Namami Gange: A harbinger for river rejuvenation

River Ganga in Haridwar
River Ganga in Haridwar

A series of river “utsavs” celebrates not just Ganga, but all of India’s rivers.

Since time immemorial, the inter-dependence of the nature-culture relationship has remained uncontested. Human survival is contingent upon water, and human civilizations across the world have valued and worshipped various water bodies, especially rivers. Examples illustrating this interdependency can be cited from the Ancient Egyptian civilization, which was based along the River Nile, the Mesopotamians in the Fertile Crescent living along Tigris/Euphrates rivers, the Ancient Chinese on the Yellow River, or Ancient Indian civilization on River Indus.

Rajesh Mehta
Rajesh Mehta

There can no visualization of the Indian sub-continent without the mighty Ganga in the imagination of the people, especially for those associated with the region. The Ganga River Basin is the largest river basin in India, covering around 26 percent of the country’s land area, hosting about 43 percent of its population and contributing 28 percent of the nation’s water resources.

Ganga has been the foundation of India’s economic activity, contributing to the livelihood of more than 500 million people residing in its basin. The river is not just an integral part of India’s rich history and socio-cultural heritage but it also symbolizes the faith, collective consciousness, and sentiments of the people. To put it succinctly, the contribution of Ganga in the lives of Indian citizens remains unparalleled.

That being said, the condition of the river and the catastrophe the river has suffered in recent decades is well known. The Government of India has been rolling out strategies to rejuvenate the people’s river. The Namami Gange mission, launched in 2014, is part of that effort. The mission has adopted an integrated approach and ushered in a paradigm shift in the approach toward river rejuvenation. It has heralded a new model of multi-sectoral interventions for comprehensive conservation of the riverine ecology and health, rather than restricting itself only to pollution abatement or cleaning.

READ: Water governance: India’s unsung success (September 2, 2020)

At the same time, with the growing population and increasing urbanization, it important for our cities to be river-sensitive and water sensitive. Let’s take the example of the city of Kashi. In our collective imagination, it is difficult to recall an image of River Ganga without the ancient city of Kashi (Banaras or Varanasi). The Government of India has worked hard to pave the way for a structured model of development in the city, while keeping the cultural heritage and rich ecological landscape at the forefront.

The Namami Gange mission has also worked hard in the city in areas such as improving sewerage infrastructure, tapping drains such as the infamous Assi Nala, improving ghats through their repair and improved sanitation and amenities. The people-river connect has also been strengthened through innovative community participation of Ganga Vichar Manch, Ganga Mitra and Ganga Praharis.  Efforts are also being made to rejuvenate the holy Kunds of Kashi, and recently the work on eight such Kunds have been completed and inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Additionally, over the years, the mission has also collaborated with stakeholders to encourage city planners and managers to develop adopt river sensitive master planning, water sensitive urban design and planning and environmentally sensitive, climate adaptive and socially inclusive river front development. Apart from this, the program places an equal weightage to reinvigorate the cultural aspects of the river and strengthen the people-river connect. It conducts several public outreach activities such as Ganga Utsav, Ganga Quest, Ganga Amantran, Great Ganga Run, plantation drives, and cleanathons.

Read more columns by Rajesh Mehta

Recently, based on Modi’s clarion call urging citizens to celebrate river festivals, Namami Gange organized a chain of River Utsavs (festivals) through the fifth edition of the “Ganga Utsav” from November 1 to November 3, to celebrate not just River Ganga but all rivers in the country. As Union Minister of Jal Shakti Gajendra Singh Shekhawat said, “It is our collective responsibility to rejuvenate and preserve our rivers. Every individual should think how they can contribute to the cause of rivers.”

Minister of Jal Shakti Gajendra Singh Shekhawat lighting a lamp to inaugurate the Ganga Utsav. Also seen are Pankaj Kumar, Secretary, Minister of Jal Shakti; Rajiv Ranjan Mishra, Director General, National Mission for Clean Ganga; and Anuradha Paudwal, a prominent singer.
Minister of Jal Shakti Gajendra Singh Shekhawat lighting a lamp to inaugurate the Ganga Utsav. Also seen are Pankaj Kumar, Secretary, Minister of Jal Shakti; Rajiv Ranjan Mishra, Director General, National Mission for Clean Ganga; and Anuradha Paudwal, a prominent singer.

With over 800,000 people virtually joining, the celebrations were a huge success. Roughly 150 districts across the country, including non-Ganga basin districts, organized similar River Festivals. Rajiv Ranjan Mishra, Director General, NMCG, advised the audience to not only enjoy the Ganga Utsav but also become a messenger and doer for rejuvenating Ganga and all rivers of the country. The celebrations will continue to be organized in the rest of the country in the coming months.

The event in Delhi was attended by Union Minister for Culture, Tourism and Development of North Eastern Region G. Krishna Reddy and Prahlad Singh Patel, Minister of State, Ministry of Jal Shakti. The celebrations included a range of activities such as cultural performances by renowned artists, such as Anuradha Paudwal, Shobhna Narayan, Prachee Shah Pandya, Rahul Sharma, Revati Sakalkar and Prahalad Tipaniya.

Other events included Ganga Dialogues, wherein personalities such as Ashok Chakradhar, Piyush Mishra, Divya Prakash Dubey and Trichur Brothers brought perspectives on the subject from diverse perspectives; Kahani Junction, which are story telling sessions highlighting importance of River Rejuvenation, conducted by Rituparna Ghosh and Himanshu Bajpai; puppetry shows; folklore; and activities showcasing Waste to Wealth.

READ: COP26: US and India must collaborate to achieve climate change goals (November 5, 2021)

An enthralling music video “Rivers of India”, made by Kanniks Kannikeswaran, paying tributes to the timeless spirit of India that accords a special place to precious water resources, was also released.  Another intriguing activity is the launch of the Ganga Torch (Mashaal), which will be taken throughout Ganga by a dedicated cadre of ex-servicemen, the Ganga Task Force, a battalion of Territorial Army deployed for Ganga rejuvenation activities. The Ganga Mashaal was flagged off from New Delhi by Shekhawat, the Jal Shakti minister, Union Minister of Law and Justice Kiren Rijiju, Secretary of Ministry of Jal Shakti Pankaj Kumar,  NMCG Director General Rajiv Ranjan Mishra ,and Prasoon Joshi, Chairman of the Central Board of Film Certification,

In fact, during the Ganga Utsav, the National Mission for Clean Ganga has set a Guinness World Record on the very first day for the highest number of photos of handwritten notes on River Ganga uploaded on Facebook in an hour. In parallel, the much-awaited Continuous Learning and Activity Portal (CLAP) was also launched in association of TREE Craze Foundation, which gives a platform to children and youth to engage on themes such as environment conservation and river rejuvenation all year round. The first edition of comics Chacha Chaudhary and Ganga ki Baat was also released with theme of Ganga and Nadi Utsav and Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav.

National Geographic channel is making a documentary Ganga- The River from Sky. A promo was released, followed by a discussion anchored by noted conservationist, filmmaker and anchor of the movie Mike Pandey. He was joined by NMCG’s Mishra and IIT Kanpur Professor Vinod Tare. It ended at an emotional note with Trichur Brothers leading everyone joining them in chanting Namami Gange Anthem.

Today, as the global community participates and holds discussions in the ongoing COP 26 in Glasgow, Scotland, and leaders across the world are making ambitious commitments, the role of water crisis in the climate crisis is taking center change. There emerges a burgeoning need to prioritize the water crises in the climate change discourse. A river basin conservation is not a one-time effort but a continuous process and spans for decades and generation, and thus requires immense collaboration and stakeholder engagement throughout the process. The next big step for the Mission and the Government of India will be to replicate the success and devise similar strategies for other river basins in the country.

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