Nirmal Ganga Abhiyan
For years we have been manipulating the flow of water for a variety of reasons: power generation, aesthetics, flood control, agricultural and industrial uses. Unfortunately, many of these uses do not take into account that stream, even if it runs only for four months of the year, is a living ecosystem. We have failed to consider the life in it. In too many cases, our short term needs take precedence over providing sustainable solutions for long term management. We continue to channelize, modify and impound streams and often fall far short of desired results.
Problems of municipal, industrial and agricultural waste are ongoing. The result is unnecessary degradation of streams, poor water management and degradation of aquatic life. The new ecological approach considers water as a living force and the stream as a living entity. With the same approach Ecological Society decided to conduct Nirmal Ganga Abhiyan as an effort to spread an awareness help about ecological importance of stream and restoration alternatives which, if implemented, create a base of long term sustainability of water sources along with preserving biodiversity.
The Society launched this programme in the form of a competition in the year 2007. It is a year long process where participants from various villages selected their stream, analysed it from ecological perspective, prepared an action plan for restoration and they are trying to implement it with available resources and collective efforts. The programme is not yet complete and finally those villages will receive awards who worked on their streams as per the action plan and on the basis of their overall performance in the programme. The programme will be over by the end of 2007. The idea behind launching it in the form of a competition was to provide essential incentives and to create a spirit of working with a short term goal.
Overview of the competition:
Introductory workshop conducted on 13th January 2007
Approximately 55 people from NGOs, Panchayats, BDOs and other institutes participated in the workshop
So far 9 villages for 12 streams have enrolled for the competition.
Preliminary visits were conducted before monsoon to assess the stream and prepare an action plan.
Pre-monsoon work was carried out first in wet areas and mid-monsoon work is going on in six villages.
Participation by school teachers and students is noticiable where villages are working as per the plan.
Conducting slide shows on River Ecology was for school students was one of the main activities
Long term Programme:
Nirmal Ganga Abhiyan was launched in the form of competition but that is not the only objective of the Abhiyan to conduct a competition. Competition provided an entry point and base to undertake longer programme. Now is the time for upscaling of the activity and extension. The programme needs extension because restoration is a long term process. Ecological processes take time to restore and show results. Moreover, it is a participatory programme, where restoration is achieved with consensus and participation of local people. If all the environmental and social threads are to be neatly woven and work as a homogeneous fabric, long term planning and management becomes essential. It is an appropriate step to implement the long term project in those villages that have participated in Nirmal Ganga Abhiyan and have shown good potential and performance.
The competition is not yet over but it is very clear which villages have more strength and willingness to adopt the new programme and implement it on respective streams. The three villages chosen for long term programme are selected mainly because of following factors:
- Definite interest groups to take up the project
- Significant participation by students and teachers
- Stream conditions restorable within a considerable time period
Objectives of the Long Term Programme:
Around the stream and over the catchment
The competition was focused on restoration of stream bed and stream banks. Thus it involved measures like, in-stream habitat improvement with boulders, soil and vegetation, bank stabilization and riparian vegetation enhancement. Thus villages selected the stretch of the stream on which they can work, then it was assessed on the basis of the status of in-stream habitats, biodiversity and bank conditions. Villagers decided priority based action plan where minimum resources and inputs were required to start the process of restoration. They physically worked to create in-stream habitats and riprap stream banks. They collected seeds and spread them along the sides of the streams; they planted a few saplings and gave protection to as many as possible. Thus all this work was mainly done in and around stream channel.
Loose Boulder Bunds
Stream is closely associated with larger landscape and it is a part of watershed.
There are certain measures to be taken on landscape basis such as gully plugging, identifying erosion prone areas and doing some treatment for it, establishing cover types etc. These measures are different from conventional watershed work like creating CCT (continuous contour trenching) or single species plantations. The emphasis would be on natural regeneration and soft engineering techniques which do not require higher external inputs and construction.
Identifying living indicators of stream health
There is some work done on selected streams for impounding water by constructing checkdams. These dams are constructed as loose boulder structures at some places and as concrete KT weir or Gabion dam at few places. The height of these dams is not more than 3 ft. Ecological restoration of streams has a different approach to work on these barriers. At many places these small dams need passage for fish to migrate upstream for spawning.
Creating such passage need some basic information on local fish and their migratory movement. It will be collected during the long term programme and passage will be designed and created accordingly. Fresh water fish are also indicators of stream health. Gathering information on biodiversity (fish and other amphibians, birds and mammals) and maintaining a record of its enhancement will be a major activity in long term programme.
The backwater impounded by bunds remains in the bed for considerable time of the year. If managed well, the spread of the back water can also function as a wetland which is a very productive ecosystem. At present this spread remains only as a dead storage of water. This will be another component of restoration.
Diversion channel and diversion pond
It is required at some places that there is definite root for cattle and vehicle (bullock cart) movement as it happens through stream bed at different locations. It is a matter of collective decision to fix one route and follow it instead of keeping several routes that disturb habitats. It will be perused in long term planning. There is no much nuisance at present by cattle bathing and cloth washing in stream bed. But a model would be established at an appropriate location of constructing diversion channel and constructing diversion bed to carry out such activities if it is required in future.
There is a problem of waste dumping into the channel in some streams. It would need immense public awareness, consensus on not to pollute stream and alternative arrangement of waste handling. This will be a part of long term planning. The process of awareness generation has already started. However, it has to be done continuously till it reaches to every person in the village and alternatives need to be identified and implemented.
Collective planning and management of water resource
Generally, the problem observed in these villages is about the collective decision on sustainable water usage. The area under cash crops increases as soon as water is available for irrigation. Thirsty crops like sugar cane drink maximum amount of water and land out of the reach of canal of aquifer again remains dry without any vegetation cover.
Thus there is a need to understand the ‘potential’ of resources and develop a plan for their sustainable use. This can be done with the help of certain tools of ecological assessment and participatory planning. The long term planning would aim at introducing such tools to villagers.
It is difficult to predict exact time period of restoration of any stream. However, given a period of three years, it can be said that natural process get time to revive. These three years are mainly required for vegetation growth, habitat creation and management, biodiversity enhancement and enhancement in natural processes like rainwater percolation, ground water recharge, temperature cooling, controlling soil erosion etc.
Working with school children would be the main strategy as children are sensitive towards environment and they also act quickly and efficiently for positive interventions.
Environmental education is a compulsory part of school curriculum and project like Nirmal Ganga Abhiyan not only gives them information about stream eco-systems but provides an opportunity to practically work for stream restoration which is an important element of environmental education. Thus school teachers also find this programme very helpful and practical.
Information dissemination, awareness generation, participatory planning and practical work are the main aspects of the programme. Thus preparing information material, conducting programs for awareness (workshops, exhibitions, seminar etc.), reaching to all the stakeholders, facilitating planning process, arranging meeting with experts, monitoring on going work of stream restoration and troubleshooting would be essential
Stream management committee will be formed with the representation of all the stakeholders and action leaders. One local correspondent will be appointed to look after the ongoing work, data collection and documentation.
- A complete checklist of assessing streams in high and low rainfall from ecological perspective
- Comprehensive data collection of biodiversity, natural processes and habitat development
- Educational material in local language
- Training and involvement of youth leaders and school students
- First complete model and demonstration unit of ecological restoration from awareness to implementation