Adopt a stretch ….. One activity that is going viral in Pune.

It was on one Sunday in May 2017, at 7 am in the morning, on the bank of the river in front of the Vitthalwadi Temple that just three of our volunteers, Aditi Deodhar, Omkar Ganu, and Prasanna Panchwadkar, met to decide on ‘adopting’ this stretch of the river bank. Cleaning the area, protecting the nature there, and conserving it were decided as the main aims. At the same time, the work was started with the expectation of doing all these things by involving the people and of establishing a connection between them and the river. Every Sunday, they started clearing the garbage from the riverbed around the Pundalik Temple area. After seeing this, the people shuttling in that area, people going there for a walk in the mornings, and others one by one started taking part in the activity, and unintentionally a group of 25-30 people was formed. Then there were people like Ashwini Bhilare, Adish Barve, PurnimaTai Phadke, Neeti Dandekar, and the like coming from different walks of life who joined-in. Interestingly, Mr. Pawar, who works with the PMC, also joined the group.

Many days before this concept became a reality, the idea was born in the discussions of the members of the organisation called ‘JeevitNadi Living River Foundation’. This organization works with the concept of involving people for reviving the river, and is into conserving this river since 2014. (Aditi Deodhar is one of the founder members and also one of the directors). Though the concept was ready, there was not much action taken on it for a long time. But, because of the initiative taken by these three knights, the actual work got started on the river bank of Vitthalwadi, and this work inspired a lot many people.

After many people started coming there regularly, many types of ideas and many programs flowed-in as if a spring had come alive. After that, began the counting of Dissolved Oxygen in the water, understanding its importance, and keeping a regular record of such readings, under the guidance of Mr. Vinod Bodhankar of the NGO-Sagarmitra. Dr. Swati Gole, of the NGO-Ecological Society, gave them a different point of view, about this area, by showing them the geological characteristics in connection with the river.

The garbage started getting segregated, solutions to tackling stale temple offerings were discussed, and the experimental project began. Tanmayi Shinde and her ‘Swach Bharat, Swach Pune’ group painted the sewage chambers in the riverbed. A river-related exhibition called ‘Story of a River’ was conducted on the flight of stairs leading down to the river. Vaishali Kulkarni of ‘Story Station’ ran a program of storytelling for the little children on the river-bank. Her stories not only mesmerised the young, but also, compelled their parents to think about the nature. There was a novel ‘Kirtan’ performed in the temple about the subject of river conservation in the area. (A devotional song, typically about the life of Krishna, in which a group repeats lines sung by a leader. Many times it contains moral messages for the public.) Nowadays, these people are engrossed in creating an artificial wetland in the swampy area and purifying the sewage water by making it flow through it. In that, Ketaki Ghate and Manasi Karandikar of ‘Oikos’, Sayali Joshi of SERI, Puja Tendulkar of Lamnion Green Solutions, and Prasanna Jogdev are a big help. This ‘adopt-a-stretch’ project has been going on for the past year or so, and has now become a clear example for all others.

While all this was going on, two more stretches started this project in Pune. Those are: at Rukmini Vitthal Temple stairs near the Rajiv Gandhi Bridge in Aundh and at the confluence of Mula and Mutha opposite the Alloma County Society at Baner.

In August 2017, Madhavi Kolte and Vaishali Patkar, two nature loving ladies from Aundh, started the work under the Director of JeevitNadi – Shailaja Deshpande. Later, Mr. Ganesh Kalapure, Mrunal Vaidya, Meghana Bhandari, Neha Bhadbhade, and other staunch activists like them joined-in, and in no time, a group of regular members visiting that place was formed there as well. The first thing that this group did was to raise public awareness about the garbage and stale temple offerings that were being thrown into the river. They established a friendly relation with the fishermen in that area and took a ride in their boat on the river to understand the practical problems of the river in first-hand. They decided to tackle problems like untreated sewage, the gripping water-hyacinth, and apathy of the citizens. One of the nearby service stations was letting oil and grease into the river. They pursued the issue till the end and were successful in stopping it. Actually, Tata Motors Organization also gave a positive response in this. When it was noticed that the river bed was getting filled for setting up a drinking water pipeline, this group checked if they had a legal permission to do the work. Then, they followed it up to see that the work was completed before the onset of rains, so that the filling material was removed in time by putting pressure on the contractor. Even this work was successful. Had this work not finished in time, the carrying capacity of the river at this point would have reduced a lot, and that could have caused flood-like conditions.

Very recently, this group took donation from some people who are sensitive towards public issues to start a first ever project in Pune that converts stale temple offerings into compost at the Rukmini-Vitthal Temple. Due to this, not only was the organic waste being thrown daily into the river stopped, but also, it was converted into compost which is a natural resource. They will try to replicate such projects in all the other temples of Aundh gaon also. The other programs held on this river bank were Muthai festival, exhibition to raise awareness about the river, storytelling sessions on the river bank. That helped in raising public participation as well as the enthusiasm of the volunteers.

Around the same time, the couple, Shubha and Sagar Kulkarni, from Alloma County in Baner decided to work in the area of the confluence of Ram and Mula Rivers. While taking a walk in the area, on the one hand they came across this thicket full of biodiversity, and on the other hand they also realised the need to do something about all the plastic waste being thrown around. Taking guidance from Shailaja Deshpande and AnilMama Gaikwad of Vasundhara Abhiyan they started with the work ahead. Other enthusiastic volunteers like Arati Mhaskar from the society also joined them.

But in a few days, construction debris started being thrown here. The entire group complained about it in the Regional Office, PMC, and Irrigation department, took follow-up actions, and attracted the media-attention. Due to this, this issue came under control in many ways. From the viewpoint of underlining the confluence of two rivers at this place and the Riparian Biodiversity present there, this group started documenting it. Monali Shah, Dharmaraj Patil (Bird expert), UshahPrabha Page, Revati Guindy, Dr. Gurudas Nulkar, Prof. Sanjeev Nalawade, Prof. Bhogaonkar, Dr. Vinaya Ghate, Dr. Anuradha Upadhye (Agharkar Research Institute), and other such experts helped a lot in this and are still doing it. While this group was documenting, they discovered a live spring in this area. Its capacity was measured and noted by the technical expert Mr. Manoj of ACWADAM institute and researcher Neha Bhadbhade of SOPECOM. They found some very different types of fishes. They were also identified with the help of Mr. Rakesh Patil of Mahaseer Trust. Importantly, some endemic species that are area-specific in the Western Ghats were found in these. Due to the findings made by this group, all of us realise how important it is to conserve and protect this area.

In order to increase the public awareness about this, a camp was organized for the little children. In that were included: identification of the trees and the area around, bird watching and identification, tree counting and marking, the riverside storytelling session conducted by Vaishali that is always wanted by the little children, and the rocking puppet show by Kaustubh Savatkar. The children and their parents alike experienced closeness with nature through these programs.

Recently, in May 2017, two more stretches were adopted.

Mr. Kuldeep Savalekar of Ankur Pratishthan and Mrs. Mitali Savalekar collected about 40 people in their contact to adopt a stretch from Rajput Brick Kiln to S.M. Joshi Bridge. This stretch is next to the road along the bank of the river. Currently, clearing the garbage, rounding the trees and caring for them, and involving as many people from that area into this project as possible are the jobs on hand. This group is being guided by senior scholar on water – Mr. D. B. More.

The AhilyaDevi Girls’ High School, located in the heart of the city, has come forward to adopt the river bank around Omkareshwar Temple, and now the students of the school are going to meet once a week to keep the area clean and beautiful. Also, they are going to increase awareness about it in the public. In this, their teacher Shubhada Rajguru and their principal Mrs. Sulabha Shinde have personally taken the initiative.

Symbiosis Institute of International Business has shown keen interest in adopting a stretch in the Hinjewadi area.  

In no time, within one year, five ‘Adopt a stretch’ projects were not only started, but the public participation in all these is going on increasing on a large scale. The volunteers involved are trying to understand the river ecosystem of their respective areas. The citizens come together to find inescapable answers to all the varied questions about the river. They are imposing a positive pressure on the government. Within one year, this one project appears to have grown into a people’s movement.

So, the hope of reviving Mula and Mutha rivers is gaining roots. If the people in big numbers change their perspective about rivers, the dream of the people of Pune to see the two rivers in their clean, clear, chaste, beautiful, nascent, and natural state will be completed. The only requirement is that of your active involvement.

-Manish Ghorpade

(9325382401) / manish.ghorpade1973@gmail.com

JeevitNadi Living River Foundation

Email – jeevitnadi@gmail.com

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