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The plan is to put up check dams to harvest monsoon water along the one kilometre stretch of the river bed which is 540 feet deep.

A group of villagers from Malakpur in Shamli district of western Uttar Pradesh are trying to breathe new life into Katha, a 150-km long river which is dead now. With help from a local scientist, farmers are leading the effort to turn a one kilometre stretch of the barren riverbed into a lake.

People from dozens of villages have started digging the river bed to level the surface, and plan to tap nearby water sources to feed it.

The self-made engineering plan is to put up check dams to harvest monsoon water along the one kilometre stretch of the river bed which is 5-40 feet deep. At present, in the absence of check dams, it flows into the Yamuna. Over the last two weeks the villagers have launched a “one house, one pot” water donation movement.

Prof. Umar Saif who leads the initiative, says Katha earlier used to flow between Saharanpur and Rampur but it died in 1830 when East Yamuna came into being, using a 60 kilometre area.

“At present, Katha functions as the drainage pipe of the Yamuna because every time it gets monsoon flows, which at times is a lot, it drains that into that river. What we are trying to do is to pick up one kilometre stretch of riverbed and revive it,” says Prof. Saif, a resident of Shamli and a wildlife scientist.

“Once we develop this lake, it will encourage people to do the same with rest of the 90 km river. So, we will have 90 check dams and 90 bowls of water. ,” Prof. Saif, who heads Dehradun-based Natural History Research and Conservation Centre says.

“Our larger aim is to restore the integrated eco system taking into account the wildlife which is currently declining,” he adds. After seeing two weeks of completely voluntary work by the villagers, local officials assured them that the work on the riverbed can be done through MGNREGA.

“Shivpal Yadav, a Cabinet Minister in the Akhilesh Yadav government, had promised us that the excess water from Yamuna and Ganga during the time of monsoon will be channelised to Katha to revive it. The proposal has been passed but is stuck in official files,” according to Prof. Saif.

The wildlife located on the banks of Katha started declining, the village head Sushil Pradhan argues, because there is no water.

On the restoration of an integrated ecosystem, Prof. Saif says, “Once we develop water bodies, we also plan to develop a butterfly park.”

The district magistrate of Shamli Sujit Kumar told The Hindu that this model of revival of riverbed and water bodies is being tried in other districts like Fatehpur and Shravasti. “I will have to see the technical viability. There certainly is the option of doing it through MGNREGA if it fits the criteria,” Mr. Kumar said.

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