Tag Archives: Narmada

Shivraj accords minister status to a few Sadhus and Babas before general election

Lalit Shastri

Politcs of BJP has gone full circle in Madhya Pradesh – from Kamandal to Modi to Kamandal

Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan has become a target of attack and there is serious criticism regarding the formation of a special committee comprising of “Babas and Sadhus” to conduct a mass awareness drive for tree plantation on the banks of the Narmada river and water conservation.

All the Babas appointed on April 3 as members of the new committee – Narmadanand, Hariharananda, Computer Baba, Bhayyu Maharaj and Pandit Yogendra Mahant – have been given the status of Minister of State. With this status comes position of primacy as per the protocol and perks of office, including an official vehicle with the red beacon, which in itself is a symbol of power and authority.

The creation of the special committee packed with Hindu religious leaders has come in for a scathing attack by Political observers, bureaucrats and more particularly media-persons. They are particularly saying that the chief minister has gone out of his way to win the support of Babas who were about to take out a “Narmada Ghotala Rath Yatra” (Narmada scam rath yatra) to expose large-scale corruption in a tree plantation drive launched last year on the banks of the Narmada river at the initiative of the chief minister.

The 45-day Narmada Ghotala Rath Yatra was to begin on April 1 and conclude on May 15.

As a politically significant strategy, Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister led a Narmada Seva Yatra between December 2016 and May 2017. This was projected as the wold’s biggest river conservation campaign by the State Government. The Yatra had concluded with Prime Minister Narendra Modi public rally at Amarkantak, where the Narmada originates. Speaking on this occasion, the PM had said that the Narmada river has been brutally exploited in recent times.

The former Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister and senior Congress leader Digvijay Singh was not to be left behind, After observing a ten year “Sanyas” (renunciation) from electoral politics, he also chose to go a six month journey on foot with his wife along the Narmada. He will be concluding his journey in the next few days.

There is a political significance behind Chouhan’s Narmada Seva Yatra as well as Digvijay’s Narmada Parikrama since the region covered by the two leaders during their respective campaigns accounts for over 5o per cent of the Assembly seats in the State. The timing of both these yatras is relevant from the point of view of the coming geneeral election to the State Assembly due later this year.

Everyone is talking about the political mileage the State chief minister must be aiming for through the induction of Babas and sadhus in the newly constituted committee. The move is being looked down and is being seen as a cheap political stunt devoid of the highest standards of morality in public life.

Postscript: After V.P. Singh, the Prime Minister of India between 1989 and 1990, and his Mandal politics, the politcs of BJP has gone full circle in Madhya Pradesh – from Kamandal to Modi to Kamandal.

Kamandal initially was equated with LK Advani’s rath yatra and the campaign for Lord Ram’s temple at Ayodhya. It was followed by Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s development and India Shining agenda followed by Prime Minister’s Modi’s promise of “achche din” and all round progress. Now when Madhya Pradesh is on the threshold of another general election, we have Shivraj Singh Chouhan and his new found penchant for Kamandal – this time represented by the sadhus and the babas in his new team for Narmada.

Kamandal is the oblong water pot made of a dry gourd, coconut shell, or metal, used by sadhus and yogis for storing drinking water.

Who will pay the price for the damage to the ecology of Narmada in recent years

Lalit Shastri

Madhya Pradesh Government is in the dock as many among those who are worried about conservation and its related issues have started asking questions and want to know why the State Government had spent recklessly a huge amount of public money to mobilise attendance at the ecologically sensitive area of Amarkantak -where the Narmada River originates – for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s public rally to mark the closing of the Narmada Seva Yatra on 15 May 2017.

To drive home their point, those questioning the whole idea of mobilising a couple of lakh citizens to attend Modi’s rally at Amarkantak, are underscoring the verdict by a Committee of Experts appointed by the National Green Tribunal (NGT) that held Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s Art of Living foundation responsible for destroying the ecologically sensitive area of the Yamuna floodplain that was used by the foundation for organising the ‘World Culture Festival’ in March 2016.

Addressing the gathering at Amarkantak, the Prime Minister certainly had hit the nail on the head by stating that the Narmada River has been “brutally exploited in recent years” but what is rather confounding is that there was no mention, what to talk of castigating or punishing, of those at the helm of affairs in Madhya Pradesh who have been responsible for either turning a nelson’s eye or had chosen to patronise, as widely alleged, the forces behind the progressive encroachment of forest land or the timber and mining (especially sand mining) mafia. In these circumstances, it would be a tall order to seek the prosecution and conviction of those who have devastated the sensitive ecology of the Narmada river in recent years, particularly after the National Water Policy which defines the framework for management of water in the Narmada basin was put in place by the Government of India in 2002.

People should be aware that it was at the Millennium Summit in September 2000 – the largest gathering of world leaders in history – that the UN Millennium Declaration was adopted to achieve the Millennium Development Goals through a new global partnership aimed at reducing extreme poverty through a series of time-bound targets, with 2015 as the deadline. Ensuring “Environmental Sustainability” was one of the eight Millennium goals.

The Bharatiya Janata Party has been in power in Madhya Pradesh continuously since 2003. Yesterday at Amarkantak, it was none other than Prime Minister Modi who stated categorically that the Narmada has been “brutally exploited in recent years”. In the last few years, the issue of illegal sand mining and the damage it has been causing to the ecology and biodiversity of the Narmada landscape has been debated fiercely in the State Assembly on a number of occasions. The media has also raised this matter repeatedly by highlighting the involvement of a powerful lobby
having close links with those in power in the illegal sand mining activity.

People are also aware of the various factors threatening and wiping off vast tracts of forests in the catchment of the Narmada river. Those in knowledgeable circles are pressing for an independent investigation to find out the extent to which forest land has been encroached upon and also the status of forest in terms of total growing stock and forest density in the Narmada basin with special reference to misuse of the Forest Rights Act, forest fires, illegal mining and logging of timber, firewood or headload collection, reckless grazing, poaching and minor forest produce collection.

Any attempt to short shrift the above pointers would demonstrate callousness and total disregard to the millennium goals and the deadline for achieving these, which has already been missed.

Setting conservation goals, on the culmination of Narmada Seva Yatra, is laudable but what cannot be digested is that those who have presided over the system that was supposed to arrest the ecological disaster in recent years are now taking the credit of laying before us the road map or the blue print for conservation of the Narmada River. It may be politically correct on the part of the State BJP Government to give monetary incentive to farmers planting fruit bearing trees on their land along the Narmada river especially at a time when the State Assembly election is round the corner. This initiative may even deliver political dividends and keep the rulers entrenched and riveted to the seats of power in Madhya Pradesh. If fruit bearing trees in the catchment of a river could prevent the top soil from getting washed away during monsoon and reduce the amount of silt and clay in the rivers and streams that drain the area, Nature would not have blessed the central Indian landscape and the highlands of Madhya Pradesh with such fantastic sal, teak, bamboo and mixed forests.

Postscript: The big question is what about the damage to ecology that has already been caused due to lack of action in “recent years”. If one were to draw an analogy, so many monetary scams that we talk about would pail into insignificance if we were to assess in real terms the damage and destruction that has been caused to the ecology of River Narmada in recent years.