Though India has a long tradition of worshipping its rivers, these rivers are now under threat. Sadhguru explains that unless we act now, we will lose our precious water & the ability to generate food for our nation. If we allow this “land of seven rivers” to dry into a desert, it will cause a serious disaster.
Sadhguru: In the making of this civilization, ancient Bharat has always been referred to as the land of seven rivers. Rivers have been so significant for us to a point where people worship rivers. Worship we do, but we have not taken care of them.
The rivers have been flowing for millions of years in this land. But now we have come to a point where the rivers are under serious threat. We have been too focused on how to utilize the river, how to build dams, how to build canals, how to grow more food out of rivers – all this we have done. We have an incredible record that we have managed to produce food for a billion people. This is not a mean achievement. But in the process of this, we are ensuring that future generations will have nothing to eat or drink.
Today, our rivers are depleting at such a rate that they will become seasonal in 20 years’ time. Rivers which have flowed as perennial sources of water for millions of years are going to become seasonal in two generations. The Kaveri already does not reach the ocean for almost three months in a year, and two states are at war for this depleting river. The Krishna does not reach the ocean for almost four to five months and, like this, it is happening everywhere. All other uncertainties we can handle, but if we run out of water and the ability to generate food for our population, then we will have a serious disaster on our hands.
We are losing nearly 5.3 billion tons of topsoil per year. This is nearly a millimeter of topsoil per year. If we go at the same pace without replenishing it, in about thirty-five to forty years, all the topsoil in the country which can grow crops will be completely gone. So our ability to grow food is receding dramatically. Already about twenty-five percent of the topsoil has been lost in the last thirty to thirty-five years. If this continues, we are working towards turning this land into a desert.
Right from ancient times, the wisdom has been such that if we grew crops, we just took the crop – the rest of the plant and the animal waste always went back into the soil. But today, we are taking everything out and not putting anything back. We think things will happen just by throwing fertilizer. It doesn’t work like that. The quality and nourishment value of our food is coming down dramatically. And our ability to grow food itself could go away soon because we are turning this into a desert.
It may be very hard for you to imagine how this lush land will become desert. The Kalahari Desert in Africa, which is one of the harshest deserts in the world today, was a very lush land with rivers flowing at one time. Today, it is a very, very harsh desert. This can happen, and it has happened in the past for variety of reasons. While those were natural reasons, today, this is essentially caused by us.
This cannot be fixed just by individual enthusiasm. This is not going to happen if a few of us go and plant a few trees on the river bank and think we have done it. This is just personal satisfaction, not a solution. What is needed is enforceable government policy. In order to feed rivers, the soil around them needs to be moist. Most of our rivers are forest-fed. When the land was covered by rainforest, precipitation gathered in the soil and fed the streams and rivers which were then in full flow. People think because of water there are trees; no, because of trees there is water. If there is no forest, there will be no river after some time. But a large part of India now is farmed land, which we cannot convert to forest. The solution is that, for a minimum of one kilometer on either side of the river and half kilometer for tributaries, wherever it is government land, we plant forest trees. Wherever it is private land, we shift from soil-depleting crops to tree-based horticulture.
The farmer is just working for his livelihood. He does not know anything about the unfolding ecological disaster. However, if you show the farmer the economics of this move, that by planting fruit trees he will earn more than he can by plowing the land, he will naturally take to it. But you have to subsidize the first few years for him till horticulture begins to yield. And once it comes to yield, you must incentivize private sector to set up allied industry to absorb these hundreds of square kilometers of horticultural produce. If you ensure this minimum tree-cover, in fifteen years’ time, our rivers will have at least twenty percent more water flowing.
The solution can only happen with government policy. It will take a nationwide enforceable policy if we want to bring about substantial change. We urgently need to shift from thinking of how to exploit our rivers to how to revitalize them. We have to make everyone in the country aware that there is an express need for action to save our rivers.
As a step towards this, for 30 days from September 3 to October 2, we will be doing a Rally for Rivers, where I will personally drive across 16 states and over 7000 kilometers, with events in 23 major cities to make a strong pitch for saving our rivers. This will culminate in Delhi, where we will be presenting a River Rejuvenation Policy Recommendation to the government. Until now, each state has been acting as if they were a separate existence by themselves. We need all the states to come together and work out a common policy.
The equation is simple. Adjacent to the rivers, there have to be trees. If we create vegetation, it will hold water and rivers will be replenished. If we spread this awareness to everyone in the country, arrive at a common policy, and start the implementation, it will be a huge and successful step for the future of our nation and for the wellbeing of generations to come.