Drying rivers of Madhya Pradesh: Awash in trash, Shipra may cease to exist when Ujjain holds Kumbh Mela in 2028

Editor's Note: Non-stop sand mining, development projects near rivers, deforestation in the catchment areas and unplanned dams are killing the major rivers of Madhya Pradesh. The state is now facing an acute deficit of water. Tapti and Shipra have almost died while the Narmada river is also facing dry spells. In this three-part series, Firstpost explores factors responsible for the condition of these rivers which are the lifeline of Madhya Pradesh. This is the first part of the series.

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Ujjain: In 2028, when it will be Ujjain's turn to host the Kumbh Mela, the religious celebration could turn into mourning of sorts for the holy Shipra river. Bit by bit, the river is dying every day due to pollution, sand mining and encroachment in its catchment area.

The holy waters have turned blackish and are already unsafe for bathing. Shipra, also known as Kshipra, is now dry in long stretches and wherever one finds water it’s all mixed with solid waste, sewage and silt.

Drying rivers of Madhya Pradesh: Awash in trash, Shipra may cease to exist when Ujjain holds Kumbh Mela in 2028

The Shipra river in Madhya Pradesh has lost its natural flow due to the garbage dump into it. Manish Chandra Mishra/101Reporters

Rising from the Kakri Bardi hills of Vindhya Range in Madhya Pradesh's Dhar district, Shipra flows north across the Malwa plateau to join the Chambal river. Some major cities and towns like Dhar, Ujjain, Mahidpur, Alot, Barnagar, Dewas, Sanwer, Mhow, Sanwer and Khachrod depend on Shipra for their water requirements.

The pollution begins from Ujjain itself

The river suffers the most while crossing Ujjain, which has a population of over five lakh. Sewage and other types of wastewater start flowing in through the open drains and 13 nullahs of the town.

According to a report prepared by the Municipal Corporation of Ujjain, the city discharges 110 mld (million litres per day) into the river. While the city has several sewage water treatment plants with a total capacity of 92 mld but there are still many nullahs which are directly linked to the river and mix untreated water with the holy waters of Shipra.

"To minimise pollution, we have been working on a Rs 400 crore sewage water treatment plant which would be complete this year after which we would be able to treat all sewage water before it gets mixed into the river,” says Pratibha Pal, commissioner of Ujjain Municipality Corporation.

To control solid waste, the civic body has installed temporary idol immersion tanks and bins for collection of solid waste near the banks of the river.

Despite its mythological significance, very little has been done so far to conserve Shipra. The cry to save the dying river had been louder since 2016, when the last Ujjain Kumbh Mela, also known as Ujjain Simhastha, was held.

River-linking failed to protect Sipra

The then BJP-ruled state government took several steps such as the river-linking project, diversion of nullahs and construction of sewage water treatment facilities to save the river from pollution but Shipra could not be revived even after spending nearly Rs 500 crore.

Advocate Satyanarayana Purohit (Acharya Satyam), who has been raising his voice to save the Shipra says, "Land mafia, the government and local bodies have killed the Shipra. She has already dried up. The hundreds of crores of rupees spent to save Shipra was actually a way of doing corruption. Khan or Kahn river, which is among the world's most polluted rivers, is still mixing its poisonous water with Shipra’s. The government had made a diversion plan before Simhastha to avoid pollution but the project proves to be a scam."

Having just completed his eight-day-long fast to demand the revival of the river, Acharya Satyam says they have been raising concerns for several years now but the river is getting more polluted with each passing day.

“The government had tried to link the Narmada with Shipra and even provided water during Simhastha 2016 but it proved to be a wastage of Narmada's water. Shipra is now so polluted that one cannot use the water even to take a bath," he says.

A Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) report in 2017 proved that water at the four ghats — Gaughat, Siddhwat, Ramghat and Triveni Ghat — is not even fit for bathing.

According to the report, the dissolved oxygen level of these ghats was satisfactory as Gaughat recorded 7 mg/l, Siddhwat 6.6 mg/l, Ramghat 6.9 mg/l and Triveni 6.8 mg/l. However, biochemical oxygen demand was recorded to be very high — 10mg/l at Gaughat, 12 mg/l at Siddhwat, 8 mg/l at Ramghat and Triveni ghats. The biochemical oxygen demand must be under 3mg/l for water to be treated as good. The total coliform organism of all ghats was recorded to be 1600 MPN/100ml, thrice the safe limit.

According to research conducted by scientists of Vikram University, in 2015 the biochemical oxygen demand of these four ghats was recorded to be above 40-60 mg/l.

Scientist RD Wagh of Madhya Pradesh Pollution Control Board, however, says that after the Narmada-Shipra linking project, the water flow of Shipra river has improved. “We have been monitoring the pollution levels constantly. It is now stable from what we have experienced in the past. The river was dirtier then," says Wagh.

Even the fish can’t survive in these waters

In stark contrast to his claims, there have been at least five incidents of dead fish being found floating in the river so far this year.

Acharya Satyam says that the claims of local bodies and the pollution control board are false. “Narmada-Shipra linking project is a failure and wastage of money, energy and the valuable water of Narmada. Shipra has been killed by governments and despite our efforts, no one cares about the revival of the river,” he rues.

On 29 November 2012, Shivraj Singh Chouhan, the then Madhya Pradesh chief minister, and senior BJP leader Lal Krishna Advani had laid the foundation stone for a project that would link the Narmada river with the Shipra in Ujjaini village of Indore district. The Rs 400 crore project entails lifting water from Narmada to Shipra, which is situated at a much higher altitude. A 50 km-long pipeline has been constructed between the two rivers.

Manthan Adhyayan Kendra’s Rehmat says it’s a waste of taxpayers’ money. “No river can be revived through a pipeline,” says the expert adding that the Malva region of Madhya Pradesh is still lacking water which was the core promise of the project.

"The government had promised that they will provide water to 3,000 villages with the project but now after five years the Shipra river is still dried. The administration cannot even provide water during festivals for a holy dip in the river," says Rehmat.

Locals clearly have bigger things to worry about than just wondering whether anyone would be able to take a holy dip at Shipra during Kumbh Mela 2028.

The author is Bhopal - based freelance writer and a member of 101Reporters.com.

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Updated Date: Mar 08, 2019 14:05:58 IST

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