Catchment restoration remains the mantra
Water security requires healthy rivers. Healthy rivers need perennial or prolonged flows . They require well vegetated and protected catchments. An accountable catchment restoration scheme can address water scarcity far better than controversial river-linking schemes
Much before mining, sporting events and intangibles like ‘spectrum’ became common knowledge as fountainheads of corruption, catchment treatment works relating to the river valley projects (RVP) were rated quite high on the corruption index!
Whether these involved civil works like construction of gulley plugs, or anicuts of various shapes and sizes or the raising of catchment enrichment plantations, the fundamental objective was to prevent fast runoff and subsequent soil loss from forests and farm lands and to facilitate the rain water to stand and infiltrate into the ground and replenish the underground aquifers, which in the hills, fed and maintained the perennial springs and rivulets.
Now why do we call these as the original, although not the only, fountainhead of corruption is the fact that most such projects implemented in far flung and often inaccessible areas could not be monitored well enough to account for their quantity and quality and thus often left scope for corruption. The funds came from River Valley Projects (RVP) and since the funding agency and the executing agency (forest or revenue department) were different, accountability was an easy casualty. RVP authorities had better and more pressing things at hand and the implementing authorities and the departments were doing somebody else’s job, so why bother? In short there was a huge mismatch between the work and the purpose. Larger picture was absent and in any case siltation of a RVP reservoir and its ill effects if any, could be decades away?
So, the reason, that we still dare suggest, catchment restoration as the ‘mantra’ is because, once a larger picture is in hand and it is the local people who are given to plan and implement things with a purpose and an in built IT based accountability handle, then there could be no greater, easier and surer impact program involving the state agencies, the masses, and the non government professionals including corporates.
Allow me to elucidate!
We need water security in the land. To ensure the same we must have healthy rivers. Healthy rivers need perennial or prolonged flows in them. Well vegetated and protected catchment of each and every spring, stream or rivulet that feeds a larger river can ensure sustained flows.
Eight major river systems viz., Ganga, Brahmaputra, Sindhu (Indus), Mahanadi, Narmada, Godavari, Krishna and Kaveri straddle the Indian landmass. Then there are small but significant stand alone river systems along our coasts. In short most parts of our nation can be identified as part of this or that river catchment.
So, keeping the nation’s geography and the big picture in mind let the designated experts and professionals draw up catchment restoration plan/s at the micro-level in a manner that every rivulet in the land gets covered and the relevant gram sabha gets identified and involved in the exercise from the day one. A thorough and transparent system of IT based reporting and accountability is built into the plans to prevent slippages and pilferages.
In short the larger picture, the river, the purpose, the key players and the manner of accountability becomes crystal clear from the very beginning.
Now once the larger picture is in view, imagine the amount of enthusiasm and the clarity and sincerity of purpose with which for example, a gram sabha in a micro-watershed, say in the Bhilwara district in Rajasthan, falling within the river Ganga-Yamuna catchment, shall take up its bit of the catchment restoration work/s once it realizes that its work is in service of and ultimately going to restore the Ganga mata. (mother Ganga). And even more importantly that their waters’ is perhaps as much part of the magical Ganga jal as is the one which is found at Gangotri or at the Yamunotri?
Such an eventuality would help the nation ward off controversial schemes like the ‘river-linking’ proposed in the name of ensuring water security in the country.
*manoj misra is the Convenor of Yamuna Jiye Abhiyaan.