BENGALURU: Pollution, encroachments and urbanization are eating into waterbodies meant for irrigation, even as rain-dependent farmers continue to commit suicide. According to information accessed from the ministry of water resources, 80,128 (15.29%) of the 5.23 lakh waterbodies dedicated for minor irrigation in rural areas have become unusable due to these factors.
Among the worst-affected states are Andhra Pradesh-Telangana, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, whose farmers' woes have made national headlines. The three states account for 61% of the 80,128 waterbodies, followed by Odisha, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh. Of the 72,000 waterbodies dedicated for minor irrigation in Andhra Pradesh-Telangana, 22,877 are unusable.The numbers stand at 29,481 and 14,918 for Karnataka, and 37,174 and 11,039 for Tamil Nadu.
Karnataka fares the worst among the three states, with 50.6% of its waterbodies having become unusable compared to 31.6% in Andhra Pradesh-Telangana and 29.6% in Tamil Nadu.
Experts warn that thousands of the remaining 4.43 lakh waterbodies -natural and artificial units like tanks, ponds, reservoirs -are also being threatened by rapid urbanization, which is also seen as a major cause for encroachments and pollution.
"It is a major crime. Unlike roads or buildings, you cannot create waterbodies anywhere you want. They require a watershed and other suitable conditions. But what are we doing?
We are destroying them one at a time, and the problem is ram pant across the country," said former environment secretary, Karnataka, A N Yellappa Reddy.
Waterbodies for minor irrigation are those whose command area doesn't exceed 2,000 hectares. Prof K Palanisami of the International Water Management Institute says negligence is the biggest problem India is facing."These waterbodies were created using traditional knowledge and have been around for many years, but the past few decades have seen them being neglected.None of them works in isolation; they are connected to a series of other channels. Today, that chain has been cut off. It began with encroachment and pollu tion of smaller drains that connected these waterbodies, affecting the latter eventually," Palanisami said.
Reddy said this will have a cascading effect and result in more waterbodies dying, which will affect the environment too.
Add river pollution to this, and the situation becomes grimmer. Rajendra Singh, known as the Waterman of India, warns soon we will have no water if things remain the same. Encroachment is another problem various state governments are trying to fight. From catchment areas along rivers to ponds and tanks, encroachments continue unabated, largely due to years of apathy from governments.
Pollution of tanks, ponds and reservoirs has also led to pollution of groundwater. The latest available data shows that people in over 50% of the districts in India have access only to polluted water. The number of deaths due to water-borne diseases is increasing every year.