M A I N   N E W S

‘Water bank’ is running dry, it’s up to MLAs now
S M A Kazmi
Tribune News Service

Dehra Dun, May 1
Climate change and reckless construction have dried up the “Water Bank” of the country — Uttarakhand. It is home to two major rivers that quench the thirst of millions in plains. But, this year, a large number of water sources for rural areas of the state are fast drying up and most of the rain-fed rivers have become near-dry.

The state government has found an indigenous solution to the problem; it has allotted ten hand pumps to each of its 70 legislators.

A debate is raging about the shrinking of the snow-fed rivers due to construction of a large number of hydroelectric projects in the mid-Himalayan region.

"We have taken the decision to dig ten hand pumps in each assembly segment to meet the drinking water needs of the people. In the hills, women have to travel long distances to collect water from water sources," said water resources minister Matbar Singh Kandari.

But with situation is worse. The large water supply schemes in the state depend on natural water resources are facing an acute water crisis due to drying up of these sources particularly.

A government study shows that out of a total of 4,880 water sources used for drinking water in the state, 1,330 face shortage from 50 per cent to 75 per cent, 513 up to 90 per cent and 187 such sources more than 90 per cent loss in water discharge.

Most of the rain-fed rivers like Kosi and Algar in Kumoan region have dried up over the past two decades. According to state government records, the water discharge of Kosi during the lean period of summer has gone down from 790 cusecs in 1992 to only 196 cusecs in the summer of 2004.

A petition is pending in the apex court alleging that even the snow-fed Bhagirathi and its tributaries are drying up. The government has no data about any decrease in the discharge of Ganga and Yamuna rivers but the largescale construction of hydroelectric projects, fast depletion of forest cover for developmental activities in the hills has alarmed environmentalists. “The water flow in the Bhagirathi is half of what it used to be before the construction of Tehri project,” Sunder Lal Bahuguna, renowned conservatortold the The Tribune.

The state has identified more than 20,000 MW of power potential to be tapped through 190 projects. Already, 14 projects of 5,255 MW are being constructed in the state while 61 other hydroelectric projects are in various stages of planning and investigation.

A total of 750 kilometers of underground tunnels would be dug for these upcoming projects making these rivers invisible at many places.

Some activists also allege that the traditional canal system would also be destroyed once the power projects come up. “Along with power generation, these projects should also have drinking water and minor irrigation components for locals,” suggested Dr. Anil Joshi of Himalayan Environmental Studies and Conservation Organisation (HESCO), a voluntary group.

Uttarakhand Jal Sansthan, the agency responsible for providing drinking water has 3169 water schemes in Garhwal region and 5864 schemes in Kumoan region besides having 5,000 hand pumps. Interestingly, due to the drying up most of the natural water resources, one-fourth of these schemes are either closed or damaged.

Even in the urban areas, the situation is not good. Official figures, in 25 municipal areas show the per capita requirement to be between 71 to 135 litres per person per day. But in most of the cities and towns, the situation has turned from bad to worse as only 60 litres on an average is available.

Even in the capital city of Dehradun, the availability of water is only 114 million litres as compared to the demand of 140 million litres. “ We are trying to improve the situation by digging 17 tubewells and reviving the natural water scheme at Galogi near Mussoorie to add 28 million litres per day,” Claimed Harshpati Uniyal, chief general manager of Uttarakhand Jal Sansthan, the agency responsible for providing drinking water to people.

Uniyal who is instrumental in taking hand-pumps to high hills and parched areas admits that there had always been problem of drinking water in the hills and deforestation has worsened the situation.

Uttarakhand chief minister B. C. Khanduri has ordered to take up plantations and other corrective measures in the catchment areas of 221 water sources in the mission mode throughout the state. But these are only “measures’’.

What these might lead to only time, and hand-pump incharges, the MLAs, will tell…



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