River Gomti is dying, we let that happen

The Gomti, which flows through eight districts in Uttar Pradesh, is dying a slow but certain death. We are killing it at its every twist and turn for our petty gains. In order to find out the extent of damage done, Gaon Connection's team reached its origin at Madhav Tanda in Pilibhit, Uttar Pradesh, and undertook a 425-km, 4-day long bike expedition along its route to understand various issues plaguing the river

Ranvijay SinghRanvijay Singh   14 Jun 2019 9:23 AM GMT

River Gomti is dying, we let that happen

Ranvijay Singh & Daya Sagar

Edited by: Swati Subhedar

"The Gomti river was once a clean river body, but now it's a large sewer duct. It used to be a wide, free-flowing river, but now it resembles a stream. We didn't even realize when did it happen," said Kirath Singh, 65, a resident of Hamriya Patti in Pilibhit's Puranpur Tehsil.

The 900-km long river originates from Madhav Tanda in Uttar Pradesh and flows through Shahjahanpur, Sitapur, Lucknow and finally reaches Jaunpur. Kirath Singh does not remember when did the river "disappear", but the fact is that now it's difficult to get a glimpse of it at its place of origin at Gomat Taal, Madhav Tanda gram panchayat in Pilibhit, Uttar Pradesh. There are many reasons behind this, most of them could have been avoided.

"The place from where the Gomti originates is the exact place where it vanishes," said Brijendra Singh, Lok Bharti's national secretary, an organization that deals with environmental issues has taken up the task of reviving the Gomti.

"The authorities have divided Gomat Taal in three parts. Earlier, a road was constructed to cross the river. Ideally, they should have built pillars to prevent flow of water from getting affected. But they dropped boulders in it because of which the flow of the river got affected. How can a river survive if you divide it in three parts at its point of origin?," he asked.

When we visited Gomat Taal, we could actually see three divisions. Moreover, about three-four boulders were placed to prevent flow of water from one portion to another.

The second significant reason behind the river's gradual disappearance, according to Brijendra Singh, is depleting water level. "The river primarily draws water from the ground. The level of ground water is gradually going down because of rampant and illegal 'mining' of ground water. This is the reason why the river is vanishing at Pilibhit," he said.

At Gomat Taal, we also noticed that the river stops flowing beyond this point. At a distance, there is a canal, but there is no water in it. The flow of the river halts at its point of origin. The river then reappears after 10 kms at Gomti Gurudvara at Puranpur Tehsil, where it resembles a sewer duct.

At Puranpur we met Manjit Singh, a farmer residing in Panch Kheda. He got nostalgic talking about Gomti. "Most of my childhood memories are associated with the Gomti. We used to play along its bank. I have been witnessing the river's drying up. There have been illegal encroachments and farmers have taken over the land."

The primary reason behind this is that farmers in this region prefer sowing a variety of paddy that takes 60 days to ripen as against the regular paddy crop which takes more time to ripen. This is popularly known as satha dhaan. Though it's convenient and profitable for farmers, this kind of farming requires 10 times more water than regular paddy.

"We have used up most of the ground water. The primary reason behind this is that farmers in this region sow satha dhaan, which requires more water. They sow this repeatedly between March and May. The Gomat Taal receives water from five sources. When ground water level goes down, it has a direct impact on the source of the river as well," said Brijendra Singh.

Manjit Singh wants a ban on satha dhaan and he has written letters to local authorities as well as the National Green Tribunal (NGT) officials. But the effort has gone in vain so far. "If this continues, Pilibhit will soon be as dry as Bundelkhand," he said.

Manjit Singh

"At Pilibhit, situation is not as bad yet. People get clean water at 30 feet. This is the reason why farmers sow satha dhaan and you will find numerous pump sets and bore wells which are illegal. This is also why the ground water is drying up," said Manjit Singh.

Pushpajeet Singh, also a resident of Panch Kheda, said: "Earlier, rain water would refill wells and ponds. But now that has stopped and people are only drawing water. According to a report from the Water Department, underground water level is going down by 1.5 meters every year. This will eventually have an impact on the river because it draws water from the ground. The river has dried up because the farmers have illegally encroached upon banks of the river."

Administrative apathy is another reason behind the river's current plight. Amitabh Agnihotri, a social worker who has been working on the river's revival for many years now, said: "The previous governments didn't bother to clean the river up. They didn't take any steps to save the river. Thereby, condition of river Gomti has gone from bad to worse. The present government has woken up to this fact. The authorities have beautified areas near Gomat Taal. It was replenished with water from Sharda Nehar. However, these are just baby steps and a lot needs to be done to revive it."

He added: "When Akhilesh Mishra was the DM of Pilibhit, he tried to save the river on a war footing. He came up with a 'Save Gomti' campaign. Thanks to this initiative, some of the farmers voluntarily gave up their land. The campaign,which was launched in April, 2018, gained people's support. If we continue to get support from people, it would be easier to save the river."

(This story is Part 1 of the five-story series 'We killed the Gomti')

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