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How Bhagirathi Ji Brought Back Heval River to Life

Heval River Rejuvenation Project is the brainchild of IFS officer Dharm Singh Meena The project not only rejuvenated the Heval river but also took care of springs, streams and riverbed and created employment opportunities for the local people After the success of the project, the local population started calling him Bhagirathi Ji
Indian Masterminds Stories

When DFO Dharm Singh Meena joined the Tehri Division in Uttarakhand, a water-deficit district, he found that people were agitating for the Heval River, as it was dying and the water was decreasing every year. He immediately took stock of the situaton and decided to do something about it.

There are two types of rivers in the Himalayas, one that originates from glacier, like Ganga and Yamuna rivers. Then there are rivers which originate from forest springs or dharas as they are called in local language. These dharas are the source of many small rivers and streams. The rivers which originate from dharas are extremely important in the Himalayan region as around 70-80% of the water requirement is met by them and not the big rivers. Heval River in Tehri Garhwal is one such river.

In an exclusive interview with Indian Masterminds, IFS officer Dharm Singh Meena shares about the success of the Heval River Rejuvenation project, that he started back in 2018.

HEVAL RIVER REJUVENATION

After Dharm Singh Meena joined as DFO in the Tehri Division of Tehri Garwal, he found that the Heval River was dying and the local people were very worried as there was acute water scarcity. “I decided that I should do something as there are around 34 villages and big towns like Chamba that are directly dependent on the Heval River,” said the officer.

Heval River flows along the Gangotri national highway where one could find vegetation around the river and local people call it the fruit belt. This fruit belt is totally dependent on this river as the livelihood and income of the people in the region is totally dependent on its water. “However, due to erratic behaviour of the rainfall, climate change and unplanned cutting of roads, the springs got disturbed and many of them died,” revealed Mr. Meena.  

He launched the Heval River project five days after joining in the division. The project involved training, survey, and outreach with the help of NGOs like PSI of Dehradun and institutions such as the National Institute of Hydrology, Roorkee and IIT Roorkee and Centre of Soil and Water Conservation, Research and Training Institute in Dehradun. “These institutions and NGOs gave us initial training about spring rejuvenation,” he said.

The initiative was divided into two phases. In 2018, during the first phase, Mr. Meena and his team focused only on surveys of the entire landscape, mapping, planning and community involvement, whereas, in 2019, his team focused on the field work.

“We figured out that if we want to have some real changes, then we need to adopt an approach which can include all the land usage like forest, agriculture, horticulture so that holistic development can be achieved in a sustainable way,” he explained. 

His team did survey of the entire landscape and adopted the landscape-based approach. “We mapped and surveyed the area and tried to find out the problem areas and opportunities in the area. Later on, we adopted an innovative geo-hydrological study based on spring shed technique,” he said.

This landscape technique was used for the first time in Uttarakhand. In this, aquifer recharge is the main objective and the revival of springs in the entire landscape is the key. The technique took up 66 springs, 23 streams and 15 recharge zones.

OUTCOME OF THE PROJECT

The project resulted in substantial additional recharge of water contributing to 865.86 lakh litres of ground water, increase in water discharge level in 23 springs, afforestation of 697 hectares with plantation of around 9,88,400 trees and shrubs suited to local climes. All this work generated employment in 34 panchayats.

OTHER INITIATIVES

For stream area, they focused on ground water recharge and erosion control. Mr. Meena said that they also thought of using the stored riverbed water for some purposes. “So we made 7 to 8 anchors at various places. Through solar pump water was lifted to the field and nearby villages for drinking water,” he said.

He also informed that they had done lots of conservation activities with MNREGA, irrigation department, rural development department, fisheries department. Simultaneously, wherever they found waterfalls alongside the roads, they treated those waterfalls and made them picnic spots so that local people can get employment.

MILK DAIRY

The Heval River rejuvenation not only took care of the springs, streams and riverbeds but it also helped the local people by providing employment opportunities. Mr. Meena said that they developed a milk dairy in the same area with the objective to help local people with employment and livelihood. “If we talk to people to conserve water, they won’t think about it. But if we provide them incentive, then they will definitely listen and follow it. So, we did the same thing and established the dairy in 2019.”

The dairy generated around 1.5 crore rupees and around 450 women are connected to the dairy.

BHAGIRATHI JI

While sharing the story behind the name ‘Bhagirathi Ji’ given to him by the local people, Mr. Meena said, “Once, I was visiting a place called Chamba Highway, which is near Mussorie. A Pradhan visited me and told me that I became Bhagirathi ji to them. There was scarcity of water and they were agitating. However, no one was listening to them, but I did. I did everything on my own and provided water to them.”

Summing up, the officer said, “Water conservation is a big thing and a long-term process. It should go on for 10-20 years. Then only real changes can be seen. Whatsoever resources we had at our disposal, we used them properly and judiciously, and today, we have achieved the desired result.”


Indian Masterminds Stories

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