Voices Wednesday, June 11, 2014 - 05:30
Anisha Sheth | The News Minute | May 20, 2014 | 3.39 pm IST The difference between a scientist and a politician is the way they look at things. During the 2014 General Elections, Prime minister-designate Narendra Modi amplified River Ganga’s religious connotations. Every now and then, he would refer to “Mother Ganga”. After he won from Varanasi, Modi said he would ensure that the Ganga was cleaned up. But a scientist who has studied the Ganga’s ecology for the last 45 years, has called attention to River Ganga, which sustains millions of people directly and indirectly. Expert Member of the National River Ganga basin Authority, and a scientist who has been working towards the development of eco-friendly technology B D Tripathi argues that the focus of conserving the Ganga must be to let the river flow freely to the sea.“Pollution is the secondary problem,” Tripathi says, explaining that checking pollution will not be enough to save the river and thereby, the people dependent on the river. Government action until now has been focused on clearing pollution, but if the river flow is increased, then 80 percent of the pollution in the river will be cleared by the river itself, he says. “People say that with just a single dip in the Ganga, (at Ganga Sagar) all your sins will be washed away. Let’s remove religion (from the argument). Four hundred and fifty million people are directly dependent on the river. If it does not reach the sea, no one can save these people. You cannot put so many lives at stake,” Tripathi says. Tripathi says that even when he started out as a scientist in the 1970s, states approached rivers as a resource to be exploited, but scientific and technological knowledge across the world has now reached an understanding that rivers need to be conserved as an ecosystem. He says that the Ganga, which directly sustains 450 million people, must be allowed to flow freely, unfettered by multiple large dams on its headstreams – the Mandakini, Bhagirathi and Alaknanda, all of which flow through Uttarkhand. Last May, he spent three weeks travelling across Uttarakhand through which the three headstreams of the Ganga flow. Based on his observations, he outlined three immediate steps that the central and state governments can take to ensure that the Ganga survives: Avoid construction of large dams on the three headstreams Stopping the flow of the river with large dams is converting the Ganga from a swift-flowing river into a lake. These not only lower the quality of the water, but also reduce the overall flow of the river, thereby increasing the concentration of polluting agents and making the river toxic. He also said that large hydel projects often function for only 4-5 months in a year, making them inefficient. We don't want to just point out problems, Tripathi says. There is a need for electricity which can be met by either constructing smaller dams on the other rivulets that flow into these larger headstreams. During his tour of Uttarkhand, Tripathi says he realised that the whole state is a low-pressure zone, which means it had high-velocity winds which can be harnessed to generate power. “Whole countries have been powered by wind. Why can't we do it here?” he says. Although he had suggested that wind energy options be explored, there is yet no study on the feasibility of power generation through the use of wind energy. Interference in the natural channel of the river must be avoided Across the mountains of Uttarakhand, Tripathi says that governments have built tunnels to facilitate hydel power projects. Rivers have been made to flow through tunnels through the tunnels to shorten the course of the river. If a particular stretch of the river was around 40 km, a tunnel would be constructed through a mountain so that river water would flow through it to increase its speed to suit the requirements of the power project concerned. The natural channel for dozens of kilometres would then run dry, depriving the local population dependent on the river. Drawing an analogy, Tripathi said, “You are turning a train route into a flight.” Clearance of human encroachments of the river banks Anywhere you go, be it Kanpur, Allahabad, Patna or Varanasi, both river banks of the Ganga have been encroached, narrowing the river channel. If human encroachments are cleared, the river will flow easily, he says.
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