Army veterans who walked along Ganga reveal plans for river's welfare

New Delhi, Sep 5 (IANS): After walking along the banks of the Ganga, a group of army veterans on Sunday declared they will come up with a Ganga Health Dashboard for water quality, work to close 329 nullahs falling into the river, and ensuring Ganga as a legal entity.

The army veterans, under the banner of Atulya Ganga, also announced to conduct mass communication activities by via of 'cyclothons' and 'walk the talks' along the Ganga with the involvement of local communities, working for the Nishad (fisherfolk) community, large-scale tree plantation along the river banks, and for including the topic of Ganga rejuvenation in school syllabus.

These are part of the first five-year action plan after the veterans walked 5,530 km for 190 days as part of the 'Mundmaal Parikrama' (circumambulation) of the Ganga from December 2020 till June this year.

"While walking along the Ganga, we geo-tagged as many as 329 nullahs falling into the Ganga and collected a total of 224 water samples, one at every 15 odd km. The pollution control board has so few water quality monitoring stations. If we do not check water quality at frequent intervals regularly, we do not know the correct picture, it remains under-measured," Atulya Ganga cofounder, Col Manoj Keshwar said while initiating the discussion "Ganga Rejuvenation: The Way Forward".

He summed up the findings from during the seven month walkathon as: need for clearly demarcating the land that can be called as Ganga river and its floodplains, more research on "Gangatva", the quintessential Ganga quality that makes the river water revered, need to increase awareness about Ganga's status today, need to rethink dams and barrages in view of the havoc caused especially in the high Himalayan regions and the dying of the ecological flow, and the high siltation in plains in Bihar and Jharkhand.

Calling for inclusive approach, he said that Atulya Ganga will actively work with Nishads and work towards forming a National Commission on Fisherfolks Community. Highlighting the Nishads' role, he said: "There is already lot of migration happening. If Nishads leave the Ganga belt, sooner or later, everyone will have to leave."

Atulya Ganga mentor, author and journalist, Abhay Mishra said: "Why has Ganga cleaning never become a people's movement? Because the community on the Ganga banks was never involved anywhere."

Environmentalist, Gandhian and author of "Jal Thal Mal", a book on sanitation, Sopan Joshi reminded the gathering to not bother about saving the Ganga but think of "what you will do to save yourself? Think of how you will deal with your sewage?"

"All this development is being carried out without assessing the carrying capacity. Is everything on sale in the name of Ganga?" asked Mallika Bhanot from NGO Ganga Avahan as she painted a scary picture of the devastation being thrust upon Uttarakhand due to developmental projects.

Green India Foundation had partnered with Atulya Ganga right from day one of the walk and had gone on to plant 30,000 indigenous trees along both the banks during the walk. Calling it as 'Vrukshamaal Parikrama', the team not just planted the trees but also ensured someone from the locality was given the responsibility to take care of their growth.

"This is very important in view of the fact that against the national average of 23 per cent of forest cover, Ganga basin has only 16 per cent forest cover. Of the states along the Ganga, Uttar Pradesh, and Bihar have barely 6-7 per cent of the forest cover and the most distressful is that if we look at just the Ganga banks, the forest cover reduces further to 2-3 per cent," said Green India Foundation's Vijay Shukla, adding that the team plans to continue to plant trees along the Ganga banks over next five years.

Sanjay Gupta of India River Alliance underscored the need of demarcating the river boundaries, which, he said, will automatically solve many problems related to floodplains encroachment etc. K.L. Mukherjee from West Bengal said de-silting in the lower reaches of the Ganga and using that silt for various purposes - such as for brick manufacturing - can be worked out to be a commercially viable activity with technical solutions.

Dr Vijay Verma spoke on the saints of Matri Sadan in Haridwar and the sacrifices made by its saints for pollution-free, and free-flowing Ganga. Prof Anjali Capila spoke about the river songs from Gangotri till Haridwar.

The veterans termed their effort as "an audacious, unprecedented, continuous, multifaceted and record making Atulya Ganga Parikrama, the unbroken walkathon for Ganga Rejuvenation started on December 16, 2020 at Prayagraj and concluded successfully on June 23 this year.

This was the brainchild of Gopal Sharma, 79, an ex-military engineer and mountaineer, Lt Col Hem Lohumi, 70, an Antarctica pioneer and mountaineer, Col Keshwar, 53, along with fellow veterans, Maj Gen Brajesh Kumar, Maj Gen Vinod Bhatt, Lt Gen S.A. Cruze, and Lt Gen S.D. Duhan.



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