Save River Save Life Campaign Gathers Momentum: River Fortnight Program Announced

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In a meet-the-press program at Press Club Kolkata on September 9 the Save River Save Life (Nodi Bachao Jibon Bachao or NBJB in Bangla) campaign announced its program regarding this year’s World River Day on September 24. From September 10 to September 24 a river fortnight drive will be undertaken that will touch more than 20 districts of West Bengal. A huge number of science and environmental organisations including some well-known Bangla science magazines, almost 50 of them, are part of this fortnight of campaign.

Two fraternal organisations were present in the press conference and would be there for some days. The famous Nadi Ghati Morcha, Chhattisgarh, which led a successful fight against India’s first ‘River Privatisation’ attempt in Chhattisgarh was represented by its National Convenor, Gautam Banerjee. Atul Sati, the convenor of Joshimath Bachao Sangharsh Samiti, which is leading the fight of residents of Joshimath, Uttarakhand, against projects that are leading to sinking of Joshimath, the last town of Uttarakhand (towards Char Dham) before China border, was also present.

This year’s campaign focused on several features of slow death of rivers, detrimental to their ‘abiral dhara’ (continuous/unbridled flow) and ‘nirmal dhara’ (clean/unpolluted flow) the rivers, like:

  • Large number of dams and barrages restricting the flow that became harmful to river ecosystem. (According to a 5-year-old article in Indian Express number of dams and barrages were 940! [1])
  • Pollutants from municipal and other drainages, industries and water infected with chemical fertilisers, insecticides, pesticides with surface run-off water from agriculture) are polluting all the streams.
  • Sand Mining and stone quarrying on river bed defying all legalities are going on rampant killing river flow dynamics.
  • Pro-corporate and profit-oriented planning and action of the governments are de facto blind to ecological considerations, despite all declarations of the government.

By continuous brainwash by capitalist value system, mankind forgot what rivers mean to human civilisation; rivers are now considered just as source of water flowing in streams meant for exploitation or use. Formerly rivers were very much part of human cultures. Silt was brought by floods and made possible abundant agricultural production making the land fertile. Egypt was considered as gift of river Nile, its old name Ke-met meant black earth to mark the silted flood plain differently from adjacent red land or deserts. Mesopotamia literally means land between two rivers (Tigris and Euphrates). Indus valley civilisation is named after river. Floods made the flood-plains where most of Indians live.

Rivers, wind (erosion by flows) and tectonic activities together built up all the land forms that we see on the earth. But this capitalist civilisation did not recognise the value of natural flow of rivers, and chained the rivers to the detriment of human civilisation. ‘Taming of rivers’ killed rivers of many Asian countries. Multipurpose River Valley Projects are creating uncontrollable floods [see 2], draughts (due to shortage of irrigation in many areas in non-monsoon lean flow time) and now blame is being shifted to ‘incessant rains’, ‘less than normal rainfall’, ‘bad drainage system’, ‘need for concrete embankments’ etc. Global warming is causing extreme climate situations and long-term tendency of rainfall-shortage and sea-level-rise. Instead of introspection and new way of thinking, the rulers are continuing their despotic rule over nature.


Constructions chocking Ganga tributaries, courtesy Times of India (28.08.2014)

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Construction continues on the 444-MW Vishnugad Pipalkoti hydroelectric project (VPHEP) on the Alaknanda River, courtesy Hydro Review, 19.08.2015

Dams, barrages, and canals after canals made a ridiculous situation where less than 5% of the water coming from Gangotri glacier actually comes to Bengal and reaches the sea! Green revolution not only demanded a lot of river water but also sucked up a great part of subterranean water or groundwater. Indiscriminate use of deep tube wells for unplanned urbanisation, particularly in and around high-rise residences. States like Rajasthan, Panjab, Haryana, NCR-Delhi are standing on severely depleted groundwater zone; the same fate did not yet occur that much severely in Bengal basin thanks to rainfall. Pumping out of groundwater also caused Arsenic poisoning in Indus-Ganges-Brahmaputra plain. Surface water is getting polluted from industries, agriculture, and municipal sewages. These are making lives of millions who depend on rivers (and all waterbodies) like fishers. Miles after miles of rivers like Alokananda are now flowing inside pipes of some companies for making hydro-electricity destructing Himalayan Mountain ecology. Many small rivers in West Bengal are not there anymore, some are now pieces of waterbodies, some were filled up and converted to other land uses during last 70-80 years. Recent changes in forest laws by opening up of forest land 100 km from the border will only worsen the situation in the Himalayas from Kashmir to North-east. (50 years ago, the Chipko movement taught us: “What do the forests bear? Soil, water, and pure air.”)

Thus, demands like no more dams and saving all small rivers for the sake of bigger rivers were formulated by the NBJB movement for this river fortnight campaign (10 to 24 September, 2023). A very informative special ‘RIVER’ issue of Bigyan Anweshak magazine was published for this occasion.



Sandeep Banerjee is a political commentator


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