Need to promote use of indigenous knowledge to solve water problem instead of gigantic, destructive interlinking of rivers

From left: Manu Bhatnagar (INTACH), Anupam Mishra (Gandhi Peace Foundation), Kapil Mishra (Delhi Water Minister) and Manoj Misra (Yamuna Jiye Abhiyaan)
From left: Manu Bhatnagar (INTACH), Anupam Mishra (Gandhi Peace Foundation), Kapil Mishra (Delhi Water Minister) and Manoj Misra (Yamuna Jiye Abhiyaan)

An account of the India Rivers Day celebration at INTACH, Delhi, where Bhagirath Prayas Samman awards were given to four for exemplary work on river conservation:

At a well attended India Rivers Day 2015 function held at the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) auditorium, New On November 28, 2015, Delhi Water Minister Kapil Mishra declared that he personally takes the responsibility for ensuring that Yamuna will have bathing quality water in three years. He also made it very clear that Delhi does not need any more water from external sources like Renuka dam or Sharda Yamuna River link. He also said that his government has asked Delhi Jal Board to shelve its Rs 20,000 crore Delhi sewerage master plan and in stead work on decentralized sewage treatment and recycle plan and welcomed suggestions from all concerned, how to make this possible.

The India Rivers Day Function brought together several individuals and organisations who have been working on the issues of river conservation in the country. Following the success of last year’s first ever, India Rivers Week held from November 24-27, 2014, the consortium of NGOs including World Wildlife Fund (WWF)-India, INTACH, South Asian Network on Dams, Rivers and People (SANDRP), Toxic Link and Peace Institute also organized an exhibition on the occasion that showcased the past, present and (desirable) future of the river Yamuna, the exhibition was inaugurated by Kapil Mishra.

In memory of late Ramaswamy R Iyer, late chairman of the organizing committee of the India Rivers Week 2014, a lecture on “Science of Rivers” was delivered by  Anupam Mishra of the Gandhi Peace Foundation, who is well known for his advocacy on prudent use of our water resources through numerous ways, including his famous books “Aaj Bhi Khare Hai Talaab” and “Rajasthan Ki Rajat Bunde”. Mishra spoke on the value of time-tested systems of water management and the need to promote the use of indigenous knowledge to solve water problem instead of gigantic and destructive schemes like interlinking of rivers. In his speech, Mishra said that “it is important to acknowledge that rivers have the right to flow and live. We need to change our attitude towards rivers. Yamuna as a river is supposed to flow and our society needs to start appreciating the role Rivers play in our lives. ”

Bhagirath Prayas Samman

The organizing committee of the India Rivers Day gave away Bhagirath Prayas Samman Awards this year as well. A five-member jury headed by Anupam Mishra selected this year’s winners based on protecting and rejuvenating the rivers. The Bhagirath Prayas Samman was constituted in 2014 to honour outstanding, sustained efforts/contributions of river warriors towards protection and conservation of rivers. The emphasis is on inspirational efforts/initiatives (campaigns, advocacy, legal discourse) and sustained passion to conserve rivers. This year’s Bhagirath Prayas Samman awards were conferred on the following extraordinary individual/ organisations:

  • Save Mon Region Federation for its exemplary work to safeguard the integrity of the River Tawang and Nyamjangchhu (Arunachal Pradesh). The land with seven rivers and home to the ethnic Monpa tribe was off late being threatened by 15 proposed hydropower dams to develop 3500 megawatts (MW) power, the chief ones being 600 MW Tawang 1, 800 MW Tawang 2 and the 780 MW Nyamjangchhu projects. The project clearances had been expedited at the cost of social, cultural and environmental needs. Buddhist lamas (monks) led the protests against the destructive projects under this Federation to protect the river at great risk and repression. Lobsang Gyatso, General Secretary, SMRF received the award on behalf of Save Mon Region Federation.
  • Sachidanand Bharati, of Doodhatolli Lok Vikash Sansthan (Uttarakhand) was awarded for his dedicated work on rejuvenating river Gad Ganga. Bharati, an eminent environmental crusader, had been organizing women into groups of green police, the Mahila Mangal Dals, to create and protect forests. He had also worked on reviving River Gadganga by combining people’s knowledge of traditional water management system through construction of over 20000 chaals and khaals.
  • Sambhaav Trust for its work on revival of River Nanduwali in Alwar under which a group of 17 villages decided to focus on conservation of forest, land, water and livestock and through the effort rejuvenated Nanduwali rivers, which was once dry. The work is now being sustained through the steam of the people, without any funding.
  • Emmanuel Theophilus was awarded for his work on protecting the integrity of River Mahakali in Uttarakhand. He had recently done an epic voyage along the Ganga where he travelled nearly 2000 kilometers of the river. He had recently worked on a report for SANDRP titled ‘Headwater Extinctions’ which looked at impacts of hydropower dams in Upper Ganga and Beas Basins on fish and riverine ecosystems.

A noteworthy part of the meeting this year was participation of children from three different schools of Delhi, who asked Minister Kapil Mishra questions about the state of Yamuna River and what the government is doing about it. Mishra answered the questions of the school children and also other participants and emphasised that it is only when people get connected to the river that it will be possible rejuvenate Yamuna. He underlined the role of children in this effort. He welcomed the celebration of India Rivers Day, though expressed worry that this shows how bad is the state of our Rivers.

“Rivers shows us a reflection of our cities. Mindsets are changing, governments are changing. A changing Yamuna is therefore bound to reflect changes in the city. It is not an easy task but we are ready to take risks. Likeminded people have started to run the show now and I truly believe that together all this positive energy is sure going to bring about a positive change and will help us save the river”, said Kapil Mishra, Minister of Water, Tourism, Art, Culture and Gurudwara Election, Government of NCT, Delhi.

 The organizing committee decided to continue its annual effort and sought suggestions from all concerned about the meeting and also about the nominations for future BPS awards. The house was addressed by the following speakers from amongst the organising committee: Manoj Misra (Yamuna Jiye Abhiyaan), Jayesh Bhatia (Peace Institute), Suresh Babu (WWF-India), Himanshu Thakkar (SANDRP); Manu Bhatnagar (INTACH) and Ravi Agarwal (Toxics Link).

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