Rajendra Singh takes the Ganga drive to Chitrakoot.
Brown, mucky, and shrivelled to a thread-like state – that is the pitiful story of most rivers which are unfortunate enough to be situated in the northern plains of India. While the revered Ganga races to the top in the list of rivers on the verge of extinction, unchecked pollution and an unsustainable human consumption of our limited resources are fast ensuring that its tributaries are reduced to the same fate. One of the lesser-known victims of this ceaseless human exploitation is the Mandakini river of U.P.’s Chitrakoot district.
The Mandakini river is a tributary of Alaknanda, and eventually merges into the Bhagirathi to become the river Ganga. As is common amongst the rivers of this region, the Mandakini, too, is considered to be a holy river, and is reverently called “Maa” by the people of Chitrakoot. But no amount of appeals to godliness are enough to be able to curb man’s inherent instinct to dump his garbage in the first open ground, pond, or river that he can find. Large amounts of untreated municipal waste and industrial effluents are being dumped in the Mandakini on a daily basis, not to mention the odd dead body or two, as it struggles to keep up with the harsh realities of climate change like scorching temperatures and extreme weather conditions. As a result, the river is fast drying up and has been reduced to a sorry reflection of its former glory.
The cause of the Mandakini river has been taken up in the past by groups of various kinds– from social activists and NGOs who appeal to reason, to saints and religious leaders who don’t, but the situation has only been deteriorating.The Mandakini issues now back on the local buzz though ever since acclaimed water activist Rajendra Singh, popularly known as ‘Jal Guru’ has been involved. On November 6, Sinh aka Jal Guru became the cause for much excitement on the banks of river Mandakini at Surya Kund as he rallied up the saints of the region to help save the dying river. The banks came alive with a few witty calls drafted especially to cite the causes of the river’s exploitation– “Paani dooba file mein, motor mein, mobile mein!”
In his career as a social worker that spans 42 years, 33 of which have been focused on water related issues, Rajendra Singh claims to have played an instrumental role in the revival of 11 rivers on the brink of extinction. Currently, he is working on the “Ganga Sadbhavna Yatra”, a project to stop the dumping of garbage and other pollutants in the river Ganga. The rally originated at the source of the river Ganga in Gaumukh – calling on people to stop dumping garbage in the river and protect it from going extinct, and will finally culminate in the river delta in the Bay of Bengal. “We came to discuss our Ganga Sadbhavna Yatra with the people of this region, particularly the saints. We plan on identifying and working with a local organisation that has been tirelessly working on cleaning up the river Mandakini. It is time we all came together in saving our dying rivers,” says a determined-looking Rajendra Singh.
The attention on Mandakini is even more pertinent now with the demise of Guru Das Agrawal, or Swami Gyan Swaroop Sanand, an IIT Professor turned guru, whose 111-day hunger strike for the conservation of the river Ganga had made headlines globally. On a fast unto death since June 22in a bid to stop the construction of hydro power projects as well as illegal mining in the Ganga, Swami Sanand passed away on October 11.
As for the Ganga Sadbhavna Yatra, some of its members are calling on people’s love for God to spread their message. “If you truly consider the Ganga to be your mother, then I request you to stop throwing garbage on/in your mother. Because if the “mother” perishes then we, her children, will also not survive,” says local activist, an impassioned Anju Pathak. While others, like Rajkumar from Haryana, blame the government for the tragic state of our rivers. “Earlier, when rivers, ponds etc. were the property of society at large and were taken care of by the locals and the indigenous community, they were clean. But now they come within the domain of the state since the government has made them the property of the state. Now the government is responsible for it. It is up to them to take the initiative in keeping our water bodies clean,” he says.
As for the Mandakini river, essential for the survival of the people of Chitrakoot, the upcoming Lok Sabha elections holds promise. The river has always been a hot election topic in this region, with votes said to turn on this issue alone. “I do feel that the local administration will take up this issue seriously because it is of supreme importance in light of the upcoming elections. The Mandakiniriver has the potential to make or break a government,” says Jal Guru Rajendra Singh.
This Khabar Lahariya article first appeared on Firstpost.