(March 16-22, 2003)

Eco Friends conducted a massive Ganga Clean-Up Campaign in Kanpur from March 16 to March 22, 2003. The objective behind this campaign was to make the 10 km stretch of Kanpur Ganga visibly clean by eliminating non-point sources of pollution and other polluting practices. It also aimed to sensitize the masses that Ganga, which is our national heritage, has been polluted beyond measure. We also wanted to galvanise government agencies and evolve a long term strategy in controlling growing pollution in Ganga. The idea of our campaign was not to clean the Ganga regularly but to bring attention of the authorities towards the sources of pollution and stop them at source itself.

Dead bodies floating on the river are repulsive and offensive to the eyes. People take a holy dip or take aachaman (mouthful of water) while corpses float just yards away from them. This clean Ganga campaign tried to spread the message that dead bodies should not be dumped in the river. Ideally, they should be taken to crematoria or buried in the burial grounds. The campaign also wanted to set a precedent for the masses that non-biodegradable waste like polybags and biodegradable waste like worship materials should be segregated and collected in separate pits. If such segregation practice is achieved it would help in evolving a system for proper waste disposal in the future.

The actual cleaning of Ganga planned in three phases was punctuated and preceded by a series of mass education, awareness and mobilization programmes on the issue of Ganga. On February 22, Eco Friends organized an awareness programme for the Army personnel. On February 24, the students and teachers of St Mary’s Convent were mobilized to join the campaign. Eco Friends also held two awareness programmes for rural womenfolk residing along the Ganga villages in association with Swa Shakti. We held a public hearing for Ganga communities on March 10. All these programmes were aimed at seeking, soliciting and urging an active and enthusiastic participation in Eco Friends Ganga cleaning efforts from people belonging to different sections of the society.

The cleaning programme was done in three phases.

March 16: Ganga Sewa Bharat Sewa (Service to Ganga is service to India), Ganga ko swachcha rehne do (Let Ganga stay clean) and Ganga mein zeher mat gholo (Don’t poison river Ganga).

Slogans like these rent the air as Eco Friends launched the week-long Ganga Cleaning Campaign at Massacre Ghat. Participants included around 40 Ganga Praharis (people from the ghats who have vowed to fight Ganga pollution) and other communities who are directly depended on the river Ganga. They ferried on 20 boats from Massacre ghat to Siddhanath ghat (via Dapka ghat) and stopped people from throwing polythene bags, worship materials which profane the river.

The enthusiasm and the commitment of the Ganga Praharis to depollute Ganga had to be seen to be believed. Forty-year-old Dariyalal, a boatman hailing from Siddhanath ghat, said that he was eking out a mere existence as very few people frequented the ghats. He had joined the campaign because he was confident that a series of such anti-pollution and awareness drives could go a long way in changing the face of polluted Ganga and restore its glory. “Once the river is clean, our livelihood crisis would vanish”, he hoped. Kishorie Nishad echoed his feelings. Ram Kumar of Buriha ghat, a dhanuk (a person who performs cremation) pointed out, “I have stopped floating corpses in the river after Eco Friends made me Ganga Prahari (Ganga custodian). Even though this has hit my living source, I am happy that I am not a party to pollution any more.” Satnarayan from the same community noted that “we bury all dead bodies in the sandy banks of the river and do not dump it in the Ganga now.” Hari Om Shukla of Massacre ghat was of the opinion that the campaign was just a beginning and it would snowball into a movement soon.

Not just mouthing slogans, the participants also indulged in physical cleaning of the river and collected waste and trash floating on the surface of the Ganga and littered on the ghats. While distributing pamphlets to the onlookers, they also urged them to take care of Ganga and help in making it pollution-free. In fact, many passers-by also joined the group and extended their solidarity to the campaigners.

Earlier, executive secretary of Eco Friends Rakesh Jaiswal explained the Ganga community about the importance of the Ganga Cleaning Campaign. He said the campaign could become a success only if the Ganga communities benefit from it in the long run. He emphasized that if the ghats and Ganga kept clean, it would revive the livelihoods which are tottering on the brink.

Members of Dr Iqbal Library also participated in the programme. All these boys were Muslims. This added a secular touch to the campaign. They took a leading role in raising awareness about the prevalent pollution in the Ganga by displaying banners and voicing their concern about the river to the devotees visiting the ghats

March 17: More than 40 children aged 6-12 living on the Ganga ghats swam across the river and collected polybags and worship materials floating on the surface of the river. This was done under the second leg of Eco Friends Clean Ganga Campaign at Golaghat. The polybags and worship materials thus collected were buried in a pit. The children cajoled the devotees not to throw polybags in the river as they were ecologically damaging. Banners such as Don’t offer plastic but prayers to Ganga and Ganga is gasping for breath were also displayed at the ghat. People visiting the ghats were distributed pamphlets as well. These pamphlets urged the masses to listen to the wails of Ganga and save it from a slow death.

At Shuklaganj ghat, members of Eco Friends ferried on boats and raised slogans to spread the Ganga depollution message. Polybags and other wastes were taken out from the river and dumped in pits. The members also explained the people visiting the ghats the necessity to keep Ganga clean.

March 19: A clean-up drive was lauched from Gola Ghat to Massacre Ghat on this day. Simultaneously, the team of Eco Friends with their volunteers comprising Ganga Prahari (Ghat community) and Ganga Vahini (Village community) put thrust to the campaign by raising slogans and spreading the message of a clean and pollution-free Ganga. The volunteers washed the Massacre ghat and called upon the authorities to make the Ganga pollution-free.

March 22: On this crucial World Water Day, Eco Friends with the help of the dhanuk community of the ghats fished out 48 dead bodies (43 corpses and 5 carcasses). These corpses and carcasses were retrieved from 10 km stretch of Kanpur Ganga starting from Shuklaganj to Siddhanath ghat. 15 corpses were retrieved from Shuklaganj, 7 from Chandan ghat, 6 from Dapka ghat and the rest from other ghats along the river.

After retrieving the corpses, these were buried in a huge pit at Budiya ghat. 5 carcasses were buried in a separate pit at the same ghat. The police department helped the Eco Friends members to carry out their campaign under its protection. Eco Friends member Piyush Jaiswal and his team collected the corpses floating in the stretch from upstream Shuklaganj bridge to Buriya ghat. Mohammad Owais and Abdul Shamim took care of the stretch from Buriha ghat to Deohdi ghat. The entire exercise was conducted under the supervision of Rakesh K Jaiswal, the executive secretary of Eco Friends.

In a related event, Eco Friends organized contests for the school children at Massacre ghat. 180 children from St Aloysius High School, Wendy High School, St Mary’s Convent and The Chintels School participated in both the contests. The winner of the on-the-spot English slogan competition was Viddhi Khanna of St Mary’s Convent. She wrote: Ganga is our breath, We shall protect it till our death. Social worker Dr Naim Hamid gave away the prize to the best English slogan. The best Hindi slogan prize was given to Prakhar Mishra of St Aloysius High School by Prakash Kashwan of The Ford Foundation. The best slogan recitation prize went to Mimi Jacob of St Mary’s Convent. ASP Cantonment N. Choudhury gave the prize to Mimi Jacob.

Preeti Shah of St Mary’s Convent was adjudged the winner of the best Ganga Vision. She wrote:

“Whenever the word Ganga comes to our mind, we think of it as a pure and pious divine form. However, if we see Ganga today we will find that it is grossly polluted. People are making it dirty by throwing dead bodies, flowers and other waste materials. We should make people aware that we should not dump dead bodies and other trash in the river because all this will come back to us in the form of a host of diseases.

We all say that Ganga is our mother , it is holy but no one comes forward to clean it to save it. To save Ganga we must fine those who throw waste into it. We should spread the message: Pure Ganga, Holy Ganga.”

After the contest, all the school children cleaned the ghats of polythene, worship material and other trash. The ASP Cantonment N Choudhury, Indian Police Services (IPS) and other police personnel also joined hands to pick up the waste and dump it in a pit at the Massacre ghat. Children were also taken on a boat rally and they displayed placards and banners during the boat rally. The children also distributed pamphlets during the campaign.

Ganga Praharis like Hari Om Shukla, Ram Avtar, Ram Kumar, Radheshyam and Dashrath and Ganga Ambassadors including Shantanu Adhikari participated in the event.

At the outset, Rakesh K Jaiswal of Eco Friends addressed the gathering and told them about the significance of World Water Day. He pointed out to the audience that Ganga can be made clean only when the youth come forward and contribute honestly in the cleaning effort.

The campaign ended on a positive note. Through this campaign, we succeeded in garnering the support of the ghat communities whom we reckon as the custodians of the river. The police department also extended its cooperation to us and so did all the schools we approached. We wanted to make the police personnel take note of the fact that the court has directed that river police should be constituted to check pollution in the river. Therefore, the police department should realize its responsibility in putting the river police force in place. Besides, we also wanted to make children develop a vision for Ganga and understand the importance of their role in protecting the Ganga from pollution.

Since the Ganga Action Plan (GAP) was launched by the government , we roped in authorities to make them aware that most GAP assests were working below their capacity. Although the Assistant City Magistrate participated in our programme, there was no representative from the Kanpur Nagar Nigam or the Central Pollution Control Board.

In 1997, Eco Friends had fished out 180 dead bodies in three phases. This time the dead body retrieval was done to make the authorities realize that the electric crematoriums which are lying like white elephants should be made functional as soon as possible. The government is investing Rs 6 lakh each year on each of the three crematoria in their maintainance and operation. With such a huge annual investment, only one body could be cremated in only one of crematoria in the last one year. It is due to our sustained campaign that the Commissioner Kanpur Division has recently ordered to ensure that unclaimed dead bodies reach the crematoria. We want that the local ghat communities should not allow any dead body dumping in their respective ghats. In case, they retrieve any dead body floating through their ghats, they should be given some remuneration for doing that.

We have also found that Methodist School is keen to collaborate with us in beautifying the Massacre ghat. The discarded clay idols at the ghats would be made use of emulating the Rock Garden in Chandigarh.

The Ganga Clean-up Campaign got wide coverage in the media. All the local dailies such as The Times Of India, Dainik Jagran, Aaj, The Pioneer etc reported our events and the campaign extensively. Doordarshan and Star Plus also did special stories on Eco Friends campaign. These were largely appreciated by the people who matter.

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