Participants at the meet in Ranchi on Sunday. (Hardeep Singh)
Ranchi residents, pack your bags and move elsewhere or learn to conserve every precious drop of water.
The Society of Geo-scientists on Sunday gave a wake-up call to the capital at a meet on the need to take immediate steps to conserve water, saying that if that was not done, the city and its surroundings would face a drought-like situation in the next five years.
In 1951, Ranchi had around 1.06 lakh citizens, with the city requiring six million gallons a day. Now, with a population surpassing 12 lakh, the city needs 75 million gallons daily.
As population and water needs kept growing, the water table kept on receding, said experts. To add insult to the injury, not only were conservation efforts — rainwater harvesting, check dams, tree plantation — not taken seriously, the city also worsened the situation by dumping wastes into existing water bodies.
Former director of state mines and geology department T.N. Mishra cited some worrying examples.
“Till recently, Harmu River supplied drinking water to railway colony, military cantonment and other localities. But now, it is just a filthy drain, with everything ranging from sewage and solid wastes dumped into it and banks encroached upon by dairy farms and buildings,” he said.
But this is not Ranchi’s callousness alone as experts said this was a statewide problem. For example, in as many as 10 districts, fluoride and arsenic levels in water have far exceeded their acceptable limits.
The issue compounds at many levels. Municipal bodies are not adequately equipped to deal with waste management, while burgeoning urbanisation, industrialisation and mining operations take tehir toll on water bodies.
Damodar River, the main source of drinking water in the coal belt, is highly polluted, as industrial units on its banks discharged toxic effluents either directly into the river or on its banks. As a result, nearly 75 per cent of the people in the coal belt are suffering from tuberculosis, asthma and skin diseases.
Leaching from overburdened mineral dumps also pollutes water bodies. Solid wastes such as red mud generated by alumina plant in Muri are alkaline, which needs special attention during disposal or else the river will be polluted.
Till recently, even the HEC’s foundry forge plant drained its toxic effluents to the Subernarekha. “After the state pollution control board raised an outcry, the unit started constructing a water treatment plant to purify 1.10 million litres of water everyday,” Mishra added.
The only hope on the horizon is rainwater conservation, but people have not yet realise its importance.
“Eighty per cent of Jharkhand’s rainwater goes waste as it naturally runs off without being saved. But saving rainwater can work wonders. Ranchi’s Harmu grounds alone receives over 330 lakh litres if the average annual rainfall in that area is 1,350mm. Even if 20 per cent of the water goes off due to evaporation or percolation, the rest can meet the needs of 3,680 people on a sustainable basis,” Mishra said.
The state’s ground water directorate chief S.L. Jageshwar added that Jharkhand did not have absolute rights over the water of any of the major rivers passing through it.
“Striking a balance between development and sustainability is vital,” he added, referring to industrialisation.