It isn't unusual for the monsoon rains to be delayed but what makes this aberrant weather conditions appear more hostile is the drop in the water levels of the country's big reservoirs and the exceptionally high temperatures (with very low humidity). It certainly came as a shock yesterday for instance when I read news reports that Shimla, the queen of hill stations in India, has declared holidays for school-going children because of unusually high temperatures.
In the late 1980s, I was posted by the Indian Express at Shimla. I remember how my house used to be packed with friends and relatives every summer. Believe me, I didn't realise that I had so many relatives till I landed in Shimla. They would suddenly appear at my door saying that they came looking for me, and wanted to see how my children were faring, and so on. I knew they had actually come to escape the heat of the plains, and were being polite.
Shimla is no exception. My neighbours are now in Gangotri, and have trekked to Gomukh. While I haven't been in touch with them after they left for the trek -- some 37 kms both ways -- they were telling me on phone how hot it was on their way to Gangotri. Haridwar, the religious city on the banks of river Ganga, and lying at the foothills of the Himalayas, is recording a temperature of 44 degrees. Nainital, another popular hill station, I am told is also simmering with heat. Tourists are grappling with the heat and the non-availability of drinking water in almost all the hill stations.
At this rate I am sure the day is not far when Mt Everest would become the sole destination to escape the heat of the summers!!
Well, you can blame the monsoon for the soaring temperatures and the non-availability of water but the fact remains that we are actually responsible for the prevailing conditions. We have been messing up with nature in our quest for more profits, in our blind chase for a higher GDP. The government, the policy makers and the mainline economists have misled us to believe that a higher GDP is the touchstone of development. You listen to some of the so-called distinguished Nobel laureates, academicians, scientists and others without even thinking twice whether what they are saying makes sense or not. We accept blindly what we are told.
If these Nobel laureates (and business magnates) were so brilliant I wonder why is the world warming up at such an alarming rate. Why is that the IPCC tells that if we don't make a radical correction in our policies, the Earth will become a living hell in another 10-15 years. If these intellectuals from the Harvard, Yale or Cambridge were really so brilliant, I am sure you would agree that we wouldn't have been in such a pitiable condition.
It is big business that is destroying the environment. It is big business that is primarily responsible for the rising temperatures. The government is merely a facilitator for the destruction of the environment. In India, the Ministry of Environment & Forests has been playing to the tune of big business and industry. It is a corrupt body, and I don't understand why people remain soft towards the bureaucrats managing our environment. The Ministry has allowed for large scale chopping of trees, mining for natural resources with impunity, playing havoc with wetlands, completely destroying the water sources in cities for the sake of urban dwelling and supermalls, and excessive use and abuse of water resources (and the destruction of the catchment areas) without even battling an eyelid.
The Ministry for Environment & Forests, which should have acted as a guardian for protecting the environment, had actually been hand-in-glove with the destroyers of the environment. I am told the Ministry had cleard 98 per cent of the proposals that came up before it for environment clearance. What a scandal !
We the people have failed to raise our voice against the wrong doings. When was the last time we demanded strict punishment for the Minister for Environment and the Secretary for Environment? Why shouldn't some of them, at least the past five Ministers' and the Secretary's of Environment be hauled up? Why shouldn't they go to jail for what they have done (or undone) to the environment?
You kept quiet. So you have to pay the price now. Don't crib about the soaring temperatures, and the non-availability of water. In many ways you are responsible for this precarious situation. Don't blame the rain gods, you are equally at blame.
Anyway, I am pasting below a news report from the Indian Express, which tells us about the water levels in the reservoirs. I think this should come as a warning. You can't be a silent spectator anymore.
Reservoirs running dry, half of last year's levels.
By Ravish Tiwari
Indian Express, June 27
Water levels in 81 crucial reservoirs are at just 44 per cent of last year’s levels at this time, and at 65 per cent of the average of the last 10 years, shows government data released Friday for the week ending June 25.
The Krishnaraja Sagar reservoir in Karnataka has practically no water — it is shown as having 0% of its capacity — and the Tungabhadra (also in Karnataka), Tehri (Uttarakhand) and Pong dam (Himachal) reservoirs have only 6 per cent, 1 per cent and 5 per cent of their capacities. At this time last year, thanks to an early monsoon, the Krishnaraja Sagar was 41 per cent full, and Tungabhadra, Tehri and Pong were at 17 per cent, 15 per cent and 22 per cent of capacity levels.
The overall picture is grim: as many as 21 of the 81 reservoirs are just 5 per cent or less full. The total live storage as of date is 14.184 billion cubic metres (BCM) — just 9 per cent of the capacity at full reservoir levels (FRL). This is substantially lower than last year’s 21 per cent, and even the 10-year average of 14 per cent.
Thirteen reservoirs have no live storage; last year, there were just two such reservoirs. Another 27 reservoirs are at less than half of the average storage for the past decade.
Even rivers are running dry. Water levels in the Ganga, Indus, Narmada, Sabarmati, Godavari and rivers of the Kutch were all at levels of 10 per cent or less of their full capacity. Overall, water storage in the 12 major river basin regions across the country stood at 9.3 per cent of full capacity — less than half of last year.
The delayed monsoon has affected the area under the kharif crop — it is down by about 7 lakh hectares from the 25.20 lakh hectares sown at this time last year. The decline is mostly due to reduction the area under paddy in West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, Orissa, Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh.
The weather watch group of the Agriculture Ministry mulled over these figures on Friday. Later, Agriculture Secretary T Nanda Kumar briefed the Cabinet Secretary about the progress of kharif sowing, and his Thursday meeting with state representatives, it is learnt. Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar is meeting top officials on Sunday after his return from London.