Karnataka's Bandipur story: Of dry waterholes and the task of reviving rivers
The characteristic river, is actually a process which includes interplay of the geology, topography, rainfall, and the flora and fauna of the region.
The far harder challenge, however, to the existence of rivers, is to change the water utilisation patterns which have become unsustainable
Last month our team visited the Bandipur Tiger Reserve for a well-earned holiday. Summer was around the corner and the whole forest was painted in parched brown. While on safari through the withered jungle we saw deer, sambhars, peacocks, variety of birds, a lone tusker and even managed to capture a fleeting glimpse of fighting sloth bears.
All of us were disappointed, however, that we could not spot the mighty tiger. Personally, I felt we were very unlucky to have not spotted one -- there were very few watering holes that had water and all our sightings were in the vicinity of these holes. Each moment around these last surviving water sources, I felt that the marvellous stripes would emerge out of camouflage, but it was not be our day.
The joy of working in a sector like water is that that the whole world becomes your observatory. On our way back I researched and was disappointed to figure that not even these last surviving water holes were natural. Many survived on water drilled out of boreholes, as deep as 300 feet. The forest of Bandipur forms the catchment of the River Nugu, a tributary of the Cauvery river. This in simple words means that the water stored in watering holes of Bandipur, and under its surface in cracks and pores in the rocks, feeds the Nugu, and hence the Cauvery.
The characteristic river, is actually a process which includes interplay of the geology, topography, rainfall, and the flora and fauna of the region. Over the last half a century, this process has been rendered ineffective owing to deforestation and change of land use pattern. The water being stored in surface water bodies has reduced considerably owing to siltation and soil erosion, and at the same point the ground water recharge mechanisms have become defunct since tree roots that would let water through are absent. The short to medium-term solution to this crisis is constructing artificial groundwater recharge structures and undertaking extensive soil conservation measures. This is a key activity in watershed development, and involves mapping the entire catchment area of the river utilising remote sensing.
On this front, the government has been very active, but most schemes and projects are marred with corruption and poor implementation. The Art of Living undertook this task of watershed development working with communities, corporates and government. These are large-scale programs where the community is mobilised and trained on watershed development and Gram Panchayats are roped in as key stakeholders.
The far harder challenge, however, to the existence of rivers, is to change the water utilisation patterns which have become unsustainable owing to increasing urbanisation, proliferation of borewells and subsequent change in cropping patterns. The availablity of borewells two decades ago prodded farmers to wade into water intensive crops, changing the whole economies of those regions. The sugarcane economy of Maharashtra which has generated many a politician is one such example.
This requires working with communities, and employing a combination of advocacy and innovation to drive the change. At an individual level, farmers need to be provided alternatives to economically attractive water intensive crops and technologies that save water.
As we left Bandipur, it was late in the evening, and we noticed a small forest fire at a distance. We started pondering how this fire would affect a farmer in a distant village in Tamil Nadu. We knew the challenges we’d face in quelling this fire, in bringing communities together, convincing farmers to change cropping patterns, battling corruption to implement watershed development programmes, to revive our dying rivers. We knew that it’s going to be difficult, but the fire and the dying watering holes of Bandipur had made our resolve stronger.
Courtesy: The New Indian Express
09342401398/ 09342582375/ 09811019390