Will this ‘Rally’ help the rivers?

PRESS RELEASE From India Rivers Week Organising Committee on Sept 13, 2017

We are concerned about the increasing superficial optics around saving rivers, with little or no effort to address fundamental issues which are causing their demise.

The high profile rally initiative to save India’s rivers taken up by well respected religious guru Sadguru and his followers is noteworthy, and the most recent case in point. It is striking that so many film stars, politicians, governments, and public personalities, are joining the call. Lakhs of children are expected to join in the program. While we welcome such an outpouring of good intentions and good will as a demonstration of the positive energy all around, unfortunately, we have seen no evidence either from the rally organisers, on their website[i] or their messaging, that they understand or plan to address the real threats faced by our rivers and their sorry state.
What concerns us, as people engaged with issues that ail our rivers, most of which are polluted, drying up, or have severely restricted flows amongst other problems, is that this may be an opportunity lost. In fact, we go further to say that partial engagements and knowledge, or engagement with hidden agendas are misguided or counterproductive to the future of our rivers, since at best, they oversimplify issues at stake, and provide a false sense of ‘feeling good.’ Good intentions must be supported by deeper understandings and confidence inspiring & transparent track record else the efforts wont help the cause of our rivers.

The rally, by its own statements (also its website) proposes some cursory actions.

The website claims it is “a nationwide awareness campaign to revive our rivers” and asks people to send missed calls! The question is, can missed call save our rivers? What happens after the call? Another action the rally proposes is the planting of trees in a strip of 1 km along the river. While planting trees is laudable, and can help the environment (only if right kind and number of trees are planted at the right place), by itself it cannot rejuvenate rivers or “ensure our rivers are fed throughout the year by the moist soil or reduce floods, drought and soil loss” as the website claims[ii]. There is also the question if the sponsors of the rally who include governments and corporate bodies are themselves not implicated in the  sad state of our rivers?

Understanding a river

On the other hand, we must not forget that rivers are more than simple water channels. They are ecosystems that carry silt and sand, nutrients and support a myriad of biodiversity. They extend below the ground to recharge groundwater, extend to flood plains, water bodies and wetlands and also allow aquatic biodiversity to move up and down the river, from the source to the oceans. Finally, rivers undergo seasonal and annual changes.

As ecosystems, basins of rivers are composed of numerous tributaries and distributaries, whose combined health ensures a healthy river. The floodplain is an integral part and plays a key role in ensuring river’s health. The river’s sand, rocks, geology, geomorphology, floods are all part of the river, as are the plants, fish, several aquatic and amphibian creatures, besides tiny microbes.

Alongside there are social, cultural, spiritual, aesthetic, religious and artistic dimensions of rivers. Millions of people depend on the rivers for their livelihoods, and their waters for meeting daily needs.

The multiple threats to rivers

There are serious threats to our rivers. Hence when it is said that rivers are sick, or under risk or threats, it implies that many of these dimensions are either destroyed, adversely affected or threatened. The causes include dams, diversions, hydropower projects, inter linking of rivers, pollution, encroachment, deforestation, catchment degradation, indiscriminate mining, unsustainable groundwater use & dumping of waste etc. Perennial rivers are no longer flowing while some seasonal rivers have turned perennial owing to sewage flow from factories and cities. Less recognized is the fact that when rivers are blocked, silt and sand will not reach the sea causing depletion of deltas or that developmental activities can lead to erosion and landslides. Even religious rituals add to rivers’ stress. And then there is climate change. All this is facilitated by a mindset and shallow understandings of rivers. Institutions that are in charge of rivers also do not understand the myriad values of the river, or engage in informed transparent, participatory and accountable decision making about them.

It can be no one’s case that we cannot use our rivers. But surely, such use should not hamper flows to make them unsustainable. Hence not only is proper messaging key, especially since children are involved, it is crucial. There are many ways to move in the direction to improve state of our rivers. For example, pl see:https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2015/01/17/let-our-rivers-live-delhi-declaration/. We are sure there will be other ways too. Rivers are not a luxury. We need them for our own existence, and that of the planet.

India Rivers Week 2014 inaugural session

Unfortunately, even with a very charitable view, it is hard to see the impact of this rally. On the contrary, it may reinforce the reasons and entities which are responsible for the sorry state of our rivers. We are tempted to call out, like the celebrated Indian film actress Waheeda in the 1960s film Mujhe Jeeno do: Nadi nare na jao, Shyam Paiya padu...!

India Rivers Week – Organising Committee (https://indiariversblog.wordpress.com)

Manu Bhatnagar, INTACH

Ravi Agarwal, Toxics Link

Debashish Sen, PSI

Jayesh Bhatia, PEACE Institute

Manoj Misra, Yamuna Jiye Abhiyaan

Himanshu Thakkar, SANDRP


[i] http://isha.sadhguru.org/rally-for-rivers/

[ii] See for example: http://m.economictimes.com/opinion/poke-me/poke-me-rallying-to-protect-our-rivers-is-great-but-lets-get-the-science-right/articleshow/60412430.cms,







http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/chennai/isha-constructions-madras-hc-issues-notice-to-tn-govt/articleshow/57210389.cms, http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/tamil-nadu/hc-green-tribunal-issue-notice-to-isha-foundation/article17322101.ece,

http://www.newindianexpress.com/states/tamil-nadu/2017/mar/01/jaggi-vasudevs-isha-foundation-buildings-unauthorised-state-tells-madras-high-court-1576325.html,  https://www.scoopwhoop.com/madras-high-court-bans-construction-at-isha-foundations-controvertial-site-inaugurated-recently-by-pm-modi/#.syomff3xx, http://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/still-waiting-for-hearing-on-isha-foundation-s-illegal-construction-in-tn-activists/story-8cKt02sgi65XVRWEVZxtVP.html, https://in.news.yahoo.com/drought-western-ghats-isha-foundation-073149572.html

7 thoughts on “Will this ‘Rally’ help the rivers?

  1. To The National Mission Clean Ganga

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  2. Very appropriate & exclusive observations written here.
    Corporates are the problem for rivers.They never accept any suggestions firm ground reality activists & sufferer due to river pollution .
    It’s a great gathering to nullify action with commited work of dedicated river Warriors thosee are working selfless years together.


  3. Its good to see this statement and the names on the Committee. But one question: do you collectively have a common understanding of the river and what needs to be done? That would be good to see !


  4. The Draft Policy is still in the making and the Rally for Rivers team has asked experts to pitch in and contribute. All though experts are working on the policy as well as National Institute of Hydrology and Tamil Nadu Agricultural University

    “Send us your ideas

    We welcome all environmental scientists, experts and practitioners to contribute their knowledge and expertise towards creating a roadmap to rejuvenate our depleting rivers and save our country’s lifelines.

    We look forward to receiving your suggestions at ideas@rallyforrivers.org


  5. I am one of the two Ambassadors in Asia of the International River Foundation (Brisbane). I appreciate the efforts of SANDRP in creating awareness in the society about our rivers going dry. The River Rally would just create awareness but not necessarily culminate into any action. Please consider the following
    (1) The demand on water resources to provide food and drinking water for exploding population has grown.
    (2) Polarization of population towards cities has resulted in building major dams for perennial water supply to cities. We cant imagine Megalopolises like Mumbai, Hyderabad or Bangalore without major dams for water supply. Ground water potential of hard rocks under under these cities is negligible.
    (3) Encroachment upon watershed for firewood and agriculture has made them barren. Hydrographs of major streams draining the watersheds show narrow time base and sharp peaks. Which means that the water which should have stayed in the water sheds for a long time is quickly draining towards the sea, leaving the streams dry for most part of the year. Watershed management and forestation has converted some seasonal streams into perennial streams. But there has to be a national movement to save watersheds through soil conservation structures and forestation.

    I will be happy to provide any technical contribution through SANDRP.

    Dr Shrikant Daji LIMAYE
    Director, Ground Water Institute (NGO), Pune
    Project Leader, UNESCO-IUGS-IGCP Project GROWNET.
    (website: http://www.igcp-grownet.org)


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