Maharashtra government rallies for rivers

As key ministers of the state came together at the Raj Bhavan and pledged to put their might into Rally for Rivers--a campaign initiated by spiritual leader Sadhguru of Isha Foundation--to draw attention to depleting rivers and find solutions through widening of green cover, governor Ch Vidyasagar Rao, in his capacity as chancellor of 20 universities in Maharashtra and 20 universities in Tamil Nadu, made an interesting resolve of pushing collegians into planting trees that would earn them brownie points on their degree certificate.

“I have already asked vice-chancellors to join hands to save rivers and increase the green cover. All universities are preparing an action plan. In Tamil Nadu, we launched a `one student one tree' scheme for university students. I have requested all vice-chancellors in Maharashtra to implement this scheme too. If a student plants and nurtures one tree for three years during the period of his/her graduation, the same should be reflected on his degree certificate,“ explained Rao adding that “65% of Maharashtra's 112.3 million population comprise the youth, four times the combined population of Australia and New Zealand put together.“

At what was called the Plantation Conclave, Rao also pointed at five rivers in and around Mumbai--Dahisar, Poisar, Mithi, Oshiwara and Ulhas --which he described as having been “lifelines“ for people but reduced to “drainage lines“ today, before emphasising on the need to “clean and save the arteries of the nation“.

In July, the department of forest and Isha Foundation signed an MoU to enhance the green cover in Maharashtra by planting 50 crore trees in the next three years with a focus on rejuvenating the Godavari by planting trees, especially in the floodplains of the river.

Isha Foundation with its experience of promoting green cover in south India will act as a consulting and technical partner for the state. The forest department with suggestions from the Foundation has planted 4 crore seedlings this year and is targeting 13 crore in 2018 and 33 crore in 2019.

In a rare show of candour, CM Devendra Fadnavis admitted, “Making promises isn't new for us politicians but we are here to really make changes and that is why we've devised the drive in a way that makes us answerable for each tree planted. We will do what we can to accelerate this initiative.“

A conscience call from Sudhir Mungantiwar, minister of forest, planning and finance, reminded cricketer Sachin Tendulkar of his bat that would not be there if not for trees, as he promised to plant “as many saplings as I can“ at Donja, a village in Osmanabad, that he adopted last year.

The Sadhguru expressed his delight at the state leaders' enthusiasm to enhance the well-being of rivers irrespective of political differences. The Sadhguru is driving to 16 states and Maharashtra is the seventh one he has covered after starting from Coimbatore in Kerala on September 3. “There are six parties ruling the seven states that I visited so far but they've all come together in one voice. This is fantastic for the nation. This is our moment to prove we're a responsible generation,“ he said.

An expert committee of environmental scientists and lawmakers are in the process of drawing up a draft river policy that the Sadhguru will hand over to the Centre on October 2, with the culmination of the campaign in the Himalayas. “If at least 30 crore people join us, that is 40% of the total electorate, it will help us pressure the government for a longer gestation period for the policy.“

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