Anamaria Aristizabal from Colombia studied biology and environmental studies at Mount Holyoke college in the USA. She wrote a thesis on a model of sustainable neighborhood development in cities, and is concerned with sustainable development issues. Her current position is with Ashoka Foundation, a global non profit which supports the work of social entrepreneurs, creative individuals with an innovative idea for social/environmental change. She came to India to learn directly from these innovators and take this knowledge back to her country.
Andrew Blackwell is a Washington-based freelance journalist and documentary maker. His articles have been published in a number of magazines and journals. He visited India to gather information about its varied culture and report on the existing traditions.
They spoke to Eco Friends on what they saw of Ganga in Kanpur.
What image did you have of the river Ganga when you came to India?
Andrew: When I came from the US, I heard that the river was very polluted and had an idea of its contamination. But that got changed when I saw Ganga near Hardwar. Now I have a third impression after I have seen the stretch of Ganga in Kanpur, which I believe is more like a flowing muck.
Anamaria: I went with Andrew and my impressions about Ganga have also been changing.
The Hindus rever Ganga as a God and worship it. But at the same time, you find that the pollution in the river is increasing. Don’t you think this is a paradox?
Andrew: Yes, it definitely is. It is ironic that the river is given so much respect but very little care is taken to depollute it.
Anamaria: I don’t think there is too much of a paradox because it is not the same people who pray and adore the river and those who pollute it. People who really worship the river are those who realize the importance of religion. It is the industrialists, who are more westernized, who make the Ganga water toxic. I know there are also people who seek obeisance from the river but throw garbage and worship materials in the river. However, their impact is not as big as that of the industrial effluents.
Bogota river passes through your country. What similarities and differences do you find in Ganga and Bogota river?
Anamaria: The level of industrial pollution in Bogota river is more or less the same as in Ganga. It is a shame to see a river right next to your house is so polluted. The difference is that in Columbia we do not have that religious significance attached to the river as it is in India. So, here you can even harness the power of spirituality. But there, we have to work from zero and even making them understand that a river is sacred. But you already have it in this country and so it is a plus.
Does attitude also play a role in the protection of environment?
Anamaria: Hinduism advocates a simple lifestyle and to protect natural resources. People who exploit the nature are away from tradition. May be they can put label that they are Hindus but they really are not. They are westerners in the worst sense of the word. They are not true Hindus.
Andrew: I agree with that. In all these issues a lot of problem comes down to people’s willingness to make a change in however so small it may be. If you take the case of polybags. It takes a certain amount of effort to carry your basket but people don’t bother. It may be more convenient to use more electricity and more water and buy products of industries which are toxic than to find an alternative. Many people have ideals that the question is that are they willing to incorporate them in everyday choices they make. If they do so that would affect the industry a lot.
You have seen many apparatus of the Ganga Action Plan Phase I (GAP I) built to clean the river lying unfunctional. The GAP I has failed miserably. What do you think is the biggest reason behind the project’s failure?
Andrew: One major problem is accountability. It seems that the times when things under GAP have moved forward are only when the higher authorities or groups like Eco Friends have exerted pressure on those who are responsible for GAP implementation. There should have been accountability built into the project, the agencies would not have passed on the buck or shifted responsibility.
Anamaria: To add to it, I think the lack of continuity in government has marred the project. It is too difficult to concentrate in working in such a state of affairs. The government should build trust and help in establishing relationship with the people. But because this is absent, the government is unable to prolong programmes in a sustained way that would lead to the desired impact. That is why organizations like Eco Friends can bring about that continuity.
You visited the villages along the Ganga river and Pandu river, a tributary of Ganga, which are being polluted. How was your interaction with the villagers?
Anamaria: My impression is that they are aware but they do not know what to do about it. Language is a barrier but I saw that they were very receptive and were eager to learn. Eco Friends has been a facilitators in raising their voice, that is what villagers told me.
Andrew: My interaction with them was through translations. Most of them seemed to be aware of the problems. They know tannery waste being discharged into the river in huge quantities and that if it is used as drinking water or put into irrigation, it triggers a host of diseases and destroys crops.
But I think their concern is not organized. Eco Friends can organize their knowledge and energy.
Now GAP Phase II has been launched. Do you think government would be able to plug the existing loopholes in GAP I?
Andrew: The government on its own would not plug the loopholes. I think it is good that they have a plan. But I think that only by pressures being brought on to the implementers either by the grassroot people or by the court to make the project work.
Anamaria: He is right. I think not only pressure should be exerted to implement the plan but to complete the plan successfully However, I feel that the plan itself is not good enough and leaves out many important aspects like nalas that go into the river despite being tapped and the irrigation water that comes from the treatment plants whose water is not treated effectively.
What picture of Ganga would you take back home?
Andrew: Although Ganga is polluted, I will take back the impression that there are many people who really care about Ganga and want to reduce its pollution.
Anamaria: Ganga is contaminated. But there are a few like Rakesh Jaiswal of Eco Friends who have taken upon themselves the huge challenge to depollute Ganga. I will take back that spirit of entrepreneurship with me.
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