The sarus crane is the state bird of Uttar Pradesh. A vulnerable, non-migratory bird, it is found in northern and central India and is easily identified by its red-colored head. It may be fitting, then, that one of the most important floodplains of the state and the country, the Indo-Gangetic floodplain, plays a very important role in protecting and preserving the cranes.
Spread over 161.3 hectares, the Sarsai Nawar Wetland is close to the town of Etawah. It has been recognized as a Ramsar site and the muddy, black cotton soil found here attracts flocks of sarus cranes and several other migratory birds that use the swamp as a breeding and breeding ground. The wetland is now home to over 400 sarus cranes, underpinning its importance as an invaluable natural resource. Even more inspiring is the fact that the wetland was revived on the brink of extinction a decade ago, thanks to the dedicated efforts of wildlife enthusiasts and activists who raised awareness among local farmers and then enlisted their services to save the wetland from threats such as damage.
Etawah is located in the Yamuna river basin, hence the need to conserve the river and ensure its purity. To this end, a 21 MLD sewage treatment plant will be installed on one of the dirtiest canals in the city, which will drain its water into the Yamuna. The installation will treat the polluted water before the clean water is discharged into the river.
However, Yamuna is not the only river in need of protection in Etawah. About 15 kilometers from the city flows the Chambal, one of the main and cleanest tributaries of the Yamuna. The river is incredibly rich in biodiversity and home to several critically endangered species such as the gharial, the red-crowned roof turtle and the river dolphin of the Ganges. It is precisely for this reason that the National Chambal Sanctuary was established along 425 kilometers of the Chambal as a tristate protected area between Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh. Today, Chambal praharis ensure that the inhabitants of the river are no longer threatened by threats such as river pollution and illegal activities such as poaching. The river authorities have also set up biodiversity information centers after every 20-kilometer stretch of the Chambal in Uttar Pradesh, to raise awareness and educate tourists and locals about the need for river conservation and how it can be achieved. It is a model that can also be imitated in other parts of the country.
50 kilometers from Etawah is another spectacular sight. The Pachnada – a confluence of the combined flow of the Yamuna and Chambal and trifecta of the Sindh, Kuwari and Pahuj – is an area of immense natural beauty and a rich habitat for river dolphins. The confluence amply demonstrates what is possible when barriers are overcome and lifted. Etawah’s river conservation efforts are exemplary – and its reputation as a religious destination (it’s home to one of the 51 shakti pithas) and a responsible animal tourism destination (the Etawah Safari Park is one of the largest in the country and has an Asian lion breeding center ) seems to be a reward for having treated the sacred rivers with the utmost care, respect and devotion.
Kanpur has one of the most unusual connections to the Ganga – the field of the famous Green Park Stadium is said to have been made of soil and dirt dredged from the Ganga and its banks. Still, the challenges the river faces as it moves through the city are similar to those of a batsman trying to fend off a steep bounce or a precise, fast and deadly yorker.
Kanpur often ranks highly in lists surveying the world’s most polluted cities – and unfortunately, the Ganga also bears the brunt of this pollution. Solid waste and sewage and chemicals from industries (especially tanneries), household waste, sewage, flower waste from temples and places of worship – they all end up in Ganga and turn it into a poisonous cesspool.
The authorities of Namami Gange have sensed the urgency of the situation and are doing everything they can to turn the script around. As part of the project, a robust system oversees the operation of the cluster of sewage treatment plants in the city. The infamous 128-year-old Sisamau Nala, known as ‘Asia’s Largest Drain’, has also been drained and diverted to two STPs as part of the Namami Gange program – successfully removing 140 MLD of sewage and contaminated water previously flow into the Ganges every day. In addition, a common wastewater treatment plant is in the works that will collectively treat the wastewater from several small-scale industries in a single large plant cluster – a much more cost-effective measure compared to having individual treatment plants for each plant.
When it comes to tanneries, NMCG authorities are increasingly recommending greener, more environmentally friendly in-house practices, as well as using natural, less polluting chemicals. In addition, filters and installations are installed to treat and recycle the different types of pollutants generated in these plants. These include liquid disposal facilities that allow the tanneries to treat and recycle wastewater for reuse within the tanneries themselves.
Alternatives to leather are also being innovated. For example, flowers discarded from temples and discharged into the river are collected to make ‘fleather’ (leather made from flowers) – a product that is not only environmentally friendly, but also superior to standard leather in a number of ways. The connection between people and rivers is also strengthened in the city as locals and authorities come together to maintain and clean ghats such as Sarsaiya Ghat and Atal Ghat and riverbanks.
The river conservation efforts in Etawah and Kanpur show what can be achieved in the face of insurmountable difficulties, if we face them with sustained courage and dedication. More such efforts are the need of the hour – and the Namami Gange project clearly shows the way forward.