January 23, 2012

Initiative to save Water Bodies

A very encouraging report has just appeared in Tamil Nadu newspapers about a state-wide initiative to save water bodies; which includes irrigation tanks, ponds and springs

Local NGO’s have described the state government’s proposal as ‘path breaking’ which is to restore water bodies across the state. According to media reports, the state government would undertake to restore around 70,000 water bodies comprising 21,000 minor irrigation tanks, 48,000 ponds and springs. The project proposes to target approximately 1,487 water bodies in Vellore and 3,277 in Tiruvannamalai district.

A plea to the state government, on the need for a restoration project, emanated, when the Chennai-based Madras Institute of Development Studies (MIDS) (along with a group of NGOs from across the state) organised a special meeting which focused on the revival of tanks and water bodies and the strict enforcement of laws to protect water bodies.

Water bodies in Tamil Nadu used to provide irrigation to over 1.7 million hectares in the 1950s. Most of these structures still exist but the area irrigated by these sources has come down drastically to 0.7 million hectares as on 2002.

Tanks are traditional rain-water harvesting structures which not only provide irrigation, but also act as a buffer during droughts as they help recharge groundwater. Sadly, hundreds of tanks, foreshore areas and their catchments have been encroached upon by private individuals while many others have been occupied officially for various urban activities such as housing, industrial estate, government buildings, etc. At the present pace of industrialisation and urbanisation in the state, most of the tanks may disappear in the next couple of decades.

Environmental activists welcomed the government’s move to restore water bodies, but wanted rivers to be included, as tanks had a direct bearing on river systems. Citing the case of the Palar river which is on the verge of dying due to lack of surface water, illegal encroachments, and unabated sand mining, it was suggested that the state government present a white paper on the status of all rivers in the state.

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