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State floats first Mission River
- In phase I, pollution control board to focus on twin lifelines Damodar & Subernarekha

Ranchi, July 3: Now, a toothless tiger wants to battle a dirty river monster.

Twenty-eight years after then Rajiv Gandhi government launched Ganga Action Plan to rein in river pollution levels, and almost 14 years into state formation, Jharkhand State Pollution Control Board (JSPCB), the state’s apex pollution regulatory body, has woken up to “actively consider” a river cleaning and linking plan.

In the first phase of its plan, the board intends to revive two crucial water bodies of the state, with river basins in multiple states, Damodar and Subernarekha.

A basically clueless board has planned to outsource experts to identify points of pollution, collate data on density and character of contaminants, as well as the course of treatment and maintenance.

JSPCB chairman A.K. Mishra said they were now in the final stages of preparing terms of references or TOR. “A well-defined TOR will help applying agencies or firms understand clearly the kind of expertise we need for our river revival plan. We will float the expression of interest after this so that expert agencies can read the TOR and then apply for the job,” Mishra said.

Jharkhand’s rivers — Damodar, Subernarekha, Kharkai, Harmu, Ajay, Koel, Shankh, Mayurakshi and so on — mostly suffer from four major afflictions.

They are industrial effluents, sewage, as well as massive encroachment and sand mining that sometimes change the very course of the water body, or at its worst, can almost sound its death knell by reducing it to a drain, river Harmu in Ranchi being a case in point.

However, in the past 14 years, the board has not even managed to collate data on river pollution, its impact on the volume and health of the water body, its aquatic life and dependent habitats.

In its defence, the JSPCB cites a handful of showcause notices and fines it has slapped on river polluting industries and mining firms. But it is an open secret that the highly politicised board lacks the might to take on industries, encroachers or the sand mafia.

Mishra conceded the lack of proper initiatives but hoped they would soon be able to do the needful to save rivers, the duo to begin with.

“The main challenge is to identify the extent of damage in Damodar and Subernarekha. We know rivers are highly polluted but the board lacks concrete data,” he admitted.

He added that he hoped the expression of interest floated “in a week or so” would help the board pick expert agencies to help identify “points of contamination, impact and how pollution can be checked”.

“Depending on response, we will select one or more than one agency for the job. They will also have to prepare a river-linking plan for us. Once ready, we can demand funds from the government for our river mission,” Mishra said.

So far, Jharkhand’s past record in river conservation does not inspire confidence.

Last year, in the aftermath of the Uttarakhand tragedy, Madhukar Gupta, former adviser to governor, formed a special committee for a “Save Harmu” campaign during President’s Rule. It had to identify and work out remedial measures to save the river, once considered the state capital’s lifeline, in two months’ time.

In the politically volatile state, the Harmu river campaign bubble soon burst.

Damodar and Subernarekha, more visible in public consciousness as they are more harnessed for economic projects, still have a fighting chance.

Called the river of sorrow due to seasonal ravages in monsoon, the 563km-long Damodar originating from Chandwa in Latehar, flows through Palamau, Chatra, Koderma, Dhanbad, part of Ranchi before going to Hooghly in Bengal.

The 395km-long ‘streak of gold’ Subernarekha originates near Piska Nagri in Ranchi, snakes through Seraikela-Kharsawan and East Singhbhum districts of Jharkhand, pushes on to West Midnapore in Bengal and then Balasore in Odisha, where it meets Bay of Bengal near Talsari.

Currently, both the rivers are victim of massive industrial and sewerage pollution coupled with sand mining and encroachments, which have reduced the two water bodies into drains in many pockets.

JSPCB chairman Mishra, who is a retired forest service officer, said they meant to get their act together.

“Rivers are precious. They affect the fate of lakhs,” he said. “I got posted here few months back, combating river pollution was high on my list of priorities. We don’t have Ganga in Jharkhand, except a small part of Sahebganj but Damodar and Subernarekha are its tributaries. For us, they are no less than river Ganga,” said Mishra.

REVIVAL PLAN

• On paper: River cleaning and linking
• Power duo: 563km-long Damodar & 395km-long Subernarekha
• Layman knowledge: Under attack by industrial effluents, sewage, encroachment & sand mining
• Poser: JSPCB lacks concrete data
• Roadmap: Expression of interest to be floated to invite expert firms