In recent times, many noises have been made about vanishing rivers from Indian sub-continent. In true sense, it is a threat that can wipe out the entire wealth of nations.
I have traveled along many of the rivers, some of Himalayan origin and many from Satpura ranges, but the story is the same: The rivers are in deep stress, and most of the small feeder ones do not flow outside the monsoon period. The river Narmada and all its source rivers have been beaten hollow by mining, sand mining, deforestation and modern agriculture.
Many solutions have been advocated primary being Linking of rivers, and recently planting of trees along rivers, notable case study being Narmada.
Before evaluating such schemes, let us look at how rivers get water, and what an ecosystem a river actually is. Imagine the river as a tree with the trunk being the main river body. It has many branches and sub branches feeding the trunk, after getting nourishment and sunlight via the leaves.
Similarly, a major river is a huge network of small rivers, their tributaries, nallahs and naoulahs (small trickles) – all combining to bring water to main river. The small trickles originate somewhere in the forests where a lot of trees transpire and release water trapped from atmosphere. It forms continuous trickle, even in summer months. That makes up for a twelve month flowing river. Even for the Himalayan rivers, it is true in good measure.
Hence, planting trees somewhere in the main river basin is of no consequence. It is just a waste of time, while earning some good money. But time is precious now.
Why have the trickles stopped? While often blamed culprit is deforestation and mining, I would say reforestation! In some measure and Agriculture in large measure are to be majorly blamed for.
Why reforestation to blame? Because they had removed, say a teak or sal tree, and planted say a bamboo or some GM sapling in the name of reforestation. It will make a mess of the water creating ecology. Similar thing has happened with Himalayan rivers from British times, when non-natural flora was introduced along lower Himalayas. Foolish re-plantation has increased the problem of rescuing the rivers.
Why agriculture to blame? For multiple reasons, but most prominent being that heavy tractors and machines have worked on fields and stopped many water channels, while the pattern of agriculture consumes a lot of unseasonal water. Another effect of tractors and chemicals is that water pores have closed. So a lot more water flows over fields in monsoon, than on an untilled land with earthworms creating pores. In earlier days, it would go down as natural soil is like a large sponge.
That brings me to question of Linking rivers. Let it be sold as another dream, but based on my experience, it will be another expensive cheque paid by masses. During monsoons, even if they are partly good, all our reservoirs are full, and rivers are full during monsoon. The amount of water that gets drained in sub-normal monsoon is much higher than what a giant linking system can bring – that too if source rivers are overflowing in summers. Are there any such rivers?
So either we want more capacity to store or come back to nature so that trickles start flowing, agri starts consuming less and monsoon water does not flow on top of the soil but goes down to recharge.
All of it means, we have to consume what is naturally produced, in order to save the rivers. Anything short of it is destroying the earth and our country in our lifetime.