Rivers are flowing off-course

Officials need to pull up their socks on conservation measures

Published: Thursday 15 June 2006

-- despite a well-funded river-conservation (clean-up) programme set up by the government over a decade ago, our rivers are in terminal condition. Let's take a look at the progress we have made. An increasing number of clean rivers have changed course to join "polluted" stretches. Government is continuously repeating its mistakes. Sewage, which needs to be treated in treatment plants before it can be released into rivers, is being released without any treatment. And blueprints for full-fledged hardware programmes are being made, needless to say, with huge investments. Public money is being wasted. The progress of the river conservation programme is hardly encouraging. We need to ensure both adequate flow and good quality of water. The two are interlinked -- quality determines quantity and the amount of flow determines the level of dilution, hence quality. This connection is forgotten in today's context of unplanned urbanisation.

Let's take the case of Almora in Uttaranchal. Almora today has a severe drinking water crisis. The reason is the Kosi river, which is the main source of drinking water, is drying up fast. The springs that used to feed this river have also been drying over many decades. Besides, the system of water harvesting and recharge has been replaced with a centralised water supply system, which is a disincentive for community participation in maintaining traditional water source.

In its desperation, cities are extracting freshwater from rivers and returning sewage into them. Agra is a case in point (see p 32-33). The town, which receives "polluted" water from the Yamuna as it flows downstream from Delhi, treats it for drinking, but ends up polluting the water even more. This water, as it goes further downstream, gets only worse. Under the Yamuna Action Plan, Rs 72 crore has been spent inAgra to create only infrastructure, and that too to release 100-200 million litres per day of untreated waste into rivers. Moreover, whatever is treated does not meet the discharge norms of the Central Pollution Control Board. Officials are turning a blind eye to such blatant violations.

Cities should source water from downstream so that they understand the importance of cleaning up their act. It's time we think of alternate solutions, rather than just spending crores on infrastructure only. Otherwise, we will end up running endless (and directionless) action plans, with no results.

Subscribe to Daily Newsletter :

Comments are moderated and will be published only after the site moderator’s approval. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name. Selected comments may also be used in the ‘Letters’ section of the Down To Earth print edition.