HASDEO RIVER BASIN – Looking Through the Lens of E-Flows
From time immemorial development or rather growth in India has occurred on the lines of the theory of Imperial Science where one uses technology to make windfall transformations in human life. And amidst all this there was no place for local knowledge to thrive. Productivity was at odds with sustainability. Since nothing has changed in all these years, one can relive the process in the Hasdeo River Basin.
Spread across 5 districts in Chhattisgarh, the Hasdeo River is regarded nothing less than the lifeline of the region but at the same time is abused for its very voiceless attribute. One can see engineering endeavours lined all along from the very origin to the very end point where it surrenders itself to the mighty Mahanadi. With scores of Thermal Power Plants, coal mines, dams and barrages, the river has been crushed in the process of this very development.
The essential factors that have always defined the beauty and power of a river are the quality and quantity of its water and sediments. Transformations in the Hasdeo River Basin clearly indicate that technology has overpowered nature and in the process affected its very roots. E-flows, as a concept, deals not just with the water that flows in the channel but also the entire ecosystem that depends on it, and from which the river itself obtains its identity. Small streams, springs in the deeper domains of the forest have worked in sync for years to create a marvel that is the river Hasdeo. Only with this huge conglomerate of tributaries all along the 5 districts, is the river Hasdeo able to contribute 5389 MCM to the river Mahanadi. This is also the sole reason for the survival of tribal communities in their indigenous ways exploring the genius within. The river ecosystem which is one of the most diverse forms of ecosystem in the world thrives because of this very fact. All these interconnections will break at that point where the link between the tributaries and the river is cut.
And this is precisely what is happening. One needs to realize the fact that the river exists because of its tributaries. The extravagant level at which forests are being cut down pose a direct harm to the life of the tributaries. The basin is lined with mines and minerals. The reason why it is reckoned as the power hub and at present is possessed with surplus power is the coal that is buried beneath its forests, the exploitation of which not only depletes groundwater, but also the tiny streams that flowed past it. The disappearance of one stream in one corner might not affect the river Hasdeo, but an amalgamation of such events across the basin will wreck havoc on the river as a resource. It is being treated merely as a source instead of a resource, because if one looks at the rate of exploitation, all this might not really stand the test of time anymore.
A less severe way compared to the disappearance of the stream is the construction of dams, barrages and checks dams that break the link between the tributary and the river primarily for the vested interests of us humans. One for sure is the Hasdeo Bango dam, which is the nation’s pride, but also the innumerable tiny ones that have led to the conversion of a flowing entity into a standing one. This key transformation means a lot to the ecosystem that then undergoes changes. The type of aquatic organisms differs when the water flows as compared to when the water is standing. This has primarily led to the disappearance of a few varieties of fish that actually require high speed flow of water to lay eggs. In the absence of such a conducive environment the fishermen community is at a loss and also a change has been induced in the food chain.
Moving ahead, within this framework of Imperial science that governs our actions is the issue of allocations. They say that with power comes great responsibility and thereby accountability. So these technological marvels are in a sense catering to the growth of our economy. But one needs to question the simple boundary that exists between the winners and the losers. Why would the Chief Minister ask the farmers not to take up rice cultivation in summer when the sole purpose for which the dam was constructed was irrigation? Why is all the water being over allocated to the industries? A recent Right to Information filed by Manish Rathod, clearly shows that the industries have been allocated water above their designated limit. Industrialisation needs to occur in sync with the resources at hand. The value of an excess resource will always be limited with the one that is scarce. It is upto us to base the use of our resources, either on productivity or sustainability.
Using the resources at hand indiscriminately feeds back into the system as well. One can see this in the very pollution that has occurred around the water of river Hasdeo. With tonnes of fly ash being generated and a minuscule market for the same, they find their way into the rivers and the local nallas or rather tributaries making it a highly non conducive environment for the survival of the already existing ecosystem and the ones that could have flourished if the situation would have been something different. Research around the same speaks volumes. Be it the paper mills or the fly ash or any other form of effluents, all have led to the degradation of the quality of the water and the sediment. Elements like lead, cadmium and arsenic are just waiting to find their way into the food chain.
This blatant development will not take us anywhere, even if we survive, our future generations might not. And with the earth having entered its 6th mass destruction phase, all these are but tiny crumbs of warnings capable of visual inference. Any analytically minded human can grasp these intricacies. We have passed the period when all this could still be monitored as it has actually started to become visible. One might just choose to ignore it, but at the end no matter what we are fighting for, if this does stay then we all are on the path of extinction.