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Shrinking Rivers:IMPERATIVE TO SAVE GANGA, by Dhurjati Mukherjee, 19 Aug, 2010 Print E-mail

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New Delhi, 19 August 2010

Shrinking Rivers


By Dhurjati Mukherjee


A recent study of 900 rivers in the world has found that the Ganga is one of the world’s rapidly shrinking rivers. One of the country’s most culturally and economically important rivers, the Ganga is among 45 in the study that showed a statistically significant reduction in discharge to the ocean. This group includes the Colombia, Mississippi, Niger, Parana, Congo and a few others.


According to the study titled, Changes in Continental Freshwater Discharge, conducted by the National Centre for Atmospheric Research in Colorado, the Ganga in 2004 had 20% less water than it did 56 years ago. In the coming decades, it is likely to shrink even faster and could disappear in another 50 years.


Importantly, the waning of the Ganga has huge ecological and economic ramifications for India. It will reduce the country’s supply of drinking water and water for irrigation. The region will lose a crucial vehicle for channeling sewage into the sea.  More. The Ganga is losing water for two reasons: One, the glaciers that feed it are in retreat which means they are losing mass. Two, rainfall in the region has been decreasing over the years.


In fact, most climate models predict a weaker monsoon over South Asia as carbon-dioxide induced warming continues. Especially against the known backdrop that glaciers all over the world are in retreat because of global warning. Moreover, rainfall over North India has gradually fallen over the years. The causes may be attributed to the El Niño effect, atmosphere above the Indian Ocean becoming warmer and the weakening of the South-west monsoon.   


Temperature fluctuations have become the order of the day and may be related to global warning, point out recent reports. The increase in floods, droughts and other natural calamities especially in the tropical countries are also linked to the El Niño effect.


Apart from the Ganga, the Yamuna too has been under threat. A report prepared by the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI) largely in the context of the Delhi stretch observed that “the river too has died its natural death without fresh water from upstream”. As per official data in the 11th Plan document, the Yamuna’s BOD (biochemical oxygen demand) level recorded in Delhi’s Nizamuddin Bridge is 31, the figure for the Agra canal is 28 while at Mathura, Agra city and Etawah it  is around 15 (summer average, March-June, 2006).


These figures reveal that despite massive amounts spent under the Yamuna Action Plan and the Ganga Action Plan (Phase I and II) along-with other major tributaries of the two rivers for cleaning, there is massive pollution in both the rivers primarily because of industrial effluents and sewage. With the result the mission of these action plans have virtually failed. It is estimated that around Rs 1000 crores or more have been spent on the Ganga Action Plan over the last 15 years.   


It may be mentioned here that in India, as also in many other countries, pollution of rivers has been a big problem. The developing world, particularly India and China, needs to learn from Europe’s experience of reviving and maintaining rivers. In our country, the Supreme Court judgments on reviving and maintaining rivers have been quite significant but not much effective action has been taken in this regard.


The projects that have been taken up are far from satisfactory and not efficiently monitored. According to the 2006 official audit of the Ganga Action Plan, only 39-40% of its sewage treatment target had been accomplished. Scandalously, the Plan is behind schedule by over 13 years. The same holds true of the Yamuna Action Plan where progress has also been far from satisfactory. 


Further, in the case of Yamuna, apart from the problem of sewage entering the river, the large-scale extraction of water for drinking and irrigation purposes, in the upstream of Delhi had led to negligible flow in the river after Wazirabad. According to an Environment Ministry report this has resulted in creating a bigger difficulty. This problem has also been witnessed in Kolkata (of the Hooghly river, an offshoot of the Ganga) after the water-sharing agreement formula was signed between India and Bangladesh.


Moreover, some States are facing severe water crisis, both in the urban and rural areas. While Assam and Bihar face floods almost every year or once in two years Rajasthan is hit by severe drought.


Meanwhile the 11th Plan has aimed at expanding irrigation by 2.5 million hectares a year, and, at meetings of the National Development Council (NDC), most States have voiced the need for more allocations for increasing their irrigated area. In such a scenario, there is need for judicious management of water and ensuring its optimum use throughout the country.


In addition, due to a rapid rise in the pace of industrialization and urbanization in the coming years, demands of water would increase considerably. It is thus necessary that these major rivers be protected and all matters pertaining to water sharing, water pollution and water management have to be seriously examined by the Central authorities. And, if necessary, in consultation with the respective State Governments.


It is in this context that the question of inter-linking of rivers needs to be re-considered judiciously by experts, taking into consideration the geological, environmental, economic and practical aspects.         


It is also necessary that Himalayan rivers be allowed to meander. For this vast stretches of free river banks would be needed as these rivers perform the crucial role of conserving flood and rain waters in the absorbent land. This ecological role is particularly important for cities like Delhi that face water shortage.


Experts also opine that concrete structures should not be built on river bank lands and ‘flood plains’ should be opposed in view of the fact that substantial parts of these plains have already been lost to the urban sprawl. Therefore, what remains need to be saved. 


Clearly, with rivers drying up and being deprived of the minimum requirement of fresh water, the consequences would be disastrous unless specific steps are taken at this juncture. Already, the per capita water availability is declining and India is expected to fall in the list of ‘water-stressed’ countries’ by the year 2014-15. Add to this the problem of ground-water contamination which has seen a jump in water-borne diseases we have a first-rate crisis on hand. Needless to say, a water management and river conservation plan needs to be drawn up to recharge our water resources and save them. ----- INFA


(Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)











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