Amarkantak, Madhya Pradesh: Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s much-touted Narmada yatra received a thumbs up from Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday. Modi made a strong case for others to replicate the follow-up action plan prepared by the state government to clean the river and the environment.
At a function held in Amarkantak on Monday to mark the conclusion of the 148-day yatra, Modi said the action plan was a good example of “how to do it (clean a river)”. The plan details every action that every functionary needs to take, and even outlines the community’s role, he said, addressing a massive gathering of people at a picturesque locale, 3,500 feet above sea-level, where the Narmada originates. The river is widely revered and Amarkantak, which receives thousands of tourists and devotees every year, will be developed as the first ‘smart city’ in the state.
At the crux of the action plan is the proposal to grow six crore local fruiting trees (instead of water-guzzling eucalyptus) along the bank of the entire 1.097 km-stretch of the river in Madhya Pradesh and construct 11 sewage treatment plants at a cost of Rs 1,500 crore to prevent untreated waste from being offloaded into the river, all by next year.
Modi was also quick to point out that the action plan will generate huge employment. “It is a plan worth emulation and I have told the Madhya Pradesh chief minister to send a copy of the plan to every state for them to draw similar plans for cleaning up rivers with the involvement of local population,” he said.
Even as the NDA government completes three years of its rule at the Centre later this month, Modi turned to his pet scheme Swachh Bharat and expressed satisfaction over Madhya Pradesh improving its record in cleanliness. Indore and Bhopal have recently been judged the best and the second best cities in India in terms of cleanliness. “Of 100 cities evaluated, Madhya Pradesh won recognition for 22 cities,” he pointed out.
Emphasising the need for water conservation, especially as the government is “committed to doubling farmers” income by 2022, Modi said that recent generations had exploited the Narmada river for their immediate needs and stopped caring about the environment. He also expressed hope that with the awareness created during the 3,350-km yatra for the Narmada through 1,100 villages, the present generation will strive to save the river for future generations.
“Every individual should strive to create a new India by 2022 when the country celebrates 75 years of its freedom,” he said.
Chouhan has joined the yatra at 40 places since December 2016 to interact with people and create awareness. Several prominent citizens and politicians including the Dalai Lama had joined the yatra. On Monday, Swami Avdeshanand of Joona Akhara shared the dais with the politicians.
The yatra doubled up as a road show for the chief minister, as the state goes for assembly polls next year. “This is not the end, but the beginning for all rivers in the state,” he said.
However, the pledge to keep the Narmada unfettered appears to be in contradiction with several dams planned through the entire stretch of the river in Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Rajasthan. Dams have been constructed but it will be ensured that water continues to flow, Chouhan said before he administered a pledge to the sizeable audience to keep the Narmada clean.
Unfortunately, there was no word either from the prime minister or the chief minister on the plight of thousands of families displaced by the construction of the Narmada dam in Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Gujarat.
Gargi Parsai is an award-winning senior journalist based in New Delhi.