National Report

INDIAN RIVER NETWORK:

3rd National Conference of the Indian River Network (IRN)

from 16th to 18th February 2008 at Sevagram Ashram, Wardha (Maharashtra).

The 3rd National Conference of the Indian River Network (IRN) on ‘River, Global Warming and Globalisation’ was held from 16th to 18th February 2008 at Sevagram Ashram, Wardha (Maharashtra). 188 delegates from 11 States across India came with water from 46 rivers to participate in this Conference.

NAME OF RIVERS

Water sample brought from following rivers-

JHARKHAND

1.        DAMODAR

2.        IZRI

3.        FALGU

4.        USRI

5.        KATGHARA

BIHAR

6.        GANGA

7.        CHANDAN

8.        ANDHARI

9.        BUDHI GANDAK

10.     KOSHI

11.     DAHA

12.     GANDAK

13.     SIKARAHANA

14.     BAGAMATI

15.     DHAKAWARI

16.     KURAR

17.     HARADA

18.     KAMALA

19.     KARI KOSHI

20.     BARERIYA

ORISSA 

21.     MAHANADI

22.     BRAHMANI

23.     BAITARANI

24.     SALANDI

25.     SUVARNAREKHA

KERALA

26.     PERIYAR

27.     CHALIYAR

28.     MEENAKHIL

29.     MUVATTUPUZHA

30.     PAMPA

31.     BHARATHAPUZHA

TAMILNADU

32.     VAIGAI

33.     CAUVERI

34.     THAMIRABHRANI

35.     PATCHAIARU

36.     VAIPARU

37.     BHAVANI

38.     ARIYARU

GOA

39.     ZUARI

40.     MHADEI/ MANDOVI

41.     DUDHSAGAR

MAHARASHTRA

42.     GODAVARI

43.     MANJARA

44.     ASANA

45.     TABRAJA

46.     IZARI

DAY – I (16th February 2008)

Inaugural Session: (9.30 a.m. to 1.00 p.m.)

The delegates assembled in the campus of Sevagram Ashram at 9.30 a.m. and senior Gandhian leader Mr. Thakurdasji Bang led the delegates in a rally around the campus and finally converged at the Shanti Bhavan (Peace Hall) where the earthen pots containing the river waters were placed near the dais. A little water from the various rivers was mixed by the Chief-guest, Dr. Mukhund Ghare after which a Gandhian prayer was chanted. This was followed by the sprinkling of the river waters on the delegates by Dr. Ghare while the river song ‘Nadiyon Dhire Baho’ (Lets, river flow slowly) was sung by Mr. Murari Sharan and team. Thereafter, the dignitaries Dr. Ghare, Mr. Shivdatt– Secretary Nai Talim Samiti, Mrs. Lalan C. Kerkar –Chairperson of Peaceful society, Prof. Prakash – Convener of IRN and Joseph Karoor – Convener of IRN-South took their seats on the dais. The dignitaries on the dais then welcomed the delegates on behalf of their respective organisations.

The Executive Secretary, Kumar Kalanand Mani delivered the bilingual (Hindi and English) introductory remarks for the Conference.  He welcomed the delegates who had come from distant places. Some of the salient points in the speech are as below;

  • Gandhiji was prevented from continuing his national reconstruction movement by caste and religious fundamentalists who assassinated him on 30th January 1948.
  • Gandhiji while attending the ‘Yagnya’ (oblation) of the king of Rajkot had remarked that by mere ‘yagnya’ one cannot please Lord Indra for rain. Gandhiji further said, “we have committed so much sin with the rule of nature by cutting trees and so on.” It was this important function that Gandhiji had to attend by being absent at the conference in which Late Subashchanraji Bose was re-elected as chairperson of INC leading to consclusions that both Gandhiji and Bose had differences.
  • Gandhiji was the saddest person on the eve of India’s Independence Day of 14th August 1948 which led him to remark as to whether India had achieved real Swaraj (freedom-leading to self-rule) or not. Gandhiji had expressed his anguish over the squabbling between political stalwarts for power.
  • This is the 60th year of damming rivers in independent India which started with Mahanadi in Orissa and Damodar now in Jharkhand. Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru who is the father of technologically advance India, had termed such steps of damming rivers as the ‘new temples of independent India’.
  • Gandhiji had repeatedly remarked that freedom does not mean departure of the English man and rule of Indians. He emhasised that ‘angrejiat’ (English pattern of development and way of life) must go.  His eagerness to debate upon the path that independent India should follow was out rightly rejected by the architect of modern India saying that it is not possible for India to be really independent, unless she is a technologically advance country.
  • Now after 60 years of political independence, as citizens we have a lot of experiences which leads to a growing feeling that our independence is facing threats under the agenda of globalisation and endless greed of the corporate houses.
  • Independent India has dammed almost all rivers in the last 60 years at a very high price which has resulted in few benefits like generation of electricity, limited irrigation and access to drinking water in limited areas. The mountainous price that is being paid is heavy deforestation, huge non-ending displacement, in   which Adivasis and other weaker sections are the worst victims, heavy sedimentation, more areas under water logging, rise in poverty, bankruptcy of State, growing dependency over external resources, polluting and poisoning almost all rivers, destruction of biodiversity, and destruction of rural entrepreneurship and rural self-sustained economy.
  •  The modern capitalistic scientists and academic communities are posturing like Gandhiji’s three monkeys i.e. don’t see the Truth, don’t hear the Truth and don’t speak the Truth.
  • While the whole world is crying about global warming there is applauding of SEZs which have the following four meanings;
    1. Special Economic Zones for the top corporate houses,
    2. Special Exploitation Zones of the displaced and the labour,
    3. Special Environmental Zones by grabbing fertile land and natural resources and
    4. Special Elimination Zones by driving poor farmers to suicides
  • U. N’s World Water Development Report 2003 shows that almost 60% of the world’s 127 largest rivers are severely fragmented by dams, diversions and canals.
  • World Commission on dams says that, “the benefits of dams are often exaggerated while the social and environmental costs tend to get under estimated.
  • The denial of ancestral rights to 5 villages resulted in the great epic Mahabharata. Though we have a more religiously active population, it is totally dumb on the issue of displacement of the millions of its own people whose villages are gifted to the corporate houses.
  • SEZ not only denies the human rights and ancestral rights of the people but also the environmental laws, control over every type of resource, with no obligation to the state and the people.

Mr. Mani recalled that, the Indian River Network of Peaceful Society was formed in 1998 and raised the collective concern about protection and conservation of rivers and water bodies. The second Conference of IRN was held at Kochi in 2005 and had resolved to protect and conserve the rivers in India through various initiatives and actions. IRN has taken the following steps;

ü      Two inter-state consultations of organisations and individuals from Kerala and Tamilnadu on the issue of sharing of river water.

ü      Cataloguing the river warriors

ü      River march in Bihar, Tamilnadu, Jharkhand

ü      Consultations and workshops on rivers issues in many states, and

ü      Publications

Citing the worsening situation on the front of environment and ecology, Mr. Mani stated that the nexus between the State and the Corporates has created a cold war like situation in many States which threatens the federal structure of the country.

He reiterated that the conference is devoted to the cause of ensuring the support of the delegates to save the rivers, the people and ultimately mother earth. He further appealed to the delegates to work together tirelessly in proving wrong the predictions of Dr. Stephen Haufkin that the world is in great danger in the coming 50 years.

(The detailed contents of this speech are presented in Annexure)

The introductory remarks by Mr. K. K. Mani were followed by the Key-note address from Dr. Mukhund Ghare. There was a stunning silence when Dr. Ghare remarked, “If I was 25 years old, I would have been a naxalite today. I would definitely have become a naxalite. But at this age of 75 it is not possible. Considering the scenario that is unfolding, if the people take to naxalism there is nothing wrong. The Prime minister calls these naxalites as anti-nationals. I feel ashamed that such a man is a prime minister. The circumstances that he himself has created have compelled people to respond through naxalism. Naxalism is not anti-national; it is about assisting the voiceless people.”

Coming to the theme of the conference, Dr. Ghare highlighted the following;

The primitive man was a hunter and depended entirely on the energy generated by the sun. As a result everything was consumed and there was nothing that got corrupted or disposed as waste. The cell draws energy from the sun and natural resources are created which in turn man absorbs and gets the strength and energy.   Energy drives the thought, whether a person is vegetarian or non-vegetarian and accordingly produced a Bernard Shaw, a P.L. Deshpande, a Valmiki or a criminal. The end product may differ but all is energy.

Initially there were no waste products as in the Paleolithic age man depended on agriculture which used the energy of the soil and nothing from outside. The trees, fruits, organism and waste went back into producing energy.

Dr. Mukund Ghare delivering the inaugural speech

Globalisation may have started with Vasco da Gama discovering India, but Global warming has begun since 1850 with the industrial revolution that introduced coal, oil, natural gas, etc. With mechanical energy there is some loss that takes place and when this displaced energy does not get used up it contributes to global warming. He cited statistics to show how China will consume as much energy as America at present and if that is so what would be the plights of India whose population would exceed that ofChina.

With climate change there will be a rise in sea level resulting in disappearance of existing coastal wetlands, marshy lands which will appear inland. For, example Goa would lose 14% of its existing land to the sea thus making the marshy lands to relocate.

He explained the impact on agriculture, human health, water, wind velocities, and the resultant social impacts on mankind who will have to relocate and survive on less natural resources.

The destruction of organisms and other life in the sea will mean less CO2 absorption which in turn will result in increase in air density and impact agriculture productivity.

The coal mines in Jharkhand are burning underneath while the tribals who stay above these coal mines will experience abnormally high blood pressure with which they have learned to live with.

Increasing heat and cold will impact the human body and reduce life span and increase infant mortality.

He concluded by urging the delegates to be sensitive to the environment and strive to save the rivers and the ecosystems around it. (See Annexure 2 for further details of the presentation.)

The inaugural session concluded with a vote of thanks by IRN Secretary Mr. Joseph Karoor.

Session II (2.30 p.m. to 5.30 p.m.)

This session witnessed the sharings about the status of rivers and the people’s struggles in Bihar, Jharkhand, Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh and Orissa.

River Chandan (Bihar) – presentation by Bageshwar Bagi

River Kamala (Bihar) – presentation by Swami Rajeshwar Bharti

River Koshi (Bihar) – presentation by Bhagwanji Pathak

 

Floods and Embankments of Bihar – presentation Prof. Prakash

All the speakers presented their picture on the problems that exist in their State due to floods which have become the main cause for panic amongst the people. Around 22 districts, 264 blocks and 11,850 villages get affected by floods due to which around 2, 45, 58500 people are rendered homeless and devoid of means of earning a livelihood for four months. The debate on flood control and relief has been going on since 1928. It was then pointed out that rail lines and national highways were the main cause for obstructing the flow of water, thus leading to floods during heavy rainfall.  From the 58.45 lakh hectares of agriculture land in north Bihar, around 44.46 lakh hectares are flood affected. There are increased incidents of deaths due to capsizing of boat and snake bites. For the people of Bihar floods and water logging has become a part of life. The floods of 2007 are said to be the worst in the history of Bihar’s floods. It left 891 dead and over 2, 30,000 people affected, 5.82 lakh homes destroyed and 29 embankments were washed away. In Koshi itself over 10 lakh people are affected every year as 380 villages are sandwiched between embankments. The flood has driven people to poverty and migration to safer areas like on the sides of rail lines and national highways. The floods have become more of an opportunity for government officers and politicians to siphon huge funds received for relief work.

Prof. Prakash said that erection of embankments which were actually meant for flood controls have actually become the cause of Bihar’s flood problems. The floods of the past used to approach like the frightened cat that crawled slowly, but the present floods come like the roaring tiger. He raised the question, as to the national policies on natural resources and who it benefits.

Adding to the presentations, Mr. Kumar Kalanand Mani remarked that the flood situation in Bihar is worsening every year and the people are the ultimate sufferers of faulty policies of development. Even after crores of rupees are spent every year the problems are not decreasing but increasing. The development policies of the Indian government are creating tensions with Nepal and disturbing neighborly relationships of the people. He appealed not to see Bihar only from the angle of political drama but from the angle of total environmental destruction by engineers, scientists, politicians and bureaucrats.

River Mahanadi (Orissa) – presentation Prof. A. B. Mishra

Dr. Mishra began by citing the example of Water common sense which all know. This is that assuming the earth contains 100 litres of water, 97.5 litres of it is unused as it is saline. We have to live with only 2.5 litres of fresh water which is 2500 m.l. Of this, 1550 m.l. is snow, 700 m.l. is in the ground and using it is a costly affair. The remaining 50 m.l. is in the rivers and lakes and the rest around 200 m.l. is in the sub-soil.

He empahsised that even school children learn it but planners, politicians, scientists do not understand it. Even Manu’s artha shastra (Economics by Manu) advises not to throw every night soil in the water.  He narrated about how a Professor friend in Calcutta, with whom he went to stay, when asked about his septic tank, laughed and said that he has released the waste in the canal.  Thousands of Indians do it, Prof. Mishra lamented.

He informed that 2% of the fresh water run-off in this nation is in Orissa. No other State has 10 rivers but Orissa has them. They originate in the hills of Chattisgarh and open into the Bay of Bengal.

However, Orissa’s misfortune is its bauxite, Iron ore and coal reserves. The rivers and the crop lands are suffering because of this mining. This is why the State is poor added Prof. Mishra.

He cited the second report about the Hirakud Dam which had advised against cross river dams. But, these recommendations were ignored and around 30 tributaries small and big are affected by this dam. The promises of flood control through damming was a misnomer, informed Prof. Mishra. He went on to pooh-pooh the tall promises made about hydro-power generation, fisheries, navigation and gardens of which not one target has been achieved.

His study which was published after he started lecturing in the University was the first scientific document which was published on the state of the rivers in Orissa.

Prof. Mishra pointed out that the existing reservoir had lost 40% of its storage capacity due to siltation. According to the opinion of some experts it’s desilting will require that the reservoir will need to be dried up, while some others talk about installing foreign machinery on floaters. Ultimately this is a costly affair according to Prof. Mishra. It would be like piling up 60 mounts of ghee so that Radha would dance.    He also informed that around 250 crores of World bank money was spent of filing cracks with the assistance of engineers from Netherlands.

Recalling his childhood experiences in a village on the banks of the Mahanadi river, Prof. Mishra said that it was a channel for transportation where huge crafts with bamboo and wood sail down stream until around 1960. Mahandi is a never ending story which is the symbol in literature, according to Prof, Mishra. He also pointed out that half the names of the tributaries of river were male and the other half are female. He narrated the instance of seeing a young girl filling a earthen vessel from the river Mahanadi with residue of fly ash and other toxins floating. He found it useless to even caution the girl as she would not understand the implications and the possibilities of causing cancer as these poor people have only this water to prepare their daily meal of dal and rotti.

He said that we blame the multi-nationals but now it is our own nationals, Indian Multi-nationals who exploit the natural resources and threaten our existence.

River Damodar (Jharkhand) – presentation by Chandrashekhar

Describing Jharkhand as one of the most beautiful State, Chandrashekhar informed that river Damodar which travels 563 kms across the State and meets 40 small and big tributaries till it merges in the Hugli river of W.Bengal, is said to be one of the most polluted rivers. The river Damodar which derives its name from Ag Peth meaning bowels of fire is called by several names like Devnad, Rahera, Sapahi, Gagari, Battuki, Gogdaha and so on. The State Pollution Control Board’s report shows that 9000 tonnes of fly ash is unloaded in the river. As many as 20 hazardous chemicals are

known to be present in the water which causes several diseases like diarrhea, jaundice, heart problems, abortions, and so on.  He further informed that from the generation of 1800 mega watts of power from 3 projects of Damodar Valley Corporation and around 400 small and big industries it is estimated that 35 crore litres of effluents ae released in the river every day. Besides this, release of S02 and CO2 from fumes causes the blackening of vegetation and health problems to those who consume these. The Central Mining Research Institute points that 46% of the coal mines of Jharkhand exist in the Damodar valley itself. Damodar river has been the first victim off independent Iindia’s  damming policy in 1948.

The team from Uttarakhand sang a tribal song that created awareness on the importance of river Koshi Uttarakhand wants progress, not destruction – presentation by Dr. Shamsher Singh Bisht

Dr. Shamsher Singh Bisht pointed out that in his 35 years of experience with various movements, the issues of water, forest and land will not be resolved until the political character of the country is changed. He recalled the Chipko movement, Movement for Uttarakhand statehood, Anti-alcohol campaign but the efforts for a national movement on water failed because of differences among activists. He said that we were dictated into observing international events like Valentine Day, and others. But we also have a right to observe the days we would like. So we in Uttarakhand decided to observe the year 2008 as the Year to Save the Rivers. He narrated the story that he has told at all the meeting in Uttarkhand. It was a blind boy who would walk in the dark with the help of a lathi (steak) until one day when a visitor advised him to carry a lamp in his hand. ”A lamp?” the boy remarked, “I am blind and what help will I get from a lamp?” “If you cannot see, at least the others around you will see” said the visitor.   So the boy took the lamp and was roaming when he crashed into another person. “Can’t you see”, remarked the other person. “I can’t see because I am blind, but could you who has eyes not see my lamp?”, replied the blind boy. “Which lamp are you talking about? Where is the lamp?” shouted the other person. The blind boy had not realised that his lamp had blown out and the others could not see him. We are often in a delusion that the path, knowledge and culture we

choose will take us forward until we clash with western influences.

Dr. Bisht said that it looked as if Uttarakhand’s Statehood in 2000 was realised due to World Bank’s influence and not our movement. All projects and dams undertaken in Uttarakhand are the result of World Bank funding and the Chief Secretary and the bureaucrats in government are their agents. Several agitations to protect the water, forests and land have been undertaken over the years. All major rivers like Ganga and Yamuna originate from State but we cannot use the water. The Tehri dam has immersed a centuries old culture along with several villages.  It is big shots in Delhi who decide how much water is to be diverted to Delhi for their utilisation. He lamented that the entire political system is a contractor system and thrives on tendering contracts. He even accused NGOs of supporting some destructive projects all because they get some monetary benefits. He recited a stanza from the song penned by his friend and leader Girish Tiwary Girdah.

He narrated an instance when a friend asked him as to what will happen after all the agitations and rallies. “My answer to him was, what will happen if your studies?”, he said. At least the people will be convinced and aware about the need to protect their rivers, forests and land.

He appealed that wearing coloured caps or dresses and flirting with political parties will not bring unity. Unity has to come by uniting our minds from north to south India. Only then will we be able to save our rivers, forest and land, he concluded.

 

Uttarakhand’s Women on path to conservation of river Koshi – Basanti

Ms. Basanti  who has over 28 years experience of working with movements, but narrated her 4 years involvement with the Koshi Bachao Abhiyan (Save Koshi Campaign). The situation is not different. In every State it is the story of exploitation of natural resources by the government. She organised the women into a group in 2003 to combat the deforestation which threatened to cause severe water shortage within 10 years.  The women were made to understand their plight should water become a shortage for which an article in the local newspapers also helped. For the last 5 years no tree has been cut. There were occasions when some men after drinking challenged the women leadership and decided to play the fool by setting the fire to the jungle. After 3 to 4 instances the culprits were caught and reprimanded. Stone mining has been stopped by the women. Women’s groups, she said, have stopped the transportation of water through tankers and imposed fines. The water mafia tried to use the police to frighten the women but it did not help. The women maintained that the jungle and the water were conserved through their 5 years of efforts and therefore they have a right over the water. The police tried to tell them that the water belongs to the government. They refused to give in and told the hotel owner to throw open his hotel to the government but that they would not allow even a single drop to leave their area. She emphasised that people have to take their rights as no government will give them the rights. This is the way they have set up 90 women’s groups along the Koshi river and all the men, women and panchayat leaders had taken an oath in 2007 to protect the river, their mother. This message was taken across the neighbouring villages through a foot march and the people welcomed them.

This needs to be the approach when it comes to Bihar, Jharkhand and other states. When we protect our resources we develop our right over these resources.  We have to say, the jungle and water is ours. How can the government snatch it then?

The report on the status of Hindan river in Uttar Pradesh was presented by Prof. D.K. Mishra while the Orissa report on Mahanadi river was placed by Prof. AB Mishra.

The day’s highlights were recalled in brief by Kumar Kalanand Mani to end the day’s deliberations. This session was also moderated by Ms. Nirupama Mohanti.

The delegates then participated in the evening prayers at Bapu Kuti ( Gandhiji’s cottage).

DAY II (17th February 2008)

Session I (8.45 a.m. to 10.00 p.m.)

River Vaigai – presentation by P. Annadurai

River Vaiparru (Tamilnadu) – presentation by P. V. Muthiah

River Vadaku Pachaiaru (Tamilnadu)- presentation by S. Thomas

River Thamirambarani (Tamilnadu) – presentation by Kajamodhian N.

The speakers cited the problems of encroachments, sand mining, discharge of waste effluents, industrial chemicals as the main threats to the rivers in Tamilnadu. The newly constructed dams are a hindrance to the water flow. Tamilnadu has 34 main rivers which are affected by modern agricultural practices of fertilizers and pesticides. At several places siltation of rivers is observed, and the emergence of weeds in the middle of the rivers only chokes the fish and hinders the water flow. The increasing sedimentation in dams has decreased their water storage capacity. There exist 17 river basins and 34 tributaries in Tamilnadu. Efforts to protect the rivers have been taken up under the banner of the Tamilnadu River Protection Movement which is made up of several groups and individuals working for the cause of conserving rivers.

Session II (10.00p.m. to 11.00 p.m.)

River Sharavathi (Karnataka) – presentation by G. L. Janardhana

River Godavari (Maharashtra) – presentation by S. Pandere

The state of our natural resources – presentation by Prof. H. N. Desarda

Prof. Desarda said that a water abundant nation has been reduced to a water deficient nation within 60 years of independence. The grandiose plans for linking of rivers are only gouging to further threaten the land and ecology of this country. Several water sources are either destroyed or polluted. He feels that there is enough water to meet the needs of every village but the policy is only or big projects, big profits and big economics. Here is a need to understand the water management systems instead. He dismissed those sitting in the Planning Commission as the most illiterate. He said that the greatest

challenge before everyone is the protection of natural resources. The ground water is like the umbilical chord of the mother earth upon which everything exists. Around 60 crore billion tones of mud is washed away through deforestation and destruction of rivers. Chemicals in agriculture are only destroying the land, water and forests, he added. Therefore, there is a greater need for unity and sustainable development to overcome the threat to our natural resources. He reminded the government that Mahatma Gandhi is not a one day affair but a 365 day duty.

The session was chaired by Dr. M. Ghare concluded the session by summing up the key points along with some information on scientific facts and urged the delegates to imbibe the spirit of questioning everything.

Session III (11.30 p.m. to 12.50 p.m.)

 

Status of Kerala rivers – paper by P. S. Gopinathan Nair which was read by Dr. C. Neelakandan

River Chalakkudy – presentation by S. Unnikrishnan

River Chaliyar – presentation by M. P. Abdullah

River Muvattupuza – paper by Dr. Shaju Thomas which was read by Joseph Karoor

River Pumba – presentation by Gopinathan Pillai

The session was chaired by Joseph Karoor who recalled some of the important  points raised by the speaker and concluded the session.

Dr. C. Neelkandan, renowned activist and nuclear scientist asserted that globalisation is the expansion of capitalism. The main cause of today’s environmental problems is the faulty logic that exists, according to Dr. Neelkandan. He emphasised that there is a need for a biological and environmental logic to overcome the threats to our rivers. Dr. Neelkandan expressed his views in support of the paper ‘The Status of Kerala Rivers’ on behalf of P.S. Gopinathan Nair.  Several examples of successful people’s struggles like those of the Silent Valley, Chaliyar, Plachimada, Periyar and others were highlighted.

Shri S. Unnikrishnan from Thrisur gave a glimpse of the problems facing the river Chalakkudy due to the 7th dam being constructed. The main threat to this river comes from the proposed hydro-electric project and urged the delegates of the conference to support the cause against such a project.

Shri. Gopinathan Pillai explained the problems faced by river Pamba from wastes arising from tourism, hospitals and towns along with sand and granite mining. Shri M.P. Abdullah explained the problems of river Chaliyar due to environmental disastrous activities of mining and deforestation. He also emphasised the need for forming a River Authority to work towards a solution.

Shri. Joseph Karoor who facilitated the session, presented the paper on “Environmental Problems of Muvattupuzha river on behalf of Dr. Shaju Thomas.

Session IV (2.00 p.m. to 3.00 p.m.)

 

Dudhsagar river – presentation by Naresh Shigaonkar

River Mhadei – Paper by Ms. Nirmala Sawant which was read by Pinky Naik

Goa’s struggle against SEZs – presentation by Vaikunth (Shashi) Kamat

Naresh Shigaonkar spelt out the importance of the Dudhsagar river to Goa which has been reflected in various cultural facets. The threat to this river comes from encroachments by various constructions and the mining industry which is resulting in siltation of the rivers. Ms. Pinky Naik presented the paper on the struggles to protect the life of river Mhadei which is being threatened by a dam being constructed by the Karnataka government to divert the river waters to the east. She spelt out the repercussions and adverse impact on vegetation and life style of the people in the North Goa district. Vaikunth (Shashi) Kamat presented the struggle of the Goa Movement against SEZs in stalling the plans of the Goa government to permit 18 SEZs in the tiny State. He spelt out the environmental threats as well as water shortage and load on the infrastructure if the SEZs are allowed to be set up in Goa. This session was chaired by Mr. V. Kamat.

Thereafter the paper of Dr. D. K. Mishra on the Status of Bihar Flood of which was postponed due to the non-arrival of the speaker was taken up. Dr. Mishra, renowned engineer and advocate for the protection of rivers inBihar. He expressed his happiness to be working in an area of Kaka Kalelkar who contributed extensive work on the rivers. There was an opinion that Saraswati is the name given to the ground water which supports life of the people, animals and trees. For the economic powers there is no difference between surface water and ground water. Every person involved in the framing of plans of the water from the ministers to the contractor there is nothing but talk about destruction and building. There is no consideration for those elements of life existing in the locality in the making of plans. He ridiculed the engineering studies which according to him does not inculcate basoc common sense which a layperson living in the rural areas possesses. The engineer has to use instruments to understand nature whereas the rural person tells it by experience.

Session V ( 3.00 p.m. to 5.30 p.m.)

This session was dedicated to a group discussion within every State for developing a common concern and action plan.

The following suggestions were given by Mr. Mani to guide the state-wise discussion

1.       There was an appeal to give national support to the Campaign for saving river Chalakuddy by Unnikrishnan. Such other local issues that need to figure in the declaration may also be suggested.

2.       What should be the format and size of People’s Commission on Rivers, what should be its objectives, time-frame and who should be part of the commission?

3.       A National Consultation with all those who presented papers to chalk out a national action-plan to save the rivers was proposed by Dr. Ghare. Whether there is a need, where and how many days.

4.       Suggest at least 3 points to be inserted in Sevagram Declaration.

5.       Who do you want to depute as IRN member from your State? Members can decide structure for IRN till next conference.

6.       Give some practical suggestions to Dr. Neelakandan’s concerns on how to keep action-groups together, at least spiritually.

The group discussions were held within the delegates from each State. The following points emerged in the report.

  • Generating awareness on the issue within their own States and so on. States like Uttarakhand and Kerala welcomed the delegates for their padiyatras / satyagrahas to take place in the next couple of months.
  • There emerged an unanimous support to instituting a People’s Commission on Rivers for which the structure and objectives must be decided by IRN. Some suggestions were given on the choices for the team. There was also a suggestion that 10 major rivers which are under threat in the country must be identified for conservation programs.
  • There was also a consensus as regards having a follow-up meeting of State-wise representatives of this River Conference some where at the end of April 2008.
  • There was also consensus that as far as possible there must be an attempt to bring together all groups working on the issue of rivers and water within the State. There needs to be at least a spiritual collaboration if not ideological
  • Suggestions were given for the Sevagram Declaration.

Thereafter, the team for drafting the Declaration was selected. The team included- Dr. S. Neelkandan, Prof. D.M. Desharda, Prof. A. B Mishra, Ms. Nirupama Mohanti, Ms. Basanti Ben, Mr. Naresh Shigaonkar.

DAY III (18th February 2008)

Session I (8.45 to 10.15 a.m.)

The Sevagram Declaration was read out to the delegates by the drafting team and various suggestions were taken before finalising the declaration. The Sevagram Declaration was unanimously approved by the delegates.

SEVAGRAM  DECLARATION

Declaration made at 3rd National Rivers Conference held at the sacred land of Sevagram from 16-18th February, 2008.

1.      Rivers are holly life supporting and motherly.  We have the right and duty to see that Rivers flow. It is a crime to dam or restricts the natural flow of the river.

2.      No Individual /organisation have the right to exploit, or encroach or pollute the river. Those who pollute the river should be punished suitably.

3.      This conference supports the entire struggle to save the rivers across the country. This calls all people to involve positively in all these struggles.

4.      The first priority of water is for drinking and household purposes. Then for Sustainable agriculture. The remaining can be used for commercial industry only with the consent of local community and without affecting the environment.

5.      The right over water, Forest and Land will be with the Local Community. The conference strongly opposes the development projects of the private companies in the name of liberalisation and globalisation.

6.      River linking projects are not at all suitable for solving draught or flood problems of our country. The real solution to these problems is integrated develop must at all the river basins from Himalayas to the oceans with the participation of the local communities.

7.      Year 2008 will be observed as Year of Rivers. Throughout the year there will be awareness campaigns all over the country.

8.      20th March will be observed as Right to Water Day and 25th May as River day all over the country.

 

Session II (Concluding session)

The chief guest for this session was Mr. Rajendra Singh of Tarun Bharat Sangh from Rajasthan. He shared that exploitation of water, encroachment on water bodies and pollution are the present day threats in the era of globalisation. He suggested that every year one river needs to be adopted for conservation by organising a river festival or river satyagraha. The increase in land prices, he said, is one of the main reasons for threat to the natural resources.  He has traveled across 144 rivers in this country and has seen the pathetic conditions. Encroachments of water bodies have doubled in the last 2 years. The construction of hotels and airports has threatened the existence of river Yamuna. We are alive because of natural laws but our government goes against these laws. He informed that his colleagues have been strongly lobbying for appropriate Water Policy by the Union Government.

The various dignitaries present and the delegates proceeded to river Paunar   for the immersion of the river waters that was carried to Sevagram from various rivers. After the water pots were taken to Vinobhaji’s ashram on the bank of river Paunar, all the delegates took an oath for protecting their rivers and water bodies.  The water from 46 rivers across the country were then immersed into the river. The oath was given by Mrs. Lalan C. Kerkar, Chairperson of Peaceful Society.  Mr. Joseph Karoor, Secretary of IRN thanked all the dignitaries and delegates who helped make this conference a memorable experience.

 

OATH

a)        I shall respect the river like my mother who gave me holy life.

b)        Conserve (use wisely) water, soil, plants and animals & love human being in every walk of my life.

c)         Learn all possible aspects of rivers & other water system & Help others to learn the same.

d)        Not do anything to cause harmful pollution & be human (Respecting the rights of all forms of living beings)

e)         I will take all efforts to stop misuse and exploitation of precious fresh water & will protect people’s right over it.

 

Mrs. Lalan Kerkar, President, Peaceful Society giving oath to the delegates of 3rd National RiverConference.