MP chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan on Sunday apologised on the people’s behalf for defiling the Narmada by polluting its waters, perforating its body through sand mining, and defecating on its banks.
Flagging off the 144-day-long Narmada Sewa Yatra from Amarkantak in Annuppur district, the chief minister said the childhood days spent on its banks had given him an opportunity to witness how the river contributes to the state’s growth and prosperity. “Narmada has given us so much water for drinking and growing crops and trees. But have we given it anything in return? We are offenders, Ma Narmada. We have polluted your waters and set up cities on your banks. We defecated on your banks, we perforated your body with sand mining, we reduced your waters to a trickle. Today, I bow before you and seek your apology,” he added.
Chouhan claimed the campaign to protect the Narmada was “an attempt at saving ourselves”.
“The pollution in our rivers and the atmosphere is causing a surge in ailments such as cancer, and the same was affecting people. It is high time we launched a mass campaign to protect the Narmada,” he said, adding that his government would take a series of steps to protect the river as well as its ecology.
The 1,312-km-long Narmada, the fifth-largest river in India, flows through Madhya Pradesh (1,077 km) and Gujarat (161 km) – grazing Maharashtra at some point. It originates from Maikal Hills in Amarkantak and concludes its journey in the Arabian Sea at Gujarat’s Bharuch district.
Chouhan also led the people in a pledge to “work for the protection of Narmada, plant trees along its banks, encourage people to adopt organic farming in its catchment areas, and clean the sacred river”.
Chouhan flagged off the yatra by carrying the Narmada flag to Kabir Chabutra at Amarkantak in the presence of various saints. It will move through 16 districts over the next five months, finally concluding at the same point on May 5, 2017.
Gujarat chief minister Vijay Rupani praised Chouhan’s initiative, and said his government would also work towards returning the river to its past glory. Narmada played a key role in the development of the state, he added.
Various saints also spoke on sacredness of the Narmada, and the need to work collectively for its protection. Avdheshanand Giri, mahamandaleshwar of the Juna Akhara, said Narmada was not just a river but a historical narrative that has been running as the central thread in the state’s cultural ethos for centuries. He said the launch of a Narmada aarti (worship), on the lines of the Ganga aarti, will encourage many people to join the cause.
RSS sarkaryawah Bhaiyyaji Joshi claimed India was the only country in the world that worships its rivers. “It is only here that we see divinity in water,” he said, urging people to plant trees along the river banks.
INITIATIVES ANNOUNCED BY SHIVRAJ
Fruit trees will be planted on both sides of the Narmada over a one-kilometre stretch after the monsoon.
Farmers planting fruit trees will be provided an incentive of Rs 20,000 per hectare for three years.
Sewage treatment plants will be set up on the river bank to prevent pollutants from entering the Narmada.
Habitations along the river will be made open-defecation free at the earliest.
Funds amounting to Rs 15 crore approved for setting up a sewage treatment plant at Amarkantak.
Housing units with toilets to be constructed for poor at Amarkantak.
Amarkantak to be developed into a world-class pilgrimage city.
Crematoriums to be built along the Narmada, so people don’t release bodies into its waters.
Changing rooms will be set up for women taking a dip in the river.