‘Sukhna Lake is dead, its capacity to discharge and recharge is over’https://indianexpress.com/article/cities/chandigarh/sukhna-lake-is-dead-its-capacity-to-discharge-and-recharge-is-over-rajendra-singh-5147918/

‘Sukhna Lake is dead, its capacity to discharge and recharge is over’

Rajendra Singh, popularly known as the Waterman of India, and his NGO, Tarun Bharat Sangh, have revived over five rivers in dry states by using traditional methods of water conservation. The Indian Express speaks to him about the future of Chandigarh’s iconic Sukhna Lake.

Chandigarh, Chandigarh news, Chandigarh lakes, Rajendra Singh, sukhna lake, sukhna lake drying, Waterman of India, Tarun Bharat Sangh, Indian express news
Rajendra Singh at Panjab University on Sunday. (Express photo)

The Sukhna Lake is drying up. The Punjab and Haryana High Court has been monitoring the issue since 2009, but no concrete plan has come up to save the lake. What are the major issues that the lake faces?
Sukhna Lake is a beautiful man-made lake and has a rainfall catchment area of 16mm. It suffers from major silting on the surface. During the 70s and the 80s, the administration was doing a great job to stop erosion, but that did not continue. The catchment area of the lake is ecologically sensitive which the administration and the forest department are failing to understand. The lake is dead by which I mean its capacity to discharge and recharge is over.

What is the most foolproof way to save the Sukhna from drying up? Various solutions have been presented including desilting and diverting water from the Bhakra Dam that feeds the Kajauli waterworks here.
The administration has to understand the character of the underground aquifers. If desilting cannot happen through engineering then create desilting pits and the recharge will speed up. The discharge and recharge will become continuous.

What are desilting pits?
Desilting is a major part of lake conservation. But the process is long and expensive. Digging up also disturbs the lake bed. Beneath the lake bed are vertical and horizontal fractures. Instead of excavating the whole lake, you can create narrow pits that are linked to the fractures beneath the lake bed that will automatically help in recharging the water level of the lake.

What are the advantages of such an exercise?
The need of the hour is to have sub-surface and underground water banks as this has to be looked at with long-term benefits. This will solve a dual purpose of providing potable water as well as help in recharging the groundwater table. We need to ask how many banks of potable water and reserve banks we have. Governments have neglected this, so when disaster strikes, there is widespread chaos. A proper budget should be allocated to this effect, but that never happens.

Advertising

Experts looking into the Save Sukhna case suggested that drinking water can be directed into the lake.
I have no issue with drinking water being directed into the lake. But how much should we put, so that it does not hurt the lake’s diversity? The science behind this has to be understood and it’s a sensitive issue. You can’t put one river’s water into another if they’re placed in different geological spaces. It’s a lot like blood; only two people of the same blood group can donate to each other. This engineering approach will not work as the scientific approach to this is quite different from what is being implemented.

How can the city adopt rainwater harvesting and become self-reliant when it comes to water conservation? Come peak summer, the water crisis will only worsen.
This city has clean water and so much greenery. Rain comes to give us something and if we don’t know how to take it then we’re all foolish. The urban future is in danger. We’re creating dangerous landscapes and Chandigarh’s people are pampered. So, they’ve forgotten how to harvest water. Rainwater harvesting can happen on micro and macro levels. It’s possible to make the city self-reliant looking at how it has settled. The water availability and its use should be calculated carefully. That will happen only when each drop is conserved and used efficiently. The administration and civil society have to acquire water literacy and start a movement. Self-reliance is the entry point to do that.

How can we achieve such water literacy?
We must first understand water and the act of conservation and then follow it up with mass awareness. We should form groups to this effect. One group should make elected representatives and bureaucrats understand water conservation. The second one should comprise educational institutions of the city and those involved in research. I can say that not a single educational institution in this city teaches water conservation, but only focuses on its extraction. Chandigarh should first own up to the fact that water is of utmost importance to sustain its urban future. The third group should comprise those who can join people together with water and those who understand its society and social engineering. Another group has to understand its underground aquifers and diagnose its problems and last but not the least, we should have a group that can treat these problems in a scientific manner.

There is a huge gap in the public and government interface when it comes to accountability and accessibility. The residents of the city have often blamed the administration for being the major reason behind Sukhna’s plight.
If the impact of a project is not great, then the administration should understand that it can learn from its mistakes. This confidence comes from conversation and discussion. They should share reports and put them in the public domain and not fear being ridiculed. Everyone wants progress and we have to instil confidence in the authorities for more transparent interactions.

Download the Indian Express apps for iPhone, iPad or Android