“There are many rivers in India, at least on the map, but they have no water. Many rivers have dried up. If we do not take up the responsibility of protecting rivers, it will cause great harm to mankind”. This was Prime Minister Narendra Modi during the releasing of ‘Narmada Pravah’— a work plan for the river Narmada for policy work and conservation. Conservation of rivers including the Ganga was one of the key manifesto promises of the National Democratic Alliance government, which completes three years later this month.
The PM is correct. The state of Indian rivers is pitiable. The Indian subcontinent is home to seven major rivers systems and more than 400 rivers. Many originate from the Himalayan glaciers as well as forested catchments and find their way either to the Bay of Bengal or to the Arabian Sea. But anthropogenic pressures have adversely affected the river system, which has been indiscriminately dammed, diverted, channelised, encroached upon and polluted. Rivers, as ecosystems, have been neglected. At last year’s Indian River’s Week, experts conferred on this important question: What needs to be done to save India’s rivers? “Rivers know just one religion – that is to flow,” said late Anupam Mishra, who was the chairman, organising committee of the meet. While acknowledging greater investments and focus from the government’s side, he indicated that unless these are backed by the right kind of measures to involve the communities long term success will not be achieved. Other measures must include: Restoration of water bodies, improvement of groundwater levels, which has impact on river flow and
He was spot on. If Indian states have to improve the state of the rivers, they have to involve communities. And there are several examples of how communities have revived rivers in India. India’s waterman and Ramon Magsaysay Awardee Rajendra Singh showed that the importance of community involvement when he rejuvenated the streams of Aravari river in Alwar district of Rajasthan. Recently there was another heartwarming story from Kerala: The Kuttemperoor river in Alappuzha district had been a cesspool full of pollutants and weeds for about 10 years. But it was recently revived thanks to the Budhanoor Gram Panchayat.