Cleaning up the Ganga

WinS Vice Chair P T Prabhakar (extreme right) and NMCG Director General U P Singh after signing the MoU in the presence of RI President John Germ, WinS Target Challenge Committee Chair Sushil Gupta and Member Secretary Ramesh Aggarwal.
WinS Vice Chair P T Prabhakar (extreme right) and NMCG Director General U P Singh after signing the MoU in the presence of RI President John Germ, WinS Target Challenge Committee Chair Sushil Gupta and Member Secretary Ramesh Aggarwal.

Rotary India WinS Committee has signed an MoU with the National Mission for Clean Ganga (NMCG), Ministry of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation. The two year agreement was signed by WinS Vice Chair P T Prabhakar and the NMCG Director General U P Singh in the presence of RI President John Germ and WASH in Schools Target Challenge Committee Chair and TRF Trustee Sushil Gupta. PRIP Rajendra Saboo, Judy Germ, Unicef’s Chief Communication Officer Mario Mosquera Vasquez and WinS Member ­Secretary Ramesh ­Aggarwal were also present.

Through this agreement, Rotary will support the Clean Ganga mission through campaigns in schools located on the river basin to promote positive sanitation practices. “We have already undertaken to usher in good hygiene practices and behavioural change in children in 20,000 government schools across the country, and we will integrate that with the Ganga ­Rejuvenation theme. The idea is to reach out to approximately 500 schools in Bihar, Jharkhand and West Bengal’s Nadia district and sensitise students and communities to participate in revitalising the Ganga and discourage open defecation and polluting the river with domestic and industrial wastes,” said WinS Chair Gupta.

We are emotionally and spiritually duty bound to carry out this programme, because Ganga is not an ordinary river, it is the lifeline of India.
WinS Committee Chair Sushil Gupta

Recollecting his involvement in the Gangotri Conservation project undertaken by the ­Himalayan Environment Trust, of which he is a Founder Trustee, and having made several trips between Gomukh, the glacier from where river Ganga originates and Haridwar, Gupta said the first human pollution begins at Uttarkashi. Without means for proper garbage disposal, the waste is dumped in an open site which is washed into the river during heavy rains. Further downstream after leaving the ­Himalayas, it picks up effluents from sugar refineries, distilleries, paper mills and tanneries, along its course and the contaminated agricultural runoff from the Great Gangetic Plains, home to half a billion people. “By the time it drains into the Bay of Bengal, more than 1,500 miles from its source, it has passed through Allahabad, ­Varanasi, Patna, ­Kolkata and a hundred small towns, cities and villages — all lacking in sanitation. We are emotionally and spiritually duty bound to carry out this programme, with full zeal, because Ganga is not an ordinary river, it is the lifeline of India,” he said.

An AV rendition of the Namami Gange anthem sung by Trichur Brothers — Srikrishna Mohan and Ramkrishna Mohan — gave an overview of the significance of the river to the visiting dignitaries.

Judy Germ, RI President John Germ, PRIP Rajendra K Saboo, WinS Chair Sushil Gupta at the Rotary-NMCG MoU signing event.
Judy Germ, RI President John Germ, PRIP Rajendra K Saboo, WinS Chair Sushil Gupta at the Rotary-NMCG MoU signing event.

Every eight seconds, some child dies due to lack of clean water and proper sanitation. “We are here today because Rotary shares a deep commitment for healthy, clean environment for children,” said President Germ, who visited three schools where the WinS project has been implemented. ­Complimenting Trustee Gupta for initialising the WinS programme now being implemented in five countries as a pilot, he said, “Judy and I were impressed by the handwash stations installed at these schools and I particularly liked the jingle that the children sang while washing their hands. As a TEAM — Together Everyone Achieves More — I am sure we can do more. Not just cleaning the river, we can provide clean, healthy water to many children that right now do not have the opportunity.” He said he would play this jingle to  the RI Board members.

PRIP Saboo said, “The Ganga is our Amrit-dhara. There are little children residing on her banks and their lives are also at stake due to the heavy contamination of the river. For me this an auspicious moment as we take this significant step to address the issue.”

Prabhakar observed that March being designated Rotary’s Water and Sanitation Month, “it is only appropriate that we are launching our support for the Clean Ganga mission today. Our first major partnership with the GoI for polio eradication resulted in a Polio-free India in 2014. In December that year we signed an agreement with the government to provide water and sanitation facilities in 20,000 schools under Swachh Bharat. We have completed 9,000 schools so far. I am sure that by extending the WinS programme to meet the NMCG’s objectives, we can effect positive behavioural change in communities on the Ganga basin, and help reduce pollution of the river.”

Singh said that the collaboration will help in utilising Rotary’s strength to spread the message and reach out to communities effectively. “I have been working with Rotary for more than 30 years now. Rotary has made its mark and its presence is felt throughout the country. Educating people about our mission is no mean job and a step in the right direction.” But it is a huge effort as the river passed through 11 States. “Besides addressing industrial contamination, we have to work on the mindset of people. It is difficult to reverse long-ingrained traditional practices.”

Vasquez assured Unicef’s support to the cause while complimenting Gupta for the successful performance of the WinS programme.

Pictures by Jaishree

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