Concrete is chocking the mighty Godavari. The second largest river in the country that waters three states — Maharashtra, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh — during its 1,465-km journey to the Bay of Bengal, is not even a trickle at Trimbakeshwar, where its journey begins.
This summer’s been the worst in more than a century.
The Ram Kund, a tank in the river that is the most important site for the holy dip during the Kumbh in Nashik, ran dry earlier this month, the first time in 139 years. Water from a pond nearby was pumped into it for Gudi Padwa celebrations. A few miles upstream another tank, Kushavart in Trimbakeshwar, only holds stagnant water that stinks --- tankers were used to fill it weeks ago.
Environmentalists had been sounding warnings for years, but no one cared. The authorities poured concrete at many places along the river bed at Trimbakeshwar and Nashik -- misguided attempts at providing facilities for pilgrims and beautification. The result -- the natural springs along its bed that used to recharge the river have been blocked.
In pics | Mighty Godavari runs dry in Maharashtra
“The problem is gigantic,” says water conservation expert Rajendra Singh, who recently travelled from Gangapur in Nashik to Rajahmundry in Andhra Pradesh to study the destruction caused to the Godavari over the years.
“The Godavari is dying,” he sums up. It’s worst in Maharashtra where “the catchment has been left barren by rampant deforestation. So when it rains, all water flows down without any recharge. The river dries up quickly after the rains”.
So now drought stalks the land the Godavari flows through.
Lalita Shinde, trustee of the Trimbakeshwar temple trust, who has been fighting a lone battle to save the Godavari and its catchment areas from land sharks and the stone quarry mafia, says, “As children we saw the channels below the Brahmagiri mountains, where the Godavari originates, filled with water all round the year. They cut down all trees in the catchment area. As if that was not enough, the administration flattened an entire hill during the Kumbh Mela for installing tents.”
As the parent stream flows downhill, it disappears at a point and again springs up in several outlets, including Kushavart, the holy tank at Trimbakeshwar. A number of natural springs again crop up in a larger deep channel that carries the bulk of the seasonal rainfall from the catchment. This channel meets another rivulet, the Ahalya, and their confluence forms the Sangam, the site for the Kumbh.
Shinde says this channel runs dry most of the year now as over the last 30 years the authorities poured concrete along its course, to make bathing ghats for pilgrims during the Kumbh. “As a result, the perennial natural springs sprouting through the bed and stone steps of the channel, including the Vanganga and the Neel Ganga, were blocked,” she says.
Similar is the story with the Aruna, a perennial spring that flowed into the Ramkund. It has disappeared due to concretisation,” says Devang Devang Jani, chairperson of the Godavari Nagri Seva Samiti, a NGO fighting for revival of the river.
Then there is the Gangapur dam built in 1954, which environmentalists call a monumental blunder. The dam is the main source of irrigation and drinking water supply in Nashik district. However, environmentalists say the ill-conceived project destroyed the river ecosystem.
“It is perhaps the only dam built in a catchment area,” points out Jani.
Singh says the state government should immediately enact a law to revive the Godavari. “The catchment area should be immediately preserved to prevent further erosion. Secondly, the concrete on the river bed should be removed at once to let the river breath and natural springs flow again,” says Singh. Otherwise, he warns, the drought will never end.