<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Since time immemorial, rivers have held a coveted place in the mindscape of Indians. Rigveda has dedicated suktas on mighty rivers like Sindhu describing not only the river, but its tributaries, its flow, its myriad paths, the glaciers and lakes which feed it. Across India, local cultures are replete with evocative river stories, river festivals and several rituals which bring rivers in the homes and hearts of people. And yet, Indian rivers remain some of the most abused in the world.In the recent days, rivers have grabbed headlines, be it Cauvery or the Indus or the mindless plan of River Interlinking. But while that happens, are we discussing rivers at all? We are discussing conflicts and interstate issues, even geopolitics, but we have very successfully cut our rivers and the hydrological systems including the catchment, headwaters, groundwater, wetlands, lakes and estuaries into convenient pieces: water supply, water sharing, irrigation, hydro-power, drinking water supply, sanitation, pollution, flood control.Amidst all this, Indian rivers are not only some of the last frontiers of astounding biodiversity, they still are the major source of livelihoods for millions. Our rivers hold nearly 1,000 fish species, with more being discovered; they hold hundreds of aquatic and riparian plants, several species of mangroves, and at the same time support more than 20 million fisherfolk, boatmen, riparian farmers!Unfortunately, governments since Independence have downplayed this link and have tried to tackle isolated issues. So water sharing conflicts are growing and becoming increasingly bitter: be it between Karnataka and Tamilnadu over Cauvery or Haryana, Punjab and Delhi over Sutlej and Yamuna waters.In all these, we willfully ignore the ecological system that is the keeper of this resource: the Cauvery Tribunal does not talk about the headwaters of Cauvery where deforestation, land-use changes and climate change is affecting the water yield significantly; or the Mahadayi-Malaprabha where catchment changes have clearly reduced the water yield in the Malaprabha basin. Groundwater is and will remain our water lifeline in the foreseeable future. The dynamic equilibrium of groundwater and surface water is an ecological reality we cannot ignore.Same goes for the centralized pollution control, which rests on the shoulders of that modern dream: the sewage treatment plant. Unfortunately, more than 42 years after the establishment of pollution control boards and thousands of crores later, there is no success story from these bodies about a cleaned-up river.But the picture is not all that bleak. In a tiny state like Goa, Mahadayi Tribunal is rooting for river water, not for consumptive use, but for the ecology of the river itself. There are bright stories from across the country where communities are coming together to protect their rivers: from a remote corner in Arunachal Pradesh to floodplains of Delhi, from Yettinahole struggle in Western Ghats to the restoration of rivers in Mumbai. In November, groups across the country will come together to host ‘The India Rivers Week 2016’ in Delhi, trying to bring rivers back in focus of governance.
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