देश की नदियों की दुर्दशा किसी से छिपी नहीं है। एक ओर नदियों का जलप्रवाह लगातार घट रहा है, दूसरी ओर उनमें प्रदूषण की मात्रा चिंताजनक स्तर पर पहुॅच गई है। बढ़ती बॉध, पनबिजली, सिंचाई परियोजनाओं, भूजल दोहन, वनविनाश, बाढ़ भूमि अतिक्रमण और अवैध खनन से हमारी नदियों की जैवविविधता पर विपरीत प्रभाव सामने आ रहे हैं। साथ में नदियों पर गुजर बसर करने वाले मछवारों, मल्लाहों, किसानों की आजीविका पर गंभीर खतरा मंडरा रहा है।
इन सबके बीच, नदियों को बचाने के सरकारी प्रयास नाकेवल नाकाफी और निष्फल साबित हो रहे है, अपितु अब यह स्पष्ट है कि नदी विरोधी सरकारी योजनाओं के चलते ही छोटी बडी जलधाराएॅ सूख रही है, मैला हो रही है और बाढ़ के समय आपदा का कारण भी बन रही है। वास्तव में नदी संरक्षण संबंधी नियम कानूनों और व्यापक जनभागीदारी के अभाव के चलते आज हमारी जीवनदायनी नदियॉ, खुद के स्वछंद बहते जल को तरस रही है।
इन्हीं सब महत्वपूर्ण मुद्दों को उजागर करने के लिए 25 नवम्बर 2017 को दिल्ली भारतीय नदी दिवस समारोह आयोजित किया गया। इस बार के एक दिवसीय आयोजन में शहरी नदियों को केंद्र में रखकर मनाया गया। कार्यक्रम में भारत के विभिन्न क्षेत्रों से अस्सी से अधिक सरकारी विभागों -गैरसरकारी संस्थाओं से जुडे़ नदीप्रेमियों, चितंको और विचारकों ने भाग किया। यह कार्यक्रम वर्ष 2014 से निरंतर मनाया जा रहा है। हर साल की तरह, इस बार भी देश में नदियों को बचाने में संघर्षरत व्यक्तियों और नदी संगठनों को ‘भगीरथ प्रयास सम्मान’ से नवाजा गया। प्रभावी नदी लेखन, छायांकन और चित्रण के माध्यम से नदियों की आवाज उठाने वाले मीडियाकर्मी के लिए, इस साल से अनुपम मिश्र मैमोरियल मैडल का शुभांरभ किया गया।
The 2017 Bhagirath Prayas Samman (BPS) awards and the inaugural Anupam Mishra Medal for the exemplary media work on rivers were announced at a packed hall at INTACH on Nov 25, 2017, the India Rivers Day 2017, and given away by Supreme Court Judge, Honourable Justice Madan Lokur. The BPS award in organisation category has been awarded to Meenachil Nadee Samrakshana Samithi of Kerala and in individual category to Mahavir Singh of Rajasthan. The AMM has been awarded to Arati Rao, who has used her multiple talents, including writing, photography and arts with focus on rivers.
The theme for India Rivers Day 2017 (IRD 2017), held on 25th November, 2017 at the INTACH Delhi premises, was ‘Rivers in the Urban Context’. Various formats of engagement were deployed for discussion among the participants from across India present for the event. India Rivers Day was organised by a group of organisations that have come together under the name India Rivers Week, these include: INTACH, Yamuna Jiye Abhiyaan, WWF India, Toxics Link, Peace Institute Charitable Trust, People’s Science Institute and SANDRP.
As part of the IRD 2017 celebrations, an exhibition based on the event theme has also been set up. It displays photos related to various issues related to urban rivers. The exhibition was inaugurated during the IRD 2017 event by our eminent Chief Guest Shri Shashi Shekhar, former secretary of the Ministry of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation, Govt of India.
Greetings from the India Rivers Week (IRW) Organising Committee!
This is to request for nominations for Bhagirath Prayaas Samman (BPS) 2017.
As you will recall BPS is an attempt to acknowledge and celebrate outstanding, inspirational, unsung initiatives in river conservation.
This year we are also initiating Shri Anupam Mishra Memorial Medal to celebrate 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. Self nominations will also be considered.
Please find attached the announcement and the nomination forms.
The River system in North East, other than the Brahmaputra, can be classified as the Barak River system and minor Rivers flowing to Bangladesh and Burma. The Barak River, Gumti River, Myntdu River etc are some of the major Rivers flowing to Bangladesh, while the Kaladan River, the Manipur River, Tizu River etc flowing in the States of Mizoram, Manipur and Nagaland are main Rivers flowing to Burma.
The Barak River basin covers parts of India, Bangladesh and Myanmar. In India it spreads over states of Meghalaya, Manipur, Mizoram, Assam, Tripura and Nagaland having an area of 41,723 Sq.km.
The Barak River originates from the Manipur hills, from Liyai Village in Senapati district in Manipur at an elevation of 2,331 m and flows through Assam and further down to Bangladesh, where it is known by the name of the Surma and the Kushiyara and later called the Meghna before receiving the combined flow of the Ganga and the Brahmaputra. The principal tributaries of Barak joining from north bank are the Jiri, the Chiri, the Modhura, the Jatinga, the Harang, the Kalain and the Gumra whereas the Dhaleswari, the Singla, the Longai, the Sonai and the Katakhal joins from south bank. The Barak sub-basin lies in the States of Meghalaya, Manipur, Mizoram, Assam, Tripura and Nagaland.
In the midst of a serious meeting pontificating on water issues, suddenly one hears an evocative sher in impeccable Urdu, followed by laughter and rounds of Irshad. The sher captures a lot in a few lines.
For an MTech Engineer from IIT and a Ph D Structural Engineer, Dr Dinesh Kumar Mishra, Mishra ji, is a colourful personality.
His erudition on rivers and floods in Bihar is tempered by folklore, songs, myths and shayari. A polyglot, Mishraji speaks and writes with eloquence in not only in Hindi and English, but in Bengali, Odiya and Urdu with equal ease. He holds a doctorate from the University of South Gujarat and has been an Ashoka Fellow. Mishraji is an institution in himself when it comes to rivers and floods of North Bihar and has single-handedly contributed to a gradually changing perception of flooding rivers as a catastrophe or “something to be tamed”.
And hence, it gives us great pleasure to share that Mishraji was honored with the Bhagirath Parayas Samman at the India Rivers Week held in New Delhi on the 29th November 2016. India Rivers Week is being organized since November 2014 by a consortium of NGOs including WWF India, INTACH, SANDRP, Toxics Link and PEACE Institute Charitable Trust. More than 100 River experts, planners, researchers, artists, enthusiasts and activists from different parts of the country have been coming together to celebrate India Rivers Week in Delhi in last week of November to discuss, deliberate and exchange their experiences and ideas aimed at the conserving, rejuvenation, restoration of rivers in the country.
Citation of Bhagirtah Prayas Samman states “Dinesh Mishra, an engineer from IIT Kharagpur, has laid the foundation for an extensive knowledge base on floods in rivers.Through his writings, lectures, advocacy and public interactions he has inspired many individuals and organisations to record local knowledge about floods and generate information that creates awareness among communities. All this has become part of a larger social movement… It is an honour to recognize and celebrate Dr Dinesh Mishra’s extraordinary Bhagirath efforts in institutionalizing traditional ways of living with floods.”
Born just prior to independence in a village in Utter Pradesh, Mishraji has dedicated his life in telling us about destruction wrought by infrastructure centric-flood control measures on rivers… especially rivers of the Ganga basin in North Bihar. Since 1984, Mirshraji is engaged in the study of floods, water-logging and irrigation and has slowly nurtured a diverse army which is able to see a lot more in floods than only destruction. He has helped us see the impact of flood control infrastructure like embankments.
Mishraji believes that India’s flood control policy revolves mainly around embankments resulting in severe environmental problems. The maintenance of such structures is in the hands of “indifferent technocracy” which does not take cognizance of the fact that investment in the flood control sector is doing more harm than good. Rising flood prone area of the country is a pointer to that. There are a wide range of aspects that need to be looked into afresh like agriculture, non-farm employment, migration, health, education, and access to civic amenities etc. He finds it intriguing that reciprocal inaccessibility of the flooded areas during the peak season and prolonged water-logging during the peace-time has not attracted the imagination of most of the responsible people. He is trying to learn from the people, their perception of the problem and take it up with those in power while keeping in touch with the people about the probable official intervention. These bridges are rare and much-needed in India. He has raised the issue of floods and water-logging and the links with infrastructure in state, national and international levels.
He has highlighted the futility of embankments as a flood control measures in rivers like Kosi and its tributaries. Through his persistent efforts of over more than three decades, Mishraji has helped change the way river floods are understood and managed. Using an approach which respects the natural cycle of floods, founded on local knowledge, he has robustly challenged the main stream flood control approach. For him, the long-term sustenance of rivers as well as their natural processes is the key, supported by meticulous research into the historical and cultural aspects of rivers.
Mishraji’s narration of how people used to come out in boats to enjoy flooded areas at full moon nights in Bihar is not only poignant, it also reminds us of the paradigm shift that came into our water management when we discarded age-old wisdom and adopted measures which were out of sync for our rivers.
Mishraji’s work is a confluence of solid grass root level contacts, extensive knowledge of local traditions, topography, geography and hydrology, robust field research and unique analysis. His writings including articles, books and films have made a deep impact on current understanding and thinking about floods in rivers and how best to deal with them. Through all this, he has made notable contributions towards developing a new policy dialogue on India’s flood control system, and the impact they have had on livelihood practices.
Mishraji is also the convener of an informal group of flood activists called Barh Mukti Abhiyan, an effective informal group with wide acceptance and vast contacts. He is currently engaged in writing about river Gandak and Ghaghara and thus shall complete the entire landscape of rivers of north Bihar.
He has over hundreds of Notable among his large number of publications, are “Trapped! Between the Devil and Deep Waters: The Story of Bihar’s Kosi River” and “River Bagmati: Bounties Become a Curse”. His book “Boya Per Babool Ka’ was chosen as one of the best books written over the subject of environment by the Ministry of Forest and Environment, Government of India in 2002. This was later translated into English and published titled, ‘Living with Politics of Floods’ in 2002.
He was a member of the Dams and Development Forum of UNEP and represented Project Affected People there during 2003-07. He was also a member of the Working Group on Flood Control and Water Logging of the Planning Commission of India to review the progress made in eleventh Five Year Plan and make recommendations for the Twelfth.
He has encouraged many organizations to take up the issue of floods and water-logging in their respective river basins, in Bihar and other states as well, and they are carrying on their works. He has encouraged many groups to take up drainage works of small chaurs (land depressions) and resume agriculture on the land that emerges out of water. He provides them with basic technical details and help them executing the work. This has shown very encouraging results as compared to heavily budgeted drainage schemes taken up by the Irrigation Departments.
He has published a book on the River Mahananda (titled Bandini Mahananda in Hindi), a boundary river between Bihar and Bengal, in 1994 followed by a bi-lingual (Hindi and English) book on the Bhutahi Balan (2004) (Bhutahi Nadi aur Takniki Jhar Phoonk / Story of a Ghost River and Engineering Witchcraft) and on the Kamla River (2005) titled Baghawat Par Majboor Mithila Ki Kamala Nadi/ The Kamla-River and People on Collision Course.
His book on the River Kosi titled ‘Dui Paatan Ke Beech Mein – Kosi Nadi Ki Kahaani’ was published in Hindi in 2006. Its updated English version titled “Trapped! Between the Devil and Deep Waters – Story of Bihar’s Kosi River”, co-published by SANDRP, came out in 2008 just before the famous breach of the Kosi embankment at Kusaha in Nepal. Book on Bagmati was published in 2010, titled Bagmati Ki Sadgati. Its English version is also co-published by SANDRP titled “River Bagmati: Bounties Become a Curse” in August 2012. He has now started working on the major river of North Bihar, the Gandak and that will complete detailing the major rivers of north Bihar. This book will touch the Ghaghara and the Burhi Gandak too that flow almost parallel to the Gandak.
Mishraji’s crusade to highlight the wisdom behind age-old methods to “live with the floods”, his fight to expose the utterly destructive impacts of embankments and their role in amplifying flood misery, coupled with his sensitive and scholarly love of folklore and literature make his work accessible and engaging. We need more people like Mishraji who can tell us the stories of our rivers.
We congratulate him for the Bhagirath Prayas Samman and thank him, on behalf of our rivers, for his Bhagirath efforts.
Above: Latha with her friends at Athirappilly Falls. Photo: Parineeta Dandekar
It is difficult for me to write impersonally about the work of Bhagirath Prayas Samman recipient Dr. Latha Anantha. She is Latha Chechi to me, a close friend and more of a sister. The bond is based on water and rivers, possibly stronger than blood. This is only an attempt to introduce the readers to the exemplary work of Latha Chechi (and that of the River Research Centre and Chalakudy Puza Samarakshan Samithi team) as the recipient of the first Bhagirath Prayas Samman for “exemplary capacity for combining sound research with the mobilization of community, political and state agencies, and for ushering in a unique methodology of consensus- based conservation of rivers in the country’”.
Latha is an agricultural scientist by education and holds a doctorate in the subject. But how did she start working with rivers? In 1989, Latha was a part of a nature camp which took her and many like her into the Silent Valley National Forest. Then, Silent Valley National Forest was declared as a protected area only 4 years back after protracted, and possibly one of India’s foremost anti-destructive dam struggle, led by people. (A fascinating account here )
It was here that, under the guidance of Dr. Sathish Chandran Nair, Latha saw that while forests of Silent Valley are the birth place of beautiful river Kunti, Attapadi region was devoid of forests and most streams were dried up. The Bhavani river was hardly flowing there. The contrast was self revealing. It was here that the connections between forests and water and rivers and tribals and wildlife were forged. She says she was a changed person after witnessing all this.
In 1995, Latha married Unnikrishnan, also an ardent river lover and activist (and a poet!) and together they conducted several nature camps for children and young adults all over Kerala, always coming back to the Chalakudy River and her thick forests near Vazachal and around. By then, she had made friends not only with the river, but with the Kadar tribes who lived with the Chalakudy, on her banks, one amongst them was young Geeta. The learning and exploring continued for a few years, until in 1998 they heard that a dam project on Chalakudy, the Athirappilly dam, had received sanctions from Delhi. They were shell shocked. Back in 1998, this couple and their friends like Ravi, in a remote part of Kerala knew nothing of EIA Notification, sad monotony of sham EIAs, compromised EIA agents, project-friendly meetings at MoEF, nothing. But they persevered.
Helped by stalwarts like Dr. V.S Vijayan, Dr. Sathish Chandran Nair, this tenacious group slowly put the jigsaw puzzle together, piece by piece. They understood the EIA Notification of 1994, got hold of the EIA and saw how the Kadar tribe, living just by the river was not even mentioned. They say how the fact that Chalakudy was already dammed six times before it comes to Athirappilly and how 35% of its flows are already diverted was hidden from the EIA. .Kadar tribal settlement was mentioned incorrectly outside the project impact area. Latha by then also realized that the mandatory public hearing was also not conducted for this project.
Now there was no stopping this group, which also included hydrologist Madhusoodan and botanist K Amitha Bachan. Ravi and Unni filed a case in Kerala High Court in 2001, challenging the EC granted to Athirappilly and Latha & team did all the research, putting together a water-tight case. The court ruled in favor and asked for a fresh public hearing.
Latha and friends already had strong ties in the Chalakudy region. This was not a single day affair, but a trusted relation built over years. The tribals knew this team’s love for them and their river. They listened and they discussed. They were aghast at the dam building plans. The public hearing saw overwhelming participation not only from the tribal communities, but from scientists, shop keepers, hotel owners, farmers, gram panchayat members, etc. The District Collector witnessed this and would not push the project until a river basin study was done, possibly the first such in India.
There was a lull in the meantime, giving a false sense of security for these Chalakudy lovers. But it also gave them time to get introduced and work with friends like Himanshu Thakkar from South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers & People (SANDRP), Shripad Dharmadhikary from Manthan with whom they had been in touch for long, supporters like Dr. Ramaswmay Iyer, etc. Through SANDRP, in 1998 itself, the group had made submission to the World Commission on Dams opposing the Athirapally project. The CPSS, in collaboration with SANDRP, organized a meeting on the report of the World Commission on Dams at Thrissur on June 22-23, 2002. A meeting against Interlinking of Rivers in Kerala was organized by CPSS and SANDRP on July 12-13, 2003. A book “Tragedy of Commons: The Kerala Experience in River Linking” was published in 2004 by River Research Centre & SANDRP.
But Athirappilly dam plan put up its head again in February 2005 when the project gained Environmental Clearance through back door from the MoEF. This time the EC was challenged by none other than the young Geeta, the Kadar woman, living on the banks of the Chalakudy who filed a PIL in the High Court of Kerala in April 2005 challenging the new Clearance granted to the project. The Athirappilly Gram Panchayat President also filed a PIL on EIA violations. The High court again upheld the plea and ordered for a public hearing afresh! This public hearing in 2006 witnessed massive turnout of the tribal community members.
In the meantime, Latha also wrote to Jairam Ramesh to intervene in the issue and Unni and Lathachechi met him personally when he was in Kochi. He issued stop Memo to KSEB on January 4th 2010. After this KSEB again approached MoEF. Once again PIL was filed in HC challenging the EIA in 2007 and is still pending in the HC.
This proposal was again recommended environmental clearance by the Ministry of Environment, Forests & Climate Change’s Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) on River Valley Committee in their meeting in May 2007. However, following directions by Kerala High Court to KSEB, the project came back before EAC in March 2010 and was again discussed in April 2010 and July 2010, till when no conclusion could be reached by EAC and EAC had asked for more information and clarifications. There is no mention of the project in any of the minutes of the subsequent EAC meetings.
Since then there has been a lull on the plans though it has not died out completely. River Research Centre, though existing since many years back informally, was formally registered as a Trust. RRC, Chalakudy Puzha Samrakshan Samiti and Latha’s dedication is one of the strengths of Athirappilly waterfalls, which would have been dammed and dried long before if it was not for this people-led, nonviolent struggle.
Latha was simultaneously working on campaign against the proposed Pathrakkadave HEP across Kunti River near Silent Valley National Park on several angles such as community mobilisation, EIA, Public hearing, etc. The very destructive dam project has been stalled and the public sentiment and pressure is very big on this project as not to build the dam.
Since early 2000, she has also been involved in education program for children along the banks of the Chalakudy River. RRC and the Schools for Rivers program were instrumental in forming a ‘Kuttikoottam’ (meaning a group of children) of more than 50 children aged between 10-20 years who would set out to know more about their panchayath, its natural resources, human resource potential, culture, folklore, institutions, governance, destruction of environment, problems faced by the river and related livelihoods etc. ( More on it here)
While working on environmental governance and advocacy, CPSS has also worked on novel and promising initiatives like Reservoir Reoperation Model. The project is steered by CPSS and Forum for Policy Dialogue on Water Conflicts in India of which Latha is a Steering Committee member.This model is specifically aimed at dammed rivers, where impacts are supposed to be a way of life. In the much-dammed Chalakudy, RRC, with its dedicated members like Ravi and others demonstrated how operations of a hydropower scheme can be and should be changed to maintain summer irrigation in the downstream and also rudimentary flows for the river. This is far from perfect, but a great step in the direction. At the heart of these processes is joining the dots and bringing people together: from power company, irrigation department, farmers, local self-governments, etc. In April 2013, the CM of Kerala agreed to increase the off peak generation of Poringalkuthu Left Bank Hydro Electric Project. More on this here.
Latha also played an active role in the Save Western Ghats Movement group. In a meeting of this group Kothagiri in Keystone Campus, Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh made the announcement of Western Ghats Expert Ecology Panel, after relentless advocacy by the group, including Latha. The subsequent Panel under the leadership of Dr. Madav Gadgil and what followed had deeply affected the environmental discourse in India. The way MoEF and government of India hid Gadgil report was a shameful, underlining the unwillingness of the administration to take any visionary or long term actions towards people-led environmental governance. Along with organization like Goa Foundation, RRC was a part of the petition filed in the NGT against this opacity and for implementation of the Gadgil Report. The court ordered the MoeF to bring out the Gadgil report. The din that followed, especially in Kerala, was massive and bewildering. Gadgil Report was then subsumed to the problematic Kasturirangan Committee, which decision itself was flawed. Powerful interest lobbies, including religious groups, did not miss a single opportunity at misleading locals about eco sensitive areas. If Western Ghats was tense, Kerala was in the eye of the storm. At this juncture, Latha chechi came out and wrote about Kasturirangan Committee report as one of the reason for political polarization for Kerala, and asked for a sane and democratic approach through the Gadgil Report. Latha organised meetings as well as participated in many meetings and debates organised on the subject all over Kerala.
While keeping a balanced, soft spoken and people friendly stand she has not shied from criticizing consultants like NIH and CIFRI for their shoddy eflows assessments. She has served on several government appointed committees in Kerala and has been a resource person for countless programs on rivers and forests. She also serves as the South Asia Advisor, International Rivers and is the Ashoka Fellow, 2012.
Latha’s story, intrinsically linked with River Research Centre, CPSS, Chalakudy River and beyond is a story of soft spoken courage. It is a story of bringing people together and looking at a river as a shared heritage, not only as a part of a conflict.
Today, Latha is undergoing a challenging time physically, undergoing several rounds of treatments. But mentally, she is the same strong and sensitive river woman of the Western Ghats.
She is a natural recipient of the Bhagirath Prayas Samman and we look forward to having her back with us soon in her full form: singing, laughing and loving rivers as she does..