Thames River Trust (TRT), UK, have shared the 2010 Theiss International Riverprize money, received for their restoration work on Thames, with local communities working on river restoration around the world. These communities include the Delhi-based Peace Institute Charitable Trust working for the Yamuna.
You talked of a biologically dead Thames in the 1950s. Was it the entire river or a small stretch?Mainly the lower part of the river, near the sea, was biologically dead. But it actually caused problem for the whole river because the pollution prevented the fish and other wildlife from moving in and out of the river. Our restoration work and the clean-up opened new doors for wildlife.
How did you take care of the industrial polluting units?
We still have polluting industries on the Thames. But the government has taken a very firm stand in regulating these industries by forcing them to pay for the pollution treatment plants. And actually those industries benefited as they developed an export business by selling the pollution-preventing equipment. India can also benefit. Our equipment/technology is fit for northern European climate. Indian industries can come up with equipment for tropical climate and export it to other developing tropical countries.
You developed walkways along the Thames for people to go fishing, boating and walking. Is this possible for Yamuna, a Himalayan river, with changing volumes and meandering flow?
One way of tackling this is already been happening in Delhi by way of the Yamuna Biodiversity Park. It shows how we can restore a habitat along a tropical river and also make it accessible to people.
You said it is only now that the UK has realised the importance of involving people in restoration work. Why so late?
Governments all around the world believe it is their job. But they have so many other demands — health care, education, the rivers being the last. Now, they have realised that they can directly go to common people for help. Nadi Mitra Mandali of the Peace Institute is an example where ordinary people from villages spend their own time and money for their river. This is something that can be replicated in the UK and other countries too.