Rights of Rivers
Today is 14th March and since 1997, it is observed and celebrated as an International Day of Action for Rivers. Participants from 20 countries attending the first International Meeting of People Affected by Dams, decided on this date to unite to conserve and protect rivers, other water bodies and watersheds against destruction. This year, we are celebrating this day with the theme “Rights of Rivers”. Today when we are equipped with cutting edge technology and engineering, we think we can command the forces of nature to do our bidding. We have encroached too much on nature and ignored their rights. Rights they have because of the might of beastly forces they possess. This perceived supremacy over nature has blinded us and we keep encroaching more and more upon the Rights of Rivers and streams. However, the culture of the Indian subcontinent was not like this before.
Described as सुजलां सुफलां in our national song वंदे मातरम् by Bankimchandra Chattopadhyay, India is the Land of Plenty. Northern Himalayin perennial rivers like Ganga, Sindhu and Yamuna, uniquely west bound river Narmada; Godavari and Krishna as lifelines of Maharashtra and Telangana; Kaveri of Karnataka and Andhra along with colossal Brahmaputra have given this quality to this subcontinent. Over the thousands of years, these mighty rivers gave birth to many civilizations along their banks with the constant flow of life between their origin and mouth. We consider our rivers as Goddesses and worship them every evening with a pomp in many cities. Ganga Aarti from Varanasi and Prayag is a very famous event.
Right from the Sindhu Civilization of Harappa, Mohenjodaro and hundreds of other settlements to today’s modern cities of India, we are totally dependent on this constant flow of life. With the progress and development of civilization, humans started bending the forces of nature to their convenience. It curbed the Rights of Rivers. We dammed the constant flow of life
What are the Rights of Rivers?
I believe there are two very basic rights which rivers have carved themselves, in literal and figurative sense.
First is to “flow continuously” from its origin in hills to the mouth to meet the sea and second is the “Right of Way” between the banks which it has carved itself by flowing for thousands of years.
Settlements started to grow on the banks of rivers as they were a source of water for all human activities like agriculture and industries along with household consumption. Increased urban population leads to the surge in water demand. Cities started looking for surety of water supply. Many rivers in India are not perennial as they are solely dependent on monsoon for the water. We started constructing dams to solve this problem and assure the constant water supply. As of the beginning of 2021, India has over 5700 large dams across the country. There are many more small dams and barrages scattered all over the country.
The flow of water in the rivers is almost zero as every city tries to hold almost all the water in the dams to cater to the ever increasing demand of the city. For example, Mutha River in Pune sadly now carries only sewage that is coming from the STPs of the city. Khadakwasla dam does not release any water in the river unless it is full in the monsoon days. As a result, there is no water flowing in the river. The natural ecological stability of the downstream region depends on flowing water in the river. Even The Krishna Basin Tribunal has ordered 6 cusecs of constant water flow in the river. However, the ground reality is a complete contrast to the order.
Giving the “Right of Way” is the right way
Rivers and streams flow between the two banks which are carved by the river itself. Rivers undergo waxing and veining as seasons change throughout the year. This is another important Right which rivers have carved for themselves. During monsoon, with the heavy rainfall in upstream catchment areas, rivers do come out the banks and inundate the plains which are above the banks. We call this phenomenon “flood.” There are regulations in urban areas to deter the construction and occupation of the floodplains to avoid the loss of life and property if flood occurs. Flood zones are marked with probability analysis of possible inundations in case of high floods. These flood zones are no development zones. However, lawmakers considered the definition of the River and River Channel “no brainer” and did not formulate it when they created these rules and laws.
These two things have created a loophole in development controls and Indian cities are witnessing a huge encroachment in the river and flood zones. Small streams are the feeder networks of the rivers. They are literally murdered by dumping debris into and constructing upon them. The chain of River ecosystems in its watersheds is broken with the loss of these streams. As a result, Indian cities are facing devastating effects of broken ecosystems. One part of the country faces urban flooding with short bursts of heavy rainfall. While there is a drought in the other parts of the country at the same time. The Mumbai floods of 26th July 2005 was the first alarming event from the chain and since then it is happening in one city or the other regularly. Surat, Chennai, Bangalore, Kedarnath (Uttarakhand), Kashmir. List goes on. Every monsoon, the list gets longer and longer.
Honoring the Rights of Rivers
To sustain human settlements and live a good life we should start respecting the rights of rivers. As a common citizen, we should stop polluting the rivers by our personal actions. We should create an awareness for banks of rivers and streams to be the sacrosanct Right of Way.
Let us join our hands and think about the rivers as trustees tasked with taking care of them for our future generations and protecting Rights of Rivers.Tweet
This post is part of Blogchatter’s CauseAChatter