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Specialised Report / fo'ksÔK fjiksZV


M.P.Mediaplatform news-views service.

When the idea of International River festival was mooted over two years ago, it filled a longstanding void , particularly in the context of
Narmada . So much has been going on and around the river that the bigger picture was lost and it was difficult to make sense of all the aspects. To
get a holistic perspective , Narmada Samagra was conceptualised
with the objective to gather public and private partners engaged in water resources management and protection in India and the world. Bi / multilateral orgainsations , ministries , water agencies ,local agencies, universities , engineering schools , research centres , land development companies , professionals , industrialists, professional associations , NGO’s et al were to be a part of it. It was envisaged to set up a partners’
network to restore and protect Narmada and defend the rights of communities that depend on it.

The First international River festival which was organized in 2008 on the confluence of Narmada and Tawa at Bandrabhan in Hoshangabad , raised a lot of hopes .The primary expectation was that all or most of the work done on Narmada will be collated so as to weed out duplication , begin the process of integration and initiate the steps to make the approach holistic.

Some of the above was indeed done at the first edition in 2008. Over the three day summit people from across the Narmada issue spectrum participated to exchange knowledge , share experience. The proceedings manifested in a vision at the end of it. Its points were – the water volume in Narmada and its quality must match or better the equivalent level of 20th
century in 2047 when India will be celebrating 100 years of independence ; Check soil erosion in watershed , catchment areas and banks ; Development of Narmada region as spiritual domain and not merely a place of amusement or tourism besides development of adjoining areas of Narmada and its tributaries.

Simultaneously the values comprising its mission were evolved too. Its salient features were – River is a single unit from origin to confluence, hence should be viewed beyond geographical boundaries of states and nations ; Narmada is a living body ; Continuous efforts and urge to keep catchment areas healthy and enriching the water volume and quality ; maintaining ecological and cultural diversity at all costs and underlining the inextricable link between nature and people.

A plan of action was prepared too for representing Narmada river’s environmental , water, heritage and sustainable development interests in a range of regional and international fora . Some of the key steps in it
included the development of Narmada Parikrama Path , plantation of indigenous tree species along the banks and purification of water on its
major ghats. Furthermore, it was agreed upon to develop a research and development centre with the aim of restoration and conservation of the river Narmada and stitching international coalitions for comprehensive development.

However, the flow was arrested when there was an unseemly
controversy about the land allotted to the Narmada Samagra Trust just
before the 2008 elections .With the trust on backfoot , the pronouncements of the first edition could not be followed up on the ground. Thus there was
a lull between the first and the second editions.

When a favourable government returned to power in the end of 2008 , the pieces were picked up again and some activities initiated .In Feb 2009
planting of native species of trees on the banks of Narmada was taken up under the Hariyali Chunari scheme with the aim of preventing erosion as also to provide financial assistance to the tribals living in the area. In April, on the occasion of ‘Gudi Padwa’ – the Indian new year – Narmada Samagra launched a cleaning of Ghats program on 71 big and medium sized Ghats on both the banks of the river Narmada , from Amarkantak to Bharuch. This program is organized each Sunday, in which several people take part voluntarily to remove debris from the Ghats . Furthermore, under the
programme to develop the Narmada parikrama path ( Narmada
circumlocution path) detailed survey of the river has been completed.

www.mp – mediaplatform’s take on these is that while the first two are welcome steps, development of the Narmada path needs a relook. For , it is not in sync with the policy of development of Narmada region as a spiritual domain and not merely a place of amusement or tourism . The very basis of Indian spiritual attainments is Tapa of which parikrama is the supreme example in central India. By making it comfortable , its spiritual attainments are diluted and it relegates to the level of adventure tourism . The Indian concept is to take up the Parikrama in the toughest manner with minimal resources. It is on the basis of this tradition that even cash rich shrines such as Sabarimala insist on barefoot walking for miles up the hill on a sharp pebbled path before reaching the temple.

However, riding on the favourable political momentum , the second version of the International river festival was conceptualised and the three day event was orgainsed at Bandrabhan from 21st through 23rd April 2010. Over the course of this period , various papers were presented on -conservation , pollution and water harnessing. The setting was magnificent and with white tents dotting the , sand banks , it became almost surreal. There were presentations , lectures and discussions -at times simultaneously at various parts of the venue. Many activists involved with various aspects of rivers from across the country and a handful from different parts of globe participated .

Eminent personalities including Jaya Bachchan lent their names to the cause of Narmada by being a guest of honour at the event and also offering Amitabh’s voice for a light and sound programme on the river. Another eminent Water conservationist and Gandhian Anupam Mishra also agreed to be associated with the event . The two key aspects discussed were – pollution of the rivers and the economics of rivers. There were mainly two kinds of speakers – firstly the pro conservationists who were mainly sentimental and kept ruing about the glorious past and activists who were hyper about pollution . Jaya Mitra , a conservationist from Asansol in West Bengal made a valuable suggestion that we must not go by the western view alone and also give a thought to our traditions. As an illustration she cited that the Britishers viewed Kosi’s unpredictable flood pattern as a curse whereas the locals called her Alhad (Naughty ). In fact , they had a custom wherein they would bring sindoor on her banks in mock threat saying that they would marry her off if she overstayed after the monsoons . Saryu Rai , an activist from Jamshedpur who has worked on the pollution in Damodar made a point that Supreme court has given some of the finest decisions about pollution laws but the implementation is tardy . He particularly blamed the senior officials of dereliction of duty ; so much so that even the public sector units pollute it on the sly. Rai also gave an interesting take on the river cleaning programme by saying that rivers do not need cleaning so much as they are self cleaned to a great extent during every monsoon; it is the cities on their banks which need cleaning programmes without which all the efforts would go waste .

Another environmentalist Ravindra Pathak said that till Narmada
becomes a political issue there will be a danger . Once it gets into the political space , the environment will be conserved whichever the government .
Among the foreign delegates , Michael T. Barber said that in America the environmental laws are strict as is their implementation. Consequently, the US has less polluted rivers eventhough the Americans use more fertilizers than India.
A third category – that of the Corporate world and government was to throw light on the river economy and present a case for greater harnessing the rivers in an increasingly efficient yet sustainable manner respectively. Unfortunately , the former was conspicuously missing ( Perhaps due to the presence of the NGOs) while the latter too was not present in full force ( Once again for the same reason). Thus the event lacked an approach to exploit the river better while still maintaining the environmental balance. The litmus test of any such proposed approach is the way it is better and efficient than the present one at harnessing and in which the mistakes of the past would be rectified .To my mind , the role and nature of such an agency should also be to help it in conflict resolution besides helping resolve complications.
At the end of three days , the proceedings were summed up as Bandrabhan declaration. Its main points include the renewal, recharging and revival of rivers , evolving a culture which views rivers as a heritage instead of resource and geared towards sustainable usage instead of exploitation ,
adopt a holistic approach to conservation of river ecosystems and supporting individual , community and organisational efforts towards it besides sensitising and influencing decision makers at multiple levels to adopt river friendly policies.

An action plan to translate the declaration into concrete action was
drafted too. It assigns specific roles and tasks to individual society , organisation and government for the revival of river systems , water discipline , holistic approach to river ecosystems, capacity building ,
advocacy and providing resource bank on river systems. Furthermore ,
it was announced that the Parikramawasis would be associated in the conservation of Narmada and protection of its environment besides
checking pollution. They would also spread the message of environmental protection too among the villagers.
On its own , Narmada Samagra has planned to conduct various awareness campaigns in villages and cities located on both the banks of river Narmada, from Amarkantak to Bharooch for restoration and conservation of the river. Also , as part of its work plan 2010-12 steps would be taken for the conservation of the fauna too viz. Neelkanth ( Indian Roller and kingfisher birds on the banks of Narmada in Narsinghpur ); “ MahaShir” fish between Shahgunj and Dongarwada etc. ; A river ambulance & dispensary on hovercraft is proposed for the remote areas in the submergence due to dams.
To involve children an awareness campaign would be launched with an environmental group “ Maa Ki Phulwari ” formed in each school. Innovative efforts to clean the river would be documented , digitisation of cultural aspects of the region would be undertaken and a magazine “ Narmada Samagra” devoted to rivers ,environment and folk – tribal culture would be brought out.
www.mp – mediaplatform’s view is to involve children, women , elderly and spiritualists in conservation efforts and men , activists & intellegensia in pollution control. Also, a series of smaller events must be held on a continual basis between any two editions of the river festival .
For better harnessing check out the western viewpoints , for pollution
control and efficiency look upto the activists and for conservation revisit the traditional methods . An integrated as well as holistic approach needs to be followed. For instance , an integrated approach will set the maximum limits for harnessing right at the outset ( viz. the decommissioning date of dams should be fixed at the beginning). Likewise the minimum acceptable quality of water should be set in line with the holistic approach . In other words , while there is a need for Narmada Samagra Samekit , the current version appears to be only becoming Samagra (Holistic) without being Samekit (integrated) – almost the entire emphasis is on conservation with little or no f ocus on getter and more efficient harnessing. In the light of which the entire exercise is more of a safety valve for the government to diffuse p rotest on rivers. It is a sort of incestuous thing which in its current design will not last beyond a few years , if only as a constituency of a few rootless politicians.
My guess is that all this Tamasha is mainly to keep it alive for the next couple of years before grabbing the government land just before the next
elections. At the end of the day , it appears to be fast becoming a jamboree of co opted Saffron Jholawalas – though the jury is still out on it.

www.narmadasamagra.org, www.discovernarmada.info, www.narmada.org