Rejuvenating Ishan: Project Course & Benefits

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Mahendra Bahadur Singh

Ishan river is one of the main rivers and source of water in Mainpuri district from centuries. But in the due course of time, the Ishan river got severely polluted. The district administration in coordination with NGOs, influential persons and common people brainstormed on how the river can be rejuvenated, writes Mahendra Bahadur Singh, Collector and District Magistrate, Mainpuri, Uttar Pradesh.

In an effort to take up the project of rejuvenating Ishan river, a series of meetings were conducted to plan out strategies and plan of action for the project. On the basis of ideas/suggestions given by people and related departments, one scheme was framed to rejuvenate the river by public participation and administrative infrastructure.

River Rejuvenation Project

The river rejuvenation aimed at restoring the already dilapidated water stream to it’s lost glory. Hence a detailed The river had almost died out due to drying up of its  primary source lake in the nearby Etah District. Thus efforts were made to identify new inlet sources and to strengthen the already existing  secondary water sources.

The  practically extinct Kak tributary of the river was brought to life by connecting it to the village based feeder streams and local water sources in the Kurawali Tehsil namely Panwah and Rasemar. Similarly the Ganga Canal was earlier used in British times to feed the Ishan River, however the aforementioned feeder got silted out. Hence the inlet of the river stream from the Ganga canal was structurally augmented to ensure adequate water availability. Meanwhile new feeder drains were constructed at Nagla Salehi and Nasirpur with help of local bodies and community.

The initiative was driven by the idea of Aviral ( Ever flowing) and Nirmal (Clean) Ishan. The rejuvenation also depended upon the self-cleaning capacity of the river. Thus elements of Integrated Watershed Management like check dams ,embankments, recharge dams and plantation were used to ensure 24*7 water flows in the river channel. Also the concepts of pollution and water availability curves were also studied to identify the performance indicators or milestones.

Based upon the participatory approach and review of already existing river fronts, following features were planned for the riverfront – Transition Garden, Yoga Pavilion, Open Air Theatre, Viewing Desks, Aerobics zone, Walking trails and  Aarti spot.

Springs-Hidden Puzzle – The Ishan river is supposed to carry a number of hidden springs. The seepage springs got opened during the rejuvenation activity. Still multiple springs are yet to be opened up. The anecdotal references regarding use of its water for pulse making can be correlated with the presence of springs and it’s associated minerals. The opening up of springs has given a hope for making the river self-sustaining in the future.

Flood Control & Irrigation – The Ishan River is also known among locals for causing floods during the Monsoon periods. The floods of 1980 and 2003 were the most severe ones which resulted in heavy damage to life and property. Thus the aim of flood control was realised through construction of check dams, recharge aquifers and embankments. This has also boosted the supply of water to farms during cultivation of wheat and peanuts. Thus the flood control measures have also led to lowering of dependency of farmers over water and diesel guzzling tubewells.

Also Read: A Paradigm shift in Water Management Atal Bhujal Yojana : Girraj Goyal

Water level improvement – One of the objectives of the initiative was to improve the water level in the nearby rural areas and the Mainpuri City itself. The water recharge and holding up structures were constructed with a target to recharge the groundwater. The phenomenon of spring opening has been closely associated with the Ishan river.

Innovative Initiatives

At the earlier stages of project, the need was felt that various stakeholders such as Common People, Agriculturists, NGOs, local bodies and District administration should brought under one roof to get an assessment of previous and current situation to improve future conditions so that each and everyone from stakeholders could share mutual benefit from rejuvenation of Ishan River. District administration appealed and arranged a meeting using various social media platforms and newspapers as well, to ensure the public participation using design thinking methodology from which various ideas regarding the problem emerged from the stakeholders are as such:

  • Depletion of natural sources of water.

  • Pollutants (Natural/Man).

  • Encroachments whether temporary or permanent.

Many Stakeholders/Participants also gave ideas below about how the above problems could be addressed:

  • ‘Ganges Canal’ could be used as a water source to channelize water into the river through the ‘Bamba/Nallah’ that existed earlier before in a ‘narrow’ form.

  • Removal of pollutants and waste material using equipment and ‘Shramdaan/Jan Bhagidari/People movement’ and penalization for offenders.

  • Encroachment removal and penalization for offenders.

After the commencement of meeting, District Administration in able leadership of District Magistrate Shri Mahendra Bahadur Singh, IAS engaged in efforts to effectively tackle the problems and to make a thorough scheme which possessed the ideas by primary stakeholders as well as administrative.

  • Water Flow Management:   At First, a small portion of river stretch was selected and this portion was cleaned from waste material and other pollutants. After that, two narrow ‘Nallah’ ‘Naseerpur Drain’ and ‘Nagla Salehi’ have been broadened using Heavy equipment/Earth movers to ensure channelization of water in adequate amounts to the river.

Also Read: India’s Water Scenario: Challenges & Probable Solutions

  • Water sustaining measures:      After water flow started many check dams were constructed to ensure water availability in the river for irrigation purposes and to maintain water tables. Some notorious check dam points are as such:

a. Madhan Dam    b. Rooppur Bharatpur    c. Devi Mandir

  • Cleanliness Drive:  At first,encroachment done by colonizers was demolished through legal processes. Now comes the part of pollution (whether man made or natural), this part of the entire river was completely dead because of the wastage material and pollutants existed in it. On the appeal of District Administration, People from different areas participated in the cleanliness drive. Many People voluntarily donated money to operate heavy equipment to clean  the river. It was a huge drive in which many ‘Jal doots’ not only participated but whole heartedly considered it as a holy mission and acted as such.

  • Embankment and Beautification Work:  With cleanliness drive, In the entire region, Embankments has been strengthened by public participation, using MGNREGA workers and earth moving equipment.

Improving Existing Systems and Building Institutions

The earlier processes linked with river rejuvenation relied upon a top driven bureaucratic approach. This has led to lack of public participation  and customisation. Thus in this initiative the district administration adopted the aforementioned Design Thinking methodology in bringing about perceptible improvements in river rejuvenation efforts. This initiative broke the usual perceived notions about any project led by bureaucracy and rode upon the support from the local community. The funds were arranged through open, transparent and accountable voluntary donations from the common public. The initiative also broke the silos within the district machinery by converging the existing human and other resources across various departments and bodies. Even the monitoring process was evolved by using Google Earth and VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol). Further along with scientific principles, the spiritual aspect was also included in this initiative. The linkage of river rejuvenation with the promotion of Devi Temple helped to win over the masses. Such use of spiritual links in bureaucratic processes is also a novel idea.

Systems involving legal actions over encroachment over the floodplains, waste management through Sewage Treatment Plant and Real time monitoring were brought about to improve perception and connect  among the common public.

The institution that was driving this initiative was called the Jal Dhoot. The institution was an informal setup consisting of local public, district officials, political representatives and other public influencers.

 Impacts & Benefits

  • Improvement of water flow in Ishan river:   Until 1980s, this river was the main source of water supply in adjoining areas. Usually in Monsoon season, the river could not sustain the flow of water and hence, resulted as flood in shallow areas. In 2003, the last occurrence of flood happened. But soon after that, the river suffered from inadequate supply of water and depletion of natural resources of water replenishment.  After completion of Project ‘Ishan Utthan’, Water flow has been increased significantly as water has been replenished with the help of parallelly flowing ‘Ganges Canal’.

Also Read: Nam Neer’, A Behavioural Change Approach to Sustainable Water Management

  • Improvement of water cleanliness in Ishan river :  From the entry point of the river in the district, water flow gradually decreased with time and with that water quality and cleanliness also hit a new bottom. As the public participation and mutual understanding increased, the waste control and pollutant control system also came into effect. Regular flow of water and effective control of waste disposal in the river through ‘Nallah’ gave a satisfactory result in the form of ‘Visibly clean and blue water’.

  • Improvement of water table in adjoining areas : While planning the river rejuvenation, various stakeholders suggested that the continuous flow of water could stabilize gradually falling water table in adjoining areas.As the project came into effect, in the amazement of stakeholders, the regular water flow ensured increased water table which helped in reliving of handpumps and borings which were useless earlier before due to decreased water table.

  • Waterfront development to generate new opportunities of development alongside river banks :   The most remarkable opportunity thrived upon the completion of this project is, availability of new opportunity and new ventures alongside river banks. None can deny the serenity of walking along the edge of a river in lush green area. After the water flow increased, the embankments were widened and emboldened to ensure safety and flood control, the widened embankments represented a new opportunity for walkways, cycling paths, aerobic and yoga exercise and a beautiful picnic destination for local peoples.

  • Effective water flood control in the Rainy Season :  Strengthening of embankments ensured the flood control in the current rainy season. Now when this monsoon season is almost over, but there is not one incident, where any  flood alike situation or water overflow incident happened.

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