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Celebrating our rivers

Sentinel Digital DeskBy : Sentinel Digital Desk

  |  27 March 2017 12:00 AM GMT

The Assam government is pulling out all stops to make a resounding success of the first ever river festival to be held in the State. mami Brahmaputra will be iugurated on 31st March by President Prab Mukherjee at Bharalumukh riverfront in Guwahati. The five-day gala event will cover 21 districts from Sadiya to Dhubri lying along the course of the mighty river. Apart from programmes to venerate the Brahmaputra — other events will include exhibitions of indigenous food, handloom& handicrafts, organic tea and sports; cultural evenings and film festival; as well as business meets and trade semirs. So behind all the anticipated fun and glamour is the quest for business opportunities — in other words, to ‘market’ the river. This in turn means that the festival will not be focusing much on the river’s terrible aspects, the havoc it wreaks through perennial floods and erosion. The theme song urges the river not to be roused to anger, to flow calmly and touch the lives of people with its benevolence. A section of critics are already alleging that the Brahmaputra is being ‘packaged’ by blocking out its destructive facet — when the urgent necessity should have been to get the Centre accept Assam’s flood and erosion as a tiol problem. Others are crying foul that the Transport department as the festival’s nodal agency has awarded contracts for publicity and magement to firms from Delhi and Gurugram. Overall, the negative reactions range from allegations that this is a Sangh Parivar conspiracy to hijack the Brahmaputra (for linking with the country’s other rivers?) using saffron imagery alien to the inclusive spirit and ethos of Assam; that there is no credible strategy to leverage this river festival for attracting investment, despite all the glib talk of turning this neglected tiol waterway into a lifeline for India-ASEAN collaboration; and that in the me of raising funds for mami Brahmaputra, the State administration is being misused to collect uuthorized taxes in cahoots with illegal syndicates.
In this context, unfavourable comparisons are being drawn with mami Gange, the tiol mission to rejuvete river Ganga. It is a 5-year mega project to be entirely Centrally funded, for which budget allocation to the tune of Rs 20,000 crore has been made to prevent sewage and industrial discharges from polluting the river, end open defecation in human settlements along its banks, building crematoriums to stop dead bodies being disposed of in the river, beautification and electrification of ghats, social forestry and biodiversity conservation, among other programmes. But then efforts to clean up Ganga have been going on for years, with thousands of crores spent by earlier governments at the Centre too. The Brahmaputra has a different set of problems, the major two being floods during monsoon and year-round erosion. But to get the Centre to cough up more money on these two heads is unrealistic at best, considering the wastage and misappropriation of earlier funds. When Chief Minister Sarbanda Sonowal has to chide the Brahmaputra Board to do some work for a change, conduct surveys and build an office in Majuli to battle the floods there, it just goes to show that this board has not even come to grips with the problem in 37 years of its existence. The Sonowal government is pushing for dredging the river along its entire length, which will cost big money. The Central government now has a renewed focus on the Brahmaputra’s hydro-power potential, and an anxious eye at Chi’s attempts to dam its flow (if not divert it). All these developments mean that the Brahmaputra must be turned into an investment destition, so a beginning has to be made in tourism, power or whatever other sectors. But the Dispur has to defend the State’s interests here. Let us remember that the Uttarakhand High Court recently saw it fit to award to Ganga and Yamu rivers the status of ‘legal and living entities’ having the status of a legal person with all corresponding rights, duties and liabilities. The decision has come in the wake of New Zealand granting similar rights to its longest river, the Whanganui. The idea is to equip rivers with all legal rights to keep flowing freely (as ture intended), and to fight against any threats to its life. We in this region may venerate the Brahmaputra for all its blessings down the ages, or celebrate the business opportunities it offers in future. But whether we are prepared to do all so it remains true to its ture, is the question we need to ask ourselves.

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