River lovers and green activists in Agra on Sunday celebrated the World Rivers Day, at the Etmauddaula view-point park, by cleaning up a stretch of Yamuna bank and taking out a rally to demand a comprehensive National Rivers policy along with the constitution of a Central Rivers Authority to manage major rivers of India.
Eminent environmentalist and member of the River Connect Campaign, Devashish Bhattacharya said “the world rivers day commemorates the many values of rivers and encourages river stewardship and conservational efforts around the world. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, public participation in the annual event was restricted, but small groups joined riverfront activities and through web-seminars highlighted the pathetic plight of most rivers in India”.
In fact the pandemic had underlined the important contribution of healthy rivers to our well-being, he added.
“Most rivers are facing increasing pressures associated with climate change, industrial pollution, fallouts of haphazard urbanization, and population explosion. Even after seven decades of Independence India does not have a clear road map or a national rivers policy, resulting in protracted wrangling among states over water-sharing and maintenance of waterways,” Pramod Gautam, chairman of the Vedic Sutram, after the Yamuna March, explained.
This year’s theme is “waterways in our communities” to stress the need for protecting and conserving urban waterways.
“The importance of clean fresh water is essential to the fight against Covid-19 so World Rivers Day is a timely opportunity for literally millions of people around the world to come together to commemorate the importance of healthy vibrant waterways,” said Mark Angelo, the founder, and Chair of World Rivers Day, in his message to the river activists.
“Rivers are integral to all life,” said Angelo, who has paddled more than 1,000 rivers in over 100 countries, perhaps more than any other. Angelo’s life-long commitment to river conservation, including the founding of World Rivers Day, is also the subject of the upcoming feature-length film, “Last Paddle: 1,000 Rivers, One Life”.
In the Braj Mandal, the River Connect Campaign has been actively involved in conservational efforts to save the Yamuna river from further degradation.
“Though the river Yamuna is considered sacred, being the beloved consort of Sri Krishna, the Brijbasis are pained to see the river choking to death due to pollution by industries and civic bodies that seem to have no control over sewage discharge,” said Jagan Nath Poddar, convener of Friends of Vrindavan.
Rivers are our life-lines and our future is intricately linked to the health of our holy rivers, added Vrindavan green activist Madhu Mangal.
Pandit Jugal Kishor Shrotriya, Mahant of daily Yamuna Arti in Agra, reminded Union Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari of his oft-repeated promise to start ferry service in the Yamuna between Delhi and Agra.
The Braj Mandal Heritage Conservation Society vice president Shravan Kumar Singh said there was an urgent need to construct a barrage on Yamuna downstream of the Taj Mahal so that these magnificent Mughal monuments are not harmed by air and water pollution.
The Yogi Adityanath government should have focused more on saving rivers in Uttar Pradesh through dredging and desilting than prioritizing the Film City project in Greater Noida, added Surendra Sharma, founder president of the Agra Hotels and Restaurants Association.
Sharma pointed out that the local administration had failed to activate the River Police squad, shift dhobis and ban cattle grazing in the Yamuna.
“Though the district administration had declared Agra ODF (open defecation free) people were still going to the river bed to answer nature’s calls, a sight that is a real put off early in the morning,” activist Rahul Raj said.
“The upstream cities and barrages have to ensure a minimum flow in the river round the year to save a dying river and protect aqua life,” River Connect Campaign activist Padmini Iyer said.
“Haryana is drawing all the water of the Yamuna river, what little is left is consumed by Delhi. Uttar Pradesh does not get its share of water as was promised in the 1994 river water sharing agreement among UP, Haryana, Rajasthan, signed by then Chief Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav.