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India’s Lost Rivers: A Call to Action on International Day for Action for Rivers

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Rivers in India
 
Rivers are the lifeblood of civilizations, nurturing cultures, ecosystems, and economies. In India, rivers hold a sacred place in the hearts of its people, symbolizing purity, fertility, and spirituality. However, in the past centuries, India has lost several of its rivers, altering landscapes and impacting the lives of millions.
The disappearance of significant rivers like the Saraswati, lost to geological changes over millennia, serves as a poignant reminder of the natural ebb and flow of waterways. However, in recent times, the thoughtless actions of man have accelerated the loss of rivers across the country.
As we observe the International Day for Action for Rivers, it’s crucial to reflect on these lost waterways and the urgent need for their restoration and preservation.

Yamuna River

Yamuna River

The Yamuna River, one of India’s most revered water bodies, has sadly fallen victim to a myriad of anthropogenic activities, leading to its gradual disappearance and degradation, particularly in its stretch passing through Delhi. Historically, the Yamuna was celebrated for its sacred significance in Indian mythology and its crucial role in sustaining life along its banks. However, rapid urbanization, unchecked pollution, and unsustainable development practices have severely compromised the health and vitality of the river, transforming it from a lifeline to a mere conduit of sewage and industrial effluents.
One of the primary contributors to the disappearance of the Yamuna River in Delhi is the unchecked discharge of untreated sewage and industrial effluents directly into its waters. As the capital city expanded rapidly, the volume of sewage generated increased exponentially, overwhelming the capacity of existing treatment infrastructure and leading to the direct dumping of raw sewage into the Yamuna. Consequently, the river became one of the most polluted in the world, with its waters unfit for bathing, drinking, or sustaining aquatic life.
Furthermore, the construction of dams, barrages, and embankments along the Yamuna River has altered its natural flow regime, disrupted sediment transport, and degraded riparian habitats. These infrastructural interventions, undertaken ostensibly for flood control and water management purposes, have fragmented the river’s ecosystem, reduced its ecological connectivity, and exacerbated its vulnerability to pollution and degradation. Additionally, the indiscriminate encroachment and illegal sand mining along the banks of the Yamuna have further narrowed its channel, accelerated erosion, and degraded riparian habitats.
The disappearance of the Yamuna River has had far-reaching consequences for the environment, economy, and public health in Delhi and its surrounding areas. Aquatic ecosystems that once thrived in its waters have been decimated, leading to the loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services. Moreover, communities that depended on the Yamuna for irrigation, fishing, and domestic water supply have been adversely affected, facing water scarcity, loss of livelihoods, and health hazards due to pollution. Urgent and concerted action is needed to reverse the degradation of the Yamuna River, including comprehensive pollution control measures, restoration of riparian habitats, regulation of sand mining activities, and promotion of sustainable development practices. Only through collaborative efforts and collective action can we hope to revive the Yamuna River and ensure its sustainability for future generations.

Ghaggar-Hakra River

ghaggra-hakra-saraswati

The Ghaggar-Hakra River, once a symbol of flourishing civilizations along its banks, has tragically dwindled into obscurity, leaving behind mere traces of its former grandeur. Historically, this river played a pivotal role in sustaining the ancient Indus Valley Civilization, providing water for agriculture, transportation, and domestic needs. However, the relentless exploitation of its waters for irrigation, coupled with the construction of dams and barrages, has led to its gradual disappearance. Today, what remains of the Ghaggar-Hakra is a seasonal stream, unable to fulfill the needs of the ecosystems and communities that once thrived upon its waters.
The excessive extraction of water for irrigation, primarily to support agricultural practices, has significantly contributed to the demise of the Ghaggar-Hakra River. As demand for water grew with increasing population and agricultural intensification, the river’s flow diminished, eventually reducing it to a mere trickle during dry seasons. Additionally, the construction of dams and barrages along its course further impeded the river’s natural flow, fragmenting its ecosystem and exacerbating its decline.
The disappearance of the Ghaggar-Hakra River has had profound consequences on both the environment and human livelihoods in the region. Ecosystems that were once sustained by its waters have suffered from habitat loss, reduced biodiversity, and diminished ecosystem services. Furthermore, communities that depended on the river for irrigation, fishing, and transportation have been adversely affected, facing water scarcity, loss of livelihoods, and social dislocation.
Efforts to revive the Ghaggar-Hakra River and restore its ecological integrity have been initiated, including measures to regulate water extraction, promote sustainable agricultural practices, and rejuvenate degraded riparian habitats. However, addressing the complex challenges associated with river restoration requires a holistic approach that involves stakeholder participation, policy reforms, and scientific interventions. As we reflect on the disappearance of the Ghaggar-Hakra River on this International Day of Action for Rivers, let us renew our commitment to safeguarding and restoring our precious water resources for the benefit of present and future generations.

Sabarmati River

The Sabarmati River, once a lifeline for the state of Gujarat, has sadly fallen victim to a multitude of anthropogenic pressures, resulting in its drastic decline and near disappearance. Flowing through the heart of Gujarat, the Sabarmati was once celebrated for its pristine waters and the vibrant ecosystems it supported. However, rapid urbanization, industrialization, and unsustainable agricultural practices have taken a heavy toll on the river’s health, pushing it to the brink of ecological collapse.
One of the primary contributors to the demise of the Sabarmati River is pollution, stemming from untreated sewage, industrial effluents, and solid waste discharge. As urban centers along its banks expanded, the river became increasingly burdened with pollutants, leading to severe degradation of water quality and aquatic habitats. The once-clear waters of the Sabarmati have been replaced by toxic sludge, rendering it unsuitable for drinking, bathing, or sustaining aquatic life.
In addition to pollution, the Sabarmati River has been significantly impacted by the construction of dams, barrages, and irrigation canals, which have altered its natural flow regime and fragmented its ecosystem. These infrastructural interventions, undertaken primarily for water storage and irrigation purposes, have disrupted the river’s hydrology, reduced sediment transport, and diminished its capacity to support biodiversity. As a result, stretches of the Sabarmati River now resemble stagnant cesspools rather than flowing water bodies, devoid of the diverse flora and fauna that once thrived in its waters.
The plight of the Sabarmati River has not gone unnoticed by the government, and several steps have been taken to address its degradation and promote its revival. Among the notable initiatives is the endeavor to augment the flow of the Narmada River into the Sabarmati, thereby replenishing its waters and improving its ecological health. By allowing the flow of Narmada waters into the Sabarmati, authorities aim to enhance its flow, dilute pollutants, and rejuvenate aquatic habitats along its course.
Furthermore, the government has implemented pollution control measures to mitigate the adverse impacts of untreated sewage, industrial effluents, and solid waste discharge into the Sabarmati River. Efforts to improve sewage treatment infrastructure, regulate industrial pollution, and promote solid waste management have been prioritized to reduce the pollution load on the river and restore water quality. Additionally, awareness campaigns and community engagement initiatives have been undertaken to foster a sense of responsibility among stakeholders and encourage participation in river conservation efforts.
In conjunction with pollution control measures, the government has also emphasized sustainable water management practices to ensure the equitable distribution and efficient utilization of water resources in the Sabarmati basin. This includes the promotion of water-saving technologies in agriculture, the regulation of groundwater extraction, and the development of water harvesting and recycling systems to augment water availability and alleviate pressure on the river.
While significant strides have been taken to address the degradation of the Sabarmati River it is evident that more comprehensive and sustained action is needed to secure its future and restore its ecological integrity.

Mithi River

The Mithi River, once a vital waterway winding through the bustling city of Mumbai, has tragically succumbed to a multitude of anthropogenic pressures, leading to its gradual disappearance and degradation. Historically, the Mithi River played a crucial role in regulating the city’s water flow, draining excess rainwater into the Arabian Sea and serving as a lifeline for the communities settled along its banks. However, rapid urbanization, unchecked encroachment, and inadequate waste management practices have transformed the Mithi into a mere shadow of its former self.
One of the primary contributors to the disappearance of the Mithi River is rampant encroachment and indiscriminate dumping of solid waste along its banks and into its waters. As Mumbai expanded rapidly, informal settlements sprouted along the river’s course, encroaching upon its floodplains and obstructing its natural flow. Moreover, the unchecked dumping of garbage, construction debris, and industrial waste into the Mithi River has not only choked its channel but also contaminated its waters, rendering it unfit for aquatic life and human use.
Furthermore, the channelization and concretization of the Mithi River, undertaken ostensibly to prevent flooding and facilitate urban development, have had detrimental consequences on its hydrology and ecological health. The straightening and narrowing of the river’s course, coupled with the construction of concrete embankments, have disrupted its natural flow regime, accelerated erosion, and diminished its capacity to absorb and convey stormwater during monsoon events. Consequently, the Mithi River has become prone to frequent flooding, exacerbating the damage caused by heavy rainfall and posing risks to life and property along its banks.
The disappearance of the Mithi River has had profound implications for the environment, public health, and urban resilience in Mumbai. Aquatic ecosystems that once thrived in its waters have been decimated, leading to the loss of biodiversity and ecological functions. Moreover, communities residing in low-lying areas along the riverbanks are increasingly vulnerable to flooding, waterborne diseases, and environmental hazards exacerbated by the degradation of the Mithi River. Urgent and concerted action is needed to reverse the decline of the Mithi River, including measures to prevent further encroachment, improve waste management practices, restore its natural hydrology, and enhance its ecological resilience. Only through comprehensive and sustainable efforts to revive the Mithi River can Mumbai reclaim its lost waterway and ensure a healthier and more resilient future for its citizens.

Kumari River

The Kumari River, once a lifeline for the city of Chennai in Tamil Nadu, has tragically fallen victim to a combination of anthropogenic activities and neglect, leading to its gradual disappearance and degradation. Historically, the Kumari River played a vital role in sustaining the region’s agricultural activities, providing water for irrigation, drinking, and domestic use. However, rapid urbanization, industrialization, and unsustainable development practices have taken a toll on the river, transforming it from a vibrant water body into a polluted and neglected watercourse.
One of the primary contributors to the disappearance of the Kumari River is pollution, stemming from untreated sewage, industrial effluents, and solid waste discharge. As Chennai expanded rapidly, urban settlements encroached upon the riverbanks, and industries proliferated along its course, leading to the unchecked discharge of pollutants into the river. Consequently, the Kumari River became heavily contaminated, with its waters unfit for human use or sustaining aquatic life.
Furthermore, the unchecked encroachment and illegal sand mining along the banks of the Kumari River have further exacerbated its degradation and contributed to its disappearance. The conversion of riverbanks into urban settlements, agricultural fields, and industrial estates has not only narrowed the river’s channel but also disrupted its natural flow regime and degraded riparian habitats. Additionally, the indiscriminate extraction of sand from the riverbed has accelerated erosion, destabilized riverbanks, and altered the river’s geomorphology, exacerbating its vulnerability to flooding and erosion.
The disappearance of the Kumari River has had far-reaching consequences for the environment, economy, and social fabric of Chennai and its surrounding areas. Aquatic ecosystems that once flourished in its waters have been decimated, leading to the loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services. Moreover, communities that depended on the Kumari River for fishing, agriculture, and domestic water supply have been adversely affected, facing water scarcity, loss of livelihoods, and health hazards due to pollution. Urgent action is needed to reverse the degradation of the Kumari River, including comprehensive pollution control measures, restoration of riparian habitats, regulation of sand mining activities, and promotion of sustainable development practices. Only through concerted efforts and collaborative action can we hope to revive the Kumari River and ensure its sustainability for future generations.

Musi River

The Musi River, once a lifeline for the historic city of Hyderabad in Telangana, has tragically dwindled into obscurity, succumbing to a plethora of anthropogenic pressures and neglect. Historically, the Musi River played a pivotal role in shaping the socio-economic landscape of Hyderabad, serving as a source of water for irrigation, drinking, and industrial activities. However, rapid urbanization, unchecked pollution, and unsustainable development practices have led to its gradual disappearance and degradation, transforming it from a vibrant water body into a polluted and neglected watercourse.
One of the primary contributors to the disappearance of the Musi River is pollution, stemming from untreated sewage, industrial effluents, and solid waste discharge. As Hyderabad expanded rapidly, urban settlements encroached upon the riverbanks, and industries proliferated along its course, leading to the unchecked discharge of pollutants into the river. Consequently, the Musi River became heavily contaminated, with its waters unfit for human use or sustaining aquatic life.
Furthermore, the construction of dams and barrages along the Musi River, ostensibly to regulate water flow and facilitate irrigation, has further exacerbated its degradation and contributed to its disappearance. These infrastructural interventions have altered the river’s natural flow regime, reduced sediment transport, and disrupted downstream ecosystems, leading to the loss of biodiversity and ecological balance. Additionally, the unchecked encroachment and illegal sand mining along the banks of the Musi River have further narrowed its channel, accelerated erosion, and degraded riparian habitats.
The disappearance of the Musi River has had profound implications for the environment, economy, and social fabric of Hyderabad and its surrounding areas. Aquatic ecosystems that once thrived in its waters have been decimated, leading to the loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services. Moreover, communities that depended on the Musi River for fishing, agriculture, and domestic water supply have been adversely affected, facing water scarcity, loss of livelihoods, and health hazards due to pollution. Urgent and concerted action is needed to reverse the degradation of the Musi River, including comprehensive pollution control measures, restoration of riparian habitats, regulation of sand mining activities, and promotion of sustainable development practices. Only through collaborative efforts and collective action can we hope to revive the Musi River and ensure its sustainability for future generations.