Ask yourself what is likely to kill you first? The garbage that you encounter on the street or the impure water that you drink to quench the desperate thirst? Data and common sense both say it’s the latter. And yet, in a nation where the population is growing at an alarming rate and where over 21% of the country’s diseases are water-related, water deserves more attention.
One can argue that the government mixed up priorities intentionally because it understood it can employ enthusiastic populace to clean the streets without any fiscal burden. But to expect the common man to purify water would be too sanguine. So instead of taking the immense active burden of clean water, the government chose a passive Swachhta campaign where it didn’t have to do much other than cheering and boosting the morale of the mango man.
However, even this passive campaign had and continues to have potential benefits for the future of Swachh Pani Abhiyaan. One of the various offshoots of Swachh Bharat has been the cleaning of rivers which has garnered ample support from religious leaders, to sadhus, to politicians and media. Shortly after coming to power in 2014, the BJP government announced the Rs 20,000-crore Namami Gange project for the cleaning of the Ganga river. However, even four-and-a-half years later, the situation of Ganga remains the same as it were before. Recently a Sewage to Selfie Point campaign was launched which ended up becoming more of a publicity move than aiming at effective cleaning. The current cleaning procedures employ more chemicals to treat chemicals instead of going for a natural cleaning process as promised.
Rivers are one of the three main sources of drinking water in India and are the worst affected. Blind faith, careless dumping of sewage, rampant pollution have caused important rivers like Ganga and Yamuna to become unfit for use. Official figures say that each day, approximately 500 million liters of wastewater from industrial sources are dumped into the Ganga. The Yamuna similarly receives 850 million gallons of sewage every day from Delhi alone. What remains free from the sludgy remnants of industries falls prey to the blind religious faith people have in the rivers.
Gauging the groundwater is becoming more and more a necessity since we are still a country most heavily dependent on it. India alone extracts 25% of the world’s groundwater which is greater than China and the USA combined. This fact becomes more worrisome when coupled with the knowledge that India only covers 2.4% of the land area.
To put this into perspective, we are using approximately 94% more groundwater than we should. This has not only caused an acute water shortage in around 70% of the wells but even the water that remains there is highly contaminated. A parliamentary report has stated that deep-level groundwater is contaminated by sewage, fluoride, arsenic, and uranium, all of which makes the water highly dangerous for consumption.
A third important source of drinkable water in India pours down from above. According to a 2015 report by the Ministry of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation, India receives an average annual rainfall of 1170 mm. Storage infrastructure allows only 6 percent of rainwater to be stored, compared to 250 percent stored by developed nations.
This troubling triad hangs over the nation’s future like a heavy trident suspended through a thin rope, pulled over an old pulley. Given the nation’s lax attitude towards water troubles, the rope is slipping away from the hands of the few that still care enough to pull the weight away from our throats. If it does, the trident will fall and forever choke the nation’s capacity to quench the thirst of over a billion people that live here.
To stop this and to make sure that there is always enough clean drinking water, a Swachh Pani-Abhiyaan is a must. Money needs to be put where it is needed the most and better ways should be developed to collect, process and distribute water.
Picture Courtesy- India Today