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Mired in murky waters

For a nation that believes that rivers are its spiritual lifeline, Indians seem to pay scant attention to preserving them.

india Updated: Mar 22, 2007 06:01 IST

For a nation that believes that rivers are its spiritual lifeline and source of sustenance, Indians seem to pay scant attention to preserving them. A World Wildlife Fund study shows that the Ganga is one of the 10 endangered rivers in the world as also the Indus that drains from India. Water extraction, dam construction and pollution are killing almost all of India’s rivers, the problem being acute in the Ganga. The Yamuna river, which is a major source of water for the capital, is today a filthy choked drain with thousands of tonnes of sewage and industrial effluents being poured into it.

The Ganga that attracts pilgrims and tourists by their hordes is a reeking cesspit full of garbage and even half- burnt corpses. As far back as 1986, an ambitious Ganga Action Plan was drawn up to save the mystic river from the ravages of pollution and overuse. Years later, the Supreme Court expressed its displeasure at the gross misutilisation of funds meant to clean the river. Then we came up with a rather far-fetched plan of releasing a breed of scavenging turtles into the river. This boomeranged when the locals netted the turtles and sold them for the flesh. Every now and again, we see politicians kicking off a river-cleaning campaign. But once the photo-ops are over, its back to dirty business as usual.

Millions of people depend on rivers for their livelihoods and sustenance. They contain thousands of species of fish and aquatic flora. All this will literally go down the drain unless drastic action is taken. Pie-in-the-sky schemes like river-linking are recipes for disaster. Different riverine systems can be linked only through artificial diversion of rivers and bring with it attendant problems like soil erosion and silting. India needs proper monitoring and management of its riverine systems. It is not enough to launch action plans once the river is polluted beyond measure. It has to be an ongoing process. Dam construction should be done only when other water management schemes are not feasible. Above all, the government must understand that centralised solutions framed by bureaucrats and experts do not always work. The local communities who depend on rivers must be involved. This is the only way to soothe our troubled waters.