My dream Yamuna

Delhi's Clean Yamuna


Not many will recognize that this Delhi’s own Yamuna. Yes, this clean. The photo is taken at a place called Jagatpur, 2 kms upstream of Wazirabad. I dream of a clean Yamuna downstream of Wazirabad too.

As many as 28 drains dump sewage in the Yamuna downstream of Wazirabad. The Delhi Jal Board has drawn up yet another plan to salvage the situation. Here is what the Hindustan Times’ graphic stated what the DJB plans to do.

HT graphic about DJB's Sewage Masterplan
HT graphic about DJB’s Sewage Masterplan

Will it help rectify the situation? Wait and watch!!!



The really sustainable housing

Today, the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) will be releasing ‘Building Sense: Beyond the Green Façade of Sustainable Habitat’, its first publication on the ‘green’ building sector. Its invitation for the event said a panel of eminent architects who have done pioneering work in designing and making sustainable buildings across the country will be releasing the book.

The extensively researched book, as CSE claimed, covers: Environmental impacts of building townships; Energy efficiency of buildings; Affordable housing for the urban poor; Building materials and waste and Green rating of buildings.

This immediately reminded me of my 2010 Ladakh visit after the devastating cloudburst in and around Leh in August. During our field visit in September, we encountered scores of houses that were brought down due to flash floods following the cloudburst, entire colonies washed away and basically destruction everywhere.

Two images stood in stark contrast and remain as my take away from that visit. First was a modern building in a relatively newer colony right outside Leh. It was a picture of devastation, heavy rainfall and flash floods had wrecked havoc. There was dried up muck everywhere, large boulders had come hurtling down and lay spread out and it was difficult even to reach few of the houses buried deep under rubble.

Modern building outside Leh town cracked under pressure of the flash floods
Modern building outside Leh town cracked under pressure of the flash floods

It was this house that made for the most representative picture. The entire ground floor was under debris and muck while cracks could be seen on the walls of the top floor. The guide with us, a local environmental activist, was describing how the loss of this colony cannot be compensated as people lost every single thing from their houses.

The same day, we went to a place near Nimo, about 50 kms away from Leh. It was a typical rural setting surrounded by agriculture land and houses in traditional style. Literally in the lap of a semi-circle of mountains (situated in a saucer like terrain), the devastation hit in the face with vast swathe of agriculture land covered by layers and layers of rubble, muck and large boulders.

Traditional house near Nimo in rural Ladakh buried under muck and debris brought by flash floods
Traditional house near Nimo in rural Ladakh buried under muck and debris brought by flash floods

This particular house was one of the worst affected. Here too, the ground floor and the basement were entirely flooded, filled with rubble, muck and there was an eerie silence surrounding the place.

And it was here that the sharp contrast between the two houses struck me. Both the modern and the traditional buildings faced similar devastation, both were literally bombarded by flash floods carrying large boulders and lot of soil washed off from the barren mountains. The modern building cracked under pressure but the traditional stood its ground.

The traditional house was built with local resources using the wisdom of the local community developed over the centuries. The modern building was more like one-size-fits all pattern with no thought whatsoever given to the surroundings. Locals also told me how the traditional house helps in beating the harsh winters while the modern houses necessarily needed additional heating.

I just hope the architects, the builders and even the house owners pay attention to such issues. Everybody is a stake holder here. After all, as the ‘traditional’ saying goes: ‘If not us, who?’ followed by ‘If not now, when?’

People’s Climate March in Delhi

The World Meterological Organisation (WMO) declared 2001-2010 as the ‘Decade of Climate Extremes’. Then we had Uttarakhand disaster in 2013 and we are still dealing with the recent massive floods in Jammu & Kashmir . Experts tell us that an increasingly erratic and damaging change in the global and regional climate systems has already started impacting vulnerable people in ever larger numbers, in many societies and countries, to ever greater extent.

‘People’s Climate March’ on Saturday, September 20, 2014 in Delhi is being held to send out a strong message to the governments that people are no longer willing to accept the weak and wrong actions on this front. “The governments – both at the Centre and the states – need to take swift and decisive action on climate change, both on the Adaptation and Mitigation fronts. There is an urgent need to understand and act on ‘nature-denying development’ policies in the context of climate change. Failing to do so will certainly lead to undesirable results of the development mantra that almost all governments have adopted,” said Soumya Dutta of Beyond Copenhagen Collective (BCPH), an advocacy group on Climate Change.

From college students to ricksha-walas, from school students to daily wagers, from artists to working professionals, resident welfare associations, NGO representatives and those associated with One Billion Rising network are set to join the ‘People’s Climate March’ on Saturday, September 20, 2014.

Across the World:

September 20 & 21 will see thousands of rallies, marches and protests simultaneously across the world delivering the biggest ever global demonstration for climate action in history. More than 1,500 ‘People’s Climate’ events are planned worldwide in 136 countries. The largest rally will be in New York where over 1,50,000 people are expected to come together to demand leaders take action in advance of the Ban Ki Moon climate summit that will take place two days later. (

The UN summit is designed to build momentum for national and international climate action, including a new global climate treaty that will be finalized in Paris next year. “Action, Not Words” will be watch-word for the organizers at the summit.

So, if you care for the Mother Earth, if you are worried about the climate change and want to do something, join the People’s Climate March in Delhi or anywhere you are across the globe. If there is none happening, you organise one. After all, if we are expecting the governments to do ‘Action, Not Words’, we too need to be pro-active.

Neglecting the environment at our peril

With Jammu & Kashmir deluged, should the media be doing more to cover the environmental issues that culminate in these disasters? A study of the north east shows the environment is a neglected topic, says NIVEDITA KHANDEKAR. PIX: Assam floods


(Pic @Reuters)

As the raging floods in Jammu and Kashmir hog the limelight due to their intensity and large scale devastation, similar floods in Assam a few weeks ago mostly went unnoticed.

The north eastern states – Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Sikkim and Tripura – are a veritable biodiversity hotspot. They hardly ever figure in the mainstream print media and when they do, it is mostly for the wrong reasons.

But forget Delhi editions ignoring the region. That is old news. What is striking is that a study by the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), Guwahati, has found out that even the Guwahati or Kolkata editions of national newspapers don’t give enough space to the coverage of environmental issues from the region.

Using the ‘Headline Analysis’ method, TISS Guwahati students carried out a survey between July 25 to August 24, 2014 to study the environmental news coverage of four newspapers:  The Telegraph, The Indian Express and The Hindu (Kolkata publications) and The Assam Tribune (Guwahati/Dibrugarh publications).

“The survey ‘Headline Speaks’ was an attempt to understand how the mainstream media reports environmental news especially from the North East and what its biases are. Media coverage shapes public perception of issues, and often determines how the issues are treated by the public and policy makers,” said the MA course students, Amrita Baruah, Gyaneshwari Beshra, L Tsilise Anar, Pranjal Barman and Mamatha Prasad, who carried out the study with their teacher Dr Shalini Sharma.

The findings were published in the current issue of ‘Envirolution’, a monthly publication of the TISS Guwahati’s Department of Ecology, Environment and Sustainable Development.

The Assam Tribune, perhaps predictably, topped the chart by reporting 138 environmental news stories over the period. The Hindu carried 86 news items, The Telegraph carried 56, while The Indian Express reported only 30 items.

When it came to regularity in reporting, The Assam Tribune gave daily coverage to environmental news. The Telegraph and The Hindu did not carry any environmental news on two days while The Indian Express did not carry any for four days.

Apart from frequency, another question the students tried to ascertain was:  “Is the environment important enough to make it to the front page?” Just 8 out of a total of 56 in The Telegraph, 8 out of 86 in The Hindu and 21 out of 138 in The Assam Tribune made to the front page. The Indian Express carried 4 news items from among the 30 on front page.

Wildlife conservation, big projects and disasters dominated these news stories. The Assam Tribune focused more on wildlife conservation issues while The Telegraph gave more space to conflicts and legal developments.

In fact, the news about the tribunal ban on coal mining in Meghalaya was front page news in The Telegraph for three consecutive days, the study found. The thematic categories comprised 1. Wildlife and Forest Conservation (wildlife – flora & fauna – and forest, national parks and their conservation etc); 2. Big projects and related conflicts (development projects such as mines and dams, energy debates on renewable and non-renewable sources etc); 3. Risk, hazard and disaster (Potential risks, current or future hazards, natural – or even man-made – disasters, environmental refugees, rehabilitation etc; 4. Climate change (causes and impacts, temperature and weather reports, awareness activities etc); 5. Environmental degradation and impacts (pollution, impact on livelihood, economy etc) and 6.Others (any news items mentioned outside of above mentioned categories).

As the study was conducted in Guwahati, the importance of the geographical focus was in this order: local (Assam), the North East Region, national (India, excluding the entire North East region) and international news.

The Hindu and The Indian Express hardly gave any coverage to Assam and other North East states. The region was covered mostly by newspapers published locally, mostly in their North East sections. The Assam Tribune had better coverage, which the study points out, “could be because of its clear focus on the North East issues.”

Explaining the rationale behind the study, Dr Sharma said, “Our quest was to understand ‘How does this localization of news affect us?’  In a context where environmental news stories are less reported overall, where the national newspapers do not cover the North East India and the North East newspapers relay environmental news as local news, what is the combined impact of this? It is that important news remains accessible to only a few, and the North East emerges as an area where conflicts and disasters are routine.”

The TISS’ Department of Ecology, Environment and Sustainable Development plans to carry out a similar study every month over a longer time period.

For now, it offers a scary scenario. To repeat what the students said, media coverage helps shape public perception of issues and also determines how the issues/problems are treated by the general public and policy makers.

Senior journalist Rajdeep Sardesai has famously described the ‘Tyranny of Distance’ as the reason for the electronic media’s neglect of the North East. But none of the mainstream print media organisations can offer any such reason as almost all of them have a correspondent, at least in Guwahati.

The news wires, especially the Press Trust of India, offer ample stories from the region on a daily basis. This unabashed neglect by the main stream media merely adds to the problems of an already stressed region.

Hope studies such as this, although rudimentary (explainable as it is the very first attempt by collegian enthusiasts), can bring in the much needed awareness and drive the youngsters to find out more avenues to make their voices heard in the main stream.

(The study can be read here: )

(This story was first carried by The Hoot on Sept 16, 2014. It can be read at )

Erratic rain, rising temperatures hit Assam tea gardens

Tea growers in India’s Assam state are worried as production falls due to high temperatures and lack of rain and are looking at ways such as irrigation and planting more shady trees to mitigate the problem

Workers return home after a day's work at Koomsong Tea Eastate.
Workers return home after a day’s work at Koomsong Tea Eastate.

Acres of rolling greens, endless rows of orderly tree shrubs broken by tall, leafy trees, women with bamboo baskets slung on their backs busy plucking tea leaves… To the unsuspecting eye, it is all normal at the Koomsong Tea Estate, one of the many tea gardens in northeast India’s Assam state, famous the world over for its tea.

But things are not as idyllic as they seem with erratic weather changes, irregular rainfall and rising temperatures turning out to be major causes of worry for tea planters, not just in Koomsong but across the state. According to one estimate, there could be a 10% drop in production this year.

Assam produces almost half of India’s tea and growers are getting progressively more stressed about the changing climatic conditions over the last decade and wondering how best to fight it.

Typically, rain in northeast India starts at the end of March. In a normal year, tea estates would have completed 30% of their annual production by the end of June. The next round generally continues from July through November-December, accounting for the rest of the production.

But the last years have seen unequal rainfall distribution, which also means heavy rainfall in a month followed by an unusual dry spell. The rising temperature is another cause of worry. The meticulous records maintained at Koomsong, for instance, reveal that temperatures in June have being inching up – from a maximum temperature of 33.16 degrees Celsius in 1996, 33.92 degrees Celsius in 2003 to 34.26 degrees Celsius in 2013. There has also been a lot of variation in annual precipitation figures and average per month precipitation, especially in those critical days during the first or second harvest. The heavy rainfall washes away top soil in the tea gardens while dry spells lead to an increase in pests.

“In fact, more than erratic rainfall, it is the rising temperature that is affecting our production. Rising atmospheric temperature increases soil temperature and the soil gets dry faster,” said Vivek Seth, senior manager at Koomsong.

Seth says one should not to be fooled by data showing increase in annual production. That is only because the area under cultivation has increased over the years. However, yield per hectare has steadily declined. Koomsong’s area has increased from 529 hectares in 1985 to 707 hectares in 2013, while production per hectare has fallen from 2755 kg to 2047 kg per hectare.

The tea industry is worried.

According to government data, a few showers in February ensured a good crop in March but rainfall in March and April was scanty. There was just 71 mm rain from January-April against the crop requirement of around 310 mm for this period, leading to extremely dry and arid conditions. Rainfall in Upper Assam was down by 49% while it was down by 25% in Lower Assam. “The drought resulted in an estimated 25-30% loss of crops in Assam in April and May,” said S. Soundararajan, the Kolkata-based director at the Tea Board of India, a body under the union commerce and industry ministry.

Forced to adapt

The extreme variation in climate – disturbing the trend of generally high and equally distributed precipitation – has forced tea growers to adapt to changes. Turning to irrigation to minimise the adverse impact of rising temperatures and erratic rainfall patterns is one option and increasing areas of shade is another.

It is here that the Tea Research Association’s (TRA) Tocklai Experimentation Station in the Assam town of Jorhat steps in. “We provide rainfall and temperature data, we provide remedial measures such as how to combat or mitigate drought using irrigation methods. It can be sprinkler or drip. Then we advise on the use of various indigenous plants for fighting pests and also guide on various pest control measures,” said TRA director Dr N. Muralidharan.

Another long-term measure is the development of a drought-resistant tea shrub species.

Tea growers have started taking measures to fight the effects of climate change with help from Tocklai. As has been done by several tea estates in the area, Koomsong has also started creating its own micro-climate. This includes planting tall trees in between and along the edges of the plantation to protect tea shrubs and reduce air temperature. More than 30,000 trees were planted this year alone. Another measure is to use a formulation of local herbs and plants rather than chemical pesticides.

Seth said he hasn’t started irrigation yet, given the huge size of tea gardens (tea estates are generally spread over areas upwards of 300 hectares). “Irrigation cannot be a substitute for rainfalls. It can only help reduce our losses.”

Irrigation, however, is increasingly being looked at as an option. The central government offers a subsidy for setting up irrigation systems, said Soundararajan.

Government failing to protect tea growers

A continuing problem is that the tea crop cannot be insured. The premiums are too high due to the vast tracts under cultivation.

Government agencies have restricted their support to providing subsidies for irrigation and/or helping with pesticides. But there is simply no compensation in the event of a major hailstorm, for instance. A massive hailstorm on May 14, 2012 hit Koomsong, resulting in severe damages. Production could recover only in August.

Despite the central allocation of a separate fund for climate change in this year’s budget, there are no funds for Assam’s tea industry. Stating that climate change was a reality that all must face together, finance minister Arun Jaitley had announced in this year’s budget speech, “Agriculture as an activity is most prone to the vagaries of climate change. To meet this challenge, I propose to establish a ‘National Adaptation Fund’ for climate change. As an initial sum, an amount of Rs.100 crore will be transferred to the Fund.”

But none of this is coming to Assam’s tea gardens. Rajib Barooah, chairperson of theAssam Tea Planters Association (ATPA), said “We receive no compensation whatsoever in case of losses due to climatic changes. For instance, if the government declares a drought the agriculture sector – for instance paddy in Assam – gets the benefits but not the tea industry. Possibly because we come under the commerce ministry and not the agriculture ministry.”

Now that this is a recurring occurrence, the industry plans to come together to present a joint front, he said. “We are going to put up a demand to both the ministries. We have several other associations and this is a problem for all (so) the entire industry will have to come together.”

The article was first published by

(Originally published by and it can be read at