Youth Action for Water Governance: The Indian Experience on the attainment of Goal 6 of the Sustainable Development Agenda

Clean Water and Sanitation for all, as contained under Goal 6, is one of the most essential element of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) established in 2015. It successfully captures the very essence of the entire Agenda for Sustainable Development in that it attempts to attain sustainable growth while keeping in mind the prevailing inequalities and deteriorating climatic conditions.[i]

It is pertinent to note that India, the second-most populated country of the world, has only fulfilled 56.6 % of its commitments under the goal so far.[ii] The country despite being home to many perennial and non-perennial rivers and an annual monsoon season suffers from an acute shortage of clean drinking water. Moreover, according to a report published by the World Resource Institute (WRI), a US-based think tank, India finds a place in the list of seventeen nations facing extreme levels of "water stress ".[iii]

For the attainment of this particular goal, increased stakeholder participation can be an effective modality. Moreover, according to a survey conducted in 2013, 83 % of the nation-states have incorporated policies integrating stakeholder participation within the domestic legal regimes.[iv] The reason behind this is that increased participation of local communities can help substitute traditional State-Centric models of water resource governance, the emphasis under which largely remains on ensuring access to safe and clean drinking water through ‘supply-side interventions’ alone.[v]

India, with considerable investments in hydro-electric power projects, has significantly increased the supply of freshwater by channelising the flows of streams and rivers. It has successfully made groundwater a harvestable natural resource with advancements in boring and pumping of aquifers. Such infrastructure developments, however, are not without perils due to shortcomings that come with large scale constructional activities in pristine river ecosystems. This resulted in several litigations before the Supreme Court filed on behalf of the local indigenous population residing in the vicinity of the said ecosystems. The two most significant Supreme Court rulings on these issues being Narmada Bachao Andolan vs. Union of India (2000) and N.D. Jayal vs. Union of India (2002). In both cases the Court ruled in favour of the construction of the Sardar Sarovar Dam and the Tihri Dam, thereby ignoring the claims of the indigenous populations over their land.[vi] In fact, just like large scale engineering projects, groundwater extraction and its overconsumption have also proved to be detrimental towards efforts aimed at maintenance of environmental balance.

A critical class of stakeholders in the youth population of a community which can play an integral role in the attainment of the SDGs including Goal 6, primarily because the very idea of sustainability aims at safeguarding the natural resources for future generations without actually compromising upon the present-day developmental needs. For facilitating the contribution of youth further, a large number of steps have been taken at both national and international levels. Establishment of the Office of the UN Secretary-General's Envoy on Youth can be cited as an example which aims at increased participation of the young population for the achievement of the SDGs.

Any discussion on the SDG pertaining to Water and Sanitation and youth action can be best illustrated by discussing the Indian example, since, India is home to a population of 600 million young people.[vii] In this regard, specific guidelines on youth action have also been laid down under the National Mission for Clean Ganga, commonly known as Namami Gange, introduced by the Government of India in the year 2015. Further, for this purpose, a select cadre of youth volunteers, called Ganga Praharis, was established to raise awareness and 'Ganga consciousness' among the masses. The youth cadre after being given specialised training, were deployed in their respective villages in the flood plains of the mighty river Ganga.[viii] The government has also allocated a budget of One million USD for completion of the entire project, and the responsibility of capacity building of this special cadre has been entrusted upon Nehru Yuva Kendra Sangathan (NYKS), of the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports.[ix]

Besides their contribution in cleaning Ghats, conducting minor forensic tests on river water, generating employment opportunities for local communities and bio-diversity micro planning[x], the Youth Volunteers have also played an important role in conservation and rehabilitation of the vulnerable animal species native to the river Ganga. To substantiate this point the recent example from the Rajmahal district of the Indian state of Jharkhand can be cited, where a Ganga Prahari Ajijur Rahman has emerged as the local hero by sensitising the village communities and preventing smugglers from illegally hunting the twelve turtle species found in the region. The turtle species amongst which two (Varagur and Chitra Indica) have already become extinct, play an important role in reducing the pollution levels of the river and hence, are essential for maintaining the ecological balance of the river.[xi]  In a similar incident from West Bengal, a stranded Irrawaddy Dolphin, commonly found in the Sundarban Delta and Chilika Lake was rescued by a group of volunteers from the shore of the river.[xii]

The term set for the Namami Gange program, however, is set to expire in December 2020, and much still remains to be done in the direction of attaining the goals set under it as only 116 out of 310 sanctioned purification projects have been completed so far.[xiii]  Further, the need of the hour is also to grant concrete environmental rights to local communities apart from initiating volunteer programs like the one discussed above. There is a clear lack of government support in reinforcing the inter-relationship between the environment and human as evidenced by the recently introduced draft Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) notification 2020, under which the Ministry of Environment of the Indian Government has proposed to dilute the local consultation requirements before granting clearance to developmental projects. Thus, it can be stated that law cannot exist in isolation and ultimately calls for application on a given society. Therefore, the involvement of the youth is the key to the success of any normative framework, including SDGs.

Doing away with the State-Centric nature of environmental governance models and making the community stakeholders directly responsible for the maintenance of natural resources is of significance. The natural environment cannot be circumscribed by artificially created political systems and requires a bottom-up approach for its regulation with people directly engaging with it on the ground level. In this regard, the concept of 'Earth Democracy' as propagated by environmental activist and scholar Vandana Shiva is relevant, wherein she advocates for enhanced public participation and local consultation for sustainable management of ecosystems.

 

[i] Columbia Center on Sustainable Investment (CCSI), et al. SDG6: Clean Water and Sanitation. Sustainable Development Solutions Network, 2016, pp. 33–35, Mapping Mining to the Sustainable Development Goals: An Atlas, www.jstor.org/stable/resrep15880.11. Accessed 4 Aug. 2020.

[ii] Soumya Bhowmick, Tracking India’s Progress in Clean Water and Sanitation: A Sub-National Analysis,

OBSERVER RESEARCH FOUNDATION (26 Jul. 2020,

11:AM),https://www.orfonline.org/research/tracking-indias-progress-in-clean-wat...

national-analysis-67139/

[iii] N.S. Khadka, India Water Crisis Flagged up in Global Report, BBC (Jul.25, 2020, 10:00 PM),

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-49232374

[vi] Siddharth Narrain, The Judicial Go Ahead, FRONT LINE (Jul. 30, 2020, 10:20 PM), https://frontline.thehindu.com/environment/article30219262.ece

[viii] Ministry of Jal Shakti, Draft National Water Policy, GOVERNMENT OF INDIA ( Jul. 26,2020, 9:18 PM), https://pib.gov.in/PressReleasePage.aspx?PRID=1607166

[ix] Express News Service, Government ropes in youths Ganga cleaning programme, NEWS IND. EXP. , Jan. 18, 2017

[x]Shivani Azad, 50 Ganga Praharis from 5 states to undergo training, TIMES OF INDIA (Aug. 4, 2020, 9:18 PM), https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/dehradun/50-ganga-praharis-from...

[xi] Dhananjay Mishra, Efforts of Ganga Prahari Rahman got social support for turtle conservation in Ganga near Sahebgan, Jagran (Aug. 4, 2020, 9:25 PM), https://www.jagran.com/jharkhand/dhanbad-efforts-of-ganga-prahari-rahman...

[xii] Bhavya Sukheja, Ganga Praharis From West Bengal Applauded For Rescuing Stranded Irrawaddy Dolphin REPUBLIC WORLD (Aug. 5, 2020, 8:09 PM), https://www.republicworld.com/entertainment-news/whats-viral/ganga-praha...

[xiii] Moushumi Das Gupta, Only 9 months left for Modi govt’s Namami Gange plan to end and just 37% projects are done, THE PRINT (Jul. 29, 2020, 8:10 PM), https://theprint.in/india/governance/only-9-months-left-for-modi-govts-n... done/377944/#:~:text=New%20Delhi%3A%20With%20a%20little,per%20cent%20of%20the%20projects.