Rally for Rivers: Campaign aims to create public support for govt policy to revitalise water bodies

The Rally for Rivers is an awareness campaign initiated by Jaggi Vasudev of Isha Foundation. As India's rivers are drying up and major rivers are turning seasonal, the rally aims to create mass awareness and garner public support for a government policy to save them. In collaboration with over 25 scientists and lawmakers, including Tamil Nadu Agricultural University, Isha Foundation is drafting a national overarching policy recommendation to the Central government.

The experts group is represented by experts from hydrology, hydrogeology, forestry, agro-forestry, horticulture, FPOs, irrigation, agribusiness, agri-marketing, natural resource management, bureaucrats and also experts from Food Safety and Standards Authority, project financing, social behavior change experts, farmers' unions and health and nutrition.

 Rally for Rivers: Campaign aims to create public support for govt policy to revitalise water bodies

Jaggi Vasudev with supporters of Rally for Rivers. Twitter @SadhguruJV

In simple terms, the premise of the policy is to increase the amount of water flow in the rivers through tree plantation for a minimum of one kilometre width on either side of rivers and half a kilometre for tributaries. This is the rally's fundamental approach to river revitalisation, and has been deliberately communicated in generic and simple terms for a layman's understanding during the mass awareness phase of the campaign. However, the draft policy recommendation itself will be comprehensive and holistic.

The government will need strong backing by the public to implement this long-term solution to reviving our rivers. Hence, the rally appeals for every citizen to give a missed call to 80009 80009, as his or her vote in support of saving our rivers. As part of this effort, this month, Jaggi Vasudev is personally driving through 16 states, holding 23 major events attended by chief ministers, celebrities, artists and sports personalities.

Questions about the policy

As this people's movement continues in full swing, a few media articles have emerged questioning the efficacy of the proposed policy recommendation. Others point to the pollution caused by the cars in the rally.

Let us look at some of the specific concerns raised one at a time.

1. One kilometer width of tree cover is not nearly enough to reverse the devastation of our rivers. It will take much more.

While this is true, change must happen incrementally, taking into consideration all the stakeholders. And so the policy recommendation calls for a minimum of one kilometer for the immediate future. As we move forward, many more aspects can be addressed in phases.

2. Tree cover is not enough to replenish our rivers. Flood resistant shrubs and grasses and other aquatic plants are equally important.

Indeed, the proposed solution will include grasslands, scrubs and wetlands during the development of a tree-plantation model for specific rivers based on their ecology and social conditions. In fact, to strengthen and revive the river banks, one of the options suggested for plantation is vetiver, wherever it applies. Vetiver is a grass that is known for many of its magical qualities of removal of pollutants and stabilising steep slopes.

3. The solution is too narrow in scope. It does not address other water-related problems such as sand mining, pollution, treatment of sewage, river-linking and encroachment on river beds.

As mentioned above, the generic solution is for the mass awareness phase of the campaign. The draft policy document, however, will overview the various obstacles to river restoration, and does not ignore the matters of water treatment and pollution. While there are many initiatives that seek to redistribute our already diminishing water supply, this policy recommendation focuses only on a permanent, sustainable solution of river revitalisation and "source augmentation", that is, increasing the overall quantum of water flow in the rivers.

The overarching national level policy is a multi-faceted approach to river restoration and critically addresses solutions to water-related problems. The policy draft will be presented to the Central government in October, at which time it will become available to the media and open for public opinion and inputs. The rationale behind the proposed recommendation has been discussed in depth with the 16 state governments where the rally will passes through and also with the Central government. It has been heartening to see that all the governments, regardless of political affiliations, have wholeheartedly extended their support to Rally for Rivers.

4. The Quint mentions that eight lakh trees would be needed to compensate for the 26,194 kilogram carbon dioxide emissions from the rally vehicles.

Presumably, this figure has been arrived at by estimating that one tree absorbs 12 kilogram of carbon dioxide per year. This would mean that 2,183 trees could compensate for the emissions over the course of a year. However The Quint seems to expect the emissions from the month-long rally to be compensated for in a single day! Hence eight lakh trees is a very misleading statistic.

In any case, we need to look at this from the proper perspective. As per a 2009 study at the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, yearly road transport (2003-4) accounted for about 244 teragrams of carbon dioxide, which by the same calculation, would need close to eight trillion trees to compensate for it. Emissions from 20-odd vehicles on a month-long trip on Indian roads is quite negligible, and hence the pluses outweigh the minuses. The awareness created by this drive will go a long way in restoring our ecology, water resource, farmers' livelihood and much more. For example, the Government of Karnataka has already announced on 9 September at the Rally for Rivers gathering, a plan to plant 25 crore trees.

5. Why is Jaggi Vasudev driving a Mercedes SUV in the rally? It causes a lot of pollution.

Sundaram Motors AMG Performance Center has loaned the media test drive Mercedes Benz G63 AMG SUV to Rally for Rivers for one month under the test drive policy. The car is owned by Mercedes Benz and is a demo car which will go back to its custodian after the rally culminates. The car is Euro5 environment compliant and has the best emission norm rating in the world. The demo vehicle being used in the rally has already done 25 thousand kilometers before joining Rally for Rivers. The car is one of the safest and an all-terrain vehicle, which is the safest vehicle for long journeys on difficult terrains.

(Anand is a plant biologist and biotechnologist and has an on-hands experience in organic farming for over eight years. He has been the project director for Project GreenHands, the environmental initiative of Isha Foundation and one of India's largest environmental movements which has been conferred with the Indira Gandhi Paryavaran Puraskar, country's highest environmental honour. He is part of the team involved in drafting the technical draft recommendations as part of Rally for Rivers.)

Updated Date: Jul 19, 2018 17:34:54 IST