Stories in India

A Dream Not Too Distant

TNC has been engaging with local communities and working with state authorities to undertake and facilitate restoration of the River Narmada.
A Dream Not Too Distant TNC has been engaging with local communities and working with state authorities to undertake and facilitate restoration of the River Narmada. © TNC

Forest-fed Narmada River originates at the meeting point of the Vindhya and Satpura ranges in Central India, on the crest of Amarkantak town in eastern Madhya Pradesh. It runs a picturesque course spanning 1,312 kilometres to meet the Arabian Sea to the west. A third of Its basin is forested and has rich biodiversity. It supports over 25 million people—local communities believe that a mere glimpse of the river can deliver salvation.

Years of run-off from agriculture, industry, and city sewage have polluted the river; degradation of its riparian areas have prevented self-cleansing; and over-extraction of water and construction of dams have threatened its form and ecological integrity, leaving it dry and parching the villages along its banks.

The Nature Conservancy India has been engaging with the local communities and working closely with state authorities since 2017 to undertake and facilitate cost-effective and pragmatic restoration activities. These include assisted natural regeneration and planting native species on degraded riparian areas for socio-cultural benefits for people and to create refuge and shelter sites for birds and other wildlife. These also serve as stepping stone patches of the unique riparian habitat.

In 2018, TNC India published a study on the natural flora of this region in collaboration with the Government of Madhya Pradesh titled Common Plants of the Riparian Zone of the River Narmada. This study—instrumental in designing restoration strategies needed to ‘rewild’ the degraded riparian areas—also serves as a reference for local administration for revegetation activities.

To celebrate the World Environment Day this year, the Hoshangabad district administration led a tree plantation initiative in the TNC-supported village sites of Ajera and Dhansi. Saplings of native species based on the restoration plan prepared by TNC India were planted by the village community and representatives of the district administration.

Similar revegetation activities are ongoing in 53 other sites across the 120 km length of the river in the district. With a view to drive science-based restoration all along the River Narmada in Hoshangabad and nearby districts, TNC India will continue to focus on building capacities of local stakeholders.

In fact, the central Indian government recently enhanced its rural employment guarantee scheme—the world’s largest—to support migrants returning jobless from large Indian cities in the wake of COVID-19 and the ensuing lockdown. Called the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee scheme, this presents a unique opportunity to boost these local restoration efforts while providing green livelihoods to returning migrants. TNC India is aligning its science-based restoration work to make this possible.

With continuing restoration efforts aimed at improving environmental and social values of the lands in this area along with our partners, enhanced biodiversity, water, ecosystem, and livelihood benefits are only a few gifts these revived forests will give for generations to come.