Amid polluted politics, environmentalist pleads for a cause (Electon Special)
He has jumped into polluted rivulets and streams and cleaned them up with the help of his volunteers. His work for environment has been recognised not only in Punjab but also at international fora. Though he has little to do with politics, diehard environmentalist Baba Balbir Singh Seechewal is lending his voice for the forthcoming general elections - urging candidates and political parties to walk the talk on his pet topic.
Seechewal, whose untiring work found ample mention in then President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam's address to the European Union (EU) a few years ago, has now appealed to political parties to make environment their chief election issue during the coming Lok Sabha poll.
He does not stop at that. He wants the parties to prominently include the environment in their election manifestoes and to field candidates "who have a full understanding of the seriousness of the environmental problem".
While the top leadership of various political parties seems embroiled in posturing over secularism, corruption, price rise and other regional issues, Seechewal wants them to spare a thought for the environment.
"Unplanned development in India has led to unhampered, illegal inflow of dirty domestic sewage of villages and cities and toxic wastes of factories into rivers and streams, which has utterly contaminated our natural water resources, killing humans as well as rare species of water creatures," Seechewal told IANS.
"Due to the fatal effects of contamination, people in the surrounding areas are falling prey to deadly diseases such as cancer, hepatitis, paralysis, gastro-enteritis and respiratory and other kinds of diseases and dying painful deaths in hospitals. The people of India now are dying of thirst for pure water," he added.
An eco-warrior and holy man, Seechewal is termed India's river-cleanser, having started his mission against pollution by cleaning up Kali Bein, a 160-km rivulet in Sultanpur Lodhi in Punjab's Kapurthala district, around 200 km from Chandigarh. The rivulet is linked to the founder of Sikhism, Guru Nanak Dev.
Seechewal was profiled by Time magazine in 2008 among 30 global "Heroes of the Environment".
Seechewal, along with his volunteers from the "Ek Onkar Charitable Trust" would jump into the muddy waters to clear the riverbed of water hyacinth and silt and also develop the rivulet's banks and build roads.
They recently built a temporary dam in Jalandhar district to stop the flow of industrial discharge into a natural stream.
"Venerable rivers like the Ganga, Yamuna, Satluj, Kaveri, Narmada, Godavari, Damodar and others have become the most polluted rivers of India. No more life-givers, they have turned into harbingers of death. It is a matter of great shame that this dirty and toxic water is used to prepare prasad and for taking a bath at holy places situated on the banks of these rivers. This hurts the religious feelings of worshippers," Seechewal said.
Moreover, the toxic and contaminated water of these rivers is seeping underground and polluting the subsoil water, thus endangering not only our lives but also of the generations to come, he added.
"The pity of the matter is that this contamination of river water is an open and severe infringement of the Indian constitution in letter and spirit. It is a violation of section 21 and 48-A of the constitution (Part IV- Directive Principles), the Water (Pollution & Prevention) Act, section 5 of the Canal & Drainage Act and other such laws," Seechewal said.
(Jaideep Sarin can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
(Posted on 09-03-2014)