Monday, February 22, 2010
Government admits to dried up Saraswati river
(First appeared in The Pioneer)
In a significant shift from its earlier stand that probes conducted so far showed no evidence of the now invisible Saraswati river, the central government recently admitted that scientists had discovered water channels indicating “beyond doubt” the existence of the “Vedic Saraswati river.”
The government’s fresh submission came in response to an un-starred question in the Rajya Sabha on December 3 by Prakash Javadekar (BJP), who wanted to know whether satellite images had “established the underground track of Saraswati, and if so, why should the precious water resources not be exploited to meet growing demands.”
To this, the Union Water Resources Ministry quoted in writing the conclusion of a study jointly conducted by scientists of ISRO, Jodhpur and the Rajasthan government’s Ground Water Department, published in the Journal of Indian Society of Remote Sensing. Besides other things, the authors had said that “clear signals of palaeo-channels on the satellite imagery in the form of a strong and powerful continuous drainage system in the North West region and occurrence of archaeological sites of pre-Harappan, Harappan and post-Harappan age, beyond doubt indicate the existence of a mighty palaeo-drainage system of Vedic Saraswati river in this region… The description and magnanimity of these channels also matches with the river Saraswati described in the Vedic literature.”
A leading educationist and currently chancellor of Jawaharlal University, Yash Pal who had published in 1980, in his own words “a small paper on the existence of Saraswati river which attracted attention,” concurred with the view. “Surveys so far have brought out clearly the path the river had taken when in flow,” the National research Professor told The Pioneer. He did a stint with ISRO (which has played a pivotal role in the probes so far) from 1973-1980 where he set up the Space Application Centre.
On whether the central government should assume a pro-active role on the issue of reviving the river to tackle the water shortages, he said, ``With advancement of technology more research should be conducted. The river was not lost yesterday; perhaps due to tectonic shifts it disappeared ten thousand years ago. We have to keep these issues in mind.”
All through its tenure until now, the UPA government had denied the existence of the mystery river. Then Culture Minister Jaipal Reddy had told Parliament that excavations conducted so far at nine sites had not revealed any trace of the lost river Saraswati. He stated that the UPA government had not extended the sanction for the project given by the NDA government. Giving a progress report of the Saraswati River Heritage Project launched by the NDA government, he had said that, though the project report was prepared in September 2003 envisaging a cost of Rs 36.02 crore, it was later slashed to Rs 4.98 crore.
The Leftists too, who commanded great influence over the first five years of the UPA regime, were dismissive of the evidences. Senior leaders even castigated probe agencies for ‘wasting’ time and money over the study of the mystery river. Three years ago, senior CPI (M) leader and Politburo member Sitaram Yechury slammed the ASI for its efforts. A Parliamentary Standing Committee on Transport, Tourism and Culture which he headed in 2006, said, ‘‘The ASI has deviated in its working and has failed in spearheading a scientific discipline of archaeology. A scientific institution like the ASI did not proceed correctly in this matter,’’ the report added.
These assertions had come despite mounting evidence of the river collected by central agencies such as Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), Geological Survey of India (GSI), Oil and Natural Gas Commission (ONGC), Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) and the Central Groundwater Authority (under the Water Resources Ministry). The government had also failed to acknowledge expert opinion that the river’s revival could tackle the increasing water demands of more than 20 crore people in the North-West region of the country.
The first national impetus for research on Saraswati came during the NDA regime when the then Union Culture Minister Jagmohan in June 2002 announced excavations to trace the river’s course. He named a team of four experts – Baldeo Sahai of ISRO, Ahmedabad, archaeologist S Kalyan Raman, glaciologist Y K Puri and water consultant Madhav Chitle – for the task. But even earlier, states like Haryana had begun their study of the ‘underground river’ in the state.
Talking of the progress, SL Aggarwal, an official in Haryana Irrigation Department said, “Work on the 3.5 km stretch of river Saraswati between Jyotisar and Bibipur would be completed in one and half months and then we would be able to revive the ancient river and be able to use the water for irrigation purposes.”
The Haryana government recently sanctioned Rs 10.05 crore for the project of revival of the river, with the Oil and Natural Gas Commission (ONGC) carrying out geo-physical and geo-electric surveys for drilling of wells in association with KurukshetraUniversity for exploratory purposes.
A non-government organisation (NGO), Saraswati Nadi Sodh Sansthan, has also been working for the revival of the ancient river through its entire track. Two seminars were held on this issue on October 22, 2008 and November 21, 2009 at Kurukshetra where representatives from ONGC, Geological Survey of India and Indian Space Research Organisation were invited.
Rajasthan too has been an active participant in the project. Some four decades ago the Archeological Survey of India (GSI) had conducted excavations at a village named Kalibanga in Srigananagar district of Rajasthan, unearthing a full- fledged township beneath a mound, locally called ‘Thed.’
The ASI researchers came to the conclusion that the sight belonged to the Harappan period. Subsequent studies revealed that this flourishing town was situated on the banks of the Saraswati which once flowed from this part of the Rajasthan desert.
About two decades ago, scientists at Central Arid Zone Research Institute (CAZRI) at Jodhpur launched a project to track down the traces. They concluded that the ancient channels were a dead river that could well be Saraswati. Interestingly, here, the ancient texts and the geographical history of the region were constant bases of reference of the studies.
Analyses of images earlier taken by the American satellite Landsat in the 1970’s clearly showed the presence of underground water in a definitive pattern in the Jaisalmer region. As part of the project, then, underground water researchers were asked to dig bore wells at places from where this lost river used to flow. They selected Chandan Lathi near Jaisalmer for this purpose.
To the surprise of researchers, the water found after digging the bore wells at places on the course of the river was not only sweet but available in plenty. Encouraged by this discovery, they dug two dozen bore well in the area, from where the river used to flow, and in all of them they found sweet water.
A few years later Dr Vakankar, a noted historian, as part his Itihas Sanklan Yojna, visited this and other sites linked with the river. Together with another expert Moropant Pingle, he concluded that the Saraswati used to flow from this part of Rajasthan, Sirsa in Haryana, Bhatinda in Punjab and Srigangangar district in Rajasthan.
With the government indicating a shift in its position, it remains to be seen whether the research work by central agencies that had come to a near halt, will now resume.
Inputs from: Santanu Banerjee/ New Delhi