‘Citizens need to help save rivers’ - Hindustan Times
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‘Citizens need to help save rivers’

By, Kolkata
Jan 23, 2021 05:43 AM IST

“It should be a people’s movement. Each and every state and district in the river’s catchment area and every citizen should be involved in this movement,” Kalyan Rudra, a Kolkata-based expert on rivers and water bodies and chairman of the West Bengal Pollution Control Board, said at the Hindustan Times Environment Conclave.

A decentralised approach involving every citizen is needed to save India’s rivers from pollution, experts said on Friday, suggesting use of the Public Trust Doctrine -- the tenet that the state holds some resources in trust for public use -- against municipal councils and industries to stop them from soiling water bodies.

Experts also said that it was not just rising temperatures, but change in the rainfall pattern and delayed monsoon that were taking their toll on the health of rivers.(HT photo)
Experts also said that it was not just rising temperatures, but change in the rainfall pattern and delayed monsoon that were taking their toll on the health of rivers.(HT photo)

“It should be a people’s movement. Each and every state and district in the river’s catchment area and every citizen should be involved in this movement,” Kalyan Rudra, a Kolkata-based expert on rivers and water bodies and chairman of the West Bengal Pollution Control Board, said at the Hindustan Times Environment Conclave.

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“We think that rivers are one common pool resource to pollute. In our Constitution, water resources are held in public trust. We have to use the Public Trust Doctrine to apply stringent provisions against permitting municipal bodies or industries from polluting rivers,” said Arunabha Ghosh, chief executive officer of the Council on Energy, Environment and Water.

Climate change is compounding the problem of river pollution because rising temperatures were leading to the melting of glaciers in the Himalayas and the flow of water in many perennial rivers is likely to get reduced, Ghosh said. “Our river management has to factor in the broader climate risks. There are enough agricultural practices, community-based social capital existing in the country, traditional knowledge and modern technology that can be brought together with the right incentive structure,” said Ghosh.

Experts also said that it was not just rising temperatures, but change in the rainfall pattern and delayed monsoon that were taking their toll on the health of rivers. Less water is infiltrating into the ground, resulting in a huge run-off, and delayed monsoons are forcing farmers to exploit ground water resources more, they said.

“India consumes more ground water than the US and China combine does... we are putting in pesticides and fertilisers [in groundwater]. It is a double whammy for ground water,” Ghosh added.

“In some areas like Allahabad we can just walk across the river in February. Thanks to the water that is being brought in by some rivers from Nepal like Kosi and Gandak the Ganga is rejuvenated,” said Rudra.

Both Rudra and Ghosh concurred that ecological flow of a river is not an arithmetic equation that allows us to divert a certain percentage of the river water. Instead, they said, the river is a hydrological entity and its hydrological cycle should not be stopped or hindered.

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