Environment

Isha Foundation Video Misrepresents ‘Waterman’ Position Against River Interlinking

Comments critical of “dangerous” project are not shown amidst ambiguity over Jaggi Vasudev’s stand, and real reason for rivers rally.

'Waterman' Rajendra Singh, a noted water conservationist. Credit: Mullookkaran/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 4.0

‘Waterman’ Rajendra Singh, a noted water conservationist. Credit: Mullookkaran/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 4.0

Nityanand Jayaraman is a Chennai-based writer and social activist.

Update (September 13, 2:06 PM): Responding to Rajendra Singh’s statement to The Wire that his views were not accurately represented, a volunteer with Isha Foundation has posted the unedited video of Dr. Singh’s interview in the comments section below and in the author’s Facebook page and clarified thus: “He [Dr. Singh] may well have been interviewed about [river interlinking] too, there was more than one interview done. However the video that you mentioned in your article did not have its audio edited. This can be clearly seen from the video I posted below which showed him talking the entire audio with clearly no edits, in this he mentioned interlinking without stating his views, presumably unaware that it may come across like he is endorsing it. Anyway, the videos are removed now and he will be rerecording.”

Update (September 12, 3:10 pm): According to a note received from a volunteer with the Isha Foundation, the video has been removed from Facebook. The volunteer also clarified that Rajendra Singh will be rerecording it for the foundation to better present his position on both the ‘Rally for Rivers’ and the river-interlinking issues.

Chennai: The Isha Foundation published a short video on Facebook yesterday, containing an endorsement by India’s ‘waterman’ Rajendra Singh of its ‘Rally For Rivers’ campaign. (As of 1 pm on September 12, the video appeared to have been deleted. A copy of it that had been downloaded beforehand is embedded below.)

The video has Singh speaking to camera: “Jaggi Vasudev has launched the Rally for Rivers. This is a very good effort. Through this, people will begin to relate to rivers. The Government of India is carrying out the very big project of interlinking of rivers. [Cut to visual of ‘Rally for Rivers’ poster] I believe that Jaggi Vasudev’s campaign will be successful in linking people’s minds with the rivers.”

The video appears to convey that Singh – a well-known critic of interlinking rivers – has endorsed not just the ‘Rally for Rivers’ campaign but also the controversial National River Interlinking project.

On September 11, this author managed to reach Singh, who was travelling in the upper catchment of the Godavari in Chattisgarh, and received the following clarification over phone. Singh said:

“Let me tell you what happened. I heard that that … Jaggi Baba-ji had put out a call to save our rivers, and that it had evoked a lot of positive response. I said this is good that people are beginning to look to our rivers and agreed to support the initiative. I saw the video only today as I did not have access to internet all of yesterday. The video does not accurately present my views. It only shows me saying ‘The Government of India is carrying out a project to interlink rivers.’ After that it goes on to some other unrelated things.

“Let me tell you that I had opposed the project when Shri Atal Behari Vajpayee-ji had proposed it first. In my interview, I said that interlinking of rivers is highly dangerous. It will not join India. It will not make India. It will break India. I had said that it will not protect us either from drought or floods, and that the project will only escalate conflict within the country. It will complicate the disputes between upper riparian users and lower riparians. River waters are like the blood flowing through the bodies of different people. Each river comes from its own genepool. Just as you cannot just mix bloods, you cannot just divert one river’s water to another. The ecosystems will retaliate. We are not able to handle the disputes in Sutlej, Indus and Kaveri. Our judicial system will never be able to resolve the disputes that arise out of linking rivers. It is too dangerous. They have edited all this out. I will issue a clarification. There is no change in my stance.”

When asked if sections containing Singh’s opposition to river interlinking were edited out, Rahul Dubey, a volunteer for ‘Rally for Rivers’, responded, “This is a baseless assumption. The video has not been edited. In fact, in his video message, lauding Sadhguru’s efforts and the ‘Rally for Rivers’ campaign, Dr Rajendra Singh has said that this is a positive effort to revive India’s rivers.”

When pressed for a response on why Singh’s mention of river linking was not accompanied by a clarification against river-linking, Dubey said, “Dr Singh’s position is well known. He is opposed to interlinking. There is no need to restate it.”

The godman’s supporters have pointed to a statement on his blog expressing his opposition to river interlinking. In a March 2017 post signed “Love and grace, Sadhguru”, Vasudev writes: “The river interlinking project that some people advocate may work in a temperate climate, but not in a tropical region with high temperatures and seasonal rain. It would be super-expensive and detrimental for the rivers and the organic activity around them. We have to appeal for this project to stop. Just because a certain amount of money has already been invested into it does not mean we have to continue the same.”

This is categorical. However, we live in dynamic times and much can change in six months. On July 10, 2017, the Times of India carried a report announcing the launch of “Rally for Rivers campaign to create awareness on protecting rivers and inter-linking them”.

According to another UNI article, written based on interactions with newspersons in Puducherry during a ‘Rally for Rivers’ stop, Vasudev asked for a proper legislation to link rivers in the country. He is reported to have said that the central and state governments should act together to link rivers.

Coinciding with the flagging off of Vasudev’s 7,000-km rally across India, the Government of India made a grand announcement expediting river interlinking projects. But if the ‘Rally for Rivers’ show in Tamil Nadu is any indication, the campaign is presenting its platform to dignitaries, political leaders and celebrities to call for urgent action on river interlinking instead. Tamil Nadu chief minister Edappadi K. Palaniswamy called for the interlinking of rivers with Jaggi Vasudev at his side. The leader was followed shortly after by celebrity actor Rajinikanth, who also endorsed the interlinking of rivers.

Likewise, The Hitavada recorded Chattisgarh forest minister Mahesh Gagda lending his support to ‘Rally for Rivers’ for its role in “creating awareness about protecting rivers and their inter-linking.”

The ‘Rally For Rivers’ campaign is couched in vagueness and seems to prefer blurred images to detail. However, through the chinks in the otherwise ‘Let’s Do Something Positive’ image, disturbing glimpses are visible that suggest that the campaign may be building consensus for more controversial projects. But straight answers are not easy to get.

A straightforward question about the position of ‘Rally of Rivers’ on the interlinking of rivers triggered a vague answer. “Inter-linking of rivers is focused on demand and supply management of the existing source of water. However, this water resource is rapidly diminishing. In the context of other existing initiatives that seek to re-distribute our limited water supply what makes this draft recommendation relevant is that it focuses on tree plantation as a means of ‘source augmentation’, i.e. increasing the overall quantum of water resource available to us,” said Dubey.

This could mean anything. It could, for instance, mean source augmentation will be done with the aim of increasing overall water availability so that river-interlinking is viable. What’s the point in interlinking dry rivers anyway?

The campaign’s missed-call drive has been drawing support based on its benevolent-sounding tree plantation message. However, it is unclear whether the campaign is limited to an afforestation objective as has been stated, or if it will venture into more controversial terrain. Will the database of missed call numbers generated in response to a tree-planting policy be used for messages aimed at building consensus on more controversial policies? The possibility is real.

Consider what the rally’s privacy policy says: “By giving a missed call, your support for the river restoration initiative ‘Rally for Rivers’ will be recorded. This show of support from the citizens will be presented to the government as a step towards the formation of a comprehensive River Revitalisation policy in the Parliament.”

What does this policy contain? Does it advocate for the interlinking of rivers?

According to more than one source close to Isha Foundation, this policy is still not ready for public consumption. “Several experts are separately working on different components of the policy. It will take two to three weeks to pull it all together. It will be presented in New Delhi once it is ready,” said a spokesperson for ‘Rally For Rivers’ over telephone.

As of now, one thing is clear: That the missed call you gave may be taken to support not just the planting of trees on either side of the river but also for other yet-to-be-revealed policy measures. Will the interlinking of rivers be one of the recommendations?

Rajendra Singh, in turn, has said he will speak clearly and loudly against the interlinking of rivers. The people behind ‘Rally for Rivers’ should clarify before the rally goes much further. If the rally reflects Vasudev’s position against river-interlinking, then there is no better time than now to link the critique against interlinking of rivers to the positive message of afforestation. There is also no better time than now to use the road campaign to build public opinion against the disastrous project to link rivers.


The unedited set of questions and answers between the author and Rahul Dubey, a volunteer with the ‘Rally for Rivers’, is presented below.

The video of Singh has him mentioning the interlinking of rivers, but does not allow him to say whether he supports it or not. In the absence of any clarification, it portrays the interlinking project in positive light. Kindly clarify if the sections containing his clarification (in support of or opposition to) interlinking has been edited out, and reasons for the same.

RD: This is a baseless assumption. The video has not been edited. In fact, in his video message, lauding Sadhguru’s efforts and the Rally for Rivers campaign, Dr Rajendra Singh has said that this is a positive effort to revive India’s rivers. He also goes on to say that Rally for Rivers will connect the society to the rivers and that it will successfully connect people’s hearts and minds to the rivers. “Rivers need vegetation around them. This has been the culture of India. Today our mountains are barren and rivers are depleting. The rivers which are flowing do not have quality water for drinking or bathing. In such a dire situation, Sadhguru’s initiative – Rally for Rivers – is a welcome move for which I congratulate Sadhguru and wish him all the best,” Dr. Rajendra Singh says.

Does ‘Rally For Rivers’ have a position on the interlinking of rivers? If yes, what is it?

RD: Inter-linking of rivers is focused on demand and supply management of the existing source of water. However, this water resource is rapidly diminishing. In the context of other existing initiatives that seek to re-distribute our limited water supply what makes this draft recommendation relevant is that it focuses on tree plantation as a means of “source augmentation”, i.e. increasing the overall quantum of water resource available to us.

Will the database generated from the ‘missed calls’ campaign be used to create consensus on interlinking of rivers or any other issue other than afforestation?

RD: The support generated from missed call has no connection with inter-linking of rivers. As stated above, inter-linking of rivers is focused on demand and supply management of the existing source of water. However, this water resource is rapidly diminishing. In the context of other existing initiatives that seek to re-distribute our limited water supply what makes this draft recommendation relevant is that it focuses on tree plantation as a means of “source augmentation”, i.e. increasing the overall quantum of water resource available to us.

Each missed call acts as a vote in support of a comprehensive, all-inclusive river revitalisation policy. The database generated from missed calls will not be used for any other purpose.

It has been pointed out that the number 80009 80009 has been used by the BJP and former Gujarat CM Narendra Modi for several campaigns. Who does the number currently belong to?

RD: The number 80009 80009 has been used by many organizations and groups in the past for their campaigns. The number was used by Gutkha Mukti Abhiyan in 2012, Statue of Unity in 2013, the BJP in 2014 and by Horlicks for one year before Rally for Rivers started using it. Rally for Rivers is not related to any of the above-mentioned campaigns and the only similarity is that all these campaigns used the same number. The number 80009 80009 is owned by a third-party company called Cosmic Infotech. Isha Foundation has leased this number for the Rally for Rivers campaign.

What is the privacy policy protecting those who gave you a missed call?

RD: By giving a missed call, Isha Foundation gets access only to the phone number which you used to make the missed call. This is similar to what happens when you make any other missed call. By giving a missed call, your location and any other personal information (apart from your phone number) will not be exposed to anyone. Rally for Rivers volunteers have ensured that the data of callers is secure and that the number is used only for awareness generation as part of the campaign. It will not be used or misused for any other purpose.

For more details on the privacy policy, see here.