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Saving our lifelines

Saving our lifelines

Rivers have been the lifelines of civilisations since time immemorial. In fact, such was the prominence of rivers that settlements grew around it with rivers being the constant source of nourishment to these human settlements. Food and water were the primary requirements besides cutting a beautiful picture across cities that would emerge in passing centuries. Home to inland fisheries and water, these rivers only saw the settlements around it grow into gigantic cities compared to older times with a massive increase in population. It was only natural that the requirement for food and water from these very rivers would rise but to find them in a state of utter dismay with polluted water and dying fishes were not planned. As civilisations advanced and times changed, industries found their way near river banks and thus started the incessant process of discharging industrial waste in rivers–the so-called lifelines of human settlements. The river water continued to be tapped for fulfilling growing demands but less effort was made to regulate industrial discharge into these rivers–crucial aspect in the regional eco-system. While that was both the global phenomena and a problem, India had a supplementary issue with its rivers. For their quality of being worshipped and deeply synched with the cultural andr traditional background of local inhabitants, rivers emerged as holy fronts meant for religious customs. Thus came the inherent habit of polluting our holy rivers with traditional customs such as dumping idols and ashes. Though they would not be at a level of industrial discharge when it comes to pollution, the habit of polluting rivers found its way in the back of the collective Indian psyche. Generations passed and the modern era finally met with river pollution as a grave reality. It was not hard to determine the difference as people who had once seen these very rivers blossom–or at least flow and be in a normal state–today found them indistinguishable when kept with sewers. The Yamuna, for instance, serves this example all too well. The largest tributary of the holiest river in the Indian Subcontinent, Ganga, flew right across the city of Delhi–seat of the Mughals and later the independent government of India. With the Capital of India on its banks, Yamuna did not have to face adversity in order to attract the Centre's eye. But Yamuna's tragedy is that it kept degrading despite flowing right in front of everyone, portraying conspicuous signs of degradation which yielded no more than sporadic arguments. And, the same can be said for several rivers which succumbed or are on the verge of succumbing to the imposing cities that came into existence from minor settlements. Ganga, the apple of our eyes, grabbed headlines even as its tributaries were severely exploited. But even Ganga could not attract massive implementation of the requisite recommendations apt for its rejuvenation. The ambitious Ganga rejuvenation plan that was discussed in the corridors of the previous government had little to show at the end of their tenure. But, the idea was flagged and the misery of rivers had reached the masses. A layman could see and tell that our rivers are dying. The CPCB has identified 351 polluted river stretches on 323 rivers during 2018, as informed by Minister of State for Environment Babul Supriyo. It has to be understood that river pollution is also the adversity which directly involves the water picture of India. Few city rivers have been completely dumped with industrial waste that has pulled them beyond the point of rejuvenation it seems yet the hope's intact to care for them for they will be extinguished if proper heed is not provided. It is not like the dispensation did not take into account the major fall in its Ganga ambitions, or for that matter the general river rejuvenation plans. It is the analysis of the previous failure when the Ganga rejuvenation project was under the MoEFF and CC that expectations under the new Jal Shakti Ministry remain high.

Under the National River Conservation Plan (NRCP), over 5,800 crores have been sanctioned for pollution abatement in 34 river stretches in 16 states. Babul Supriyo apprised the Lok Sabha recently that out of the total outlay, the Centre has already released the sanctioned sum of 2,522 crores to states for their respective rivers. He also stated how in the last one year, 143 crores have been released to nine states for pollution abatement in rivers under NRCP. Outlay, as expected, is in place and implementation is both the challenge and the key. But looking at the Yamuna, the growing optimism suffers a setback. Delhi and the states require to be led by example and in this federal setup, it is the Central government upon which falls the onus to lead by example. Bringing in recommendations offered by the consortium of IITs for river conservation and management will yield priceless dividends for our future generations and we ought to contribute in the same if we want to save our lifelines.

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