Plans to clean Ganga, Yamuna flawed: Sikh missionary

June 23rd, 2008 - 11:26 am ICT by IANS  

Chandigarh, June 23 (IANS) A Sikh ascetic who shot to fame eight years ago when he jumped into a filthy rivulet in Punjab to clean it says the action plans for the Ganga and Yamuna rivers are flawed and cannot succeed without involving local people. Balbir Singh Seechewal, who had literally plunged into the act of cleaning up the Kali Bein rivulet, held sacred by Sikhs, says the multimillion-rupee plans for the two most famous Indian rivers were “substandard” and had been botched up from the start.

“These projects could only have failed and the government has started realising that it had not been practical while implementing them,” Seechewal told IANS here. He was in Chandigarh to attend a meet on water conservation.

His comments come at a time when the reduced water flow and pollution in the Ganga are in sharp focus due to the fast-unto-death being carried out by scientist-environmentalist G.D. Agarwal to protest the construction of dams on the river in Uttarakhand.

Seechewal, who runs his own sect from its Nirmal Kutiya campus near Sultanpur Lodhi town, over 220 km from here, in Kapurthala district, says the main problem with the action plans was the lack of involvement of local people in cleaning and maintaining the rivers.

“The will power of both the governed and those who govern is sloppy. We cannot save our dying rivers in a single fortnight or just by implementing certain rules and regulations. We have to involve local people in such projects,” Seechewal said.

“We cannot afford to ignore public participation when we take up such significant issues. The need of the hour is a collective effort to bring change in the mindset of individuals to maintain things,” Seechewal said.

Having led from the front to clean up the Kali Bein by jumping into the polluted black water of the rivulet, Seechewal soon had his followers and volunteers from people in nearby villages chip in.

The result was that the 40-km rivulet has not only been cleaned up completely but its sanctity too has been restored. It is linked to the first Sikh guru - Nanak Dev.

Seechewal and his volunteers not only cleaned up the rivulet but also provided embankments and roads on both sides of it. Today, the place is a picturesque picnic spot.

Former president A.P.J. Abdul Kalam even visited the place when he was in office and urged others to take a lesson from Seechewal. Kalam even made a detailed mention of his effort during a presidential visit to Europe.

Seechewal sounded a warning.

“Tormentors of nature are not afraid of anyone. We faced a lot of opposition from political parties and corporates when we tried to clean up the Kali Bein. But with the help of some likeminded volunteers, we overcame all obstacles that came our way,” he pointed out.

He said hundreds of tonnes of industrial and domestic wastes are dumped into rivers across the country, including in Punjab.

“We don’t care about aquatic plants and animals whose only habitat is water. These poor fish and birds cannot lodge an FIR anywhere.”

Approximately 1.7 billion litres of effluents are believed to flow into the Ganga every day, of which 1.4 billion litres is left untreated. Uttar Pradesh alone is responsible for over 50 percent of the pollutants entering the river, held sacred by Hindus.

The threat to the ecosystem of the Ganga prompted the central government to start the Ganga Action Plan in 1986. Similarly, the Yamuna Action plan was initiated in 1993 to clean it. But both seem to have floundered as the rivers continue to be highly polluted.

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