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If The PM’s Mission Is To Save Water, This Is One Move That He Must Not Make

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By Bharat Lal Seth:

With an enduring drought ravaging many parts of the country, last month the Prime Minister waxed eloquent on the need to safeguard water during his monthly radio monologue. He raised some valid points on cropping patterns, frugal water use, collection and storage traditions etc., but he was conspicuously silent on the need to protect wetlands.

Perhaps it’s no coincidence then that the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change recently published a draft Wetland Rules, 2016. The new rules, to put it bluntly, will give land sharks further occasion to confine, constrain and encroach upon these critical ecosystems. The draft dilutes critical provisions and seeks to supersede the Wetland Rules of 2010, which first attempted to curb the unchecked land grab of our wetlands.

More than 5o million hectares in India are covered by wetlands by some estimates. These areas are incredibly important to the water cycle and mitigate the intensity of both floods and droughts. During dry periods, they retain water and recharge the aquifers. In the wet season, wetlands act like a sponge, absorbing excess water and reducing the volume of floods. Concretising and change of land use has and will continue to diminish the ability to endure a drought. On the flip side, recent floods in Srinagar and Chennai were exacerbated given the unchecked urban encroachment of wetlands.

The 2010 rules, even with their limitations, were the first legally enforceable rules for protecting wetlands in India. The rules tasked state governments with preparing a document that identifies and classifies wetlands within their jurisdiction within one year. To this day, not a single state government has done so. While activists have taken the fight to the National Green Tribunal, the new draft is contented to leave it to the state government to notify wetlands, but now without any stipulated timeframe. Rather than strengthening and enforcing the targets, the Environment Ministry has sought to abdicate its responsibility. It is most peculiar that neither any explanation for revising the Rules is given, nor any mention of the process.

The 2010 rules, while not perfect, were strong: They prohibited specific activities such as reclamation of land, setting up of industry, solid waste dumping, and discharge of untreated waste. They stipulated that water withdrawals, fishing, grazing, dredging and other such activities could only be undertaken after prior approval from the state government. These provisions have been done away with.

Instead, the restricted activities have been vaguely clubbed so as to only allow “wise use of wetland” in order to maintain “ecological character”, by taking an “ecosystem approach”. The new draft is cleverly imprecise in its wording, employing vaguely enforceable yet seemingly well-meaning jargon. One can’t help but conclude that it has been drafted with the intention of escaping penal action.

The draft rules also dissolve the Central Wetland Authority, and instead delegates the responsibility to the formation of state authorities, chaired by the respective Chief Minister. This Authority will in turn report to the State Government, also headed by the Chief Minister. A report to be prepared and assessed by the same people isn’t good practice.

Academics, NGOs, and civil society representatives were given until June 5 to register their objections or suggestions to the draft. Several meetings were held across the country, online petitions signed, and numerous notes and comments submitted to the Ministry. A group of activists has also made a submission to work with the government to draw up a plan to implement and strengthen the Wetland (Conservation and Management) Rules 2010. They have rejected, in its entirety, the new draft.

The expanse of a wetland is often identified where the water table is at or near the surface, or the land is covered by shallow water. Given these characteristics, wetlands are easily encroached and reclaimed. Because they are not easily demarcated, it’s essential that we establish a consultative and multi-disciplinary approach within a stipulated timeline to identify and notify wetlands across the country. Their importance cannot be overstated, given the climate variability and growing intensity of both heat and rainfall, and consequently India’s susceptibility to flood and drought.

The Prime Minister must intervene. The ball is in the Ministry’s court.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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