Chaired by Justice (Retd) Madan Lokur of Supreme Court of India, the India Rivers Week (IRW) 2020[i] ended at a well attended National Dialogue on River Sand Mining, and giving away of Bhagirath Prayas Samman (BPS) and Anupam Mishra Memorial (AMM) Medal on Nov 28, 2020. This was culmination of the process that started with the North India River Sand Mining Dialogue on Oct 31, 2020[ii] and dialogues in South Zone[iii], West Zone[iv] and East Zone[v] in the following weeks. Several hundred people participated in the regional dialogues and the recordings continue to be watched by many more on Facebook live and youtube.
Here is the playlist with recordings of the four zonal dialogues: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLJ8rxzbM8khdzookwgKZPs58wa9Q-mvTo
This year, ATREE team lead by Prof Jagdish Krishnawamy, SOPPECOM team lead by K Joy and Veditum (Siddharth Agarwal) joined as partners of the organizing committee that includes WWF-India, INTACH, People’s Science Institute (Dehradun), Toxics Link, Peace Institute Charitable Trust and SANDRP (a YUVA project). The full over three hour function of IRW 2020 can be watched here[vi]: https://www.facebook.com/IndiaRiversForum/videos/417986445902773/
The 2020 BPS and AMM awards Moderated by Prof Amita Baviskar of Institute of Economic Growth and Manu Bhatnagar of INTACH, the virtual meeting was attended by over 100 people from all over India and beyond. The BPS award this year went to Sarang Yadwadkar, an architect and urban planner from Pune in individual capacity and to Jeevitnadi Living River Foundation also of Pune in organisation capacity. The AMM award this year went to Makrand Purohit for his exemplary media work on River related issues.
The BPS Award citation for Sarang Yadwadkar said: “Sarang Yadwadkar has devoted himself to protecting the Mula-Mutha riverbed and floodplain from encroachment… Sarang Yarwadkar’s sustained work has attracted the attention and support of fellow-citizens. His continuing crusade has educated the public about the need to respect the integrity of rivers. He has shaped our collective imagination about how to protect and cherish the natural heritage of our cities. It is our honour to recognise and celebrate Shri Sarang Yadwadkar’s unsung yet inspiring efforts to protect the Mula-Mutha River in Pune.”
The BPS Award citation for Jeevitnadi Living River Foundation said: “Jeevitnadi has successfully taken on the challenge of reviving the Mula-Mutha in Pune by rebuilding the relationship between the river and residents of the city… It is our honour to recognise the exemplary efforts by the Jeevitnadi – Living River Foundation to protect the Mula-Mutha in Pune by revitalising the relationship between the river and the city.”
The AMM Medal citation for Makrand Purohit said: “Makarand Purohit has reported in depth and with verve on the state of rivers and the subject of water conservation across India, with special focus on the rivers of Chhattisgarh and Odisha… It is an honour to celebrate Makarand Purohit’s unflagging efforts in documenting and making public the cause of river and water conservation by presenting him the Anupam Mishra Memorial Medal 2020.”
Letter of appreciation from BPS Jury to Rohit Prajapati The Jury this year also decided to send a letter to appreciation to recognise the contribution of Shri Rohit Prajapati of Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti, Vadodara, for his amazing work on conservation of rivers, including Supreme Court and NGT orders, stopping of Vishwamitri River Front Development and many other successes. He was nominated for the BPS award, but conveyed to IRW Organising committee that he and PSS does not accept awards in principle.
The Jury The BPS and AMM awards are decided based on nominations that are invited about two months earlier, and decided by a jury based on predetermined criteria. The Jury this year included Shri Shashi Shekhar (TN cadre of IAS officer and former Secretary, Union Ministry of Water Resources), Shri Abhilash Khandekar (Senior Journalist), Prof Amita Baviskar (Institute of Economic Growth), Dr S Janakrajan (former director, MIDS), S Vishwanath (BPS award winner 2018) and Himanshu Thakkar (representing the organizing committee at the Jury).
The BPS award, started in 2014 “To recognize the unsung heroes for their outstanding and sustained efforts towards protection and conservation of rivers”, includes cash prize of Rs 60 000/-, citation and award. So far till 2019 has been awarded to individuals/ organisations. The AMM instituted in 2017 “To celebrate journalists and media professionals who have established an exceptional body of credible work on various aspects of rivers leading to changes in behaviour, public discourse, law and policy” includes a medal and certificate. It has been so far given to two persons.
The Key Note Address IRW has been lucky to get the support of Justice Madan Lokur for many of its annual events. In this key note address, Justice Lokur narrated his own experience in dealing with river sand mining case while in Andhra Pradesh High Court in April 2012. He observed that some of the sand mining was stopped as they needed environment clearance following the Feb 2012 Supreme Court order in Deepak Kumar Vs State of Haryana case. He said, “I was taken a back when I read the newspapers that two people were killed by the sand miners. When I made some enquiries to find out what is happening, that’s when I was told that there is some kind of mafia where everyone is involved in illegal sand mining. The police and other officials are trying to stop it, but these people are so desperate that they do not mind even killing people. That kind of shook me up and I realized the magnitude of the problem and the stakes that are involved.” He went on to congratulate India Rivers Forum for focusing on this important issue this year. He also congratulated the BPS and AMM winners.
National Dialogue on River Sand Mining Following the BPS-AMM ceremony, the discussions on IRW 2020’s theme “Is Sand Mining Killing our Rivers?” started with a 10-minute audio visual put together by Siddharth Agarwal and Dr Jagdish Krishnaswamy of ATREE. The AV will be finalized after inclusion of parts from the National Dialogue and uploaded on you tube channel of India Rivers Forum. A presentation then was made on the national scene of River Sand Mining, titled “The Sand Economy of India” by Himanshu Thakkar of SANDRP. This tried to give a national picture, also taking key lessons from the four zonal dialogues. This was followed by a Panel Discussion.The Panel of experts at the National Dialogue included Shri Shashi Shekhar (former secretary, Union Ministry of Water Resources), well known activist Sumaira Abdulali of Awaz Foundation, famous environment lawyer and 2016 BPS winner Ritwick Dutta and senior investigative journalist M Rajsekhar. The lively presentations were followed by Question and answer, in which Justice Lokur also participated.
The lively meeting ended with Vote of Thanks by Ravi Agarwal of Toxics Link, with a promise to continue the work on River Conservation in India that IRW started in 2014.