Dams · Rivers

International Day of Action for Rivers 2020: Positive River Stories from India

On the occasion of International day of action for rivers which is annually celebrated on March 14, SANDRP put together some positive citizens and community led actions taken in last one year to protect and revive the rivers in different parts of India.

The top five positive river stories

Goa River Sand Protectors network fight against illegal mining The Rainbow Warriors NGO has done commendable work in making the administration and government agencies do their duty through court intervention. Going a step further ahead, the civil society groups have formed the Goa River Sand Protectors network to monitor the illegal sand mining activities and inform administration with evidence for prompt action. This is a rare, great example, worth replication by other concerned individuals and organization worried over unsustainable mining of finite resource. The court is also right that growing and repeated illegal sand mining activities cannot be fined under mining rules but must be dealt under IPC and criminal cases. https://sandrp.in/2020/01/05/goa-riverbed-mining-overview-2019-civil-societies-form-network-to-curb-mining-menace/   (05 Jan. 2020)

Mumbai Youngsters work to clean Mithi river A great volunteer effort is reported here from in Mumbai to clean up Mithi river. What they have achieved when this report came out, 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. Let us hope it will achieve all its objectives. 

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-kilometre 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.

How the Mithi was destroyed
Mithi River cleaning. Image: The Hindu

In three months, Mr. Shah and band of volunteers have removed over 1 lakh kg of plastic and a similar amount of water hyacinth from the 350-metre patch near Filter Pada. By March-end, he hopes to clear the first kilometre of the river. For the liquid waste, the volunteers are trying a bioremediation method by placing activated charcoal in the soil below the nullahs flowing through the slums into the river, and growing vetiver grass, a natural purifier. “This method of treating liquid waste is successful worldwide. We have tried this in four nullahs flowing from Best Nagar,” says Mr. Shah. https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/mumbai/how-the-mithi-was-destroyed/article26298525.ece  (18 Feb. 2019) For updates on his work, see: https://twitter.com/AfrozShah1.

By June 2019, the effort had covered 1.25 km of Mithi River, see: https://www.moneycontrol.com/news/trends/mithi-river-is-getting-free-of-plastic-waste-thanks-to-activist-afroz-shah-4136611.html. In a move that will be argued as controversial, Reliance Industries jointed hand with him in Sept 2019: https://www.livemint.com/news/india/reliance-joins-hands-with-green-activist-to-help-clean-up-mumbai-s-mithi-river-1568138330646.html.

Kerala ‘Clean Baveli’: Small but giant step by residents to rejuvenate a dying river In yet another example of community driven river revival efforts the resident of Manathana village, Peravoor town in Kannur have started a campaign to revive the Baveli river which is the drinking water source for several villages but is facing increasing garbage and pollution loads.

Originating from the Western Ghats, it flows through forests and nourishes lands along its course. Considered a sacred river, devotees of Kottiyoor Shiva temple in Kannur take a dip in Baveli as part of their religious ritual.  Baveli’s journey to rejuvenation began in a small village named Manathana in Kannur. The river flowed through the village and the residents relied heavily on Baveli for agriculture. As the river has been affected due to pollution, the residents of the village decided to revive it. They started a movement called ‘Clean Baveli’ under the banner ‘Manathanakoottam. The movement, the group says, is not a mere process to clean a polluted river, but a comprehensive and long-term plan that includes awareness drives, study tours, street plays, competitions and river study programme.

Image:The News Minute

While the cleaning process is scheduled to begin only on January 2020, the group has been engaged in implementing the first phase of ‘Clean Baveli’ movement, that is, creating awareness on the importance of cleaning and protecting the river. As part of ‘Clean Baveli’, 35-km stretch of the river — starting from Chekuthanthode in Wayanad district to Palappuzha in Kannur district — will be cleaned. About 7,000 people are expected to participate in the cleaning process. https://www.thenewsminute.com/article/clean-baveli-small-giant-step-residents-rejuvenate-dying-river-kerala-113793  (10 Dec. 2019) 

Tamil Nadu Coonoor sets river cleaning example On September 22, the World Rivers Day, Clean Coonoor, a local NGO, started the second phase of the Coonoor River clean-up drive. Coonoor is a small town of around 45,494 people in the Nilgiri. The river is also known as the Hancoonthorai Stream.

The Coonoor River flows out of the town. The drinking water supply comes from Raliah Dam and the streams, including tributaries of the Coonoor River, in its upper reaches. A survey undertaken by the Kotagiri-based NGO, the Keystone Foundation, states that Coonoor has been blessed with a large number of wetlands and more than 75 perennial streams.

Over 42 days and 41 nights, Coonoor set an example for the rest of India by cleaning up its river
Cleaned Up Coonoor river. Image: The Scroll.in

It took 42 days of hard labour to clear 12 tonnes of soil, plastic and other debris, including an autorickshaw and a couple of sofas, from the stream. Taking a step further, the Nilgiri District Administration has issued an order that power and water supply would be cut to households that do not segregate their garbage even after three warnings. The municipality has erected a tall wire mesh netting to prevent people from throwing garbage into the river and this has had its effect: the amount of garbage being dumped into the river has come down considerably. https://scroll.in/article/939248/over-42-days-and-41-nights-coonoor-set-an-example-for-the-rest-of-india-by-cleaning-up-its-river  (7 Oct. 2019)

As per another report, the cleaning up of 500-meter stretch of the upper stream of the Coonoor River removed more than 5,000 tonnes of waste and sediment from the water body. The clean-up operation cost around ₹12 lakh, which was raised through private subscriptions. Most of the waste and sediment removed from the stream was taken to the landfill in Coonoor to use for landscaping purposes.

Samantha Iyanna, Managing Trustee of Clean Coonoor also planned to meet the relevant authorities and try to get a mechanism functioning for proper disposal of construction waste and material to stop dumping of debris into the stream which was common practice. Following the cleaning up drive, the Revenue Department and Coonoor Municipality in November 2019 inspected 1.5-km stretch of Coonoor River, after the river water flooded surrounding areas. 

GANGA WALK Ganga Yatra on Bicycle River cyclist Samrat Moulik is on a mission to save the rivers and conserve water, the man who pedalled from Gangotri to Padma in Bangladesh to raise awareness…, returned from a 5,200 km expedition from Ladakh to Kanyakumari.

Having seen the country’s rivers up, close and personal cycling 8,200 kilometres, Moulik says that one of the most ill-planned infrastructure projects conceived since Independence are the river dams, which, while generating hydro-electricity, are also making man fish in troubled waters. A river is a living entity, Moulik stresses, whether glacial or rain-fed, and in this journey, it performs its own geological role. https://www.thehitavada.com/Encyc/2019/5/19/RIVER-INTERRUPTED.html    (19 May 2019) 

Other Positive River Stories

INDIVIDUAL, COMMUNITY, CIVIL SOCIETY EFFORTS  

Mumbai Apart from this, mangrove beach clean-up network has been started in Mumbai in May 2019, which is a first-of-its-kind city-wide network of citizen volunteers, environment groups, corporates, BMC officials, the NEERI, state mangrove cell, college and school student to come together in operation Jallosh-Clean Coasts.

In another effort taken in direction of rivers’ revival going on for years, Aslam Saiyad and his friend Gopal MS have been documenting the rivers of Mumbai including Dahisar and the people living around it. They have now set up Halluhallu, a walking experiences service with a focus of discovering the city through slow, off-beat trails and walks.  

Pune Similarly, in June 2019 a campaign to restore the Ramandi and Khatpedwadi lake was launched in Pune. It involved residents of the river basin including schools and colleges first to raise awareness and water literacy and then to undertake cleaning programmes with the help of volunteers and PMC to make the river free of solid waste and sewage. The campaign also included awareness sessions on managing domestic waste and sewage among residents, training in organic farming in the river stretch and connecting consumers with organic farmers.

A bi-monthly survey of the river basin and map the mythological, cultural, natural, and historical elements was also planned followed by a ‘health card’ of the Ramnadi river to be published and monitored.

Environmentalists working towards the restoration of the Ramnadi river under the aegis of Kirloskar Vasundhara Film Festival have recommended a series of policy-centric initiatives in their report entitled ‘Ramnadi Flood Report’. The report prepared by the riverine ecosystem rejuvenation experts and environmentalists that was submitted to Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) on in first week of January 2020 emphasised the need for flood mapping of all existing streams and tributaries, and for all encroachments to be removed from within the flood lines. 

The Jeevit Nadi (Living Rivers) foundation has been active in raising awareness for protecting rivers in Pune specially Mula and Mutha. The foundation dedicated to the cause of rivers have been organizing river walks, talks, cleaning up activities on regularly basis and interacting with government authorities taking up the issues affecting the rivers in the city.

Image by Jeevit Nadi Foundation 

Recently the group and several others have objected to Pune Cantonment Board (PCB) plan of concretization of Bhairoba nallah (stream) which is being pushed as a measure to provide safety from floods.

Others The residents of drought-wracked Mahud village have revived Kasal Odha or rivulet in Sangola Taluk in Solapur on the Pandharpur–Karad Road with some help from district officials. The community initiative has raised the water table and made irrigation possible.

Kerala Chalakudy River Has a New ‘Little’ Band of Saviours Despite the demise of Latha Anantha, its guiding light, River Research Centre the NGO has been continuing its river conservation and awareness efforts, with a particular focus on schools. The Schools for River project was flagged off for this purpose. And for lack of relevant information pertaining to rivers and complex river basin ecosystems. Latha had dedicated a significant portion of her life educating children about rivers & their importance, besides fighting against the dams & dislocation of people along the Chalakudy river. https://www.thebetterindia.com/139719/chalakudy-river-conservation-river-research-centre-school-children/  (30 April 2019)

Here is a tribute to Ammini who lived on the banks of the Chalakudy River near the famed Athirapally waterfall in Thrissur district for over 5 decades. Her love for the river made her one of the staunch voices against the proposed Hydroelectric project in 2000s. She passed away at the age of 79 on July 22, 2019 with her heart still full of memories about the wilderness she fought for and won.

Survey finds rampant encroachment along Chaliyar A citizen group is active to raise voice of threatened rivers. The Kerala Nadhi Samrakahsna Samithi (KNSS) in September 2019 surveyed and found widespread encroachment on the river Chaliyar and that the encroachers are mostly business persons. The initiative was in the wake of the destruction caused by the Chaliyar throughout its course during the recent floods. Following the survey, the KNSS planned to move court against encroachments to hold the district collectors in all the districts responsible for clearing them.   https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/kozhikode/survey-finds-rampant-encroachments/article29513290.ece  (25 Sept. 2019) 

Killiyar river cleaning initiative The Killiyar Cleaning Mission began in 2018 after a detailed survey. Its second phase named ‘Karakaviyathe Killiyar’ (Killiyar without overflow) has begun in February 2020. It was allocated a budget of Rs 50 lakh. According to Tourism Minister Kadakampally Surendran, who participated in the drive, 25,000 people volunteered to clean up the river in the second phase. Killiyar, a tributary of Karamana River, originates from Panavur in Nedumangad, and flows through Thiruvananthapuram city. https://www.thenewsminute.com/article/over-25000-volunteers-participate-second-phase-killiyar-river-cleaning-kerala-118234  (15 Feb. 2020)

River adoption program launched A few dozen environmentalists from different parts of Kerala assembled on the banks of the Chittur river as part of launching a model river adoption scheme. The Chittur River, one of the key tributaries of the Bharatapuzha, has become the first major river to be adopted as part of the Swachata Abhiyan Program proposed by the Kerala State Council for Science, Technology and Environment (KSCSTE). KSCSTE advisor E. Kunhikrishnan led the day-long programme.

Environmentalists planting trees on the bank of the Chittur river on Sunday.
Environmentalists planting trees on the bank of the Chittur river. Image The Hindu

A seminar was to be held at Ashrayam College of Arts and Science, Kollengode, on March 3 to discuss various plans to study the catchment areas of the Chittur river and the conservation of the Gayatri river. https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/kozhikode/earth-lovers-launch-river-adoption-programme/article30960933.ece  (02 March 2020)

Uttarakhand Kathayat revives drying Bursol river This is encouraging Hindi report on Bhupal Singh Kathayat who has been planting native trees along the Bursol river in Nainital for past 20 years without any financial support from government. The farmer takes out time from agricultural activities and has also installed a locally made instrument to gauge water level in the river. Due to his efforts of plantation at the original route of Bursol river which is Deepamai temple, Jadapani and Mujharchoura, the river which was turning dry, has started flowing again. https://www.jagran.com/uttarakhand/nainital-bhopal-singh-is-busy-saving-the-river-for-20-years-18819047.html (4 Jan. 2019)

Here is another encouraging story of villagers and Sachidanand Bhariti whose afforestation work in Uffrenkhal hilltops in Pouri Garhwal has been successful in reviving the Gadganga stream which is a tributary of Nayar East.  https://sandrp.in/2019/01/12/uffrenkhals-legacy-of-recharge-pits-ensures-water-security/  (12 Jan. 2019)

Meanwhile, the agitation by Marti Sadan saints in Haridwar is going on with key demands of ban on illegal sand mining, cancellation of proposed hydroelectric projects; maintenance of a free-flowing river. Recently the Sadhavi Padmavati and Atmbodhanand have taken month long fast to protect the Ganga. https://thewire.in/environment/ganga-hindu-saints-fast

Himachal Pradesh Youths unite to save Neugal from garbage dumping Hundreds of villagers of Sulaha area of Palampur in February 2020 have announced that they would protect Neugal river water from contamination and not allow dumping of garbage into it. Villagers from Farerh, Bhatto and Paroro areas have been camping near the river in biting cold for two days to check the dumping of garbage. Dozens of persons, who came to throw the garbage in the river were sent back by the villagers.

Youths unite to save Neugal from garbage dumping
Youths guard Neugal river in Palampur. Photo: Ravinder Sood/ The Tribune

They said the Neugal was a major source of drinking water in the area. The IPH Department had tapped its water for supply schemes for hundreds of villages and therefore, they would not allow any contamination in the water. Village youths assembled at Paror and said since the administration, the IPH Department & Pollution Control Board had failed to check the menace, they had come forward to protect it. https://www.tribuneindia.com/news/reviews/story/youths-unite-to-save-neugal-from-garbage-dumping-34315  (01 Feb. 2020) 

Manipur HC bans sand mining, stone quarry in state rivers Following civil society group Thoubal River Conservation Committee’s sustained efforts & PIL, the State High Court in July 2019 put a total ban on unauthorised stone quarry, sand mining in all rivers of the state. It directed officials to take preventive measures to stop exploitation of the rivers. https://indianexpress.com/article/north-east-india/manipur-high-court-bans-sand-mining-stone-quarry-in-state-rivers-5813612/  (03 July 2019)

IMG-20190121-WA0040.jpg
Villagers do earth work for Kuccha checkdam on Katha stream. 

Uttar Pradesh Mustaqueem Mallah Awarded Bhagrirath Prayas Samman For Mustaqueem Mallah, restoration of Katha River is an important aim of his life. The 30 years old has been making steady and solid efforts to achieve this for the past over 8 years. Belonging to Mallah (boatman) community, Mustaqueem has been witnessing the degradation of Yamuna river, flowing close to his village Ramra in Kairana block of Shamli district, Uttar Pradesh.  https://sandrp.in/2019/11/28/india-rivers-day-2019-mustaqueem-mallah-awarded-bhagrirath-prayas-samman/  (28 Nov. 2019)

River Professors Venkatesh Dutta, associate professor, Babasaheb Bhimrao Ambedkar University has been raising the issues threatening the Gomti river in Lucknow. In February 2020, following his pleas the NGT has ordered administration to map the river floodplain and take measures to protect it from encroachments. https://twitter.com/Venkatesh_D/status/1226174442868375553 

Similarly Vijaya Nath Misra a professor at the Banaras Hindu University in Varanasi has been making attempts to highlight the issue of water pollution in the Ganges using the medium of Twitter in a bid to prompt the authorities to take action. https://www.ndtv.com/india-news/bhu-professor-vijaya-nath-misras-tweets-bring-back-focus-on-ganga-pollution-in-varanasi-2066817  (09 July 2019)

Map of birding spots marked during second part of Betwa river walk. Image: Veditum India. 

Moving Upstream Under this project Veditum India has been undertaking walks along different rivers to gain insight into issues affecting the rivers and riverine communities. It has been also documenting range of information on various aspects of river including culture and biodiversity, including currently along Betwa river in Bundelkhand. https://www.veditum.org/upstream/moving-upstream-betwa-her-people-stories/  (02 Sept. 2019)

Madhya Pradesh Villager revive river, built small dam to combat water crisis Residents of Kanadiya Village in Indore have revived a river and built a small dam with the help of an engineer to combat the water scarcity. The villagers have contributed money to build the small dam. https://www.business-standard.com/article/news-ani/residents-of-mp-village-revive-river-built-small-dam-to-combat-water-crisis-119070500263_1.html  (5 July 2019)

In Tikamgarh a workshop was organized to revive a small river Ur by district administration and Panchmukhi Samvay group in January 2020. 

Ur river

Some more information on Ur River is given here.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q8ofCM2hn_8&fbclid=IwAR2EV3hsac0uZOzjWkdODhI3nZLC7PYApxxaah91CkRBuziqOw3BcDeUGjw (7 Jan. 2020)

Gujarat PSS fight against Sabarmati pollution For the past many years, the environmental organization, Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti (PSS), Vadodara has been raising the issue of pollution in Sabarmati river (among others) and making the government take action. In February 2020, in a letter to the Secretary, MOEF&CC PSS has complained that, despite frequent reminders and meetings with senior officials in Delhi and Gujarat, issues related to existing Sewage Treatment Plants (STPs) across Gujarat and India as prime source of pollution of the rivers remain unresolved.

Signed by PSS activists Rohit Prajapati and Krishnakant & sanitation science engineers Upendra M Raval and Shakti Bhatt, the letter regrets that the authorities continue to ignore the Supreme Court order of February 22, 2017 in Writ Petition (Civil) No 375 of 2012 (Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti & Others V/s Union of India & Ors), which makes it mandatory for making new STPs functional by February 22, 2020. https://www.counterview.net/2020/02/gujarat-fails-to-come-up-with-new.html (15 Feb. 2020) 

Telangana: Hyderabad Citizens initiative against Musi encroached Armed with satellite images of the Musi River in Hyderabad over a period of five years between 2014 and 2019, a social activist in January 2020 wrote to the Chief Justice of Telangana Raghavendra Singh Rathore seeking his intervention to save the river from encroachment. Satellite images show how over the course of a few years the dumping of waste into the river has increased and so have encroachments along the river banks.

The Hyderabad-based activist Lubna Sarwath has also sought a directive from the Telangana High Court to the state government to initiate proceedings against officials and public representatives for dereliction of duty in being unable to protect the river.  The activist says the pictures show how over the years dumped garbage and waste by the river bed was levelled and eventually encroached upon in areas such as Shankar Nagar. The activist alleges that the satellite images revealed that over the past few years the wastewater inflow into the river has increased.

 “If the GHMC is unable to prevent encroachment and the dumping of waste into the lakes and rivers, then let the public take over the protection. As a citizen am ready to work pro bono for the lake and river protection in Hyderabad,” she adds. https://www.thenewsminute.com/article/satellite-pics-show-hyderabad-s-musi-river-being-encroached-117204  (31 Jan. 2020)

Odisha Indravati river Residents of Bhejapadar village of Bastar in May 2019 undertook a foot-march to highlight the decreasing water level in Indravati River. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/videos/news/chhattisgarh-locals-step-up-to-save-indravati-river-in-bastar/videoshow/69342905.cms  (16 May 2019)  

 

Assam Residents protest tree felling for bridge Around 300 people in November 2019 staged the protest on the banks of the river at Machkhowa area by forming a human chain as part of “Save Tree and Riverfront” campaign. The residents were enraged that over 200 trees are to be felled, most of which stand tall at the Sankardev Park. The approach road to the proposed bridge would pass through the park that faces the river. https://www.newindianexpress.com/nation/2019/nov/10/felling-trees-for-bridge-over-brahmaputra-guwahati-residents-erupt-in-protest-2059835.html  (10 Nov. 2019)

Arunachal Pradesh Major plantation drive along Siang river A major plantation drive was held in February 2020 along the riverbank of Siang river at Borguli, which is one of the most affected village from flooding in Siang river. Several hectares of land along left bank of Siang have been washed away by erosion of flooding Siang River during monsoon. Environmentalists and environmental groups landed their support to the plantation drive. https://arunachal24.in/arunachal-major-plantation-drive-along-siang-river-at-borguli-to-be-held-on-feb-15/  (13 Feb. 2020) 

WALKS, TALKS, FILMS, BOOKS 

BRAHMAPUTRA Documentary explores tales surrounding the river Filmmaker Joor Baruah’s documentary film Voice of Siang has been screened to critical acclaim at the Mumbai International Film Festival. Baruah’s film provides an insight into the undiscovered Northeast and the various tales surrounding the river Siang as it is known in the Arunachal Pradesh, and as the Brahmaputra in the lower reaches, that shapes much of the region’s geography, as well as its culture. The documentary primarily focuses on the indigenous Adi tribe of Arunachal Pradesh inhabiting the foothills of the Eastern Himalayas in Northeast India. https://thenewsmill.com/documentary-film-voice-of-siang-explores-tales-surrounding-the-river/  (13 Feb. 2020)

Book Review The Unquiet River The book is a comprehensive biography of the Brahmaputra. Official narratives about the Brahmaputra largely see the river from a very narrow and short-sighted prism of floods and flood relief programs. But such ideas hardly take into account the centrality of the river in the ecosystem and landscape of Assam.  https://www.firstpost.com/india/with-the-unquiet-river-historian-arupjyoti-saikia-plays-biographer-to-the-brahmaputra-charts-its-ever-shifting-course-7717491.html  (5 Dec. 2019)

Saving Lama’s cranes This is a must story book by Kalpavriksh. It is written by Neeraj Vagholikar and illustrated by Niloufer Wadia. https://sandrp.in/2019/11/14/saving-the-dalai-lamas-cranes-an-adventure-swift-as-the-river/

GANGA Expedition Women team to study plastic pollution  An all-women team of 15 researchers and engineers will be part of a National Geographic expedition (in partnership with WII-Dehradun) that will travel up the Ganga from the Bay of Bengal to its source in the Gangotri glacier to study the flow of plastics in the river system. The expedition will be undertaken by boat, road and rail over four months, of which two months will be in summer beginning at the end of May and two months after the monsoon. https://www.hindustantimes.com/world-news/15-member-natgeo-team-to-travel-up-ganga-to-study-plastic-pollution/story-kizp4Not0uAkWZ3I4PJWjO.html   (10 May 2019)

Documentary Surya Ganga The documentary explores the  energy, environment, hydro projects interlinked but hidden dimensions affecting Ganga making it a case for a shift in India’s energy policy towards renewable sources. https://www.indiawaterportal.org/articles/surya-ganga-film-review

Book Review ‘Unruly Waters’ and ‘Ganges: In India, Water Is Politics  Review by Tunku Varadarajan Mr. Amrith has written a marvelous—and marvelously ambitious—book that sets out to explain how water has shaped the history of Asia. In a nutshell, Mr. Amrith, a history professor at Harvard, contends that water is politics. And while such a contention may be plausible for any part of the world, it is irrefutable in (south) Asia, where “waters have long been a gauge for rulers’ ambition, a yardstick of technological prowess—and a dump for the waste products of civilization.” https://www.wsj.com/articles/unruly-waters-and-ganges-review-in-india-water-is-politics-11546641300  (4 Jan. 2019)

Superhuman River

‘Superhuman River: Stories of the Ganga’ After travelling across Ganga, author Bidisha Banerjee has written this book highlighting different aspect of the river. Each day, with our excreta, our disavowal of balance and responsibility and our acceptance of the legacy of industrialisation, we are writing a dark chapter in the biography of this ancient goddess, the eternal life force, the Ganga River.  https://scroll.in/article/953556/what-or-who-is-the-ganga-bidisha-banerjee-travelled-the-length-of-the-river-to-write-this-book  (19 Feb. 2020) 

Ganga an endless journey Book Review Originally written in Bengali and translated into English by Sarbani Putatunda, the book is a reflection of the author’s fascination with the river. The readers can vicariously live through the same on each page.  https://www.outlookindia.com/outlooktraveller/travelnews/story/70080/book-review-ganga-an-endless-journey  (20 Feb. 2020)

NARMADA Parikrama A 3500 km pilgrimage along the river In this fascinating Guest blog, Jubin Mehta describes the experience of undertaking a Narmada Parikrama (walking around 3500 kilometres on foot around the Narmada river), a sacred and yet eye opening journey. Parikrama is a Sanskrit word derived from the root ‘pari’ meaning around and ‘krama’ meaning going.

Beginning the walk at Maheshwar Picture Credit- Kashyap Swaroop
Beginning the Narmada Parikrama walk at Maheshwar Picture Credit- Kashyap Swaroop

And hence, Narmada Parikrama means circum-ambulating the river. This is a spiritual/religious tradition of the Hindus existing from centuries wherein pilgrims start walking from any point along the river after collecting Narmadaji’s water in a vial and start walking with the river to their right. https://sandrp.in/2020/02/11/experience-of-narmada-parikrama-in-2020-a-3500-km-pilgrimage-along-the-river/  (11 Feb. 2020)

SUTLEJ Documentary Ho Gyi hai Pir Parvat Si Ho Gayi Hai Pir Parvat Si – Hindi (The Mountain high agony), made by Independent Filmmaker, Subrat Kumar Sahu, is a documentary on the impacts of hydropower development in the Sutlej Valley. The 111 minute film, shot between 2010 and 2017, travels from village to village on the landscape that falls under Seismic Zone IV and V, capturing visuals of colossal disaster and resident testimonies of the already deleterious impacts of many ongoing hydro-power projects on the local farm-based economies, on their precious water sources, causing deforestation, health hazards, landslides, flash floods, leading to desperate situations for the local communities and also threatening to drive them into dispossession and perpetual deprivation. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1qY3V_iLLes

Maharashtra Seeing the widespread damage by illegal sand mining activities across the state, the Awaaz Foundation initiated “Save Our Sand (SOS)” a public awareness campaign. The drive focussed on the critical issue of sand mining & urged people to demand implementation of rules to protect sand.

In October a Marathi short film Valu (Sand in Marathi) was produced that dealt with the politics of sand and water. The 12-minute short film is a fictional tale mirroring the water crisis in the Paithan region. It narrates the story of a farmer who sets out to expose the ruthless sand mafia that’s destroying the river. 

ADVOCACY 

CAUVERY In November 2019, in “Interrogating ‘Cauvery Calling’: Issues of Ecologies, Cultures & Livelihoods” seminar several noted river experts and environmentalists questioned the concept and viability of Cauvery Calling initiative under Rally for the Rivers campaign by Isha Foundation of Sadguru Jaggi Vasudev. https://esgindia.org/new/events/interrogating-cauvery-calling-videos-pictures-podcasts-and-more/  (29 Nov. 2019)

The foundation has been allegedly involved in encroachment of Cauvery and Noyyal river catchment and caused destruction of forest land there affecting the wildlife in gross violation of norms. Cauvery calling proposes plantation of 242 crores trees costing around Rs 11,000 crores without credible plan to acquire farmers land and authentic mechanism to raise the fund. 242 crore trees along Cauvery’s banks translates to 900 trees an acre. That is 3 to 6 times denser than the Amazon rainforest.

It promotes plantation as silver bullet solution to all the problems of the river without any concerns of dams, pollution, groundwater extraction, sand mining on the river eco-system. Experts and scientists have also raised question over plantation as only solution to all the woes of the rivers. Before this, 95 civil society groups in an open letter had criticised the Leonardo DiCaprio for promoting the Rally for rivers without knowing the ground realities.

In January 2020, the Karnataka High Court directed Isha Foundation to file an additional affidavit disclosing the amount it has collected and manner in which it has done so. It warned that “Don’t be under the impression that spiritual organisation is above law.” The court also pulled up the Karnataka government, who is also a respondent in the case, why the state was quiet when this money was being collected. The state government has reportedly filed an affidavit in court stating that they have not authorised the organisation to collect funds. 

GANGA Citizens’ report on what ails Ganga rejuvenation The sixth addition of India Rivers Day (IRD) 2019 held in November 2019 saw participation of scientists, academicians, experts, government officials and civil society groups. In the day long day seminar co-organized by six organisation including SANDRP, presentations, debates and panel discussion were held on the theme “Envisioning the Institutional Framework for River Governance in India”.

A IRD 2019

A comprehensive citizen’s report, on Rejuvenating Ganga was released on that occasion putting together an analysis of why flows in most rivers of the Ganga basin are dwindling, and recommended that the Centre make environmental flows mandatory for the entire basin and not just the main stem of the river.

It also highlights that the key reason for the failure of the river cleaning projects (Ganga and Yamuna action plans), was their single-point focus on the main stem of the river, while the Ganga basin actually has eight major rivers. The majority of the funds were spent on pollution-abatement measures on the main stem of the Ganga and on the upper Yamuna basin, which constitute just 20% of the Ganga basin. The programme must define the desired flows in the Ganga main stem and its tributaries to allow the rejuvenation of the river. https://www.hindustantimes.com/editorials/to-clean-the-ganga-take-a-holistic-approach-ht-editorial/story-U0xxKgVWqfV7W2W9d8qCjK.html  (27 Nov. 2019)

The Ganga Ahvahan has also drafted People’s Ganga Act showing contrast and problems between it and government Ganga bill. 

River Dialogues Since September 2019 a series of talks and dialogues hoping to challenge the imagination of the “mainstream” on the status of rivers is being organized in Delhi. The series hopes to flow like tributaries into all other rivers like the Brahmaputra, Ganges, Narmada, Indus, Yamuna, Teesta, Gomti, Periyar, Krishna, Godavari, Sabarmati etc.

Image result for river dialogue delhi

The river conversations are critical to re-evaluate histories, reconnecting civilisations, cultures and peoples, ideas and regions. On opening of streams of thought and conversations for a future with exciting possibilities.

Parineeta Dandekar of SANDRP participating in River Dialogues held at India International Centre, Delhi on Feb 7, 2020, along with Bengali author Sumana Roy. It was moderated by Author and Journalist Kishalay Bhattacharjee.

RESISTANCE AGAINST DESTRUCTIVE PROJECTS 

Arunachal Pradesh Victory to SMRF protest In a moral victory to Save Mon Region Federation (SMRF) strong resistance, the WII report in June 2019 accepted that the proposed Nyamjang Chu hydro-electric project would impact the habitat of the Black-necked crane in Zemithang Valley. It also said that all the locals interviewed during an assessment at the project site were opposed to the construction of the dam. The field study was conducted between July 2017 and February 2018. The report’s socioeconomic survey section said that all the 46 people who were asked with the several questionnaires on the proposed project were categorically against construction of the dam. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/itanagar/locals-oppose-arunachal-pradesh-mega-dam-unanimously/articleshow/69721261.cms  (10 June 2019)

Fresh EIA for Etalin HEP The FAC had advised caution in pursuing the proposed 3,097 MW Etalin Hydroelectric Project since it falls under the “richest bio-geographical province of the Himalayan zone” and would be located at the junction of the Palaearctic, Indo-Chinese and Indo-Malayan bio-geographic regions. The panel has also sought the views of the National Tiger Conservation Authority as the area is a big cat habitat with 12 tigers and 8 clouded leopards having been spotted. The project, estimated to cost Rs. 25,296.95 crore, is proposed to be completed in seven years but would entail felling 2,80,677 trees and threatens the existence of 6 globally endangered mammal species. The area also has 680 species of birds, which is about 56% of the total avian species found in India. https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/fresh-biodiversity-study-of-proposed-dam-sought/article30080984.ece  (26 Nov. 2019)

Assam Agitation against the Subansiri project Assam’s leading peasants’ organization, the Krishak Mukti Sangram Somiti (KMSS), and the Asom Jatiyotabadi Yuva Chatra Parishad (AJYCP) have resumed their movement against construction activities for the 2000 mw Subansiri Lower Hydroelectric Project (SLHP) in Gerukamukh near the Assam-Arunachal boundary. The KMSS staged state-wide protests in Assam on June 17, 2019 and submitted a memorandum to the prime minister through the respective deputy commissioners, demanding immediate closure of the mega dam project in Gerukamukh for the safety of the people living in downstream Assam.

The agitation by the protesting organizations has resurfaced in the wake of the central government’s recent decision to restart dam works in Gerukamukh without having settled the issues pertaining to a mitigation of the issues raised by the people living downstream. Recently, the AJYCP’s Dhemaji district unit also resumed its protest against the project. https://arunachaltimes.in/index.php/2019/06/19/assam-organizations-resume-agitation-against-subansiri-project/   (19 June 2019)

AJYCP protest
AJYCP Dhemaji district unit stages sit-in demonstration in protest against the Lower Subansiri hydel project. Image credit – Northeast Now

The leaders of protesting organisations warned the government not to play any game with the lives of the people by going ahead with the dam project, which they have been opposing since long.  https://nenow.in/north-east-news/assam-organisations-resume-movement-against-lower-subansiri-hydel-project.html       (18 June 2019)

AASU (All Assam Students Union), in a statement, alleged that work on the Lower Subansiri project at Gerukamukh along the Assam-Arunachal Pradesh border has been started ‘treacherously’, risking the lives and property of people living in the downstream area. AASU said a scientific study on the possible impact of the dam in its downstream areas besides a cumulative impact study must be completed before restarting work at the dam site. https://energy.economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/power/assam-anti-dam-bodies-threaten-stir-to-stop-subansiri-dam-work/71630094  (17 Oct. 2019)

Sikkim Indigenous communities united in anti-dam movement Territoriality through traditional self-governance played a key role in successful and sustained anti-dam protests by two indigenous communities in Lachen and Lachung in the eastern Himalayas. The protests worked in Sikkim’s Lachen and Lachung because of the deployment of notions of identity. The consequences of resisting hydropower development have not been easy for the Lachungpas and Lachenpas but have strengthened their resolve to not allow any hydropower projects. https://india.mongabay.com/2019/06/how-two-indigenous-communities-in-north-sikkim-united-in-their-anti-dam-movement/  (17 June 2019)

Manipur Mapithel dam-affected villagers fight The Mapithel Dam Affected Headmen, Chiefs and Elders Organisation (MDAHCEO) on Feb. 11, 2020 called for a 48-hour-long total shutdown along Ukhrul to Imphal road via Mapithel Dam road with effect from the midnight of February 16 till the midnight of February 18. MDAHCEO informed the media that they were forced to take such decision protesting against the state government for neglecting their long-pending demands of providing rehabilitation and resettlement. https://www.eastmojo.com/manipur/2020/02/11/manipur-mapithel-dam-affected-villagers-call-for-48-hours-strike  (11 Feb. 2020)

Himachal Pradesh Tribals up against power project Tribals have opposed the proposed hydropower projects, the main agenda of the two-day Global Investors’ Meet. Shooting off a letter to CM Jai Ram Thakur ahead of the meet of Nov 7-8, the Save Lahaul-Spiti, Yuvak Mandals, Spiti Civil Society, Himlok Sanskriti Manch and other NGOs have upped their ante against the proposed construction of hydropower projects worth 2,300 MW. “We don’t want big projects on the sacred Chandra-Bhaga river that has nurtured a tribal culture in the harsh snowbound valley over the centuries”, said Prem Katoch, president, Save Lahaul-Spiti, seeking a ban on hydropower projects in the tribal belt. “Like Kinnaur, hydropower projects will ruin Lahaul-Spiti,” he said. https://www.tribuneindia.com/news/tribals-up-ante-against-power-projects/856280.html   (5 Nov. 2019)

Jammu & Kashmir Opposition to dam project in Chenab valley In Kishtwar, a remote region of Kashmir, the Save Marwah Movement stiffens struggle against building of Bursar dam. The Save Marwah Movement has held over 100 protests and hunger strikes over the last two years, both in Marwah and outside the Deputy Commissioner’s office at district headquarters Kishtwar. https://www.thethirdpole.net/en/2019/10/28/growing-opposition-to-dam-on-chenab-tributary/  (28 Oct. 2019)

Karnataka Protest against power projects in Western Ghats United Conservation Movement, in Nov 2019 held a protest against 3 projects in core areas of the Western Ghats, which participants said will upset the fragile ecosystem. This includes the Kaiga power plant complex, Sharavathi pumped storage project & a Karnataka-Goa transmission line. https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/bangalore/save-western-ghats-protest/article29864668.ece  (2 Nov. 2019) 

GOVERNMENT DECISIONS (Most of what is listed below look like promising developments, but we have a long way to go before these promises bring better future for our rivers.) 

Center BIS to introduce norms to lower detergent phosphate levels The Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) has assured CPCB that it will introduce new norms for lower detergent phosphate levels in a bid to control river pollution and foaming in rivers.

On January 10 2020, CPCB’s divisional head Ajay Aggarwal wrote to Ganesh Bora, IT director, Rotary Club of Walhekarwadi, Chinchwad, that the CPCB had been following-up the matter of use of phosphates in the manufacturing of soaps and detergents with the BIS since November, 2017. Aggarwal forwarded a letter received from the BIS on November 29, 2019, stating that the standards in the use of phospahtes in detergents had been revised.

-This group of enthusiastic environment activists has been working on the cleaning of the Pavna river in Pimpri-Chinchwad, which is among the most polluted rivers in Maharashtra. Bora said their research showed that BIS under the Ministry of Consumer Affairs had formulated scientific parameters for phosphates in cleansing agents way back in 1968. Also, the maximum level of phosphate to be used in detergents had not been specified.

– The Pavana river originates from Pavana lake near Lonavla and meets Mula river at Sangvi near Pune. The river flows a distance of 60 kilometres, passing through the suburbs of Kalewadi, Punawale, Chinchwad and Pimpri and meets Mula river in Pune. In 2018, the MPCB listed it among the five heavily polluted rivers of Maharashtra. Untreated sewage, garbage, accumulation of silt and discharge of untreated waste were listed as the major causes of pollution. https://www.hindustantimes.com/cities/bis-assures-cpcb-on-lowering-detergent-phosphate-levels-to-arrest-river-pollution/story-6noZQSWVRGqgySVxAL8XzJ.html?  (06 Feb. 2020)

Maharashtra Human dam not at the cost of tigers The Maharashtra Chief Minister has stated that the Human dam on the river would not be built at the cost of tigers and asked concerned government department to look for viable options. The stand is result of sustained efforts by several environmentalist and wildlife experts for past many years. In yet another major positive development for the rivers in the state, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) has also scarped plan of constructing Pinjal dam in Palghar district being proposed for growing water demands of the city.

Kerala Information on dam break analysis should be in public domain The State Information Commission (SIC) in a major decision in January 2020 stressed the need for putting the dam-break analysis prepared for the Mullaperiyar and Idukki dams in the public domain. The commissioner said one of the major objectives of the analysis was to assess the impact in case of a breach in the dams, so that the government and its instrumentality could prepare plans in advance and equip themselves for mitigating the damage to life and property and keeping such damage to the minimum. The commissioner said people likely to be affected by such a possible debacle would be mentally and physically prepared for self-evacuation at short notice if they had information on the issue. It would also help restrain them from encroaching on the banks of the rivers downstream.

Tamil Nadu Eternal Cauvery On the line of Namami Gange, the state government has also planned Nadanthai Vaazhi (Eternal Cauvery) which would cost Rs 11,000 crore. The plan is facing funding problem as the Central government as not assured financial support to it.

Cauvery Delta a protected agricultural zone The Tamil Nadu government has declared the 8 delta districts as protected agricultural zone in February 2020.

WII In-depth river habitat assessment of Ganga basin As per the report, an in-depth study of country’s rivers, as part of river habitat initiative, a WII survey team would use state-of-the-art scientific tools and techniques such as laser-based distance measurement units for channel width determination, sonar-based channel depth estimator, doppler-based river flow determination, GPS and GIS technology in combination with the local traditional knowledge of the riverside communities for river conservation. 

The initiative will include 10 rivers and cover more than 4,000 km of rivers in eight states in the Ganga basin. The rivers to be mapped include Ganga, Ramganga, Yamuna, Gomti, Ghagra, Gandak, Koshi, Son, Chambal and Rupnarayan — from source to their respective confluences. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/dehradun/wii-survey-team-to-hold-in-depth-river-habitat-assessment-of-ganga-basin-with-hi-tech-tools/articleshow/73675217.cms  (28 Jan. 2020)

App to map Ganga water, aquatic life In September 2019, WII has launched a mobile application “Ganga Data Collector” under the “Biodiversity and Ganga Conservation” project initiated by the National Mission for Clean Ganga of Union Ministry of Jal Shakti. The app would provide field researchers with a complete data entry solution to monitor the aquatic population in the river. https://indianexpress.com/article/india/an-app-to-map-ganga-water-aquatic-life/  (23 Sept. 2019)

NMCG Floodplain set to be demarcated for 1st time Uttar Pradesh state government has demarcated the Ganga’s floodplain and submitted a final report to the Jal Shakti ministry. The NMCG under Jal Shakti ministry would be the final authority to decide the floodplain. Once the report is approved, the centre would notify Ganga’s floodplain in the state for the first time. In the first phase, the river stretch from Haridwar till Unnao has been covered. At least 200 metres from the embankment in the city and 500 metres from the embankment in rural areas might be marked as the river’s floodplain. A floodplain is the maximum area that a river has flooded in 25 years (why only 25 year flood line, and not also a 100 year flood line?). Though the river may not rise that high every year but the demarcating it will mark the area that a river may engulf.

After the floodplain demarcated, it would further be divided into ‘no-development’ and ‘restrictive’ zones. The activities for each of the zones would be defined by the Centre and state government. If any activity is allowed in the ‘no development’ zone, it would be agriculture but on the condition that no fertilizer would be used. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/lucknow/gangas-floodplain-set-to-be-demarcated-for-first-time/articleshow/70877778.cms  (28 Aug. 2019)

Delhi DDA to begin demarcation of floodplains’ The National Green Tribunal (NGT) has been issuing directions to respective government authorities to protect the River and its floodplain in Delhi. In the latest order in March 2020 it has asked DDA to form special purpose vehicle within two weeks for exhaustively monitoring all issues relating to the rejuvenation of river Yamuna (DDA has replied that this is not possible since DDA itself is an authority and does not have powers to do that). The NGT monitoring panel in Delhi is quite active and has also developed a website for suggestions and complaints from the citizens.

In September 2019, the NGT had directed the DDA to undertake the process of demarcation of the Yamuna floodplains within three months and subsequently start work on the biodiversity parks. The green panel also directed the DDA to ensure that “no activity of edible crop or cultivation” on the floodplains takes place. The urban body was also directed to complete installation of CCTVs on the floodplains to prevent encroachment and dumping (it has become apparent now that the CCTV cameras do not seem to be working). https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Delhi/begin-demarcation-of-yamuna-floodplains/article29395888.ece  (12 Sept. 2019)

Artificial ponds prevented immersion of 24,000 idols  As many as 116 artificial ponds were created for idol immersion on Ganesh Chaturthi and 89 on Durga Puja. “Around 24,000 idols were immersed by 2 lakh people on Ganesh Chaturthi and Durga Puja. After the festivals, all ponds were emptied by Delhi Jal Board and cleaned by municipal corporation concerned,” the Divisional Commissioner’s Office said in a report submitted to the NGT-appointed Yamuna Monitoring Committee. https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/use-of-artificial-ponds-prevented-immersion-of-around-24-000-idols-in-yamuna-last-year/story-S19zXecavGjZHltsUL1mFM.html  (7 Jan. 2020) 

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

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