New Delhi, 2016.04.25 (Manjula Pal, Daily Pioneer (Oped): The India Meteorological Department’s forecast of an above normal rainfall this year has brought some relief, at a time when almost half of the country is facing an unprecedented drought-like situation. A shortfall in the production of food grains, the escalating cost of food items, the danger of vast cultivable areas turning into desert, and farmer suicides are some of the impending dangers that looms large on a majority of the population.
The River Yamuna, the lifeline of the national capital region, is rain-fed, like most rivers in India. Sadly, now it has dried up considerably and looks like a dirty stream instead of a major river. A good rain is supposed to rejuvenate the river but, unfortunately, that is not happening for past several seasons.
There is an urgent need to prepare the river before monsoon, so that the rain water does not spill over the banks, causing floods. Instead, the river has to be able to store and conserve as much water from the rains as possible so that it can survive until the next monsoon, and not dry up shortly after the rainy season is over.
It has been observed that even a less than normal rainfall causes flooding in Delhi, as the Yamuna is too shallow and has little storage capacity. Due to its much decreased depth, Yamuna reportedly can cross the danger mark, even when rainfall, according to official data, is not above normal.
The task of conserving and utilising every drop of rain water, therefore, becomes paramount. This is not an easy job. Rain water harvesting has to be done on many fronts. Along with the plains, the rivers also need to be prepared so as to increase their capacity for holding water. However, there is a widespread belief that in case of the Yamuna, the Government is not doing enough to address this issue. Also, the required level of preparedness in this regard is not visible.
The main reason for the Yamuna’s shallowness, besides the natural and continuous process of sedimentation, is man-made. Large-scale illegal encroachments have been allowed on the banks of the river, and those living in these encroachments routinely dump plastics and other solid waste in the river. Besides, the culture of immersing idols in the river at regular intervals is only increasing by the day. In addition, the dumping of industrial effluents continues unabated. Construction debris and piles of non-biodegradable material also sit on the riverbed for years together.
The answer to the menace is desilting and securing the river banks by removing all encroachments. This summer there is little water in the river. The Government should take advantage of the situation, and start desilting procedures at least on the stretch adjoining city, if not for a larger section. There is time to get this done, as there is still one month for the rains. However, the Government has to be serious about this. For example, it must get the specific machines required to lift the silt. Laxity of will and commitment to do the needful is the bane of contention. The silt, thus excavated, can be sorted — so that the sand can be auctioned for construction purposes and the rest sent for recycling. There should also be a law allowing forceful removal of encroachments.
Recently, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar held a large conference on the Yamuna river bank. It has been declared that the banks have been thoroughly cleaned after the event. Now, it is the duty of the administration to not allow any more encroachments to take place.
The Government is announcing soft loans and economic packages for people suffering in drought-hit areas. But the people need water to drink and cook, not money. The Government should realise that the biggest gift will be to make rain water available throughout the year and remove the fear of drought.