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Narmada: Lifeline of Madhya Pradesh in dire straits

Jan 15, 2015

Narmada, the lifeline of Madhya Pradesh is in danger due to declining water quality and quantity.

Narmada Budhni

Bhopal/Hoshangabad/Sehore: Why river Narmada is revered as a mother is not without a reason. Since ancient times, the river has sustained tribes as well as agrarian communities that have lived on and around its banks. However, the river that is considered to be the lifeline of Madhya Pradesh is facing challenges not of its own making. Climate change is now impacting the health of the river, which also impacts the sustenance of the lush green fields of wheat and chickpea around the Narmada.

Sixty-year-old Puran Lal Manjhi, a fisherman from Sehore, says that climate change can be felt through erratic rains, prolonged summers and harsher sun. “All these factors are a big threat to our fields. The harsh sun is also killing fish in the river. Crops like wheat and gram have stunted growth because of comparatively less cold weather. I have asked my children to look for alternative means of livelihood. I have told them that there is no future in farming,” he said.

Member of the Rajya Sabha and social activist, Anil Madhav Dave who undertook an eighteen-day raft journey in River Narmada during the year 2007, from Amarkantak to Bharuch, said that at least fifty types of fish that existed earlier are now extinct. “The impact of climate change is very severe on the aquatic life of Narmada. I got this understanding of the loss after talking to tribal people during my ‘chaupal’ meetings with them in villages around the river. Defining a river by just the water flowing between the two banks is a very narrow definition as in the true sense, the entire catchment area is a river,” he said.

Dave explained how the decrease in the number of fish is making fishermen work harder as they have begun to fish during the night also. “I have seen their small boats in the river even at midnight. This has happened only because of climate change. Both the quantity and quality of fish has gone down,” he explained.

Dave also shared that the water level has reduced to an alarming level. “The water level in Narmada in the month of November 2014 has been what it usually is in the month of May and June. I wonder what will happen during the summer. Trees and mountains form the bank of the river where the rainy water gets stored. It is this water which seeps into the river and forms the actual catchment area of the river. But human activities have had a severe impact on this catchment area. Because of this, during the rainy season there are floods but otherwise the river does not have enough water,” he said.

Leeladhar Manjhi, a fifty- year-old fisherman and a native of Budhni, a Nagar Palika in Sehore district of Madhya Pradesh, said that rains had become very erratic in the last two decades. “Sometimes it rains very heavily, other times there are no rains at all. Earlier, it used to used to rain for four months in the monsoon season, nowadays it rains only for one or two months,” he said.

Manjhi said that income from fishing has dwindled. “My income from fishing is just enough to sustain the family. Scanty rainfall is having an adverse impact on fish breeding. Also, because of less water in the river, there is less silt deposit near the banks which is harming melon cultivation,” he said.

Sushila Manjhi, a 45-year-old woman from Budhni, complains about receding water level around the Narmada. “Now, the water in the borewells has gone below 250 feet. When I was young, there was very good wheat cultivation. Nowadays, even December is warm. The wheat crop cannot survive in such warm weather,” she said.

Hemraj Singh Malwi, a farmer from Deoghar in Sehore district, echoed the concerns of Budhni fishermen. He lamented that Rabi crops are badly affected because of warm weather. “Less rain has delayed the chill which is a basic need of Rabi crops like wheat and gram. Harsher and prolonged summers have reduced milk production,” he said.

Narmada, the lifeline of Madhya Pradesh is in danger due to declining water quality and quantity. If the pattern continues and the river’s health keeps going down, it will subsequently result in devastation social and economic devastation for those who depend upon it for their survival.

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