By Dr Indira Khurana*
The Kameng River Rejuvenation Club: Determination and resolve
The efforts of the Kameng River Rejuvenation Club (KRRC) are inspirational and prove: Don’t get depressed or complain. Take matters into your hands to make the change you want to see. And then see how people join and the movement to clean a river grows.
Speaking about the genesis of this initiative, Dr Rapa Sangno, founder of the club, says: “Every person in Seppa town has seen people dumping their garbage on the Kameng river without any guilt on their faces. I’m sure this is just not the story of Seppa alone, there are many rivers in Arunachal Pradesh suffering the same fate as the Kameng River. All of us should remind ourselves always, that a river is a collective wealth of all the living organisms that depend on it and who benefit from it.”
Kameng River (called Jia Bharali) in Assam, is a river of the Eastern Himalayas mountains, originating in the Tawang district from the glacial lake below the snow-capped Gori Chen contain on India Tibet border. The river flows through the Bhalukpong circle of West Kameng district in AP and Sonitpur district in Assam. In the lower reaches, it becomes a braided river and is one of the major tributaries of the Brahmaputra, joining the river at Tezpur. The river is about 264 km long, with a drainage basin of about 11,843 square kilometre.
Once, this decaying river was a major source of firewood, drinking water, protein(fish), bathing and swimming for a sizeable chunk of people of the town especially those who reside along the banks of the river and my family is one of them.
Sangmo recounts, “Back in those days, for the children of my locality, our day used to start with the Kameng River for washing dishes and bathing before going to school early in the morning and end with swimming and angling in the evening after coming back from school, it was the daily routine back then but Seppa of today is not even her distant shadow. Our needs were modest but we were happy.”
Sharing this story now “because during the evolution of this town we forgot to take care of this river”, he lamented that in the name of development we didn’t even think twice before discharging our garbage or latrine pipes into the river. We took her for granted just like most kids to their parents in pursuit of a better career nowadays”.
Sangmo founded the club ‘Kameng River Rejuvenation Club’ with friends and headed this movement not because he wanted to come into the limelight or earn some crumbs from the department because he didn’t need to. “I’m a veterinary doctor I can earn from various means. I am doing all of these now because even I am like the rest of the people who watched, ignored and complained but the scene at Noongteh Anung at Bana 40 km downstream of Seppa town, broke my heart and I started feeling guilty for not doing anything for the river we have benefitted a lot from,” he said.
He then decided to look for a local NGO which was solely dedicated to this river, but couldn’t find any, though there were some but not for this river specifically. “I dug deeper and was amazed to know there are lots of local unions, associations, clubs and organisations with the ‘Kameng name tag,’ but the river is missing,” he said.
For the record, he said, he didn’t have any problem with them or their associations. “With the Kameng tag, you can get involved in various issues of the town from social to environmental. However, with the Kameng River tag, our club is solely and specifically dedicated to the well-being of the Kameng river and the sources which are polluting her, hence we also added the word Rejuvenation to recover her past self”.
Sango is not sure whether his club can make her (the Kameng River) just like before; clear, pristine and clean completely. “But I will consider it an achievement if our club could stop even a small plastic water bottle from being thrown into the river because of our efforts.”
He informs that almost 90 per cent of the club members and their parents still reside along the course of the Kameng river and witnessed the drastic changes that once a pristine and bluish river turned into sewage. “We all share the same goal, purpose and vision, that is inclusive growth of the district with the sustainable Kameng River and environmental awareness through Promotion of local talents, innovations, art and creativity.”
Now the membership of the club is swelling day by day and the addition of many talented and hardworking youths from Seppa and other districts has strengthened their purpose and resolve more than ever. Further, Club Membership is open to all irrespective of age, status, educational background, or gender and genuine love for the environment. “This is the only qualification we need.”
On April 9, 2022, the Club has organized a Mass Cleanliness Drive, ‘Green Seppa, Clean Seppa: The Plastic Free Kameng River is an Obligation, not a Choice,’ in collaboration with the Miss Arunachal Team; East Kameng Social Welfare & Cultural Organisation (EKSWCO); East Kameng Gorkha Welfare Society(EKGWS); Women Welfare Organisation(WWO); District Urban Development Agency(DUDA-Seppa); Himalayan Help Page(HHP); East Kameng Christian Forum(EKCF); Fine Arts Club, Seppa and various other volunteers.
Their innovation is inspirational. On Independence Day last year, the Club organized an exhibition of recycled plastic in dustbins, chairs, decorative items and a host of other products. For April 9, the team is ready with a boat made of recycled plastic, to which a motor is attached, which they will use during the cleanup drive.
*Indira Khurana, PhD is the Chair of the Indian Himalayan River Basins Council and Vice-Chair of Tarun Bharat Sangh