Thursday 5 July 2007

Indian Rivers Have to be Saved from MNCs

Agra, June 29: India’s water man and Magsaysay Award winner Rajinder Singh is busy rallying people on the banks of river Yamuna, that flows through Agra - the city of the Taj Mahal, to stand up for their water rights by protecting river Yamuna from pollution and “from being handed over” to the MNCs.

Singh, who heads the organization Tarun Bharat Sangh (TBS), recently launched a campaign - Yamuna Satyagrah 2007 - to revitalize the 1,376 kms long river that originates from the Himalayas and flows through seven north Indian states. He also plans to save the river from over-exploitation as well as persuade the government not to sell off the river banks for commercial exploitation.

The Yamuna is a holy river for the Hindus but that has not saved the river from turning into a carrier of industrial wastes and domestic sewage from the towns that flank it on both sides. Most of the pollution – in the form of waste water - is dumped into the river on its 22 kms course through Indian capital New Delhi.

The TBS chief is on a mission identifying and linking up people who feel for the river and are keen to restore the once-perennial river to its former glory. Travelling along villages and towns along the banks of the city, he is addressing the media as well as creating awareness amongst people on government policies, privatization of water, rights of people as well as conservation.

Singh says that one of the biggest challenges for him is to prevent corporates from taking control of the river and its water. Elaborating on his fears, he said: “Companies are taking control of the river by doing major constructions on its banks, by taking control of water supply and also by dumping their wastes into the river. All of this has to be prevented because people will slowly lose their rights over water.”

Outlining his other plans for resuscitating the river, Singh said: “We have written to the governments of those states, from where the river flows, that they have to take measures to ensure that water flows till the very end of the river. Currently this is not happening and the river dries by the time it reaches the historic city of Agra.”

“We also want that the governments should grow the panchvati (forest with five species of trees) on both banks of the river throughout its course. At the same time it should desist from building concrete jungles on river banks.”

Addressing a group of media persons and Non Governmental Organisations (NGOs) in Agra, Singh said that despite huge amounts of money that have been spent on setting up expensive Sewage Treatment Plants (STPs) the government has not been able to clean up the river.

He said: “We want the involvement of communities and the civil society in running the STPs. Communities should do the site selection for STPs; the government should find out the right technology and the operations and monitoring should be done by people and communities along with the government. We urge the government to set up community-driven decentralized STPs.”

Another of his demands is that the Common Effluent Treatment Plants (CETPs), that the government has been setting up to control the flow of harmful chemicals and metals from industrial areas, should be banned. His demand is that every factory should build its own Effluent Treatment Plant as this would effectively prevent the flow of industrial chemicals into the river.

For the Yamuna Satyagrah 2007 campaign, Singh is seeking the help of all communities and groups. These include saints, students, journalists as well as concerned groups and NGOs. Commenting wry about the engagement of politicians, Singh said: “All kinds of people and from different backgrounds have expressed their desire in joining the campaign. I still have to meet a politician who will help us save the river.”

By Rahul Kumar
Courtsey One World South Asia

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