Conservation Conversations

ILL PLANNED PROJECTS LEADING TO DESTRUCTION OF FORESTS, RIVERS

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DR RAJENDRA SINGH

Green Minute brings you some profound thoughts of Dr Rajendra Singh, the waterman of India who has rejuvenated 12 rivers across the country. A renowned river rejuvenator and environmentalist, he is an Ayurvedic physician and a post graduate in Hindi literature. He was awarded the Ramon Magsaysay Award in 2001 for community leadership and Stockholm Water Prize in 2015. R S Tejus speaks to this humble Gandhian on river conservation and water issues affecting the country.

Q1. The six Western Ghats states are implementing hydel, transmission lines, roads, rail, highways and other infrastructure projects, what will be the impact as most rivers originate in the Western Ghats? Northeast forests too are getting cleared at an alarming rate. How does it impact the river catchment areas?

Presently, development is creating displacement of knowledge, destruction and finally, disaster. And can we call this development? The government’s main agenda will have to be creating ecological security, social security and other basic security for the people. It has to be a people’s democracy and not corporate democracy. Poorest of the poor will be affected the most by such ill-planned development projects. Conservation of forests must be given top priority if not there will be no rivers.

Q2. What is creating more problems for the conservation of rivers?

“Encroachment of forests and water bodies, pollution and over-extraction of water – these three problems have posed a great danger in all periods. Greediness and profit consumption are creating havoc. These three dangers will have to be addressed immediately.

Q3. How to address the drinking water crisis?

India has a total of 98 Agro-Ecological Climatic Diversity zones (AECDs). Each one of us must “respect” these zones to start with for addressing the crisis. Without understanding AECD zones, conservation is difficult. There has to be community-driven decentralised water management by creating more ponds, lakes etc. through proper research. This will solve much of the crisis. After independence, droughts and floods in India has increased many folds – to be precise 8 folds flood area and 10 folds drought area. Scarcity of water is more now than independence. We have to do more in terms of conservation of forests and wildlife to conserve rivers.

Q 4. How does river interlinking & inland waterways damage our river system?

River interlinking is a great disaster. It involves the construction of big dams and lifting of water. It creates a flood area, and the very thought is a waste of energy. Every river has its own gene pool; interlinking is like mixing two different blood groups in a human body – you can imagine the danger it causes. Moreover, privatisation of water is not good as it is always a threat to biodiversity and other aspects. “Everyone owns rivers.” Rivers are public property; people should link their hearts and minds to the river and not connect one stream to another. Inland waterways involve dredging and other harmful acts which is a severe threat to biodiversity. It is unnatural and such projects should be dropped from the government’s agenda. There are more than two dozen threats of these two ecologically disastrous projects.

Q 5. Will planting of trees have any impact on saving or reviving our rivers?

Planting of trees will not help in saving or reviving our rivers. Greenery helps in fighting rejuvenation and other aspects; it has to be natural. Plantation is not a good treatment for rivers. If you plant trees today animals will graze – what’s the point in planting then? It is only good for the camera lens to capture the image of a person planting a tree. The main aspect is the flow and water- without water; trees will dry. Rivers today need an uninterrupted flow of water. Therefore, the slogan should be “equal discharge and recharge.”

Q 6. What is your advice for people interested in conservation of rivers?

I have rejuvenated 12 rivers without the help of the government. In the last 37 years, 11,800 recharge water bodies have been created which have helped the river flow. The only slogan is to recharge the aquifers which will help rejuvenate the groundwater level and in turn, help in the flow of the river.

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