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Waterman to hold Ganga Panchayat on Sep 21

Waterman to hold Ganga Panchayat on Sep 21

The Times of India – Sept 7, 2011

By Binay Singh

VARANASI: Water activist Rajendra Singh, popular known as the Waterman of India, is going to hold a Ganga sammelan in Sangam City, Allahabad. The convention will be held on September 23 and 24 to discuss strategies to mount pressure on the government for the formulation of a national river policy. But, before the Allahabad convention, a Ganga panchayat will be held in Varanasi on September 21 to motivate people for the cause of the river, Singh told TOI over phone on Wednesday.

“In my view, the all-pervasive corruption in the country has reduced most rivers to mere gutters. Allowing rivers to degrade to sewer is the biggest form of corruption. And, the result of corruption can only be rectified with a disciplined effort, not just money, ” he said and added the sacred Ganga, which traditionally carried holy water, now transported sewage and toxic effluents. “The government initiated the Ganga cleaning exercise but, despite the huge expenditure, the river has become a bigger conveyor of filth. To restore the status of the Ganga and other rivers there is an urgent need for a well-defined national policy for rivers,” he said.

“We have traversed the entire length of the Ganga to take a first-hand account of the problems and issues conducting meetings with all stake-holders. After this exercise, a draft of policy has been prepared,” Singh said and added copies of the draft had already been submitted with the ministries of water resources and environment in March. “Beside the water activists from across the country, ministers and leaders of all political parties had been invited to attend the convention in Allahabad,” he informed. Giving details of the draft, Singh said its main components included natural ecological flow of the rivers, use of land of rivers and separation of river and sewer. According to him, there is a complete absence of any policy, law, institution or governance framework related to the rivers of the country.

Environmental flows should be ensured in all the rivers in the country. Balance has to be maintained between surface and groundwater, use in all the river basins to check the alarming status of groundwater across the country. Natural flow of the rivers should be given the top priority. The river and groundwater should be treated as common property resource (CPR). The management of rivers and groundwater will be impossible without people’s participation as there are strong traditions of community management of water and other natural resources in India. The traditional systems got marginalised as the state became powerful and came out with a new governance and management system of centralised command and control. “The need of hour is to learn from the past and develop a new model that can safeguard the health of all the natural resources and ensure equity in access to them by all sections of the society,” he said.

In order to avoid release/mixing of contaminated and sewer water into rivers, there should be different policies for sewer and river. Surface and ground water pollution by individual, group, community, industry or any other should be treated as criminal act and must have legal provisions for severe punishment. Continuous and planned efforts by all be made to maintain the natural characteristics of rivers. Similarly in order to ensure success of the national river policy there should be an appropriate national land use policy to restrict encroachment of river land.

The available knowledge on the subject of climate variability and climate change and the present and future river flows is not very conclusive, therefore, there is need for some serious research on the subject for better planning and management of rivers. “The national river policy should call for allocation of more funds for this activity. The government should also channelise the funds of Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) for the rejuvenation of rivers,” he said.

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