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Relevant for: Geography | Topic: Distribution of key natural resources - Water Resources incl. Rivers & related issues in world & India

In a first, the Union government has mandated the minimum quantity of water — or ecological flow as it’s called in scientific circles — that various stretches of the Ganga must necessarily have all through the year. The new norms would require hydropower projects located along the river to modify their operations so as to ensure they are in compliance.

In a gazette notification made public on Wednesday, the National Mission for Clean Ganga has laid down the flow specifications. The upper stretches of the Ganga — from its origins in the glaciers and until Haridwar — would have to maintain: 20% of the monthly average flow of the preceding 10-days between November and March, which is the dry season; 25% of the average during the ‘lean season’ of October, April and May; and 30% of monthly average during the monsoon months of June-September.

For the main stem of the Ganga — from Haridwar in Uttarakhand to Unnao, Uttar Pradesh — the notification specifies minimum flow at various barrages: Bhimgoda (Haridwar) must ensure a minimum of 36 cubic metres per second (cumecs) between October-May, and 57 cumecs in the monsoon; and the barrages at Bijnor, Narora and Kanpur must maintain a minimum of 24 cumecs in the non-monsoon months of October-May, and 48 cumecs during the monsoon months of June-September.

Power projects that don’t meet these norms as yet would be given three years to comply and “mini and micro projects” would be exempt from these requirements. The Central Water Commission would be the designated authority to collect relevant data and submit flow monitoring-cum-compliance reports on a quarterly basis to the NMCG, according to the notification.

“From now on, you will never see the Ganga dry ever, anywhere… this is a historic decision made after wide-ranging scientific consultation,” Nitin Gadkari, Union Water Resources Minister, said at a press conference to announce the decision. Mr. Gadkari said while no decision had been reached as yet on whether to disallow big dams on the Ganga, the issue would be deliberated on through “consultations” with legal, water and environmental experts.

The government, however, hasn’t disclosed the existing ecological flows at these stretches while setting the minimum levels, an omission that an expert involved in the framing of these rules attributed to “strategic reasons”. “Flow data isn’t made public by the CWC because it can be used by neighbouring countries to put pressure regarding hydro-electric projects,” said Vinod Tare, Professor, Civil Engineering, Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur and a scientific consultant to the government.

Shashi Shekhar, a former Secretary at the Water Resources Ministry, said while the norms were a good beginning, the targets were too low.

“These numbers would be revised upwards as we better understand river flows but it’s significant that this is now part of river planning,” Mr. Shekhar told The Hindu. “But these numbers don’t necessarily represent what’s needed for the ideal health of the river,” he added.

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