Rotary brings to life a lost river

Rotarians and children cleaning the River Kalyani in Rudrapur.
Rotarians and children cleaning the River Kalyani in Rudrapur.

Members of RC Rudrapur, RID 3110, spent an afternoon in mid-February planting saplings as part of an ambitious ₹20-lakh re-greening and rejuvenation project along the River Kalyani in Rudrapur, Uttarakhand. They were joined by the local people living along the river, Rotaractors, college students, volunteers and local political leaders in the clean-up and setting up of the Kalyani Vatika (garden). “Our rivers are depleting due to the pressures of population and development. Floods and droughts are becoming increasingly frequent as vanished rivers come to life during the monsoon and dry-up once the rainy season is over. Climate change crises are at an all-time high. We cannot afford to lose our rivers,” says Dr D K Bhatt, club member and initiator of the project.

Now it is an absolute delight to watch people come here for a walk, or schoolchildren enjoy a picnic.

Plastic and chemical waste, worn-out furniture, heaps of clothes, used face masks and sometimes even dead animals, float in the river, “making it a horrible sight and giving out an unbearable odour,” says Bhatt who discussed the issue at a club meeting and “almost every member wanted to do something about it.”

The project team learnt that the river once served as a major source of water for the city. “Unfortunately, we lost it along the way to population explosion and rapid urbanisation, ” he says. A plan was chalked out and the club approached the municipal corporation. “Both the mayor and municipal commissioner were impressed with our plan and granted official permission to start the work.”

Dr-Bhatt-at-a-cleaning-drive

The club also released a documentary on the history of the river which resulted in people participating in an online appeal to close an industrial waste canal that was polluting it. To sensitise the local community and gain support for this cause, nukkad nataks (street plays), painting competitions and awareness drives were organised by club members, Rotaractors and school and college students. Children from the community living along the river banks were so inspired by the street plays and the frequent awareness drives that “they too wanted to volunteer in the clean-up. While a few joined our weekly awareness rally, close to 10 children wearing gloves and holding gardening forks walked up to the site to help us. Pictures from the clean-up went viral and in no time, we had more people and organisations wanting to participate. Now a CSR partnership with Tata Chemicals is in progress.”

Rotarians plant saplings and create a garden on the river bank.
Rotarians plant saplings and create a garden on the river bank.

In the initial stage, along with the help of volunteers from across Rudrapur, a 100-metre area leading up to the river was cleaned. “It was the most difficult part because piles of garbage made it look like a waste dumping site. It took us a couple of days to clear the surface to reach the water,” he says. Cleaning a river isn’t just about the water. “We wanted to ensure that the waste was responsibly segregated and everything that could be recycled was put away separately.”

Children create awareness about the river rejuvenation project.
Children create awareness about the river rejuvenation project.

This was followed by cleaning and desilting of the river bed and securing the soil with vegetation to avoid erosion. “A catchment-based approach not only improves the health of the river but also the land. This in turn will benefit the whole landscape of our city,” says club president Vikas Sharma.

For the Kalyani Vatika, around 500 saplings of native trees were planted along the river that stretches to 2km. The club has also installed a dozen benches and seats “to give local people an area to relax and enjoy the scenery. This works both as an awareness programme and enhances the club’s public image,” says Sharma.

Youngsters performing a nukkad natak.
Youngsters performing a nukkad natak.

Bhat points out that the cleaning of the River Kalyani and setting up of the garden is a great example of how “Rotary-funded and partnered projects have a direct and positive impact on the local community. It is an absolute delight to watch people come here for a walk, or schoolchildren enjoy a picnic. To top it all our club has moved its meeting venue to the Vatika,” smiles Bhat.

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