The study of nature surrounding the flowing water is as complicated as Shiva’s dreadlocks
Identity crisis of a river!
By Kaushal Kishore*
In the context of Ganga, Rambha doesn’t mean Alakananda. She has her own identity. Secrets of Alakananda River is difficult to unearth without an acquaintance with Rishikesh.
The Alakananda is a main stream of the Ganga in Garhwal. Walking down a little since the beginning at AlkaPuri, a thousand streams join her at Sahasra Dhara. Near Vasu Dhara Fall, before reaching BadriNath shrine, the Saraswati joins her at Keshav Prayag to strengthen the flow. At RudraPrayag, the Mandakini confluences with her. But still she maintains her identity thereafter. And before the Ganga descends unto the plains, certain rivers and streams join her at Rishikesh also to be referred to as the Hrishikeshi. Here, the dialogue dealing with holy river is impossible in absence of her tributaries and the lake like Rambha at the southern end of the Yoga Capital, and before that, certain fountains like Rishi Kund and Saraswati Kund. All full of life within and also in the surroundings.
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Copiously wearing Shiva’s dreadlocks cannot guarantee an access to it. The study of nature surrounding the flowing water is as complicated as the locks in his hairs.
Today the world seems to fight against the pandemic and a series of lockdowns and unlocking. Recently three quarters of India recovered from floods in different parts. Repeated sale and purchase, over the years, of the floodplains of the Rambha at Rishikesh is in focus. Its conservation can restore the river and her biodiversities.
Rambha Drain Project is a part of Namami Gange scheme. It defines the present situation of the Ganga River Basin along with past and future as well. This river is hardly three miles long, but duly mentioned in the scriptures. The forest region on its banks are illegally occupied heavily, however, sources are yet to be dried up completely. The cane bunches that surround its headwaters effortlessly remind a verse from Ram Charit Manas by Tulsi Das:
Phoolahi Phalahi Na Beit, Jadapi Sudha Varshahi Jalad.
Murakh Hridaya Na Chet, Jou Guru Milahi Viranchi Sama
(Cane doesn’t bear flowers and fruits, however the cloud pours elixir. Similarly the fool doesn’t learn, even though the teacher is like Lord Brahma). The process to convert Rambha lake and Rambha river into Rambha drainage has been going on for a long time. Recently the District Magistrate has ordeted demolition of all construction works within twenty one meters of its banks. As a result, residents of that locality started the protest against it. Again the Rambha is making headlines.
Rishikesh Municipal Corporation annexed into it the dense population of this region in recent history. About fifty thousand voters are there. Municipal leaders have been active since 1960s to settle them there. The competition among leaders having vote banks is obvious in order to take advantage of the situation. Here the leaders appear to be led by the crowd, instead of leading them. They can convert the Rambha into the drainage with the help of each other. Meanwhile most of the leaders of municipal corporation announced their support in favour of its encroachment. Now the District Magistrate can also validate it after payment of the penalty to the exchequer. In case of the little tributary of the Ganges, these acts will be considered as an example of the loss at end for the short-term gain. The legitimacy to such encroachment on the water sources after the payment of compensation was declared illegal by the Supreme Court almost a decade ago. Thereafter the SC was flooded with such cases, and thus the cases were diverted to the National Green Tribunal that formed committees headed by the babus for the disposal of justice as a ritual.
Perhaps for the first time in 1952, the Gandhian environmentalist, Mira Behn (AKA Madeleine Slade) had opposed the pine forests to replace the oak in the Himalayas. Later it proved to be the cornerstone of the Chipko movement to protect the trees in the hills. In the same period she has chosen Rishikesh to create a new unit of Hind Swaraj. Its testimony i.e. Bapu Gram and Pashulok Ashram are still there today. But it was not her last resting ground. A decade after the Sino-India War in 1962 has further diminished the remaining possibilities of Swadeshi and Swaraj. It reflects from study of post war development that the strategic approach seems to dominate in this region. In this regard capitalist and socialist powers focused on industrial development and formation of civil society to replace the village. The working class migrants were encouraged to settle in the clusters now known as Shivaji Nagar and Sarvahara Nagar around Bapu Gram. After four decades of development the world shifted the discussion towards post development, and the efforts turned towards globalization. What a beautiful joke is it! During the same period the inhabitants of these settlements, converted the natural forest of Shivalik Range into the jungle of concrete. Today these properties have changed hands at least two dozen times. The consciousness of this imported class is more suited to the civilization of cities. As such they have discarded the rural environment and its culture. This class can easily compromise with the quality of air, water, milk and foodstuffs, but don’t like to deny the fashion of modernity.
Walking down the origins of Rambha, one can learn that the cane does not bear flowers and fruits, but its other qualities are worth mentioning. Nothing equals to it so far serving the river source like a newborn baby is concerned. People from countries like Palestine and Israel are ready to dream about such a vibrant river without even closing the eyes. People, for a long time, claimed to be a part of Mother Nature by preserving this biodiversity. The expanse between the mastery on nature and the endless possibilities of destruction appears today. The women, who arrived here from Britain to know Indian cultures and the Mahatma, could not dream of destroying it, but the Indians engaged in carrying forward the heritage of the West, put the sewage into this river. As such they have forced the governments to declare it the dirty drain.
The conservation of the floodplains of the Rambha can also pave the way for the revival of Himalayan villages that suffers from migration. The repetition of the experiments of Bapu Gram, Pashulok and Kisan Ashram in those villages are the need of the hour. It has become all the more relevant in the light of the fresh tensions on the border with Tibet and Nepal, and Atma Nirbhar Bharat Abhiyan (self reliance campaign). The society and the government should focus how to face the challenges of such sustainable efforts. In this process it’s not appropriate to ignore the leaders able to communicate with the masses directly.
The problems in the upstream of the Ganga also create difficulty for people living in the downstream. The Chief Minister of Bihar that again suffered severe flood this year has been dreaming to remove the Farakka Barrage. There is a need to take into account such interconnected issues and to change the attitude in order to avoid the natural calamities of the future.
This modernity that can turn this tributary of the Ganga into a dirty drain needs to be avoided. A similar problem stands in the way of many small and big rivers today. The failure to save the floodplains of the Rambha will determine the future of all other sources of the Ganga. The Indian cultures have treated the sources of water as a living creature in order to conserve them. But the ancient tradition that maintained the dignity of the water bodies are dying. The disease of glittering gold development seems to wipe out the human civilization on the planet.
Meanwhile, at Haridwar, the fasting for Aviral-Nirmal Ganga came to an end after a month with a new ban on mining. The river is impossible in absence of floodplains that define its banks and water flow that connects the sources with the sea.
*The writer is a social activist and author of The Holy Ganga (Rupa, 2008), Managing Editor of Panchayat Sandesh, and his column Across The Lines appears in the vernacular publications.