Water and efforts going down the drain by Ashok Nath Ex Goa Secretary

Year after year we read in the newspapers about Delhi roads getting flooded. Waters flooding houses in low lying areas. Jumna reaching danger level. Panic buttons pushed. This phenomenon has been going on with sickening regularity ever since Independence. 1977 probably saw the worst floods in living memory– at least in my memory. Why Delhi only? We saw catastrophic floods in Uttarakhand, Srinagar and Chenai recently. We always tend to blame a cloud burst, excessive rainfall blah, blah. Easy to blame nature. Most of these disasters are man made. Human greed has no limits. Successive govts. are complicit in this criminal activity without a care for the untold misery, loss of lives and property caused to the people, mostly, poor.  All they do is to set up flood relief committees during floods to oversee relief and convert them into drought relief committees as the floods recede and droughts or shortage of water takes over.
Experts estimate that Delhi alone receives 490 mm of rainfall delivering 690’billion litres of water. Beyond imagination. Not even 5% of this water is trapped for future use. The water table in Delhi is critically low in most places and it is quite ironical that the monsoons turn the roads into gushing rivers throwing normal life out of gear. All this water is drained into storm water drains which in turn pour it into the Yumna and the latter carries it the Ganges which offloads it into the Bay of Bengal. What a sad ending to a bountiful gift by Mother Nature. What a criminal waste of such a scarce resource. The civic authorities are quick to blame each other. The contractors who are supposed to desilt the drains before the rains make tons of money by not doing their job and are not caught because they share the loot with the conniving officials. No water harvesting measures have been installed. I have seen rivers of water gushing down the flyovers, flooding the roads and going ‘down the drain.’ If there had been some device to trap the water at the foot of the fly over, perhaps some of it could have gone down to recharge the ground water.
Delhi has been concretising so rapidly in the past decade or so without paying attention to such simple things like conserving precious water. We have a Ministry of water resources, central water commission and a host of experts in our IITs and in the private sector. How is it that we have not been able to put our heads together and come out with practical solutions? Do we even have a National Water Policy? At least, I am not aware of it. If we don’t have expertise in this field why not get foreign hydrologists to sort it out for us?
 In ancient times we had cleverly planned to conserve our water resources. The various Baolis in dry areas in Rajasthan and Gujerat  are a proof of the superior thoughtful planning which went into this. The archeological sites of Harappa  and Mohenjadaro provide evidence of the meticulous planning of these ancient cities with elaborate drainage systems. What has happened to our thought process?  It is difficult to imagine that in the 21st century we can’t provide high tech solutions to this age old problem.
Apart from the lack of policy, planning and implementation it is simply human greed which is responsible for the twin problems of flooding and water scarcity. Take Delhi, for instance. About three decades ago Delhi was surrounded by water bodies, wetlands, jheels and Baolis . The Yamuna flood plains were untrammeled by human encroachment. When the rains and the floods came they spread over these lands and in time the earth soaked in the water thereby recharging the water table. There was a time in the sixties, I remember, when the CPWD had to dig tube wells as the water table was so high as to damage the buildings in Delhi. Similarly, Najafgargh, I remember, was a vast Jheel or water body where my friends and I would go for a duck shoot. All these have disappeared now due to rapid urbanisation and encroachments. Even the flood plains have been blatantly encroached upon, even by the govt. The Akshardham temple and the Commonwealth Village are glaring examples. Elsewhere, encroachment by private colonisers have done immense damage to the Yamuna ecosystem. No wonder there are floods during the monsoons and severe water shortage in the winter months. The administration sleeps, the state govt sleeps and above all the central govt sleeps. Who bothers? ‘ Chalti ka nam gari. ‘ seems to be everyone’s mantra. The picture is the same elsewhere, be it Srinagar, Uttarakhand or Chenai.
Now I will be wading into dangerous waters. Should we construct dams in the upper reaches of our Himalayan rivers? There is a raging controversy ( like the raging rivers ) going over this issue. Minister, water resources and a host of NGOs, environment and other activists are dead against dams of any kind high up in the mountains. Some of their arguments are sound, for instance, the whole region is in a high seismic zone, earthquake prone; huge displacement of local population from their habitat; extensive harm to the environment, flora, fauna etc; destruction of trees. The Ministry, in addition, argues that dams will constrict the flow of water in the rivers which is critical to cleaning up rivers like the Ganges. Huge quantities of water are needed to flush out the pollution from the rivers.
On the other side the argument goes on like this. Dams are of two types: storage and run of the river types. Storage or reservoir types have multi purpose benefits, flood control, irrigation and generation of electricity. Run of the river types are less expensive, cause hardly any damage but can produce only electricity. There cannot be two opinions that flooding by rivers cause immense damage to life and property, which can run into thousands of crores. The vast quantity of water stored can be gradually released in drier seasons. Our agriculture is already handicapped by woefully inadequate irrigation facilities. So increased availability of water for irrigation can lead to higher crop productivity, more food, more prosperity for farmers and adding a notch to our GDP. Likewise augmentation of power generation will give a boost to our  overall economic development. Hence, the benefits are immense.
I am not an expert but I’m sure the real experts have gone over the cost/ benefit conundrum and explored all possible relevant factors. Surely the dams can be designed using the latest technology to make them earthquake proof. Make them smaller if necessary. The question of displacement can similarly be worked out with appropriate compensation and resettlement policies. Loss of green cover can be taken care of compensatory afforestation by the companies. In a nutshell a trade off has to be arrived at between the suffering of a few thousand people and the loss to the local environment compared to the immense benefit it will give to millions of people, help economic development and add to the country’s GDP. Anyway, this is my humble opinion.
But under no circumstances should we succumb to the blackmail being employed by the Minister, Uma Bharti, arguing, ” no dams, we have to clean up our Ganga Mayii”.Religious sentiments shouldn’t find their way into purely economic issues which are bound to affect our future generations.
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