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Mahanadi River System is dying? How can Chhattisgarh and Odisha together save Mahanadi?

Mahanadi River System is dying? How can Chhattisgarh and Odisha together save Mahanadi?


  • GS 1 || Geography || Indian Economic Geography || Water Resources


  • Sharing of Mahanadi river water has been a bone of contention between the states of Odisha and Chhattisgarh. Odisha is now increasingly showing its resentment to the centre for not intervening and resolving the water dispute.

Conflict over Mahanadi river

  • The conflict between Odisha and Chhattisgarh over the distribution of water from the Mahanadi river is said to have started in 2016 when Odisha alleged the existing and proposed dams and barrages in Chhattisgarh will dry up the river down-streams and affect Odisha’s people, industries, and ecology.
  • Environmentalists, concerned citizens, and civil society organizations allege both the states are neither doing justice to their people nor the river, rather using it to appease industries and for political gains.

Importance of the rivers

  • Estimates say 65% of our water needs are met by rivers.2 out of 3 major Indian cities already deal with daily water shortages. Many urban residents pay ten times the normal amount for a can of water.
  • Water is not just consumed for drinking /domestic purposes. 80% of water is used to grow our food. Each person’s average water requirement is 1.1 million liters a year.
  • Flood, drought, and rivers turning seasonal are increasingly leading to crop failure across the country.
  • They perform significant environmental, social, and economic functions — from being a source of drinking water and recharging groundwater to supporting biodiversity and providing livelihoods.
  • Their role becomes even more critical in the present context when cities are facing the challenge of rapid unplanned urbanization.

Reasons for the shrinking water of rivers

  • Pollution
    • There has been an explosive increase in the urban population without a corresponding expansion of civic facilities such as infrastructure for the disposal of waste.
    • As more people are migrating to cities, urban civic services are becoming less adequate.
    • As a result, most urban water bodies in India are suffering because of pollution. The water bodies have been turned into landfills in several cases.
    • Guwahati’s Deepor Beel, for example, is used by the municipal corporation to dump solid waste since 2006. Even the Pallikarni marshland in Chennai is used for solid waste dumping.
  • Encroachment
    • Jhelum river in Jammua and Kashmir, Mahanadi and  Kathajodiwell-known examples of water bodies that were encroached.
    • On the Mahanadi river, only 10 per cent of the families are living in thatched houses, the rest have constructed concrete houses on the river bed.
  • Illegal mining activities
    • Illegal mining for building material such as sand and quartzite on the catchment and bed of the lake has an extremely damaging impact on the water body.
  • Industries:Unrestricted flow of sewage and industrial effluents into the Yamuna river has adversely affected their purity. All ​these ​industrial ​wastes are ​toxic to life ​forms that ​consume this ​water.
  • Religious ​and Social ​Practices:Religious ​faith and ​social ​practices also ​add to the ​pollution of the ​rivers, especially ​
  • Unplanned tourism activities
    • Using water bodies to attract tourists has become a threat to several rivers and urban lakes in India.
    • Tso Morari and Pongsho lakes in Ladakh have become polluted because of unplanned and unregulated tourism.
    • The Nag River which flows through Nagpur city is a highly polluted water channel of sewage and industrial waste.
    • A project, approved under the National River Conservation Plan, will be implemented by the National River Conservation Directorate.
    • It will reduce the pollution level in terms of untreated sewage, flowing solid waste, and other impurities flowing into the Nag River and its tributaries.
  • Absence of administrative framework
    • The biggest challenge is the government’s apathy towards water bodies.
    • This can be understood from the fact that it does not even have any data on the total number of urban water bodies in the country.
    • Further, CPCB had not identified major aquatic species, birds, plants, and animals that faced threats due to the pollution of rivers and lakes.
  • Climate change
    • Climate change has intensified droughts and elevated hot summer temperatures around Urmia, speeding up evaporation.
    • Illegal wells and a proliferation of dams and irrigations on projects that divert water from tributary rivers for agriculture.
    • Climate change is expected to cause worse floods and droughts within the next 25-50 years.During the monsoon, rivers will flood. The rest of the year, drought will follow. These trends are already beginning.

Impact of Rivers/lakes being dried up

  • Livelihood/Employment generation- The loss of rivers, lakes, and underground water reserves is impacting the livelihoods of millions of people, hitting animals, farming, and electricity production, as well as threatening to exacerbate climate change further through the release of CO2 and methane. While climate change is playing a role, the building of dams, over-extraction, and mismanagement of water, and overfishing are all playing a part in the disappearance of the world’s lakes and rivers.
    • E.g. more than 60 million people live around the Aral Sea basin. The lack of water has devastated the region’s fishing industry, leaving ship graveyards as well as large areas of salted sand, which is easily kicked up by winds and contributes to health problems.
  • Economic growth
    • A Niti Aayog report predicted that water demand will be twice the present supply by 2030 and India could lose up to 6% of its GDP during that time.
  • Power supply
    • Water shortages are hurting India’s capacity to generate electricity because 40% of thermal power plants are located in areas where water scarcity is high.
  • Drinking water scarcity
    • Not only farmers are affected by the water crisis, urban dwellers in cities and towns across India are also facing a never-seen drinking water scarcity.
  • Conflicts over water
    • In India, there are conflicts between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu over the sharing of Cauvery waters, between Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh over the sharing of Narmada waters, between Andhra Pradesh and Telangana over the sharing of Krishna waters, etc.

Way forward

  • Comprehensive Waste Management Policy:There is a need for a comprehensive waste management policy that stresses the need for decentralized garbage disposal practices as this will incentivize private players to participate.
  • Good water management practices
    • India receives adequate annual rainfall through the southwest monsoon. However, most regions of the country are still water-deficient mainly because of inefficient water management practices.
    • Rainwater harvesting should be encouraged on a large scale, especially, in cities where the surface runoff of rainwater is very high. Roof-top rainwater harvesting can also be utilized to recharge groundwater by digging percolation pits around the house and filling it with gravel. Indian cities need to learn from Cape Town of the South.
  • Pollution control-
    • Cleaning of river water – National Mission for Clean Ganga (NMCG):It 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.
  • Interlinking of rivers
    • The interlinking of rivers is a topic that has been discussed and debated for several years as a possible permanent solution to the water crisis in the country.
    • The 3 primary advantages mentioned in favour of the scheme are
      • droughts will never occur 
      • there will be no more floods in the major rivers and
      • an additional 30,000 MW of hydropower will be generated.
    • While building an Inter-State Cooperation Framework is the need of the hour, changes should be brought in the laws at a national level to establish the rights of communities over the river and the river’s rights, say, ecologists.
  • Coordination in aquifer usage
    • There is an urgent need for coordination among users for aquifers. There should be laws and contracts for the sharing of aquifers. Groundwater aquifer mapping has started only once.
  • River basin authority
    • There should be a River Basin Authority for sharing information among states since most of the rivers in India pass through different states. Coordinated efforts among states for the management of groundwater at a localized level.
  • Behavioural Change:To overhaul the waste management sector and induce the necessary behavioral change, citizen participation and engagement is the key.
  • Funding- Provide steady funding to expand sewage water treatment plants in urban agglomeration.
  • Sustained civil society pressures the government to ensure the work is done in a time-bound manner.
  • Need strong measures to regulate liquid waste from various industries.
  • Technological advancement for the recovery of wastewater for reuse.


  • India is not a water deficit country, but due to severe neglect and lack of monitoring of water resource development projects, many regions in the country face water stress from time to time. Therefore balancing water demand with available supply is the need of the hour for future economic growth and development as well as for the sustenance of human life.
  • The Government needs to holistically handle the supply as well as the demand side of water management and everybody in the society, i.e. the central government, the state governments (water, being the state subject), citizens, NGOs, and companies need to come together to tackle the water crisis in the country.

Mains model question

  • River water pollution is a global problem and not peculiar to India. However, the rising pollution of rivers in India is a significant concern for the Indian government and the population. Discuss