ByÂ Deepa Gupta:
This week brings the curtains down on the dramatic electoral process of the world’s largest democracy. And, as the country’s most keenly-watched, high-profile political showdown of 2014 peaks in Varanasi, not only has it attracted political party workers and the media in droves, it also sees the country’s environment-conscious taking a stand for a clean river basin in the Ganges heartland.
We at Jhatkaa.org and Varanasi-based Sankat Mochan Foundation (SMF) are actively mobilizing citizens in an effort to save the river Ganga. Working at the streets, ghats, and colleges, including the Benaras Hindu University (BHU), we are reaching out, educating, and spreading the ‘Clean Ganga’ message through person-to-person contact, SMS, interactive voice response (IVR), missed calls, email, cutting-edge web tools, and social networks. Volunteers have participated in street theatre, passed out more than 3,000 fliers, and generated approximately 4,500 missed calls and 2,000 online signatures asking candidates from AAP, BJP, and Congress to give specific details on how they would clean the Ganga.
This week, members of Jhatkaa also met with AAP’s Arvind Kejriwal and Congress’ Ajay Rai to press for specific commitments on Ganga and to deliver all of the petition signatures. AAP’s representative indicated they agreed with Jhatkaa’s five-point proposal in principle, but is yet to officially commit. Congress avoided giving specifics, and BJP keeps delaying meeting with us. Samajwadi Party’s candidate from Varanasi, Â Kailash Chaurasia will be meeting with us tomorrow.
The inclusion of a Clean Ganga in the election manifesto released by the BJP in the second week of April was a shot in the arm for the campaign as it came close on the heels of the AAP’s Kejriwal committing and formally launching the campaign on 25th March 2014 from Tulsi Ghat. AAP followed up the commitment by including the Clean Ganga clause in the party’s draft manifesto released on 3rd April 2014.
However, as of today, none of the parties have pledged to implement Jhatkaa’s five-point proposal on cleaning the Ganga.
The five-point proposal is based on research done by the Sankat Mochan Foundation and offers solutions to an issue that has dogged the river for decades now. The SMF research paper concludes that sewage treatment plants in Varanasi and elsewhere are ridiculously dysfunctional. They fail to remove disease-causing micro-organisms such as E. Coli, and irregular supply of electricity makes the treatment plants completely unreliable. Furthermore, dozens of key locations where the sewage enters the river are never captured for treatment in the first place. That’s why whoever is elected must design sewage treatment systems that:
1. Capture sewage from all the sources where it enters the river
2. Work primarily on gravity, instead of electricity
3. Remove all harmful bacteria present so that citizens don’t suffer from cholera, typhoid and various intestinal diseases
4. Reclaim water, precious nutrients and energy for re-use
5. Are up to the challenge of the volume of sewage we’re actually dealing with today, and anticipate into the foreseeable future.
The Clean Ganga campaign demands that parties contesting from the city address issues related to cleaning the Ganga and clearly spell out their plans to ensure a clean river within the next term of office, along with reporting structures that advocate transparency and accountability before the next election. These demands are based on the failure of the Ganga Action Plan (GAP) which was introduced in the 1980’s with the aim of ensuring a sewage-free river. Since then, a succession of governments – Congress, BJP, and an array of state level parties have failed to deliver on GAP’s promises while spending an estimated Rs.950 crore in the last 28 years. Today, eight hundred and twenty five crore litres of sewage flows into the Ganga and its tributaries every day and directly impacts 400 million people across India and 2 million in Varanasi alone.
Join the campaign by giving a MISSED CALL to 080-307-52567 or signing the petition online here.
Photo Credits:Â Rachita Taneja (Lead Campaigner,Â Jhatkaa.org)
About the author: Deepa Gupta, Executive Director, Jhatkaa.org, is a leading voice within the global youth climate movement. She co-founded The Indian Youth Climate Network in 2008, worked on Greenpeace India’s ground breaking mobile advocacy platform and led the development of India operations for Change.org
Jhatkaa.org is a campaigning organisation committed to building grassroots citizen power across India in effective and innovative ways enabling people to act as the tipping point on an issue.Â