INCREASING pollution of Indian rivers, coupled with decreased flow rates and declining water quality, is a matter of serious concern in these times of escalating water-stress. The consequences for Indian agriculture and the economy as a whole are grave, particularly with regard to the country’s food security.
The Second International River Festival, to be held from March 21 – 23 in Madhya Pradesh, will discuss these and other issues related to the health of India’s river systems. Fittingly, the conference will be held at Bandrabhan, the confluence of the rivers Narmada and Tava.
The history of Man has been shaped by rivers. Civilizations were born and grew along the course of major rivers, be it the Nile, the Tigris-Euphrates or the Indus. Even today, major cities of the world are located on river banks: London on the Thames, New York on the Hudson, Paris on the Seine, New Delhi on the Yamuna and Kolkata on the Hooghly.
We cannot afford a cavalier attitude towards rivers; they are our lifeline. This is as true today as it was five thousand years ago. At Narmadapuram on the banks of the sacred river, experts and activists from all over the world will identify the major problem areas and thrash out practical strategies for the revival and cleansing of river systems.
Apart from the decline in water levels and quality due to over-exploitation and unchecked dumping of effluents into rivers, the degradation of catchment areas and consequent loss of bio-diversity will also be discussed. The focus will be on evolving replicable models of sustainable water management, so as to indefinitely maintain the health of rivers while meeting the needs of the rural population. No river, anywhere in the world, should disappear from view as did the legendary Saraswati.
The inaugural session of the festival will be attended by experts the world over. On the second day, the technical sessions will be held, with six parallel groups on different aspects meeting simultaneously. On the third and last day, the conclusions and recommendations of the technical sessions will be discussed. On the basis of the discussions, a draft resolution will be formulated and adopted. Subsequently, an Action Plan comprising doable strategies will be chalked out and circulated among the delegates.
Among those expected to attend the festival are Dr Michael Baubar, Director of Tretatek, Dr Kjell Nilssen of the Norwegian University, Dr Subodh Sharma of the Department of Environmental Sciences, University of Kathmandu, Dr Hervig Streabuel and Ms Karin Heschl of Austria, Dr Bruce Johnson of Australia, Dr Puchaski of Poland, Dr Ingria Johnson of Chile, Dr Irma Garcia of Venezuela and Dr Ulrich Berk of Germany. The valedictory session will be presided over by internationally renowned author, water expert and activist, Mr Anupam Mishra.
Apart from the technical sessions, a cultural programme called “Srishti” will be presented on March 21. It is a dance drama based with forests and water as the central theme. On the following day, Ms Anuradha Paudwal will present and evening of music or sangeet sandhya. Folk dances and songs from communities settled along the length of the river Narmada will be presented throughout the day.
Delegates will be put up in tents erected along the banks of the Narmada, which occupies a special place in the Hindu pantheon. A pilgrimage along the river holds a deep spiritual significance for devotees, who believe a mere glimpse of Mother Narmada can grant redemption. In keeping with that belief, the tent where the conference will be held affords a clear view of the river at all times!
The First International River Festival was held in Feburary, 2008. The “Bandrabhan Declaration” was adopted, aimed at the regeneration of rivers, their tributaries, sub-tributaries and water bodies alongside their banks. Only a holistic approach to river conservation could achieve results, the declaration said. It called for a commitment towards promotion of organic agriculture and preservation of bio-diversity as a means to maintaining the health of rivers. It made an appeal to communities and industries along the banks of rivers to avoid dumping untreated effluents into waterways. It further said that the centre and the states should make joint efforts towards this end, actively involving communities dependent on the river for their livelihood.
The different organisations working in this field were asked to create awareness on the importance of maintaining water quality and also to exert pressure on governments to enforce and institute stringent regulatory mechanisms.
The festival has been organised at the initiative of Member of Parliament Anil Madhav Dave, author of the travelogue Narmada Samagra, which describes the first-ever river-rafting expedition down the length of the river. Shri Dave also undertook an aerial pilgrimage of the Narmada, piloting his own Cesna from the Narmada’ source at Amarkantak to the Arabian Sea and back again.