How Can Trees Save Rivers?
Following his captivating journey across India from Kanyakumari to Himalayas in support of India’s rivers, Sadhguru takes a moment to answer a few common questions from down2earth about how the policy recommendation, once implemented, will benefit these struggling waterways. He speaks on the possibilities and pitfalls of river-linking, as well as the land and tree requirements to increase the rivers’ water flow.
Q: What are your views on the inter-linking of rivers? Will it help in the survival of rivers and answer the need of water for all?
Sadhguru: The “Rally for Rivers” initiative is about revitalizing rivers and augmenting the flow of water in them. This focus on actually augmenting water supply is therefore qualitatively different from other measures, including river linking, that seek to utilize the currently available water supply.
Specific response to interlinking of rivers (from our Revitalization of Rivers in India, Draft Policy Recommendation):
From our interaction with a few scientists from ATREE, we got to know that the paradigm of “surplus” and “deficit” basins is, in itself, a limited understanding. It does not take into consideration the varying climate conditions we are going through. In many parts of India, complex changes in the monsoon regime is happening, and these regions are expected to undergo even more changes in rainfall regimes in the coming decades due to complex effects of warming atmosphere and oceans, impacts of aerosols and land-cover change. It is observed that the monsoons have weakened since the 1950s in regions such as the Western Ghats and in parts of central and northern India. Furthermore, the temporal and spatial distribution of rainfall has become more variable. Rainfall in parts of the country is now happening for fewer days and often in very intense spells. The “surplus” basins may in fact face severe water stress due to shifts in the nature of rainfall.
A few interlinking projects have already rolled out. It would be ideal if we evaluate the economic gains from these projects and weigh it against the loss of natural resource capital before embarking on new projects. Any proposal to do so must strictly be evaluated on the basis of scientific and environmental merit and long-term sustainability, rather than on the basis of emotions and politics. And while assessing potential benefits, in the context of our tropical climate, we should account for the resultant loss of water via evaporation and ground seepage. In India, rivers are mostly forest-fed; therefore, bringing back the tree cover on the either sides of the river is the only long-term sustainable solution to address water scarcity and reduce the impact of floods and droughts.
Q: How much land in total is required for the plantation on river banks? Whose land will this be and how will it be acquired?
Sadhguru: All the major rivers in the country totally run for around 20,000 kilometers – so that means 40,000 sq. km. of land on the river banks (1 km on both sides of the river). Around 25% of this land belongs to the government (except in few Himalayan states) and it must become forest (there is no data of land ownership on the riverside; this is an approximation from a state government’s cursory mention about the ownership of land). This needs to be forested with native and endemic forest species. The government land beside the river can be forested for lateral distance more than 1 km, and even the entire government land can be converted to forest land. When we say native and endemic trees, we mean those species specific to the ecology, be it erstwhile forested land, wetland or grassland. This can be done quite quickly as it does not involve a lot of stakeholders. This intervention, in itself, has the potential to exhibit change in microclimate and stabilization of precipitation.
Of the remaining farm land, around 10% is delta land which we can leave as it is. So 65%, or about 26,000 sq. km. is farmers’ lands where we want them to shift from regular crops to tree-based agriculture. There is no need to acquire any land for the proposed solution. We only want farmers to transition from regular farming to tree based agriculture. From our experience in small scales, we have observed that, when a farmer transitions from field based crop to tree based farming, his income multiplies. Our policy proposal, therefore, does not recommend any acquisition of private land. Establishment of large scale modules of economic significance is the only way to bring enthusiasm in the farming community.
Q: The rainfall patterns in the country have changed over the years. We don't get moderate rainfall, which is replaced by extreme rainfall. How, under this new development, do you think the plantation will help in water recharge? Do you have any scientific study to support your contention?
Sadhguru: The relationship of trees and rains is recognized scientifically. In our culture, this recognition is ritualistically followed by creation of sacred groves. These sacred groves were nothing but composites of threshold number of trees that seed rain. Especially in a leeward state like Tamil Nadu where we get rains from receding monsoons, this was the only way rain happened in the inland areas. Our policy recommendation has been based on an extensive review of scientific literature and the involvement of experts covering the entire range of related scientific disciplines, including forest experts, hydrology experts, and scientists from the Tamil Nadu Agricultural University. There is a strong consensus that afforestation will stabilize the micro-climate and rainfall patterns in a given region, lead to better retention of rainwater in the soil and recharge of ground water, and lead to more stable rainfall due to the rain seeding ability of trees from evotranspiration (the process by which water is transferred from the land to the atmosphere by evaporation from the soil and other surfaces and by transpiration from plants) from the leaves and other rain seeding material (like pollens) that they give out. Details of the scientific basis can be found in the Draft policy recommendation book.
Q: What is your opinion on water sharing between upper and lower riparian states?
Sadhguru: Right now there is not enough water flowing in a river. Even perennial rivers have stopped flowing all-round the year. We do not need to tell you, but still, flow in Kaveri and Krishna has fallen by 40%, and Krishna does not meet the sea for around 3-4 months of a year. Given this scenario, it is bound to happen that upper riparian and lower riparian states will fight for water. For example, now there is a fight over River Kaveri between Karnataka, the upper riparian state, and Tamil Nadu, the lower one. I am not on either side of the fight because I was born and grew up in Karnataka but now am in Tamil Nadu. I am making it very clear I am on the side of Kaveri – not on the side of either state. We need to be on the side of the river. For thousands of years, Kaveri flowed and there was no conflict. It is only now when the river flow has depleted that the fight has started. So we need to revitalize the rivers and augment the source to increase the water flow so that both the upper and lower riparian states benefit. The entire work we are proposing for revitalization of rivers is to augment the source of the river. We must burst the myth that only the upper reaches and origin of the river is the catchment of rivers. Every inch of land on this earth is a catchment of some river. So we are proposing to plant trees on a minimum of 1 km on either side of the rivers to first convince the farmers. If farmers see by example the economics of the transition from field based to tree based farming, they will not stop, and the planting will expand beyond the minimum 1 km recommendation. When this happens, rivers will flow, and the reasons for any upper or lower riparian water disputes will also fall.
Editor’s Note: An excerpt of this article was originally published on down2earth on October 10, 2017.
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