Prof. Dr. P. K. Jena* in Bhubaneswar, November 10, 2017: Rivers in India carry sweetwater, mostly the rain water. The amounts of water available in Indian rivers are sufficient even with the present population for industrial, domestic and other purposes provided we do not allow much water to get polluted and flow back to ocean. But, mismanagement of these rivers during the past few decades has resulted in increasing water crisis all over the country.

Presently, in agricultural, industrial and domestic sectors the water consumed is about 70%, 20% and 10% respectively. One of the major reasons for the shortage of water in the rivers is the loss of large amounts of forest and trees in the catchment areas as well as in both the embankments of the rivers. As a result, the heavy soil erosion in these areas facilitates silting of the rivers resulting in drastic decrease in their water containing capacity. Due to this, large amounts of river water flow back into ocean.

Besides, most of the rivers get polluted due to the discharge of solid wastes and liquid effluents including sewage water from the industrial and urban areas. At present, the water in all the rivers originated either from the Himalays or the Eastern and Western Ghats, have been found unsuitable for drinking and other domestic purposes due to heavy pollution. In addition to this the agricultural sector consumes nearly two third of the total amount of water and a lot of this gets wasted due to unscientific canal and irrigation systems. At the same time, the fast growing industries are also consuming a lot of river water.

As the water crisis is getting more and more acute in our country, immediate steps have to be taken to keep the rivers clean by completely avoiding the discharge of solid wastes, untreated sewage and industrial effluents mainly originating from urban and industrial areas. At the same time, in order to save water for dry seasons of the year, barrages and small dams need to be constructed at suitable sites in the river course, thus minimizing the return of the river water to the ocean. In order to prevent the silting of the rivers, it is necessary to undertake massive plantation programmes in the catchment areas as well as on both sides of the rivers.

In this process, besides minimizing the silting of the rivers, the soil conservation in the catchment areas as well as in the river sides can be effected. In order to minimize the loss of water in irrigation, it is essential to introduce economic methods of irrigation like sprinkle irrigation and drip irrigation and also lining the canals with cement to prevent sippage of large amount of water etc.

By undertaking the above measures, maximum amount of rain water can be harvested in our rivers and stored for winter and summer periods in small dams and barrages built at suitable sites. The stored water in the barrages and dams not only can provide water in the dry period but also can produce clean hydro power to meet our energy demand.

Further, to keep the river water clean, it is necessary to properly treat, the sewage water of the urban areas before letting it out into the river. At the same time, through anaerobic digestion the sludge in sewage water can produce bio-energy and solid organic manure.

Thus, in order to solve the water and energy crisis, in every river of India the above developmental programmes should be taken up urgently.

Most of the states in India have enough river water resources for consumption in different sectors. Let us take the example of a state like Odisha, which faces water crisis in all three sectors namely agriculture, industrial and domestic due to mismanagement.

The state has got 14 major rivers, out of which 11 originate in Odisha and 7 flow through other states. The state has got a great potential to come over the water crisis by undertaking the above mentioned programmes and at the same time creating a lot of scope to produce enough hydro energy.

As eleven of its fourteen rivers have originated in Odisha, a number of barrages and small dams in upstreams as well as in downstreams, can be constructed at suitable sites so that enough water would be available in clean form for domestic as well as agricultural and industrial purposes.

At the same time, a lot of hydro power can be generated to meet the energy demand of the state. The large scale plantation in the catchment areas as well as on both sides of the rivers will not only enhance the harvest of surface as well as ground water resource in the state but also would provide a lot of biomass for producing clean bio-energy.

If every state in India undertakes and implements the above programmes in their respective rivers, it would be possible to provide sufficient clean water and clean hydro energy to our people and thus help to materialize our dream of “Swachha Bharat”.

(*Former Director General, Council of Scientific & Industrial Research, India)

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