Thursday, May 27, 2010

Wrong policies behind Rajasthan's water crisis

By Devinder Sharma
25 May 2010

Desert state Rajasthan, which has long been renowned for its traditional water harvesting methods, is today facing an acute water crisis. Policy makers blame the deficit rainfall for the crisis, but in fact misplaced agriculture and development policies have created the emergency.

Rajasthan is faced with an unprecedented water crisis. For over several years now, Rajasthan was drying up. With successive chief ministers busy inviting investments - to open up malls, hotels, water parks, real estate projects, special economic zones, golf courses -- the semi-arid lands of the Thar deserts have been sucked dry.

Rajasthan is in reality faced with a water famine.

I do not know the yardstick that determines whether the state is faced with a famine-like situation or not but the fact remains that water trains and water tankers are quenching the thirst in all 33 districts. Reports say that daily supply of water through water trains is meeting the drinking water requirement of Bhilwara and Pali districts. In addition, water tankers are catering to the needs of 77 cities/towns and 15,287 villages.

This is certainly an alarming situation. But it did not happen overnight. In 2009 also, water trains and tankers were pressed in to service to meet the requirement of 10,918 villages and towns. In fact, with each passing year the water crisis is worsening.

A train leaves every day from Kota to Bhilwara with water, and another train departs for Sojat block in Pali district. There is a proposal to add another water train carrying 14.40 lakh litres of water every day for Bhilwara district. The crisis has reached such an ebbing point that all officials concerned with water supplies have been asked to be back on duty, and the state government is monitoring water supply situation every week.

I am aware that monsoon rains have been playing truant for quite some time. But this is not the first time in history when rain gods have not been so kind to people living in Rajasthan. Yes, history tells us that Rajasthan was never faced a water famine like situation that it is passing through now. And that too at a time when Rajasthan has given the country two well-known water warriors - Rajender Singh and Lachchman Singh.

Some time back my friend Anupam Mishra of the Gandhi Peace Foundation in New Delhi wrote an excellent book "Aaj bhi khere hain talaab". The book is based on the remarkable water harvesting and traditional water conserving structures that Rajasthan provided. The book has been best-seller for several years, and is being referred to globally. But unfortunately, successive governments and the policy makers in Rajasthan never made an effort to read the book, and instead travelled to Israel to learn about drip-irrigation.

The water crisis that Rajasthan is faced with is in many ways a man-made crisis. I have always been saying that blame for water crisis is 30 per cent on the truant monsoon, and the remaining 70 per cent is man-made. We are primarily responsible for accentuating drought conditions because of the relentless water mining that we have indulged in merrily over the years. But have we learnt any lessons? Are we willing to make necessary corrections howsoever radical they may be? The answer is NO.

I do not understand why a dry state like Rajasthan encourages golf courses. Each 18-hole golf course daily consumes water equivalent to the needs of about 20,000 households. Each supermarket mall that is being built, consume on an average 1,000 litres of water per person who comes to shop. Each five-star hotel consumes another 600 litres per person per day. The worst are the real estate projects. They literally mine water.

What is the use of saving water in the parched and arid lands of Rajasthan if we allow the marble industry, producing almost 91 per cent of total marble in India, to guzzle every hour around 2.75 million litres of water. No wonder the majestic lakes of Rajasthan have all gone dry.

To make its economics workable, Rajasthan must adopt an agricultural policy that lays emphasis and provides assured market for the coarse cereals and pulses.
It doesn't end here. I have never fathomed the wisdom of allowing sugarcane and cotton to be cultivated in the semi-arid regions. Sugarcane requires three times more water than wheat and rice put together. Common sense tells us that we should be cultivating crops which require less water in the dry lands. Why can't Rajasthan cultivate mustard, jower and bajra on a large scale, and also take to pulses. All these crops require very less water.

To make its economics workable, Rajasthan must adopt an agricultural policy that lays emphasis and provides assured market for these coarse cereals and pulses. It needs to redesign the price structures in such a way that farmers do not lose out when they cultivate pulses and crops like jower and bajra. In fact, Rajasthan can easily turn into a pulse bowl of the country, meeting the shortfall that the country faces continuously in cases of pulses.

At the same time, I am shocked to learn that that agricultural universities in Rajasthan actually promote the cultivation of hybrid crops -- hybrid rice, hybrid sorghum, hybrid maize, hybrid cotton and hybrid vegetables -- which require almost 1.5 times to 2 times more water than the high-yielding varieties. On top of it the government is now busy pushing Bt cotton, whose water requirement is 10-20 per cent more than even the hybrid varieties of cotton.

You can ignore these suggestions at your peril. Don't forget, a recent report by NASA has already warned that Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan are consuming 109 cubic kms of water in six years. NASA finds that the groundwater withdrawal is 70 per cent more in this decade than in the 1990s. At this rate, Rajasthan would be the worst affected. It already is.

If Rajasthan does not wake up now, the time is not far away when there will be mass exodus from within the state. People will be left with no alternative but to migrate.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Preserve biodiversity through community initiatives

By Pandurang Hegde
22 May 2010

The year 2010 has been declared by the United Nations as 'The International Year of Biodiversity'. But the governments in most countries remain indifferent to the massive loss of species of trees, plants, insects, fish, birds and animals that balance the life-cycle on earth.

Today, on May 22, 2010 as we celebrate the International Biodiversity Day, we are reminded of the unprecedented loss of biodiversity, of plants, animals and other life forms that is threatening the life on earth. In order to address the issue, about 180 countries have joined hands to form Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in 1992. In order to work towards an effective strategy for conservation of biodiversity 2010 has been designated as the International Year of Biodiversity (IYB).

The CBD is hailed as a landmark agreement in which the genetically rich but economically poor countries were given the sovereign rights over genetic resources. It was hailed as victory for southern countries to bring forth equity and justice. However, in reality the move is towards the privatization of the genetic resource, in which patenting of seeds and life forms is the rule that hijacked the CBD towards bio piracy and bio trade.


In the history of human agriculture about 7000 different species of plant have been cultivated as food crops. However, spread of industrial agriculture in the last 100 years has led to dramatic reduction of genetic diversity in food crops and livestock breeds. Today, 90 per cent of human food comes from only fifteen plants and eight animal species. The homogenization of food industry has resulted in narrow genetic base. Confirming this, FAO (Food and Agricultural Organization) has stated that since 1900 approximately 75 per cent of the world's genetic diversity of food crops has been eliminated.

The irony is the world leaders, policy makers and scientists are least interested in integrating the issues of biodiversity into broader policies of their government. Rather through most of their decisions, displaying monoculture of mind, they attempt to erase the existing diversity, from agriculture to marginal cultures that show signs of digressions.

The Global Biodiversity Outlook, a report published in 2010 by the CBD has categorically stated that "the target agreed by World Governments in 2002 to achieve a significant reduction of the current rate of biodiversity loss at the global, regional and national level as a contribution to poverty alleviation has not been met".

The future scenario projected in the report indicates more extinctions and loss of habitats in the coming decades with associated decline in ecosystem services that is essential for the survival of human beings and other forms of life on the earth. It predicts that these have direct negative impact on the poorest people living in fragile eco zones and eventually it will affect the society at large.

Failed strategies

About 170 countries, including India, have evolved the strategies and action plans to conserve biodiversity. However, there is little political will and policy support for implementing this plan. In India, the obsession with target of nine per cent GDP growth set by the Planning Commission is leading to destruction of the areas that are centers of global biodiversity hotspots. For example, the ecologically fragile regions of North East India and Western Ghats are the hotbeds for building numerous hydro power plants and mega thermal power plants that not only threaten but lead to extinction of diversity of plants and other life forms in these regions.

The National Biodiversity Strategy Action Plan (NBSAP) is a dead document for all practical purposes. This grim scenario should have raised alarm bells at the highest level of decision-making, but shockingly, the top leadership gives little consideration to the issue of conserving the diversity that is still left in the fields and forests.

Positive actions

In contrast to this apathy there are numerous positive examples of direct actions by the communities to conserve the biodiversity. In the Himalayas, the Beej Bachao Andolan, (Save Seeds Movement), has spearheaded a unique attempt to conserve the crop diversity of hill regions. In the Deccan plains, the women groups led by Deccan Development Society have successfully regenerated the biodiversity of dry land crops in marginal lands. Even they have set up alternate PDS (Public Distribution System) that incorporates millet and other nutritional crops instead of white rice and hybrid wheat that causes malnutrition. Save Our Rice Campaign is working towards conserving the diversity of paddy varieties in different regions of southern and eastern parts of India. The Appiko Movement is working with forest dwellers to conserve plant diversity of forest tress, which provide non-timber forest produce that enhances livelihood. Thus, the community attempts to conserve biodiversity in India is varied and vibrant.

Nevertheless, the policy makers have failed to learn from these successful initiatives and incorporate their time tested methods of conservation to halt the erosion of diversity. Rather than adhering to the diktat of International funding organizations that appropriate the genetic resources, it is essential that we develop the route to conserve diversity through local means, under community control with the vision of equity and sustainability in using the resources.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Commonwealth Games hurt the commons

By Gaurav Sharma
17 May 2010

The madness of government and sports officials to ‘prepare’ New Delhi for hosting Common Wealth Games (CWG) in October 2010 has once again come under severe criticism from social workers, civil society and intellectuals. The latest charge is that to create a glittery image of Delhi for CWG, poor and marginalized sections of the society are deprived of their basic human rights. The authorities are putting in the war like efforts for beautification of Indian capital for CWG. But instead of delivering benefits to the masses, holding of such mega events, which will cost Rs 30,000 crore to India, have done a great damage to the economic and social fabric of New Delhi.

A comprehensive report “The 2010 Commonwealth Games: Whose Wealth?” prepared by Housing and Land Right Network and released recently in New Delhi raises many disconcerting questions related to the big sporting event.

“When one in three Indians lives below the poverty line and 40 per cent of the world’s hungry live in India, when 46 per cent of India’s children and 55 per cent of its women are malnourished, does spending thousands of crores of rupees on a 12-day sports event build ‘national pride’ or is it a matter of national shame”, asks the report.

Forced eviction, diversion of funds, cost escalations, bypassing of democratic institutional framework and rampant exploitation of workers at CWG construction sites will have negative socio-economic impact on the city, points out the report.

“There are serious issues about the socio-economic impact which the forthcoming CWG will have on Delhi”, said Former Chief Justice of Delhi High Court Justice M P Shah while releasing the report.

“In the name of beautifying Delhi, the government can not throw street vendors, beggars, rickshaw pullers, and poor out of the city. These people play a pivotal role in the city by providing their services to common man”, remarked Justice Shah.

Ridiculing the Delhi government’s anti-beggar drive, Justice Shah said “The state government has filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court to deport beggars to their states of origin. Fraudsters, thieves and corrupt politicians can stay in the city, but not beggars!”

The report highlights that beggars and homeless citizens are being arrested and arbitrarily detained under the Bombay Prevention of Beggary Act, 1959. The Department of Social Welfare had also announced “no-tolerance” zones in Delhi and there are plans to send the beggars back to their States of origin.

Dr Ambitabh Kundu, Professor of Economics at Jawaharlal Nehru University, described the Commonwealth games as very powerful tool to exclude the marginalised section of the society.

Shedding light on the ambiguity of slogans coined in run up to the Games like ‘slum-free city’ and ‘affordable housing’, Professor Kundu said “These slogans mislead people as poor think ‘slum-free city’ means better housing facilities for them whereas elite think that slum-dwellers will be thrown out.”

“The question is not the benefit of holding Commonwealth games but the beneficiaries who are politicians, private players, and elite class,” added Prof Kundu.

Director of Hazards Centre, a professional support group and resource outfit, Dunu Roy alleged that decision making process in planning Games was undemocratic in nature.

Mr Roy charged, “Much of the planning has not been done within the democratic institutional framework”.

Expressing dismay at the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s statement during Copenhagen Summit that Common Wealth Games will be green and add carbon credit to India, Roy said that such statements represent either poor information or ‘deliberate’ and ‘wilful ignorance’.

According to the report, the budget for the CWG has risen from an initial projection of Rs 1,889 crore to an official figure of Rs 10,000 crore. Independent experts have pegged the budget at Rs 30,000 crore.

In contrast to the report’s findings Roy said that if we include several related infrastructure projects, total budget estimate would reach Rs 80,000 crore.

The report also highlights that “While the total budget for ‘beautification’ projects on Delhi is undisclosed, the amount already spent by the government is hundreds of crores. The streetscaping of just one street, Lodhi Road, is estimated to cost Rs 1855 crore.”

The experts believe that CW Games are unlikely to improve level of sports in India since investment is concentrated on stadiums, which lie largely unused after the event, as in the case of the 1982 Asian games.

The report demands a detailed inquiry into the decision-making and bidding process as well as the total expenditure on the Games. It states that the government should have a long-term legacy plan based on human rights and environmental sustainability.

There is also a need to investigate officials who had overstated the benefits of the Games, withheld critical information and misappropriated funds and also to investigate allegations of human rights violations related to the Games.

“A post-Games audit and detailed social and environmental impact assessment are also required,” the report said.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Real estate SEZs flourish courtesy MoEF

By Kanchi Kohli
13 May 2010

The ministry of environment and forests has diluted and ignored its own rules and regulations to favour real estate developers in the SEZs.

The Ministry of Commerce and Industry claims that the existence of Special Economic Zones (SEZs) is not new to India, which, they say, has the history of setting up its first Export Processing Zone (EPZ) in Kandla, Gujarat way back in 1965. But, from April 2000 with the announcement of the SEZ policy, the Government of India set into motion a new trade promotion model to attract larger foreign investments in India. Subsequently, the SEZ Act came into being in 2005 and its Rules in 2006.

In practice this new age SEZ model is critically different from the erstwhile EPZs. SEZs of today are integrated zones which allow for construction of educational, residential and leisure facilities along with trade development areas. These areas are also open to private developers who through single window clearance, enhanced tax benefits and fewer procedural "hurdles" have set themselves to work their way towards an institutionalised land grab.

The SEZ Act is in operation with five critical objectives, generation of additional economic activity; promotion of exports of both goods and services; promotion of investment from domestic and foreign sources; creation of employment opportunities in the trade realm; and development of infrastructure support to facilitate all of the above.

Since its enactment, both Indian and foreign investors have sought to benefit by bringing contiguous tracts of land up to 5000 hectares under various kinds of SEZs, be it petrochemical, information technology, or multi-product. As of 1st May 2010, 580 SEZs have received formal approval and another 150 have in-principle approvals. But all this has not been without a backlash from affected communities and people's movements. Their struggle has been for continuing of access, rights and land use that has been sought to be compromised by the pushing through of SEZs in India.

Despite widespread criticism and people's struggles around SEZs, this lucrative option for 'global trade wallahs' is continued to be pushed around in India. While the promotion of exports of goods and services, employment generation and infrastructure remain important, the most enticing aspect of an SEZ for investors is the availability of numerous tax benefits. Any project once accorded an SEZ status gets tax exemptions related to import procurement, income tax, central and service tax and so on. This has made the SEZ model attractive not only for goods and services sector, but also for construction companies and real estate giants.

For most urban Indians, signposts, advertisements and propaganda for new and upcoming constructions promoted by real estate companies have become routine. Vast amounts of cultivated or wild land uses have been 'converted' through huge financial transactions. Big investors, after having bought the land, convert it into commercial or residential areas. It would not be an exaggeration to say that this urban built up mindset continues to spread its extent.

While we digest this overaching reality, it is also important to note how SEZ and real estate projects have come to play themselves out within India's environment regulation. The Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) notification, 2006 deals with SEZ and construction projects separately. SEZs are listed as Item 7(c) requiring environmental clearance only after following the full procedure of public hearing and preparation of EIA reports. While this is true for the entire SEZ, the individual units within the SEZs are exempted if they are for the same purpose for which the SEZ was first granted approval.

Real Estate and construction projects are listed as Items 8 (a) and 8 (b) in Appendix I of the EIA notification. Item 8 (a) is for building and construction project > 20,000 sq. mtrs and < 1,50,000 sq. mtrs built up area. 8 (b) is township and area development projects covering an area of > 50 ha and/or a built up area of > 1,50,000 sq.mtrs.

The EIA notification also distinguishes between Category A and Category B projects, with the first requiring approval from the central government and the second at the state level. These have their own screening, scoping and public consultation requirements which have to be followed before appraisal for approval. Building and township related projects enjoy a special status under the EIA notification. Termed as B1 they don't require to carry out an EIA or a public consultation, and only need to submit a specially designed form.

This privilege was a result of substantial push and lobbying by real estate developers at the time the EIA notification was being revamped. In their response to the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF), many large and small developers had argued that their operations were not as polluting or environmentally degrading as other industrial units. In fact it has been argued in a comment to the MoEF that the real estate industry does not cause any damage to the environment since the "occupants emit only human breath and human solid waste is treated."

Even though the promoters of these projects had sought a complete exemption, the amendments had led to a partial reprieve, but one that makes the process of building and construction project clearances miniscule as compared to others projects. Once the ball was set rolling, the MoEF put in to place other intriguing exemptions not in word of law but through practice.

Today there is a unique understanding within the MoEF for the clearances to real estate or construction projects which also enjoy an SEZ status. Information on this was revealed through a response to a Right to Information (RTI) Application. The applicant had asked as to how many SEZs had been granted approval by the MoEF and how many of them were exempt from the requirement of the mandatory public consultation. The background to this was a reading into the minutes of the meetings of the Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) dealing with SEZ projects where it was said that a particular project was considered by the committee and exempted from public hearing.

The response from the MoEF dated 24th December 2009 is intriguing. The total number of SEZs granted environmental clearance by the MoEF as of December 2009 was 28. Quite interestingly half of these (14 projects) were from the state of Tamil Nadu. Karnataka state is second with having granted approval to 6 SEZs.

The response further adds that while no proposal covered under Item 7(c) has been granted exemption, there are some SEZs which have been considered under Item 8 (a) and 8 (b). What this implies is that building, construction and township projects have managed to circumvent the EIA notification in such a way that despite being SEZs, they are treated differently by the environmental regulation. Ironically, the procedural requirement for SEZs as per the EIA notification is much more lengthy and stringent than for construction and township projects.

So, before we even begin to fathom this, the real estate giants and construction companies have figured this one out in their favour. Of course, with a little help from our Ministry of Environment and Forests.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Flawed policies behind water crisis

By Devinder Sharma
11 May 2010

Governments in power cite water scarcity as the prime reason behind their failure to ensure regular supply of safe drinking water to all citizens. But how come the private tankers and water bottlers always find enough water to sell?

During water scarcity, supply through private tankers becomes
thriving business
Every year during summer, the people in most cities and villages of India face the crisis of pure drinking water. With temperatures soaring, and with the major reservoirs drying, the battle for drinking water is becoming louder and bloodier, day by day. Unable to get their daily requirement of drinking water, angry protestors in various cities are taking to streets.

In the weeks to come, non-availability of water is sure to adorn the news. The warning bells have been ringing for over 15 years now, but nobody cared. Even now, when projections show that 70 per cent more ground water has been depleted in the past decade than in the last decade of 1990s, and that water sources across the country have been contaminated in almost all the states leading to serious health problems like cancer and fluorosis that damages bones, teeth and muscles, the nation is not perturbed.

Parliament was informed recently that 1.80 lakh villages (out of the 6 lakh villages in the country) are afflicted by poor water quality. What these villages drink is nothing but slow poison. In addition, what Parliament is not informed is that almost all the tributaries of our major rivers have become drain channels for the industry. Take, for instance, Ammi river flowing in the outskirts of Gorakhpur. For years now, over 1.5 lakh people who live on the banks of the river have been protesting against industrial effluents that have turned the river - the only lifeline for hundreds of villages on its banks - into a source of misery.

Ammi is not the only tributary that has turned into a drain. Almost all tributaries of the major Indian rivers flow dirty. Somehow the policy makers and planners treat the dirty rivers and tributaries as a misplaced sign of industrialisation, and thereby treat it as an index of development.

Returning back to the issue of shrinking drinking water availability, a parliamentary standing committee has informed that while more than 84 per cent of the households in rural areas are covered under rural water supply, only 16 per cent population gets drinking water from public taps. However, just 12 per cent of rural families have individual taps in their houses. This too is highly skewed in favour of the more progressive States. In Orissa, for instance, only 9 per cent households have access to tap water. If you travel to Kalahandi district, the percentage of population having access to tap water drops to a mere 2.76 per cent.

The picture isn't very rosy for the urban areas. Only 37 per cent of the households (both urban and rural) have access to tap water. In other words, not only food entitlements, there is an urgent need to ensure right to safe drinking water.

Isn't it shocking that after 63 years of Independence, only 12 per cent of the rural households have drinking water taps? This is despite the National Rural Drinking Water Programme being operative, for which Rs 8,000-crore was provided in 2009-10.

What is more shocking is that while the drinking water taps are going dry; there is never a shortage of water supply from tankers? In Mumbai, for instance, an estimate shows that nearly 48 per cent of the drinking water gets lost due to leaks from damaged pipelines. Some people suspect the tanker mafia is behind this major loss. Not only Mumbai, cities across the country are under siege by tanker mafia. In the rural areas too, the water mafia has been continuously at work. If the water sources are drying up across the country, I wonder from where the tankers get water. Every one knows that the tanker mafia is leaving the countryside parched and dry, but who cares?

Well, the corporate sector certainly gives an impression that it cares. It has to. After all, much of the water crisis is its creation. First the industries guzzle up water, and pollute the rivers and water bodies, and then they launch water saving initiatives under Corporate Social Responsibility. The ITC for instance has launched a project in Gurgaon to teach housemaids on how to save water while cleaning the utensils. Teaching the maid servants on how to save one mug of water is surely some responsibility!

What the corporate sector refuses to point at is the recent decision of the Andhra Pradesh government to allocate 21.5 lakh litres per day from the Krishna River in Guntur district to Coca-Cola. While several hundred villages in Guntur district are grappling with acute drinking water shortage, the government perhaps thinks that rural poor can quench their thirst from drinking Coke instead. To justify its exploitation of water, Coca-Cola claims to be buying mangoes for its Maaza brand under its Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiative. Hitting two birds with one stone, isn't it? But who cares?

Unfortunately, providing clean drinking water is no longer a national priority. Somehow the government believes that the more pressing need is to make the water resources available to the bottled water industry. With the elite and the middle class are satisfied at the easy availability of bottled water, the rest of the population continues to suffer. Over the years, the State and the Central government have shifted focus to the middle class, as if the rest of the country does not need water.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Power production sans efficiency

By Shankar Sharma
06 May 2010

Without taking actions to drastically reduce power sector inefficiency, our policy makers continue to push conventional power projects detrimental to environment.

Despite knowing well that the gross inefficiency in power sector in India has serious economic and legal implications, affecting overall growth and welfare of the society, there is no serious action plan to take corrective actions. The inefficiency in the energy sector is considered to be one of the biggest stumbling blocks in societal development. Studies by International Energy Agency show that energy efficiency has the potential to be the biggest single source of GHG emission savings in the energy sector by 2050.

Since independence, installed electricity generating capacity in the country has grown phenomenally from about 1,400 MW in 1948 to about 157,000 MW in Feb 2010; an increase of 110 times. Annual electricity generation from all sources has increased from about 61,000 MU in 1970-71 to 724,000 MU in 2008-09, i.e. an increase of 12 times in 30 years.

Despite such phenomenal increases in capacity, various forms of electricity crises are continuing even after six decades of democratic rule. While the state capitals and larger cities in each state are getting electricity supply for 23-24 hours every day on an average, the connected villages are getting less than 12 hours in a day, not to mention about 40% of the house holds, which are still without access to electricity.

The inefficiency prevailing in transmission & distribution, and in the end use of energy is so much that the Integrated Energy Policy has estimated that the energy intensity of our economy can be reduced by 25% by 2031-32. The usage of electricity for night time sports, air conditioned shopping malls/housing complexes even in cooler places, heavy usage of illumination for advertisements, unscientific use of illumination for street lights, avoidable & inefficient use of a large number of electrical and entertainment appliances, whether in houses, shops, offices, public places or factories are all escalating, but are also largely resulting in unproductive and non-essential applications.

Studies by International Energy Agency show that energy efficiency has the potential to be the biggest single source of GHG emission savings in the energy sector by 2050.
The unreliable electricity supply has led to serious problems on the social, economic and environmental front whereas the relevant Acts of parliament are not being complied with. Severe consequences are observed in the areas of drinking water supply, agricultural activities, education, health etc not only in villages but also in many urban areas. People's displacement is the most serious social implication of large conventional power projects.

As per the report of the 13th finance commission, the combined losses of electricity companies due to inefficiency of operations may increase from Rs. 68,643 crores in 2010-11 to Rs. 1,16,089 cores by 2014-15. Such huge losses year after year have led to deprivation of adequate funding to other crucial sectors of our developmental process such as drinking water supply, poverty alleviation, health, education, rural infrastructure etc. The ever increasing number of conventional power projects based on dams and coal, and nuclear power projects require large amounts of natural resources such as land, water, coal etc and add huge amounts of pollutants to our environment.

The coal power plants need large tracts of land and huge quantities of fresh water. They burn enormous quantity of coal and generate mountains of ash, and require opening up of a large number of additional coal mines, which are all below thick forests. The technical efficiency of converting coal energy to electrical energy in Indian power stations is about 30% only. With Transmission and Distribution loss level of about 30%, and end use loss of about 15% prevailing in the country, the overall efficiency in coal energy to electrical energy put into productive / economic use can only be of the order of about 10%.

Large dam based hydro power plants drown large tracts of agricultural and forest lands, produce Methane which is a much more potent GHG than CO2, reduce forest and tree cover, and lead to loss of bio-diversity.

Nuclear power plants have their own share of concerns. The inadequate reserves of Uranium within the country, the massive damage to our environment from nuclear mining, the radiation safety issues, and the huge cost to the society of safeguarding the spent nuclear fuel for generations have all become major concerns to the society.

The country has been known to be exhibiting one of the lowest levels of efficiency in the overall management of a vital resource like electricity. The average Plant Load Factor (PLF) of the coal power stations in the country is reported to be about 63% as compared to about 90% in case of some of the best run power plants such as NTPC plants.

The inability to optimize the installed capacity is not much different in nuclear power plants and hydel power plants.

As per the sections 48 (a) and 51 (a) (g) of our Constitution, it is the duty of the State and every citizen to make honest efforts to protect and improve our environment by protecting and improving rivers, lakes, forests and living beings. The conventional power plants are destroying thick forest cover, interfering in the natural flow of rivers, and destroying the bio-diversity by hastening the extinction of many species.

It is almost impossible to notice the compliance of the letter and spirit of Indian Electricity Act 2003, and National Electricity Policy as far as salient features such as efficiency, economy, responsible use of natural resources, consumer interest protection, reliable supply of electricity, protection of environment are concerned.
While the National Forest Policy recommends that 33% of the land mass should be covered by forests and trees for a healthy environment, our practice of continuing to divert forest lands for large power projects will bring this percentage even lower than the present level of 24% in the country.

The prevailing inefficiency will not allow the fulfilment of the stated objectives of National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC) unless a commensurate action plan is implemented earnestly.

Though it will be impossible to satiate the ever escalating demand for electricity in our urban areas in the business as usual scenario, efficiency improvement of the existing electricity infrastructure to the international best practice levels can provide us with a virtual additional capacity roughly equivalent to 30-40% of the present available capacity.

In the background of all these glaring issues, it would tantamount to letting down the public if the State continues to spend thousands of crores of rupees of the state's revenue and precious natural resources in establishing additional conventional power plants without harnessing all the techno-economically benign alternatives first.