International Day of Actions For Rivers 2019: Positive River Actions From India

For last 22 years, 14 March is celebrated globally as International Day of Action for Rivers.

As per India Rivers Week Assessment 70 per cent of our rivers are facing existential threats. Over 60 per cent of sewage generated in India is dumped untreated in rivers and water bodies. As per latest official assessment the number of polluted river stretches in country has increased to 352 from 302 two years ago. Similarly the number of critically polluted stretches has gone up to 45 from 34 in two years. Our rivers are facing lack flow, pollution, encroachments, unsustainable mining and destruction of habitat. In mountains, streams are running dry for most of the time, while in urban areas they are over loaded with pollution.

Amid this gloomy scenario, many small initiatives are being taken to reverse the plight of our rivers. This compilation shows few of such recent and inspiring initiatives.

India Rivers Week November 2018

India Rivers Week (IRW), an event dedicated to the cause of India’s rivers is being organized in Delhi since 2014. The objective of the festival is to raise awareness and discuss threats concerning to the health of the rivers. The IRW or India Rivers Day event is organized on alternate years by India Rivers Forum, comprising of Yamuna Jiye Abhiyaan, INTACH, WWF-India, Toxics Link, SANDRP, Peace Institute Charitable Trust and People’s Science Institute (Dehra Dun).

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S. Vishwanath (left) and Arun Tiwari ji receiving BPS and AMM awards 

The IRW 2018 was held during 24-26 November. The theme was Can India Save Ganga? During the program Bhagirath Prayas Samman was awarded to Vishwanath Srikantaiah, for the exemplary work on River conservation over the last 25 years. For path breaking media work on Rivers with focus on Ganga, Arun Tiwari was honoured with Anupam Misra Medal.  


Maharashtra is the state with maximum number of polluted river stretches. At the same time, many river conservation efforts are also being taken up in the same state.

In April 2018, in the conference, “Dialogue on Urban Rivers”, of Maharashtra experts on water and rivers from all over the country unanimously agreed that, “Pune River Front Development Project is certainly going to cause a disaster.” The conference also underlined the need for and decided to work for Urban Water Policy for Maharashtra and India.

Participants at the Pune Dialogue on Urban Rivers of Maharashtra at Yashada on April 20-21, 2018 (Photo by: Mahera Dutta, Mahika Kothawade)

The conference was jointly organised on 20 and 21st April at YASHADA by Indian National Trust for Art Culture and Heritage (INTACH – Pune Chapter) and South Asian Network for Rivers Dams, Rivers and People (SANDRP). Experts from Delhi, Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka and various parts of Maharashtra attended the conference.

Mula Mutha River In November 2018, on the lines of India Rivers Week, several organisations of Pune came together to celebrate the India Rivers Day in an unprecedented way.

The events started from Nov 24 and continued to Nov 28. The NGOs, civic officers, citizens joined hands to clear 30 mega tonnes of solid waste from Mula-Mutha river in Pune. During the program people also raised concerns over PMC’s River Front Development plan which they believe will further affect the river negatively.

Rangoli at Pune Rivers Celebrations on IRD 2018 (Photo: Tushar Sarode)

In another excellent work by Sarang Yadvadkar, police sealed a hall encroaching on Mula river in Pune following NGT orders. The defence of the owner was without merit.  Similarly, few motivated youths are working, as reported in March 2019, on cleaning small stream which join the Mutha river near Vitthalwadi, Thane by bioremediation and plugging sewage outlets. The initiative taken up by these volunteers has ensured that clean water from the stream enters the river and also flourishes the ponds and plants on its way.

Mithi River Another interesting report narrates, a great volunteer effort is underway in Mumbai to clean up Mithi river. What they have achieved is just about 350 m of clean river, after labouring over weekends for several months. But this is such a daunting task to even venture to start. They have not only started, but made visible progress.

The youngsters are among half-a-dozen local residents who team up with lawyer Afroz Shah to clean the river every weekend. After spearheading the Versova beach clean-up in October 2015, which won him international acclaim, Mr. Shah has moved on to a more intense challenge: the Mithi river clean-up.

And he hopes local participation will help bring the river back to life. “I hope to create core teams of local residents for every one-km patch along the river. They can sustain the clean-up in their patch as we move forward.” He says it will take about five years for him to cover the river’s course. It’s true that the neglect and institutionalized abuse of River Mithi forebodes another disaster if the city’s infrastructure and development are not taken in hand.

In one more encouraging development, college students in March 2018 came forward to study and work on causes making the Kamwari river in Bhiwandi one of polluted water bodies in the city. The river existed since the 16th century and its mouth used to be a port during the British-era. Around 70 years ago, Kamwari was a tributary of Ulhas river and connected till Thane creek. For the last 20 years, the river is deteriorating.

Tamil Nadu

Kosasthalai River; This is River not Land: Standing waist-deep in waters of the Kosasthalai River fisherfolk staged a Jal Satyagraha to save the Ennore creek in Chennai in Jan. 2018. Hundreds of residents demanded the withdrawal of alleged fraudulent maps denying the existence of the Ennore Creek. The community has been fighting a lonely battle against the Tamil Nadu government accusing it of turning wetlands illegally into industrial real estate corridors.

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Image Source: One India

More than 1100 acres of the Ennore Creek consisting of salt pans and Mangroves have already been converted into industrial infrastructure by various government and private industries leading to an intense pollution of Kosasthalaiyar River. Fisherfolk also warned that encroachments of Ennore Creek have drastically altered hydrology, leading to flooding in upstream areas. Further encroachments will severely increase the risk of disastrous flooding for nearly 10 lakh people residing in Chennai & Tiruvallur districts.

Thamirabarani River  About 20,000 volunteers took part in river Thamirabarani clean up drive and more than 3,000 student volunteers conducted a survey among people residing on the banks of the river’s 72 km stretch through Tirunelveli district in March 2018. The river is the main source of irrigation for 86,000 acres under cultivation in Tirunelveli and Tuticorin districts and drinking water source of lakhs of people in Tirunelveli, Tuticorin and Virudhunagar districts. 

Adyar River In June 2018, after eco-restoration, the faunal diversity in the Adyar creek has increased considerably, from 273 in 2016-2017 to 331 in 2017-2018. The species of insects — including butterflies and dragonflies — has also increased from 98 to 155 in the creek, according to a policy note tabled in the Assembly by Municipal Administration and Water Supplies Minister S.P. Velumani.

Vasishta In July 2018, the River Vasishta Retrieval Movement decided to organise a cycle rally from Thumbal to Attur to create awareness among the local community about the river issues. Sand mining, pollution, waste dumping, encroachments affecting river Vasistha which is named after the Hindu sage Vasishta and originates in Arunootrumalai near Vazhappadi and passes through Attur, Thalaivasal, Sitheri.

Chennai-based artist Parvathi Nayar’s under DAMned Art Project is up-cycling the waste materials thrown along Chennai river banks to bring a change in Chennai’s relationship with its rivers.

Other States and Rivers

Uttarakhand Bhupal Singh Kathyayat of Nainital has been making efforts to revive a local stream Bursoul. He has planted thousands of trees of native variety along the stream. As a result of his continuous efforts the stream which once had turned dry is flowing again.

Similarly the water recharge pits and afforestation work going on for years at Uffrenkhal, Pouri Garhwal villagers has revived the Gadganga stream back. The stream feeds the Nayaar river, which is a tributary of Ganga river.

Manipur All through 2018, the Thoubal River Conservation Committee (TRCC) kept petitioning the government and launched state wide stir to highlight the adverse impact of unabated mining which was affecting water quality and people dependent on the Thoubal river.

Kerala Eco India video reported about a small group of women in Vellore, who have built more than 600 recharge wells, ensuring the revival of a once-dead river.

After 40 year, artists who were part of the film THAMPU filmed along Bharathapuzha river, Kerala returned in March 2018 on the banks of the river “to discuss the revival”, River protection activists to join. They also paid homage to Indyanur Gopi, who worked to save protect the river.  The idea was: to observe the 40th anniversary of its release as an occasion to explore ways of giving the river a new lease of life.

Rivers have nurtured Malayalam literature and poetry since time immemorial. A journey through words and lines that were inspired by the ebb and flow of the rivers in Kerala. Vellappokkam by poet and pioneering environmentalist N V Krishna Varrier strikingly paints the picture of a dam breach. It reads like a succinct summary of the August 2018 Kerala floods.

In his short stories such as Veedu, Nadeethadam, Chila Ormakkurippukal, Aymanam John, chronicler of Meenachil writes about dams. Reminiscing about dried up rivers, the protagonist realises that the summers of his childhood never involved droughts. Then he remembers that a dam was being constructed upstream. In Malampuzhayil, P too laments about the Nila being chained by the Malampuzha dam. It’s a fascinating RIVER SUTRA.

Gujarat In November 2018, Nagrik Sashaktikaran Manch (NSM), a civil rights organization, called upon citizens to join in a “unique yatra” along the river Sabarmati, starting in Ahmedabad and ending off the Gulf of Khambhat, where the river is supposed to merge with the sea. 

Madhya Pradesh In Nov. 2018 a workshop was organized in Bhopal to create awareness on river pollution through music and song. After researching about rivers origin and civilization on their banks, Heman Deolekar has written many songs for Narmada, Yamuna, Ganga, Godavari, Indravati and Tapti river.


Jharkhand In July 2018, the state government planted 9 lakh saplings on the banks of 24 rivers covering all districts of Jharkhand. The aim was to plant 2.5 cr saplings in the state by August 15, CM Raghubar Das said while inaugurating the event on the banks of the Swarnrekha river in Ranchi. Maximum of 2,36,000 saplings will be planted beside Ganga River in Sahebganj, he added.

Bihar In order to check soil erosion, Bihar Government also proposes to conduct massive plantation drive in the villages along the Ganga river.

Uttar Pradesh Syahi river at the border of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar in Deoria has dried up affecting farming community bringing farmers on a platform to discuss its revival methods.

Other Reports

Inspired by the rivers of India, the poetry of Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore, and data about the effects of climate change and pollution on India’s rivers, DJ Spooky partners with musicians from Brooklyn Raga Massive, composer and author Rave’ Mehta, and designer Geeta Mehta presented a multimedia portrait of water in Dec 2018.


In Oct. 2018, Swami Sanand lost his life after more than 100 days fast unto death demanding a free flowing Ganga and ban on riverbed quarrying in Haridwar. Pursuing the his demands, now Swami Atambodhanand another saint of Matri Sadan Ashram, Haridwar is sitting on hunger strike since Oct. 2018.

It is very sad that the current government has been very insensitive and unresponsive in showing some respect to the penance of the saints.  

Ken River Yatra

In April 2018, Ken River Yatra a foot journey of 427 km long Ken river right from its confluence in Yamuna upto its origin, culminated. This was the first time the entire river was tracked through walking along it.

Sridhar and Siddarath Agarwal of Veditum interviewing villagers gathered on Ken river bank. 

The objective of the expedition was to understand and feel the river and its issues closely. It was jointly undertaken by SANDRP and Veditum and supported by PSI, Dehradun among many other groups and individuals. More information about the Yatra can be seen here.

Yamuna River

Every year on the sixth day of summer Navratra the birthday of Yamuna river is celebrated. The Yamuna Mitra Mandli association of river people along its length have been celebrating Yamuna rivers birthday in a unique way for last two years. This year it will be on 11 April 2019. One of the Nadi Mitra Mandli at Ramra has also been working to revive a local stream Katha which joins the Yamuna.

In Agra citizen groups like River Connect and Guru Vashisth Manav Jankalyan Samiti regularly keep organizing Yamuna clean up campaigns, Yamuna Arati and petitioning government representative on polluted state of river.

Every Saturday afternoon, a group of doctors, scientists and engineers of Delhi put their stethoscopes and lab coats aside to take up brooms, shovels and pickaxes to clean the Yamuna. (HT Photo)

Similarly, a group of doctors, scientists and engineers clean Yamuna river banks on weekly basis in Delhi. This initiative, they say, is to send a message about the need for conserving Delhi’s lifeline. There is one more group, collecting solid waste from river bank at ITO on regular basis.

In Nov. 2018, SAFE, environmental group along with ivolunteer conducted clean Yamuna campaign in Delhi on the occasion of Chhatt Puja. SANDRP also conducted Yamuna river walk in 2018 to make people familiar with still unpolluted stretch of the river upstream of Wazirabad barrage. Indeed the informal waste pickers are the unsung hero who manually remove tonnes of plastic and other solid waste from River Yamuna day and night.

Compiled by Bhim Singh Rawat (bhim.sandrp@gmail.com)

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