Palar River Basin in India: Developing A Framework for Strategic Environmental Assessment. Panneer Selvam QACU October 2003

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1 Palar River Basin in India: Developing A Framework for Strategic Environmental Assessment Panneer Selvam QACU October 2003

2 Background Under the ongoing Bank-assisted Tamil Nadu Water Resources Consolidated Project the Government constituted two river basin management boards Palar is one of them. These were the first basin organizations in South Asia. The Bank is providing TA (from August 2002) to the Basin Board in developing a strategic environmental assessment framework for the Palar River Basin.

3 Key Economic Activities In The Basin 64% of the land in the area is used for agricultural purposes - major crop is paddy. Tannery is the main industry in the basin. Around 35% of Indian Export earnings of the Indian Leather Sector is from 449 tanneries in the Palar River Basin - these units generate about Rs.15 billion (or $ 0.3 billion) a year and provides employment to about 50,000 people.

4 Key Features Of The Basin River length - 350km Total basin area approx. 18,300 km 2 60% in Tamil Nadu. Rain-fed river, flows for only a few days each year Surface water is diverted to fill 661 system tanks with an estimated capacity of 1,561 MCM to irrigate about 60,972 ha of land. Tanneries discharge about 20 MLD of effluent and over 100,000 Tons of salt (NaCl) per year. Groundwater quality is not fit for drinking or irrigation and over 15,000 ha affected by irrigation with high TDS water.

5 Tannery Effluent Flows

6 Water Pollution

7 Sand Mining in the Basin Sand mining in Tamil Nadu has been on the rise since 1990s following a boom in the construction industry. The PRB has become a source of sand to building industry. It is estimated that at least 10 million tons of sand is mined for construction industry in and around Chennai.

8 Impacts of Sand mining River bed levels have become lower than the tank bed levels and ground water is drying up as a result of increased sand mining activities

9 Close up view of a dry tank in the Palar Basin

10 View of Land Degradation :

11 Agricultural Degradation and Location of Tanneries

12 Key Environmental and Social Issues Depletion of Resources (Water; Forests; Sand) Decreased availability of water due to overexploitation of groundwater resources and increased sand mining in the Basin Degradation of Environment (Water; Soil; Crops; infrastructure) Increased pollution of ground and surface waters Degradation of Tanks and water supply structures Siltation in tanks and intake channels Decrease in the yield and quality of agricultural crops Risks to Health and Ecosystems (Water borne diseases; Occupational health; Bioaccumulation) Distortion on Employment and Income Generation (Loss of livelihood; Occupational shifts and migrations) Prevalence of water borne disease Long term degradation of soil and crops Labour shifts from agriculture to industrial sector Macro Economic Basin Wide Issues (Costs of remediation; shifting and rehabilitation of structures,etc.) Costs involved in repairing tanks and shifting of water supply structures; Costs involved in setting up CETPs, Sewerage systems and sewage treatment plants and their operation The progression of issues over time increases the complexity of issues.; the irreversibility of any degradation caused; and the costs involved in employing remediation measures

13 Why SEA in the context of Palar River Basin? Given the interrelations between economic, social and environmental issues and impacts on people s livelihood the SEA was chosen to provide a structured process to the Basin Board to initiate, guide and monitor the basin wide interventions for restoring and improving basin s sustainability. SEA process is expected to assist in developing a Strategic Action Plan that integrates economic, environmental and social aspects in decision making.

14 Typical Elements of SEA Cycle

15 What is the Vision? Visions define a few outstanding goals around which resources can be organised They help to inspire the stakeholders to pursue common aims Common vision is a vision that emerges from a continual process of deliberation and consensus among key stakeholders

16 Draft Vision for Palar River Basin To promote, advice, direct and coordinate sustainable management and development of water, land and forest resources in the basin To increase awareness, participation and commitment of people and to protect and enhance their wellbeing To follow a participatory, transparent and objective approach and become a model for other river basins in India to follow

17 Work Until Now.. Provided intensive training on the SEA process to Institute of Water Studies (IWS) staff. Assisted the IWS in developing their draft Vision statement Facilitated several consultative meetings on specific topics including a larger one day consultative workshop (in the field) attended by farmers, NGOs, academics, Govt. officials, industrialists etc., to discuss the draft vision statement. Assisted IWS in developing a process guidance framework for taking forward the SEA process to prepare a strategic action plan that integrates economic, environmental and social aspects in decision making; and address the institutional needs and capacities for effective implementation of the plan.

18 Milestones in the Development of the SEA Process in the PRB

19 Lessons Learnt.. The term Assessment in SEA focuses on impacts and does not fully convey the benefits of strategic planning element and the ability of SEA to integrate social, environmental and economic factors in the decision making process. River Basin Boards set up without any vision or commonly shared objectives may not serve the purpose of steering a coordinated effort towards river basin development. Response to issues is often limited to more adhoc investments. The importance of ensuring policy coordination, programmatic support and plan reorientation is not understood. Strong institutional capacity is a critical prerequisite - a technical secretariat with a team of multidisciplinary specialists with access to reliable data and capacity to analyze/understand the economic implications of ecological and social impacts.

20 Next Steps It is an unfinished agenda and work in progress Next step is to assist IWS in organizing an intensive consultative workshop to identify strategies and tasks for improvement in water quality which would include definition of interventions at three levels - Policies, Programs/Plans and Projects - and other supporting requirements to strengthen information, institutional and investment

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