The rivers should flow

By Kaushik Das Gupta
Published: Thursday 30 September 2004

-- The Source of Life for Sale by K P Sasi 2004 70 minutes

An empty plastic bottle floating ignominiously on a river, that is the apt metaphor with which The Source of Life for Sale opens. The issue at hand: commercial interests acquiring unfettered rights over water. The film shows how many of India's rivers have either dried up completely or are being continually 'abused' by corporate companies. The Bharatapuzha and the Periyar in Kerala and the Sheonath in Chattisgarh are a few of these. That is not all, as we are told; the government also has plans to hand over water supplies in Delhi to the French company Suez Degremont.

But the film is not just polemics. The director interviews activists and experts to build up the case against the privatisation of water. The narrative's strength lies in combining these testimonies with little vignettes to show how rivers are intricately linked to the lives of those who live by it -- an obvious fact, but one that needs constant reiteration even as proponents of privatisation obscure it in numerous ways. So when 23.6 kilometres of the Sheonath is handed over to the Radius Water Inc, communities who had lived by it for ages lose all rights over it overnight.

Frame by frame, the director documents the struggles against similar diabolical moves in other parts of the country: a human chain protesting the sale of the Malampuzha dam in Kerala; a woman fasting herself to death in defiance against the sale of the Kelo river in Chattisgarh; and massive people's movements against pollution of groundwater by Coca Cola in Plachimada, Kerala as well as in Shivaganga, Tamil Nadu.

River interlinking is another issue that is discussed in the film. Environmentalist Vandana Shiva is shown decrying the project. In her opinion, if undertaken, it will have a detrimental effect on aquatic life and human population alike. While critiquing the river interlinking project the director abandons the hitherto adopted technique of interspersing interviews with sneak peeks into people's lives . The stylistic shift possibly owes itself to the fact that interlinking rivers is an area shrouded in official secrecy and people have little clue about the ramifications of the project. All this is a little too much for the 70-minute footage, in places the information appears as a bland narrative, marring the overall cinematic effectiveness of the film.

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