This is with reference to “For rejuvenating, not re-engineering, the Ganga” by Shri Ramaswamy Iyer, former Secretary to the Govt. of India, Ministry of Water Resources

July 16, 2014

The author has trashed the real issues before the nation and questions the developmental approaches by baselessly arguing that “The forces of free market capitalism and the insatiable ‘developmental’ demand for energy will trump all environmental concerns as well as anxieties about the Ganga”. Water Resources community is dismayed and disappointed at the ill founded views of a former bureaucrat who was at the helm of affairs during earlier governments. It also cannot agree with faddist and impressionistic arguments and viewpoints . Some inherent contradictions in this article are engineering versus development, poorly understood engineering approaches, interventions in the rivers for benefit of the mankind as only potential for river water quality degradation etc. to point out a few. While the issues like nomenclature of new ministry do not merit any comment, the mis-information campaign championed by some self proclaimed saviors of rivers needs to be responded to, for greater good of the public.

Author does not wish to appreciate concept of river training and river dredging by arguing that “There is also the allied term ‘river training’ which seems to suggest that a river is a household pet or circus animal waiting to be trained by its human masters

Fact is that the River training is an age old engineering practice universally recognized and documented thoroughly by leading national and international agencies like USBR, US Army Corps of Engineers, HMSO etc. Back home, CW&PRS , CBIP and BIS have excellent and effective guidelines which have been implemented successfully in many rivers in Indian riverine systems like Indus, Ganga, Gomti, Ghagra, Kosi, Gandak, Yamuna and so many others. Benefits of training of rivers obtained and resultant savings and prevention of loss of lives in various flood control schemes are totally ignored by Mr. Iyer. Similarly, the opportunity cheap and pollution free inland navigation by judicious measures are also ignored and denied, if one agrees to the views.

Sabarmati model is compared by the author with Ganga. It seems to suggest that similar approaches of developing the river fronts would be unwise. While developments of river fronts is essentially location centric , the spirit behind such developments needs to be appreciated. Locals along different river banks are pluralistic in socio-economic and cultural character. Obviously, methods would not be alike. In case of Ganga, author has questioned the source of water for cleaning unlike Sabarmati, which had Narmada waters to its rescue. Plain answer is to strategically implement the very RoR schemes which Shri Iyer and his likes are opposing. Cumulatively they augment good amount of storage and offer a regulated discharge down below. Case in point is Rihikesh barrage, where post Tehri flows are stabilized considerably for off taking canal and subsequently to river. Same is the case with Yamuna, which awaits augmenting lean flows through planned upstream storages.

Posterity will blame us for not creating and augmenting any storage as yet and leaving this river to the state it is now by relying heavily on recycling models alone. Opposing useful and well planned storages on one hand and crying foul for not getting any fresh water for cleansing of polluted rivers will do no good to any body!

In respect of river linking proposed by former governments, one needs to understand basic philosophy of linking the rivers which is to supply water from surplus basins to deficit basins which are facing the brunt of draughts and are facing water scarcity. It is naïve to assume that Ganga or Subernarekha examples cited do not factor in the realistic data. Aviral Dhara and E-flows go hand in hand. Does Mr. Iyer think that proponents of river developments are immune to such concerns? He should appreciate that judicious technological interventions are the only ways to balance the concerns of development and rejuvenation.

Shri Iyer also states that “Above all, the concern that lay behind the study of the impacts of multiple projects on the Ganga must not be forgotten. We have already done enormous harm to the river by constructing dams and barrages.” Author should have conclusively provided any evidence to such mischievous and confusing argument. Who has authorized him to spread such technically incorrect facts? While the positive effects of diversion and storage structures across the Ganga can be seen and verified by any body, can one imagine life now without these structures?

RoR plants planned across the river are painted as villains by Mr. Iyer. He should understand that with proper management of flows one can always address the concerns of river sensitivity. Rightly, engineering community is following that approach and coming out with the real picture which is greatly contrasting the one provided to the readers of this new paper.

Overall we condemn the ill timed misinformation campaign taken up through such misleading articles. When effective and judicious engineering interventions have greatly improved living standards of people worldwide, some lobbies are trying to raise unscientific voices not backed by any data. This will only help subvert the development which India is striving for.

Published in The Hindu dated 16th July,2014.

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