Jaipur: “We had orders from the district officer that 100 of our students from class 9 to 12 along with two teachers have to compulsorily attend the ‘Rally for Rivers’ event on September 28. Buses were provided by the government itself to bring us to the venue,” Gopal Lal Baberwal, lecturer at government secondary school in Hirapura told The Wire.
Written orders were sent to 24 other government and private schools in the city and the effect was visible at the rally’s venue, the Jaipur Exhibition and Convention Centre in Sitapura, where 3,000 students were made to assemble. The students were not aware of Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev’s campaign but were told by their teachers that they would get to participate at the event in front of the godman and chief minister Vasundhara Raje. “I’ve been asked to give a solo dance performance by my teacher and my classmates will recite a poem,” said Rahul Bairwa, a class 12 student from the government secondary school in Vatika.
Ironically, an official press note handed over to the media at a press meet addressed by Vasudev and chief minister , makes no mention of how the attendance of participants was commanded. ‘This is first such movement, after Independence, which is seeing people participating as one, raising beyond their class, caste, religious and cultural differences. For the first time, people are demonstrating at such a large scale. Men, women and children from schools, colleges and offices, across all age groups and backgrounds, are participating in the rally in large numbers.’
Speaking to The Wire, Ratan Singh, district education officer said, “Yes, the collector in a meeting gave the order that the students must attend the rally for rivers event on September 28 but it was done to ensure proper exposure of the students in such events. You should encourage us in our endeavour to make the students active in public life instead of making it an issue.”
Asked whether this was the first time that the collector had ever given such an order, Singh declined to answer.
Hundreds of women from four districts of Rajasthan – Dosa, Tonk, Ajmer and Jaipur – associated with the women self help groups were brought by the department of panchayati raj and urban development to attend the event. “We had orders to bring at least 1000 women from villages of four districts for the event,” Praveen Kumar, a professional resource person at the department told The Wire.
“We have no idea about the event but we are sure that this is good work by the Sadhguru. We must support him,” said Vimlesh (45), a female SHG worker from Bagru municipality in Sanganer.
Missed call, missed call and missed call
Presenting a simple solution to the problem of water shortage in India, Jaggi Vasudev (60), founder of the Isha Foundation at said at Thursday’s rally for rivers event, “You all should do three things to save our rivers. First, give a missed call to 80009-80009. Second, make sure that everyone you know gives a missed call at this number and third, make sure that everyone you don’t know gives a missed call at this number.”
Many of those present didn’t understand why they were meant to do this, especially since their presence at the event had already been compelled in the first place.
“I don’t understand whether the missed call concept is for public participation or for marketing of the Sadhguru. Without our participation, will the policymakers not realise how important this issue is? And if our participation is compulsory then why is it just for rivers? There are so many issues in this country that need to be addressed,” said Jagdish Narayan (50), a resident of Sanganer.
Answering questions about how his rally will address the various problems confronting India’s rivers, Vasudev said, “A 700-page scientific document is being prepared by 27 scientists from different fields concerning different topographies which will be presented to the Central government. I can’t give the entire details but we will give three to four months time to experts to give their contribution in improvement of the draft.”
On the government’s proposal to link rivers, a plan Vasudev has criticised in the past but warmed up to more recently, he said, “Some people want to link all the rivers and not let them reach the oceans. All rivers can’t be linked. Let the science decide.”
He also added that the problem of pollution can be sorted later. “The state governments are already doing enough to tackle the pollution issue. Polluting companies are being asked to set up sewage treatment plants.”
The Isha Foundation is in the process of drawing up a draft policy recommendation that suggests the development of tree cover up to a depth of 1 kilometre on either side of rivers, with forest trees on government land and fruit trees on farm land, to ensure that the moisture of the air and soil feeds the river throughout the year.
“Sadhguru believes that we need to focus only on the water shortage because plants can seek water from the ground. He doesn’t talk about pollution, river-linking and other water conversation techniques. He says water is due to plants and not vice versa,” Dinesh Kumar, superintendent engineer of Rajasthan’s watershed development and soil conversation department told The Wire.
Chief minister Raje lent full support to Vasudev’s campaign, stating that her Mukhyamantri Jal Swavlamban Abhiyan aimed at water conversion in rural areas will undertake plantation of one crore trees around water retention structures in its third phase.
The ‘Rally for Rivers’ was flagged-off by Harsh Vardhan, Union environment minister on September 3 to create awareness about water conservation, and will conclude in Delhi on October 2 after covering 16 states across India.