The NDA government wants to trace back one of ancient India’s well-known rivers, the Saraswati -- and even revive it -- nearly 5,000 years after it went extinct. A more realistic challenge, experts say, is to save existing rivers from dying a slow death.
Water resources minister Uma Bharti told Parliament on Tuesday there was enough scientific evidence on the presence of the river Saraswati in some parts of the country through which it flowed about 5,000-6,000 years ago. She was responding to a “calling attention motion” moved by BJP member Rattan Lal Kataria.
“I have asked authorities to collect information, detect and revive the water sources and the roots of the river. Saraswati is not a myth but scientific evidence is now available to prove its existence,” the minister said.
“Not at all feasible…an impossible task,” said Umesh Chandra Chaube, professor emeritus of water resource development and hydrology at IIT-Roorkee. Chaube said there is no known case of an ancient river being revived anywhere in the world. Land-use patterns change permanently over time, he said. Re-flooding is just not easy, he added.
That would be the equivalent of putting man on the Mars, another hydrology expert, Prof. Roger Evans of US’s Virginia Tech, said.
Bharti said her ministry was taking up the issue very “seriously”. She was speaking on the need to have a Saraswati Research Institute for this purpose.
The facts are a little more complicated than that. Experts indeed have established traces of what is believed to be a major Himalayan-born river system running through north India, which disappeared somewhere in what is now the sandy Jaiselmer terrain. But in December 2004, then UPA minister Jaipal Reddy told Rajya Sabha that there was no official evidence of any location of river Saraswati despite much research.
Discoveries of a river system in the 90s by French scientists and then by the Indian Space Research Centre’s remote sensing services centre, Jodhpur, do match some attributes of the Saraswati mentioned in ancient Hindu scriptures called the Vedas. “Therefore it is possible that this river system could have been the Saraswati, although it will be require much more research to prove it conclusively,” said Archaeological Survey of India’s additional director general BR Mani.