End Plastics

This is how Antwada, an EARTHDAY.ORG star village is reviving Kali River

If humans decide to revive the natural resources, nature supports; the forest region of village Antwada is a perfect example of this. The river Kali East (also known as Nagin river because of the serpentine route it follows) emanates from the ground aquifers of village Antwada and is one of the tributaries of river Ganga.

Originating from the forests of Antwada village in Jansad tehsil of Muzaffarnagar district, the river flows like a small stream for about 3 kms with clear waters. It had gone in oblivion during the past two decades since it was being used as a dumping ground with contaminants, untreated effluents and indiscriminate use of polythene from many sources disposed into it all along its course.

According to the elderly residents of Antwada village, there is an ancient mythological story about the origin of this river. Once upon a time, a saint lived across the village in a hut near a Mahale tree. An ardent follower of river Ganga, he would go to Ganga in Shukratal every morning to bathe. When he got old, it became difficult for him to travel the distance.

So one day after bathing at the river Ganga, he prayed that he could not come again as it was no longer possible for him to travel this distance every day. He urged that if Holy Ganga wished for him to bathe in Ganga every day, then it will have to come to his place at Antwada. Unable to bear the agony of not being able to follow his daily practice of bathing in the river, he could not sleep the whole night.

Next day, a bull is believed to have hit at the Mahale tree near the saint’s hut. Because of the bull’s actions, a group of snakes residing in the tree came out. One of the female snakes went towards the south direction. It is believed that a water stream followed her wherever she moved. Hence, the river is also known as “Naagin River”. It is thus believed that the origin of this river is from that tree, and the saint bathed in this stream every day until his death.

From another perspective of science, the groundwater level of the area around Antwada village is much higher than other regions (even today at 10 feet) so that water flowed naturally from that point. The water flowed in a stream, and when other streams joined it, it became a river. The farmers over the years covered this stream and started farming on it.

Thereafter, it was turned into a dumping drain with all sorts of garbage flowing. The river which gave life to others was dying to get its own life back. Along its 300 kms long-flowing stream, it is being used as a drain and has become poisonous. It is also one of the main contributors of pollution in the Holy River Ganga when it merges with it at Kannauj.

The Kali river flows through eight districts of Uttar Pradesh before its confluence with Ganga river at a distance of 598 kms from Antwada. The river has over 1,200 villages situated on its bank, and the highly populated and predominantly rural catchment entirely depends on the Kali river as a water resource for domestic, agricultural and industrial use. At the originating point, the river is seen as a freshwater drain, but after flowing for about one kilometre, it takes the shape of a river, with water accumulating from different aquifers.

Key industries, including sugar processing units and their associated alcohol manufacturing distilleries, paper mills, dairies and tanneries discharge their effluents in this river. Besides, Kali river receives a large volume of untreated sewage from thousands of major and minor habitations around it, domestic waste water-flow and dead animals are also dumped in the river.

Due to this mismanagement of a vital water resource, its physio-chemical qualities have deteriorated so much that it has affected the groundwater too. The polluted river carries waterborne viruses and bacteria and is responsible for the ill health of the people. However, the marginalized community residing within the catchment area is bound to consume the highly polluted water. The residents are left with no option other than to fend for themselves or die of neglect.

The major pollution problem diminishes at Aligarh as no industrial waste is added between Aligarh and Kannauj where it meets Holy Ganga at Mendiganj Ghaat at Gangaraj village. It was the awakened consciousness of the residents of Antwada village who felt that for this dark journey of river Kali (East) and considered themselves responsible for the state of river Kali. Hence, a people’s campaign to ‘Clean River Kali’ was launched.

Determined for the cause of the society, under the leadership of Raman Tyagi of NEER Foundation, the villagers were informed about the impact of a polluted river through several awareness programs during the past five years. They made wall paintings in the villages with messages to save the Kali River.

A documentary was produced highlighting the causes and extent of pollution in the Kali River and its harmful impact on the environment and human health. All the public representatives in the regions along the Kali River catchment are being made aware of the present disgraceful situation of the river through letters. They are being requested to extend support to the organisation towards saving this river.

Representatives from various civil society organisations and students are being involved in the campaign on a mass level. International organisations working on river conservation such as FIAN International, FANSA, International River Foundation, World Environment Federation, India Water Partnership, WWF, Govternment of India, World River Forum, International Water Association and EARTHDAY.ORG are supporting the campaign. A coordinator has been appointed in each of the eight districts through which the Kali River flows, who are working to save the river.

The villagers of Antwada gathered and formed Nadi Raksha Samities (River Protection Committees). Based on these Samities (Committees), a Kali river Parliament has been formed. Health camps are organized in the villages to highlight their plight and support provided on medical facilities. The villagers were educated and sensitized not to drink the polluted water from the hand-pumps installed in the villages and not to irrigate their fields from the river water.

They were regularly convinced to clean the river. As a result of community-led efforts to revive the river which included sending grievance letters to Pollution Control Board and Human Rights Commission, there is some hope. The Planning Department of the Uttar Pradesh government has now prepared a scheme worth ₹88 crores to make the Kali river pollution-free.

On November 21, 2019, the villagers of Antwada scaled up their efforts from sporadic cleaning of plastic waste and plantation activities, to digging at large scale and cleaning the river themselves with voluntary labour. The honest approach of the villagers who donated 148 bighas of their farming land to revive the river, influenced many organizations to join hands. The Minister of State, Government of India, Mr Sanjeev Baliyan, has now adopted this village for development. Regular action plans are made to clean the river kilometer-by-kilometer until the community achieves the target of cleaning it up to Kannauj.

With the support provided by Raman Tyagi of NEER Foundation, Meerut, the community became aware and joined hands to revive their traditional heritage: River Kali. This dedication and integrated community approach of the villagers by providing manual labour, sacrificing their agricultural land and volunteering to form River Protection Committees and Kali River Parliament, established a sustainable model for the revival of the river. This community-managed model is worth replication pin other parts of the country and even overseas, and India can feel proud to see the dream of Swachh Bharat Mission come true with such social approaches and efforts.

Looking at the unique approach adopted in Antwada village, EARTHDAY.ORG conferred the “Star Village” certificate on February 2, 2020, to the village. The day marked the commemoration of World Wetland Day, and it was an appropriate day to recognize the work of the lost wetland that has now been revived in Uttar Pradesh.

We appeal to all citizens of Earth to please do your bit to help clean up our planet. For an opportunity to record your efforts and get recognition for the same, click here! Subscribe to take action on Earth Day 2021 and consider becoming a member to support our work in the environmental movement.

Photo credit for image at top: Youth Ki Awaaz. This article was first published on February 9, 2020 by EARTHDAY.ORG India on Youth Ki Awaaz, one of the largest online content platforms on social and environmental justice issues.