Around this time last year, a few enthusiastic youths had planted a large number of saplings on an open tract of land adjacent to Akshardham temple; claimed that the land “belonged to the river” and kick-started a unique campaign to save Yamuna.
Within 24 hours, the owners of that land—the Delhi Development Authority (DDA)—had the saplings cleared and the land barricaded by security guards.
But that could not dislodge the small group of those youths who stationed themselves next to the land under a tree, armed with a picture of Gandhiji and few handwritten posters. They called it Yamuna Satyagraha.
Rain, heat and winter chill notwithstanding, the group still sits there, firm with the belief that concrete structures like the Games Village would one day be purged from the Yamuna’s riverbed. One of Delhi’s longest-running demonstrations for a green cause, the Yamuna Satyagraha completed a year on Tuesday.
Three hundred and sixty five children from the nearby Khader School and the Sri Ram School, Gurgaon, planted 365 trees to mark the day and took part in a havan.
But has the demonstration helped the cause at all?
“It has helped in bringing the topic of river in the cent restage. People have realised that it’s not just about the water, but a river needs an ecosystem in its own right,” said Manoj Misra, convenor of Yamuna Jiye Abhiyaan, a forum of NGOs and citizens to oppose concrete structures of the Yamuna floodplains.
Erstwhile farmers of the Yamuna riverbed, who used to cultivate flowers and vegetables before their lands were acquired for the Games Village and other projects have been a mainstay of the demonstration. “We have grown up on the riverbanks. We know how much a healthy riverbed is needed to keep the river recharged. But the authorities seem to be oblivious to that,” said Baljit Singh, head of the farmers’ association.
These “water warriors”, as they call themselves, have been living out of the tent, playing host to mosquitoes at night and silently watching Delhi zoom by on the busy highway, hardly taking note. “We are keeping alive people’s right to a free river. It does not matter how many people take note,” said Magsaysay Award Winner Rejendra Singh.