A new initiative on river rejuvenation has been recently launched and in this connection a meeting was organized at IARI on 21 October 2018. Mr Sanjay Gupta has been on the forefront of this initiative and he has visited our office to seek ET’s cooperation in this common cause.  In the beginning, Sanjay Gupta read out the names of individuals/organizations working on the different facets of water/river, work they are doing and are associated with this network. He also gave a brief on the necessity of river rejuvenation. The participant in today’s meeting are engaged on diverse issues related with water and a gist of their talks are given below.

  • A professional forester spoke at length about his experiences regarding waterbodies of Delhi. He informed that he conducted detailed work on waterbodies of Delhi and their current status – dry, wet, encroached, converted into parks, etc. Overall, there are 961/971 waterbodies in Delhi.
  • For the first time, in the Draft Housing Policy of the Master Plan Development of Urban Planning, Blue Area Policy has been introduced in order to protect the waterbodies within the urban area.
  • The increasing use of water and air purifiers in the homes as a consequence of increased water and air pollution came under discussion and it was mentioned that democratization in water and air rights is required urgently, as it is dividing society in ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’ with reference to purifiers. The extensive waste from purifiers has become a major concern as it needs safe disposal. Further, the purifiers extrct all the salts from water, including those beneficial for our bodies, literally converting water into a mere liquid just enough to quench thirst only.
  • Waterlogging and salinization in increasing in Haryana at an alarming rate – every year more and more land is coming under waterlogging and as per conservative estimates in next decade 12% of Haryana’s agricultural land will go out of production due to waterlogging alone. Coupled with it is increasing salinization due to increasing temperature. The higher temperature lead to vaporization of soil moisture, rendering it drier and gradually concentration of salts increases. The exact extent of area under salinization in the coming decade is yet to be estimated but it will be substantial.
  • Mewat and Jhalawad areas of Rajasthan have become like the cancer-belt of Punjab. Owing to extensive use of chemicals in agricultural fields, the chemicals have leached into groundwater and transformed it in carcinogenic water. The extensive use of groundwater by the rural communities in these areas has increased the number of cancer-patients manifold.
  • Similarly Chromium concentration in the soil is increasing in Ghaziabad and its source is, once again cryptically embedded in the groundwater contamination.
  • Blind groundwater recharge everywhere is drastically affecting the quality of groundwater, especially after making recharge mandatory for the industries. There is an acute need to bring required adequate changes in the existing legislation that only treated water shall be used for recharge.
  • Similarly, water – including the groundwater – in area around Hindon is found to be heavily polluted by the industrial wastewater. The irony is that setting up industrial units in the area is prohibited under law yet there exists many industries. When authorities were contacted by the concerned citizens, officials declined to take cognizance of the issue, as according to them, there are no industries in the area. They pathetically request citizens that please do not raise this issue during my tenure and wait for the next incumbent. So the main question is – how come the area is mushrooming with large number of industries in a prohibited area? Who has given permission? Or more precisely, during which official/s posting, the necessary clearance were granted? As is the norm with the government, there is no system of accountability and the officials responsible never get punished, emboldening them to do more such cases.
  • One participant expressed concern on the use of contaminated water in colonies of Dwarka area in Delhi. Further, the increased saline content in groundwater may damage/corrode the foundations of many colonies.
  • A participant (from National Physical Laboratory, Delhi) talked about the air pollution in Delhi. He informed that the monitoring of air quality (2.5 and 10 particles) is being done on daily basis, round the clock. It was mentioned that burning ‘parali’ (crop butts left in agricultural field, after harvesting) is blamed for air pollution in Delhi but the role of vehicular pollution is overlooked. Delhi has more than 1 Crore vehicles, a substantial part of these is 15/20 years old and additionally another big chunk belong to diesel vehicles and hence source of massive pollution. It is a case of blaming a weaker section, which can’t assert itself, rather than finding workable solutions, so after blaming they continue doing business as usual.
  • An interesting fact, scientifically tested, was brought to the knowledge of people. The ordinary dust particle outside Delhi are not at all harmful but once they enter Delhi, they get a multiple coating of different pollutants and in the process changing their structure and heaviness. This heaviness does not allow them to ascend and they swim in and around our homes, markets and other spaces, eventually making Delhi’ air deadly. The slicing of these particles and their detailed microscopic studies has proved this sequel.
  • Another aspect related to it is that wind velocity in North India is gradually getting weaker and consequently its capacity to uplift heavy particles too has decreased. The weakening of wind velocity is due to slowly changing meteorological conditions, directly or obliquely related to climatic changes.
  • An important issue in the instrumentation of pollution monitoring is non-calibration. No two instruments for measuring the concentration of 2.5 and 10 size particles show the broadly same reading and sometimes this variation is diametrically opposed! Thus there is an urgent need for standardization of instruments aimed at measuring pollution levels.
  • The issue of getting young minds’ attention toward environmental and ecological issues is very important as they have to deal with it in future not so distant. The setting up of 2000 ‘Eco Clubs’ in 2000 government schools has yielded good results. Each school is granted Rs. 20,000/- per year for various activities children undertake. Actually, setting up of ‘Eco Clubs’ shall be made mandatory in all the schools – be it government or private. Similar possibility should be explored with the ‘Resident Welfare Societies’ of different colonies so that the level of awareness among children and their parents should be increased.
  • Plantation should be the main focus, especially in schools and river banks. Each student shall be made responsible to take care of the sapling s/he has planted to ensure its survival, by taking timely care and watering from time to time.
  • A participant engaged in preparing pollution management plans narrated his experience in Cyber City Gurgaon. The proposal for creating a Cyber City in Gurgaon was lying with the government in cold because the proponents were able to provide a water source for the colony they were planning. Then they contacted him. Since no nearby water source is available, it was decided to purchase polluted sewage water, flowing nearby, treat it thoroughly and reuse this water within the colony. Only after submitting this ‘plan for water’ to the authorities, permission was granted to construct Cyber City Gurgaon. The colony collectively purchase sewage water flowing within the stretch of their colony’s vicinity from the municipality and treat it in a plant established by themselves. This water is used by the residents and water coming out of the homes of the colony is also sent to treatment plant. Thus Cyber City Gurgaon has achieved self-sustainability in terms of water.
  • In Delhi, on an average 45,000 families reside in Delhi, out of which about 25,000 live in the planned houses and rest live in jhuggi-jhopdi clusters, spread all over the city. Our approach should be ‘reach to unreached’ by working with these 20,000 families and inculcate the value of cleanliness, hygiene and their inter-linkages with environment and ecology.
  • A successful case of river rejuvenation in Aurangabad was mentioned by a participant. Community participation was critical factor to inculcate the sense of belongingness and ownership in this process. Though government has offered help but keeping in mind the sense of belongingness, it was politely declined. After doing various different task aimed at restoring water, we waited for the monsoon. For the first time in last 70 years, river started flowing in a 40 km long stretch. This year we are working on the downstream part of river, so that by next monsoon the river throughout its entire length will be a flowing river.
  • Similar kind of work is being done in Osmanabad and it is expected that before the monsoon 2019, the work will be completed so that the results will be visible next year.
  • A major discussion was on the pollution from plastic and its unsafe disposal. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, like many other pronouncements, has also made a declaration to get rid of single use plastic by 2022. India has also brought an enactment – “Extended Producer Responsibility Act (EPRA) 2016” – to deal with the negative impacts of material load. The EPRA provides a transitory period of five years to end use of plastic in a phased manner – first year 20%, second year 40%, third year 60%, fourth year 80%, and fifth year 100%.
  • EPRA 2016 puts the onus of safe disposal of plastic, used/made by the companies (in the form of pouch, bags, sachets, and other material-holding articles) on themselves. For instance, if a company uses 500 tons of plastic in a year than it must collect 500 tons of used plastic in a year and safely dispose it. Thus the company has to put some incentives, like purchasing it back from families at a nominal payment, say Rs. 10 per bag or container. Under the existing plan, it is perceived to send these collected plastics to cement factories where these can be burned at very high temperature so that the fumes polluting atmosphere are taken care of.
  • In response to it, industrial and commercial units have constituted ‘Plastic Waste Management Consortium’ in which some of the major companies using highest amount of plastics are members – Coca Cola, Pepsi, ITC, etc. But strong ‘vigilance and monitoring systems’ will need for this exercise to be successful with community participation. These will bear fruits within a decade and one has to wait till then.
  • It was informed that Maharashtra has completely banned the production and use of plastic in the state. Some other states have also followed it but it has been found that so far considerable success is achieved only in Maharashtra only.
  • It was also mentioned that Vidya Bharati in all its schools spread all over India, has banned use of plastic.
  • Rampant use of plastic bags has been seen in the residential complexes. One successful example to replace plastic was given by a participant. He collected all the used waste clothes from the homes of his residential multi-storey colony. He found a nearby tailor and got bags stitched from all these collected clothes. All these cloth bags were put in a big bucket at the entrance of the house. Any person going to purchase something from the nearby shop/market can pick up bag for fetching articles and after using it put this cloth bag, back in the bucket.
  • In Khelghat (Khandwa), plantation along the banks of Narmada River has produced wonderful results. Plantation was started 15 years back, first along the banks and then gradually going towards interior. As a result a very good food forest/agro-forest has come in existence in a 70 acre area. Because they are grown as forest so no chemicals/fertilizers/ pesticides are used for their growth. It has revived soil moisture, forests, wild life, water table, availability of herbs, Vetiver (खस) grass (and its role in arresting soil erosion), river water purification, soil aridity, carbon sink, and many more.

[Vetiver is a large tufted bunchgrass and can reach up to 1.5 metres (5 feet) in height. The thin leaves and stems are erect and rigid, and the plant bears small brown-purple flowers in long spikes. The fragrant roots grow downward in the soil and can attain depths of more than 3 metres (10 feet)].

  • A 1.5 year old plant of Vetiver grass absorbs carbon equivalent to the carbon capture by a 30 year old tree. But what is little known about Vetiver is that its root cures cancer. More than 70% of human body is composed of water and it has been found that cancer patient have high acidic pH values. Roots of Vetiver grass bring down the higher pH values to normal, inside the human body and thereby curing cancer.

In a nutshell, individuals and people’ collectives are working throughout the length and width of the country for improving the pathetic state of rivers, including their rejuvenation. It is the need of the hour to bring all such efforts to a common platform in order to integrate such efforts as well as learn from each other. Hopefully, this initiative will fill existing gap in this direction.

Author – Arun Kumar Singh