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Uttarakhand’s Heval River rejuvenation – Role of people’s participation in river conservation

Uttarakhand’s Heval River rejuvenation – Role of people’s participation in river conservation

Relevance

  • GS 3 || Environment || Biodiversity || Conservation Efforts

Why in the news?

  • Dharam Singh Meena, divisional forest officer of Narendra Nagar forest division in Uttarakhand, has earned the moniker ‘Bhagirathi Ji’ because of his stellar contribution to rejuvenating the Heval river. Over one lakh people in 23 villages and Chamba town get their drinking and irrigation water from the river.
  • The sudden increment in runoff water during the monsoon becomes catastrophic for farmers in the area. A project started in 2018 to rejuvenate dying springs, streams, and the riverbed

Details about the river Heval

  • The Heval, at an altitude of over 8,000 feet, is one of the tributaries of the Ganga and is formed by the confluence of small streams in the Tehri district of the Uttrakhand state. “An innovative geo-hydrological study based on spring-shed technique was adopted.
  • Most of the Heval river flows through the reserve forest area with a watershed area of 25466.33 hectares, which means no interference from any other department. In time, they decided to do their bit for the river and launched the ‘Heval River Rejuvenation’

River pollution/Water bodies degradation in India

  • In 2018, India’s Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) recognized 351 contaminated river sections.
  • Polluted River Stretches Concentration: Maharashtra, Assam, Madhya Pradesh, Kerala, Gujarat, Odisha, West Bengal, and Karnataka account for about 60% of polluted river lengths.
  • The state of Maharashtra has the most polluted river lengths in the country.

Factors responsible for the Pollution of rivers

Factors aggravated by anthropogenic activities – mining, the release of industrial waste, smelting of ore, incineration of fossil fuel, particularly coal – had forced the river to dry up.

  • Industries:Unrestricted flow of sewage and industrial effluents into the rivers has adversely affected their purity. All ​these ​industrial ​wastes are ​toxic to life ​forms that ​consume this ​water.
  • Agricultural ​Runoff and Improper ​Agricultural ​Practices:​Traces of ​fertilizers and ​pesticides are washed into the ​nearest water-​bodies at the ​onset of the ​monsoons or ​whenever there ​are heavy ​rains.
  • Urbanization: India’s rapid urbanization in recent decades has resulted in a slew of environmental issues, including water scarcity, wastewater generation, collection, treatment, and disposal. Many towns and cities that grew up along riverbanks haven’t given the issue of wastewater, sewerage, and other issues enough thought.
  • Amount of Flow of Rivers:Impact on river ​water quality ​resulting from ​discharges of ​treated or ​untreated ​wastewater into ​the river will ​depend on the ​dilution ​offered by the ​quantum of ​flows in the ​river. ​
  • Religious ​and Social ​Practices:Religious ​faith and ​social ​practices also ​add to the ​pollution of the ​rivers, especially ​Ganga.
  • Human settlements- The fragmentation of vegetation in the riparian zone due to human settlements and construction are among the other causes. Riparian protection is a critical factor in determining the health of the river as well as that of people dependent on it.
  • Development inclination at forefront of urban river edges- The accelerated transformation of ‘urban riverfront development’ has been pushed along the riverbanks in the last few decades. The riverfront development has been reduced to just cosmetic ‘river beautification’ and unaccountable money spent to increase its real estate and commercial value.
  • Our rivers are being narrowed far within their actual width with concrete riverbed wall embankments. Since concrete riverbeds and channels are the main components of these projects for car parking, plaza, walkways, restaurants, etc, the river’s flooding capacity and aquatic are adversely impacted.
    • The Sabarmati river channel, for example, has been uniformly narrowed to 275 meters during the riverfront development project, when the naturally average width of the channel was 382 meters and the narrowest cross-section was 330 meters.

Other factors

  • Oil & Natural Gas Exploration
  • Chemicals & Effluents
  • Sand Dredging
  • Cremation & Last Rites
  • Washing & Sewage
  • Garbage Dumping

Initiatives taken by Government to Tackle Water Pollution

  • National Water Policy (2012)
    • It aims to take cognizance of the existing situation, to propose a framework for the creation of a system of laws and institutions, and a plan of action with a unified national perspective.
    • Started by the Ministry of Water Resources, it highlights the importance of water for human existence as well as for economic development-related activities.
    • It suggests frameworks to conserve water resources through optimal, economical, sustainable, and equitable means.
  • National Water Mission (2010): It ensures integrated water resource management leading to water conservation, less wastage, equitable distribution forming better policies.
  • National Mission for Clean Ganga (NMCG) envisages a five-tier structure at the national, state, and district level to take measures for prevention, control, and abatement of environmental pollution in river Ganga.
  • It aims to ensure a continuous adequate flow of water to rejuvenate the river Ganga.
  • Namami Gange Project:It integrates the efforts to clean and protect the Ganga River in a comprehensive manner.

Way forward for water and river conservation

  • Sustainable management of water resources requires striking a balance between supply and demand, between water quantity and quality. Water conservation calls for creating an enabling environment for change, synergy between diverse stakeholders, suitable legal and regulatory frameworks, appropriate financing mechanisms, and social acceptance.
  • Increase water availability by focusing on natural ecosystem protection and restoration, increasing green cover, managing riparian forest buffers, adopting diversified agriculture, water budgeting, recycling, and re-use.
  • Improve water quality by efficient law enforcement and tight regulations, pollution control, sewage, urban waste, and industrial waste limitations, the building of STPs and water treatment facilities, and the use of bioremediation techniques.
  • Mitigating water-related hazards through the implementation of an integrated watershed management program, flood control systems, climate-resilient agriculture, the promotion of alternative income activities and sustainable livelihoods, and disaster management.
  • Six priority actions for water management sustainability in the country through an aggressive national movement:
    • Institutions and Governance: strengthening and augmentation of manpower and financial resources and also a platform to bring in their efforts together for the synergistic outcome. Governance at all level, help to establish judicious water use and prevention and resolution of conflicts.
    • Participatory Approach: It will help in the empowerment of people and efficient management of precious water resources.
    • Knowledge Management: Collaborations and institutionalizing synergies between various entities for the development and exchange of evidence-based knowledge on ecosystem functions and development of suitable technologies to improve water resource management to ensure source sustainability.
    • Ecosystem-Based Management Approach: The move from isolationist approaches to holistic approaches is desirable on a priority basis. The awareness and sensitization campaign on a massive scale need to be undertaken for educating the masses on the significance of maintaining our ecosystem’s integrity.
    • Continuous Care: Utmost care is required to be taken for retaining the water resources, making them sustainable, and ensuring judicious use thereof.
    • Capacity Development:specialized agencies can be deployed for preparing the blueprint for budgeting the water resources within the framework of the legislation on the subject and then formulate strategies for its successful implementation

Participatory approach (in detail)

  • Water conservation can only be done by involving people. Not only is there a need for strengthening the groundwater resources through artificial means but also the citizens must regulate their habits rather than rules being imposed on them by the government. The help of technical advances in fields like remote sensing can also be taken.
  • Water conservation and artificial recharge are the need of the hour for the augmentation of the groundwater resources for sustainable development. Also, there is a need to shift focus from supply-side management to demand-side management with the consumers using self-regulation.
  • Urban watersheds and rural watersheds need to be considered separately for water conservation.
  • Role of women
    • Women form the bulk of the farm labor force in irrigated agriculture. Yet, despite their central role, right to land, natural resource, access to banks, and role in decision-making, they do not have the required legal support to fight this injustice.
    • Women’s judgment on crop plans, water demand, and footprint of crops are different from that of men. The contrasting values of women and men were demonstrated during the Chipko movement.
    • Women’s greater participation will shift the goal-post from technology to governance, demand management, efficiency, improved crop choices, and enhancing soil moisture.

Conclusion

  • For successful future interventions of blue-green infrastructure solutions, it is necessary to learn from our past mistakes. Recognizing what did not work may provide us with directions needed to improve future projects and avoid poorly designed and costly interventions with no social and environmental benefits.
  • Strengthened local institutions, the emergence of social pressure groups, and water savings audits will redefine groundwater restoration.
  • Taking every stakeholder’s suggestion into consideration including women will take us a long way.

Mains model Question

  • “To save water in the country, community participation and broad awareness are critical.” Use examples to illustrate your point.

References