedings ex-party. The application would be argued in the next hearing of the case.

The CBI counsel, Arpit Mishra, told the court that the summons was sent through proper channel to the American justice department but it has not responded yet. However, Mishra did not know whether the summons reached Dow through the US justice department. “When the US department of Justice did not reply, it was the duty of MHA to follow up. It is the age of phone and Internet. It seems MHA was not interested in finding out what happened to the summons,” she says.

Mishra also asked for the court permission for the CBI to get the news of Warren Anderson’s death verified from “appropriate authorities” in USA.

Meanwhile, victims of the 1984 Bhopal gas tragedy have launched an indefinite hunger strike at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi to pressure the government for additional compensation. Balkrishna Namdeo, activist fighting for the rights of Bhopal victims, says that people who were exposed to the gas still suffer from diseases caused by the poisonous gas. The diseases have been passed on to the third generation and there are so many children who are born with disabilities. “First, we want an additional compensation of Rs 1 Lakh for each victim. Second, data and figures of the number of deaths and those suffering should be rectified and they should be given compensation,” says Namdeo. This year would be the 30th year of the tragedy and the victims are still fighting for their rights, he adds.


`I did not have a government for 36 hours’

Bhakti divide in Brajbhoomi


Years of negligence have dried up several kunds in Braj area. Braj Foundation (in photo) is seen renovating the Rudra Kund where Lord Shiva is said to have prayed. The kund was also a source of drinking water for the communities in the region. Photo: Soma Basu

“Neither the cities, the cultured lands nor the villages or their houses are ours.
We are the forest people, dear father, and will always live in the forests and the hills”
— Sri Krishna (Srimad Bhagvatam, Chapter 10, Canto 24, Verse 24)

KRISHNA, the god in Hindu mythology, is said to have lived a simple life. He danced with peacocks, splashed in the rivers, played the flute that mesmerised humans and animals alike and spent his time in the forests herding cows. Srivatsa Goswami, a Vaishnava scholar, considers Krishna’s life to be “the greatest chapter in environmental history”. “One who is devoted to Krishna can never be callous towards the environment, because Krishna himself loves nature,” writes British author Ranchor Prime in his book, Hinduism and Ecology: Seeds of Truth.

Today, Krishna’s devotees are divided in their bhakti. While one camp wants to glorify their master through magnificent temples, the other believes in reviving the very forests where Krishna grew up, now lost to urbanisation. The former thinks erecting monuments dedicated to Krishna is the best way to spread his message; the latter says the right way to honour him is following in his footsteps and caring for the environment. What emerges from these differences of opinion is polarisation in Krishna worship and a debate on the idea of bhakti.

Does devotion demand temples?

The International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), a global Vaishnava spiritual institution with temples all over the world, believes architecture is one of the ways to propagate Krishna’s mission. During a lecture in Mumbai on February 25, 1974, Srila Prabhupada, the founder of ISKCON, said, “Oh, there are so many skyscrapers. Why not construct a nice skyscraper temple of Krishna? That is Krishna consciousness.”

Taking inspiration from his words, ISKCON plans to build a large and swanky temple in Vrindavan dedicated to Krishna. “An imposing temple would proclaim the status of Vrindavan as one of India’s spiritual capitals and attract global attention towards Krishna and his message,” explains Suvyakta NarasimhaDasa, president of the Vrindavan unit of Akshaya Patra Foundation, a charitable body set up by ISKCON to look after the new temple.

An artist's impression of Chandrodaya Mandir in Vrindavan, estimated to be the tallest in the world
 An artist’s impression of Chandrodaya Mandir in Vrindavan, estimated to be the tallest in the world

On the other hand, Braj Foundation, a non-profit led by senior journalist Vineet Narain, focuses on rejuvenating the forests associated with Krishna’s life. “Krishna was a primordial environmentalist. This is my way of worshiping him. One who serves Braj serves Krishna,” Narain says.

Braj, spread across 5,000 square kilometres around Mathura-Vrindavan in Uttar Pradesh, is Krishna’s own body, claim vedic texts. Once upon a time, the region had 137 forests and 1,000 kunds or water bodies. Today, only three of the 137 groves, associated with the legend of Radha Krishna, remain, while the rest have been lost to rapid urbanisation. Most of the kunds have either silted up, been encroached upon or have become garbage dumps. Braj Foundation aims to rejuvenate the water bodies, forest groves and hills in Braj, in what it considers is the best form of Krishna bhakti.

If Braj is abundant in forests and kunds that find mention in vedic texts, it also houses brick monuments dedicated to Krishna. Vrindavan, where Krishna spent his childhood and adolescence, is called the “heart of Braj”. Today, the town has at least 5,500 temples and hundreds of dharamshalas (shelters) and hotels to cater to more than six million tourists who visit the town every year.

A swanky building for God

ISKCON’s proposed temple will be another addition to Vrindavan’s concrete jungle. The Chandrodaya Mandir is being built on the outskirts of the town in collaboration with the Kolkata-based Infinity Group. The glass-and-steel temple, spread over 2.2 hectares, is set to be the world’s tallest, measuring 210 metres with 70 floors. This is taller than the Qutub Minar in Delhi, which is 70 metres tall. The foundation stone for the proposed temple was laid in March this year and construction is expected to be completed in five years.

According to the project brief of Chandrodaya Mandir, the grand temple will be surrounded by 12 hectares of forest area to recreate the forests of Braj, including the 12 verdant forests, mentioned in Srimad Bhagvatam, where Lord Krishna is believed to perform his raasleelas (love plays). A Yamuna creek that will be recreated in the forests will provide boating opportunity to visitors. The building will also house a helipad, an amphitheatre, a hi-speed lift and a 4D theatre. The entire project area spreads across 60 hectares, equivalent to the size of six Akshardham temples in Delhi, and will also comprise residential villas and apartments with modern facilities.

The sarovar was restored by Braj Foundation and was opened to the public in 2009
 The sarovar was restored by Braj Foundation and was opened to the public in 2009

In its eagerness to serve Krishna, ISKCON seems to be indifferent to the troubles Brajwasis (people of Braj) might face from a grand temple in their vicinity. The water for the temple, toilets, kunds and the creek would be extracted from the ground. “The Yamuna is 5 km away from the project site. As it is difficult to lay a pipeline for such a long distance, we have identified a groundwater source 3 km away from the temple. Soon, boring will be done and pipelines will be laid,” Dasa says. He claims that the Foundation has already acquired environmental clearance for the project from the State Environment Impact Assessment Authority.

Manoj Mishra, convenor of YamunaJiye Abhiyan, a non-profit in Delhi, says, “This is another Akshardham temple in the making. In the name of God, natural resources are being plundered. Groundwater is already scarce in Vrindavan and its overextraction may further harm the environment.”

Dasa estimates that the temple will consume 5-6 megawatt (MW) of electricity per day, of which 2 MW would be generated from the solar panels in the temple’s parking lot, which can hold 2,000 cars, while the rest would be bought from electricity grids.

Reviving Krishna’s forests

Jagannath Poddar, head of Friends of Vrindavan, an environment non-profit, says that urbanisation and prolonged negligence have pushed the kunds, also known as sarovars, in Braj to extinction. These kunds once served as perennial sources of freshwater. “It is sad to see the resources of Vrindavan being destroyed by people who are promoting real estate business here in the name of Krishna,” he adds.

Braj Foundation has been striving to restore the ecological, architectural and cultural heritage of Braj, which it says reflects the “intertwined relationship between environment, people and the Supreme Lord”. Since its formation in 2005, the non-profit has restored 46 water bodies, three heritage buildings and two forests in Braj. The foundation has also been campaigning against mining on the hills. It plans to restore all 1,000 kunds in Braj associated with Krishna.

The water in Brahma Sarovar, one of the many kunds in Braj, was reduced to a trickle due to encroachment
 The water in Brahma Sarovar, one of the many kunds in Braj, was reduced to a trickle due to encroachment

In 2006, it took up work to desilt the Rudra Kund in Jatipura village in Braj, remove encroachments and restore the water body. But it faced opposition from encroachers, who went to the Allahabad High Court and got a stay order against the renovation of the kund.

The order was lifted after five years of legal battle. In June 2011, the Braj Foundation resumed its work and with the help of the district administration and police, demolished unauthorised construction around the kund. Once dry and filled with garbage, Rudra Kund now sparkles with clean water. “After we desilt the kunds and declog their recharge wells, we start working on their beautification so that people know the religious and historical significance of the place,” Narain says. He adds that the funding for their work comes from private sponsorships. The non-profit also focuses on planting trees like kadamba, radha and krishnachura associated with the legend of Radha Krishna. It promotes cow-based agriculture and organic farming too. “Butchers are stealing cows and killing them for meat. Most of the charitable gaushalas (cow shelters) do not have very goods standards of care. We aim to reestablish the economic viability of the desi cow,” he adds.

What is bhakti?

Several retired engineers and officials have joined the Braj Foundation to show their love for Krishna. “To seek God, one needs eyes bereft of any worldly attachment. God does not need memorials,” says a monk in Chaitanya Gauriya Mutt in Vrindavan. On Srila Prabhupad’s message to build a skyscraper for Krishna, he says that Prabhupad’s words must have a deeper meaning. When this reporter tried to verify the same from Dasa, he said, “Religious texts are interpreted in two ways; symbolic and literal. We are literalists.”

Swami Sivananda of Matri Sadan Ashram in Haridwar believes people have misinterpreted Hinduism. “While temples and memorials to mark sacred places are necessary, building a 70-storey temple in a place where there are a thousand others is showing off,” he adds.


Flood warning: lost in translation?


An NDRF official said not a single warning was issued before the devastating floods

After the extreme rains that caused floods and claimed over 200 lives in the state, Jammu and Kashmir got some respite on Tuesday as floodwaters began to recede. But the Met office has now forecast more rains in the region in the next 48 hours, which may hamper ongoing rescue efforts.

Even as people fear another spell of heavy rains, questions are being raised about their not being warned sufficiently in advance about the extreme weather event last week. The India Meteorological Department (IMD) had warned the state of “very heavy rainfall” from September 2. The warning indicated that rainfall would continue for several days.

However, a senior official of National Disaster Response Force (NDRF), on condition of anonymity, said there was not a single warning issued before the floods. And since the force was caught off-guard, the rescue has been challenging.

It turns out that IMD did issue a warning through its seven day forecast much before the heavy rains started on September 2. But evacuations and rescue operations started after September 4. The question is why did the message not reach the departments concerned?

The broken link

According to protocol, the warning issued by IMD reaches the State Emergency Operation Centre (SEOC), which functions under the state’s disaster management department. SEOC then alerts the line departments, such as Cabinet secretariat, home department, police department or commissionerates, district administration, state disaster management authority and the district emergency operation centre (DEOC) set up in various districts.

It is the role of the DEOC to disseminate the alert at the district level. This is how the warning should reach gram panchayat pradhans and patwaris who can carry out the evacuations with the help of district administration and police. These people have to evacuate residents by announcing warning over loudspeakers so that lives can be saved before disaster strikes.

Once a warning is issued, SEOC and DEOC have to operate for 24 hours so that there is not even a slightest delay in spreading information. The state disaster management authority (SDMA) has to ensure coordination between the state administration, defence forces and the NDRF. The problem is that the SEOC in J&K is non-functional unit without the infrastructure that is required to perform its function.

The work towards disaster preparedness in the state started only in February this year by the state executive committee when it approved setting up of four SEOCs—one each in Jammu, Srinagar, Leh and Kargil districts—and released Rs 18 crore for purchase of equipment required for carrying out rescue operation during natural calamities and for post disaster relief and rehabilitation.

The SEOCs were set up in late April with Rs 4 crore additional funds for the centres in Jammu and Kashmir and Rs 2 crore additional fund for the other two centres. The rest of the districts were supposed to get DEOCs in the next financial year. These centres are directly under the control of deputy commissioners of Jammu and Kashmir.

When IMD issued the warning for heavy rainfall in first week of September, SEOC was but a small disaster management cell  functioning out of the divisional commissioner’s office.
“The people in disaster management cells hardly have the expertise needed to understand the warning. It is a new set up and not-fully functional,” said an official in the divisional commissioner’s office who did not wish to be named. He also said that the warning from the IMD also reaches various state departments but they are so “general” that it is difficult to understand how critical the situation could be.

Blame game

After every disaster, IMD is blamed for issuing a general warning, which does not tell how severe the implications could be. Even after Uttarakhand floods,  IMD was blamed by the disaster management department for issuing warnings that do not look “serious enough”.

Puthumai A Nazarene, United Nations consultant on emergency and disasters, says that it is not the role of IMD to interpret data or implications. IMD’s role is to issue warnings. It is the role of the disaster management departments in every state to interpret the warning and alert various departments. For example, in hilly areas, if it rains heavy, there are possibilities of landslide and damage to roads and highways. “How can we expect IMD to say that roads are expected to be broken? It is the job of the SEOC to understand how much rainfall is heavy or very heavy rainfall and how it could affect infrastructure in the state and, accordingly, warn the departments concerned,” he says.

History of warnings ignored

Jammu and Kashmir has a long history of disasters. The rainfall that the state received last week was the heaviest in 60 years but it was not unprecedented. The state had been facing floods quite frequently—1905, 1909, 1912, 1918, 1926, 1928, 1929, 1932, 1948, 1950, 1951, 1953, 1957, 1959, 1973 and 1992. The memory of Kashmir floods 2010 was still fresh when disaster struck this year and claimed 200 lives.

In 2010, the Jammu and Kashmir Flood Control Ministry had issued a warning and prepared a report that the state is likely to face a major flood catastrophe in next five years and the department is ill-equipped to save lives and property. The department expected a water discharge of around 150,000 cusecs if flood hits Srinagar city.

The flood control department has proposed a Rs 2,200-crore project to put the required infrastructure in place in anticipation of the devastating flood. The report was submitted to the Union water resources ministry, requesting Rs 500 crore immediately to have “at least basic infrastructure”. However, nothing happened after that.

But despite having been reminded of J&K’s vulnerability to disasters, there is no state disaster management plan or flood monitoring stations.


Reservoir overflow worsens flood in Vadodara


Water released from the Ajwa reservoir has added to the miseries of people of Vadodara in Gujarat, who are already reeling from flood. River Vishwamitri in the city is in spate following heavy rains that lashed the region on Monday.

Even though the district did not receive much rainfall on Tuesday, water released from the Ajwa reservoir caused the river to swell further and divide the city into two parts. The western part of the city was cut off completely from the other part.

Vishwamitri is presently flowing at 10 metre (m) while the danger level is 7.8 m. Several parts of the district are completely inundated and over 13,000 people had been evacuated from cities and another 10,000 from the villages till the last reports came in. Both sides of the river in Vadodara city were heavily encroached and in certain parts of the city the river looked more like a narrow drain.

The gates of the Ajwa reservoir were closed early on Thursday morning but the water in Vishwamitri did not recede because of the Dhadhar river which is in spate and flowing at the level of 10.5 m. The gates were opened on Monday after level of water in Aajwa reservoir, upstream of Vadodara, rose above 64.5 m. The water level in the reservoir has reached such a height after 35 years. The Vishwamitri meets Dhadhar downstream of Vadodara. The level of Dhadhar increased due to overflow at Dev dam.

India Meteorological Department (IMD) has said that more rainfall is expected in Gujarat and Maharastra because of a well-marked low pressure. The forecast has spread fear as more rains could cause further damage to the flood-hit district.

Meanwhile, the water level in Sardar Sarovar Dam, which started overflowing on Monday, has started receding. The water level on Monday had reached 124.60 m; the crescent height of the dam is 121.92 m. According to the dam authorities, water level in the dam is reducing by six centimetre every hour.