by Major Prabhakar Singh (Retd)
It is a fact that more than 75% of Indian rivers are based upon underground water. The underground water is the result of rainwater successfully permeating beneath surface of earth. This water recharges sub surface water sources i.e. aquifers depending upon geological conditions. The same water oozes out through aquifers, later on, on a large scale to maintain river flow. The excessive demand of water by an exploding population has depleted water sources at various subsurface levels. The rain water is plentiful but most of it goes back to its source i.e. sea. It is high time that rainwater is fully utilized to recharge underground water sources up to the brim so that the flow of river is maintained. The process is known as “River Rejuvenation” which is a herculean task based upon scientific and technical inputs. It also demands earnest participation by all and sundry in entire catchment and basin areas of a river including government agencies.
The river-based studies and work experience has brought out a few points which can be considered by planners, executive bodies, govt agencies and stakeholders dealing with River rejuvenation.
- Depleting Deeper Underground Water: Excess withdrawal of deeper underground water i.e. 150 ft and more, is matter of concern. This water accumulated over thousands of years at deeper depths, is being depleted at alarmingly faster rate. Recharging naturally is not easy as heaviest rainfall may recharge up to shallow depths while comparatively little amount reaching lower depths. Owing to movement of tectonic plates, underground water from aquifer rushes to river as environmental flow so continuity of river is maintained. It may not materialize now as the gap accrued through direct withdrawal of water will be filled first. Hence continuity of water moving up will be affected in turn affecting river flow. The river will flow only till subsurface water is available. Thus recharging of aquifer system through various means and deeper underground water particularly through existing and abandoned bore wells need to be considered. Further such stored water will be a boon during drought.
- Public Participation in Afforestation: Many an unsuccessful attempts were made by forest department about public participation owing to various reasons. Public or for that matter anybody gets interested in a project if there is worthwhile return. A guaranteed income for life time from the trees planted without ownership may attract people for participation in Forest restoration. We can take an example. Suppose a person plants and maintains 100 neem trees in a forest. A neem tree starts bearing fruits during 7th year. A healthy neem tree yields 35-50 kg fruits called Nimoli. Present rate of Nimoli is Rs 7-12 per kg depending upon quality. Taking Rs 10/- per kg for 35 kg yield per tree, the total income would be Rs 35000/-. This income will be guaranteed income every year rather pension as no maintenance is required once the tree has grown up. There are many such trees like neem, karanj, mahua, castor and kusum etc (akin to cash crop) with deeper roots, facilitating surface water to recharge deeper arteries. Agrosilvopastoral system too can be considered towards the same aim. Incidentally local forest dwellers otherwise have right on forest yield.
- Right to water and corresponding responsibility towards conservation: A citizen has right for water but no responsibility for wastage and misuse. Excess use also falls in this category. At the same time, a citizen’s contribution towards water conservation needs to be rewarded. One of the reasons for drying up of perennial rivers is excess withdrawal of water towards agriculture and industrial uses. Water supply in town is being charged as well as canal water but water lifted from rivers directly and extracted through wells/bore wells by using motor is not being charged. Incidentally maximum water is being drawn from these two sources. It cannot be stopped but certainly can be taxed. Such tax can be utilized towards water related projects. People contributing in water conservation can be exempted from the tax appropriately and rewarded as well. At the same time, cropping pattern needs to be changed as per water availability in the area. Drip and sprinkler irrigation must be promoted to increase the water use efficiency. Recycle and reuse of industrial waste water should be initiated.
- Religious touch to public participation: Every religion has treated water & water sources with reverence. Hindu scriptures consider rivers as Goddess and so worshipped them. Hence rejuvenating a river is almost like a work totally devoted to God / Goddess. Moslem scriptures lay a lot of emphasis on purity and protection of water sources. River also falls in that category. AABE HAYAT refers to sacred water. Same way Christianity reveres holy water. Baptism is performed by sprinkling water on head or immersing in water. Words uttered by religious Gurus in every religion/sect are taken as gospel truth by their followers. They even have ability to marshal people towards holy movement. If religious leaders jump in fray then public mobilization becomes easier. Duly motivated religious leaders from all religions and sects have the capacity to achieve wonderful results. At our ends we have to make them realize their potential to mobilize people for holy cause which is otherwise service to Nature and God almighty.
- Two Complimentary Detailed Project Reports: Generally river related projects aim at regulating flow of water by means of check dams, stop dams and associated structures at and around the river. This act helps in recharging aquifers in vicinity by stored water. Same water gets released later to ensure availability of water throughout the year. For a perennial river, massive area of catchment and basin needs to be recharged. Thus related structures based upon water retention capacity of soil/rocks/ water arteries, in the entire area, needs to be considered. Technology for water specific surveys and suitable recommendations encompassing entire area is available with water specific Govt and civil organizations. It is recommended to opt for two DPRs i.e. Technical and Financial. The technical DPR can be assigned to a Govt organisation specializing in water and Geology for hydrological and geological inputs and recommendations thereof for suitable structures in entire catchment and basin area. Financial DPR then can be prepared by the suitable civil engineering Agency.