The water available to each Indian in 2011 was 70% less than in 1951, and it will reduce further by 2050. Rising population is partly the reason, but dying rivers and depleted groundwater have made the situation worse. Underlining the crisis, Isha Foundation led by Sadhguru has released a detailed draft outlining how the country can save its rivers through massive riverside afforestation.

The 760-page draft, which Sadhguru submitted to the Prime Minister in October, recommends several measures but its thrust is on augmenting water supply to the rivers through riverside plantation. It has been shared with the ministries of water resources and environment, as well as with the government's think-tank Niti Aayog.

"We have been examining all the suggestions. Most of them are, in fact, part of the Centre's National River Conservation Plan (NRCP) for conserving 30 major rivers across the country," an official told TOI. "Their draft's focus is on revitalising rivers through afforestation under a holistic policy framework, and this is where we need to work with all stakeholders, including states."

The draft explains how planting trees all along a river, to a distance of at least 1 km on both sides, can revitalise it. The policy recommendations go into the details of doing it without affecting the livelihood of people living along rivers and encouraging farmers to switch to tree-based agriculture with incentives and financial linkages.

Sadhguru himself explains in the preface that the "draft policy recommendation is an effort to make the solution into an economic policy with significant ecological impact". The draft is also in sync with his appeal to move towards making a law that will treat rivers, water bodies and soil as national treasure.

Former Union water secretary Shashi Shekhar, who consulted on the Foundation's draft, told TOI the gigantic task of river revitalisation cannot be done by the government alone and this is where private participation and organisations like Isha Foundation can play an important role.

Shekhar, who was instrumental in framing the government's ambitious In partnership with `Namami Gange' pro gramme during his tenure in the ministry, initially disagreed with the Foundation's preliminary draft as it did not place enough emphasis on ecological flow of rivers and their catchment area. "Idea of tree plantation is good. Though it won't solve the entire problem, it would certainly save the floodplains from encroachments and it's important to save the river ecosystem," he said.

He suggested the Foun He suggested the Foundation create a public trust headed by an eminent person to generate funds through public donations for river revitalisation programmes and work for saving the rivers through policy assistance from the government. "Campaigns like 'Rally for Rivers' are good for creating awareness and building a critical mass for the task," said Shekhar.

Other river experts also said the draft is simplistic but appreciated the effort the Foundation has put into it. "It is based on a predetermined and too simplistic a solution to a pretty complex entity (river) and a vexed is sue (its degradation)," said Manoj Misra of Yamuna Jiye Abhiyan, who studied the document in its entirety. "I must say that a lot of effort has gone into its research and compilation and its intent and sincerity cannot be doubted," he added.
The Isha Foundation is, meanwhile, gathering feedback and contributions from across the country. It will incorporate the scientifically validated suggestions in the next draft which is expected to be released after three months.

"We have been getting inputs from individual scientists from various technical institutions, including the IITs and National Institute of Hydrology. It would have been better if those institutions took ownership of such inputs so that our technical team could discuss them further and make them part of the policy document," said a functionary.

Source: Nov 6, 2017, The Times of India