Experts say such a policy would be wiser than artificially propping up dead rivers for such events
River and water activists feel that a generic policy for organizing Kumbh Melas is needed and that such a policy would be a real “act of faith”.
The activists’ statements come even as a plea has been filed in the Allahabad High Court seeking a stay on the alleged changing of the natural stream of the Ganga by the district administration as part of preparations for the Kumbh Mela in February next year.
The plea states that at Sangam, the Ganga is naturally divided into two parts but the administration, through machines, was digging out the sand in between the two streams to merge them. This was being done so that a major chunk of land is made available for allotment to seers and religious organisations for setting up their camps during the Kumbh Mela.
The court will take up the matter on December 10.
“Sadly, this is the state of affairs today, as far as rivers are concerned. There is hardly anything natural about river systems. It is all managed,” says Somnath Bandyopadhyay, Associate Professor at the School of Ecology and Environment Studies, Nalanda University, Bihar.
It is worth noting that this is not the first time that a Kumbh Mela is in the crosshairs. At the 2016 Simhastha Kumbh held at Ujjain in Madhya Pradesh, the Shipra river was filled with water from the Narmada as it hardly had any water of its own.
And the year before, groundwater had to be pumped up to maintain a semblance of flow in the Godavari river at the Ardha Kumbh in Nashik.
“There is lots of fudging of data during the Kumbhs. This is because water flow data is classified in India as it is an interstate and international transboundary issue. We need to change that and make flow data declassified. But we need political will for that,” says Bandyopadhyay.
Others feel that not just political but also social will is required to formulate a common policy for Kumbh Melas.
“There has to be a policy definitely. It should be a generic policy which says that the lay of land, river ecology and natural channels of the river must not be interfered with. How such a generic policy is then implemented at the local level can be a matter for local action plans. And we need societal will for that,” says Manoj Mishra of the Yamuna Jiye Abhiyaan.
“A river flows through each of the towns associated with the Kumbh, which is why the festival was held there in the first place. Today, we have destroyed these rivers and prop them up artificially to hold Kumbhs,” says Shripad Dharmadhikari from the Pune-based non-profit Manthan.
He adds: “A long-term policy to maintain the health of these rivers so that religious festivals like the Kumbh can be organised there would be a real act of faith. It would require a lot—reviving and restoring the rivers and bringing them to their natural state. It would not be just a policy decision but would have to be backed up with a lot of actions. And it can be done.”
A C Kamaraj, Expert committee member, river inter-linking and Chairman, NAWAD Tech, Madurai says, “Please have a Kumbh Mela. But do not damage rivers. There is enough of surplus water that gets accumulated during the flood season. This can be used for festivals such as the Kumbh. There is no need to divert water from barrages upstream or from other rivers or from the ground. For instance, 3,000 tmc of water in the Godavari goes to the sea every year. How about harvesting it for the purpose of the Nashik Kumbh?”
Says Mishra: “I only hope that the person who has filed this plea gets a sensible release from the High Court.”
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