‘Hero of the environment’ says he has many rivers to clean

October 7th, 2008 - 1:22 pm ICT by IANS  

Chandigarh, Oct 7 (IANS) India’s river cleansing holy man Balbir Singh Seechewal says he still has a long way to go after being profiled in a recent edition of the US based Time magazine as a ‘Hero of the Environment’.Seechewal is one of the 30 environmentalists chosen from all over the world by the magazine as ‘Heroes of the Environment’. He is the man behind cleaning up Kali Bein, a 160-km-long river in Sultanpur Lodhi in Kapurthala district in Punjab, around 200 km from here.

“I got a telephone call last month from some Time journalist for the interview. I am happy that they have recognised my work but we cannot stop here as still there is a long way to go,” Seechewal told IANS.

“In the last few decades, Kali Bein was reduced to a filthy drain into which six towns and many villages emptied their waste. Many parts of the river were dried up and its polluted waters also went underground and thereby contaminate the groundwater,” said Seechewal.

Sikhs - the majority in Punjab - consider this place sacred as their first Guru Nanak Dev stayed here for 14 years 9 months and 13 days and attained enlightenment. He used to bathe and meditate in the river during his stay here.

In 2000, Seechewal, through his drive of kar sewa (voluntary service) taught his followers and everyone else the benefits of clean water and included them in his movement to clean Kali Bein.

“I got exceptional support from the society as every time more and more volunteers came forward to clean the river,” he said.

“When appeals to government and municipal bodies failed to stop dirty water flowing into the river, Seechewal launched a public awareness campaign to encourage villagers to dispose of their sewage elsewhere. Some villages revived traditional methods of waste disposal and treatment, and farmers lined up for a share of the treated water,” said Time magazine in its report.

Seechewal added: “Now we are working to clean the other corrupted rivers of the region like Satluj that is brimming with industrial waste. The rivers that fall into it like Chitti Bein also bring effluents along with them so our volunteers are also working to clean them.”

Seechewal along with his volunteers used to jump into the muddy water and clear the entire riverbed of water hyacinth and silt, and built riverbanks and roads alongside.

The magazine reported: “As the riverbed was cleared, natural springs revived and the river began to fill up. Since then, trees have been planted along its banks and fishing has been banned to preserve biodiversity. “Today, the Kali Bein is thriving. Families head there for picnics and the devout bathe during religious festivals. Seechewal has turned his sights onto the tanneries and other factories that dispose of untreated waste in rivers. He is also leading efforts to get residents and the government to clean up rivers and creeks in a more systematic way across the state.” Another Indian to appear in Time magazine’s list of heroes of the environment is sparrow conservationist Mohammed Dilawar.

A former lecturer in environmental studies, Dilawar - who works from his home in Nashik, Maharashtra - runs a project to preserve sparrows, which he believes, is one of India’s most threatened birds.

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