Photo: Manish Uprety F.R.A.S. (right) with K.N. Govindacharya (left) - Photo: 2022

Eco-Centric Development, SDGs, and ‘Ganga Samvad Yatra’

Viewpoint by Manish Uprety F.R.A.S.

The writer is an ex-diplomat and Special Adviser for Asia & Africa of ALCAP, the Latin American Parliamentary Association of Audio-Visual Communication. Any views or opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of  IDN InDepth News.

NEW DELHI (IDN) — Those who have seen the 1969 movie Easy Rider must have reflected on the meaning of The Ballad of Easy Rider, a beautiful elegy that evokes the subconscious bond a man shares with rivers and his very existence.

So it was a sense of déjà vu when the international development community started discussing important issues like Water and Sustainable Development at the 2015 UN-Water Annual International Zaragoza Conference or how can Better River Management help meet the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

The 2022 European Drought, which is its worst in the last 500 years, has shrunk its legendary rivers into streams. Its dry spell will hit crop yields, spark wildfires, and may last several months more in some of Europe’s southern regions.

And rapidly melting glaciers of Germany and Switzerland is bad news that doesn’t augur too well for the continent’s future.

Africa was already reeling under drought in the Horn of Africa, about which the scientists had already issued a prior warning to witness a level of suffering that has no equal. Whereas the drought in China caused the River Yangtze to dry up.

Many years back, it was at the meeting with an exceptional mathematical economist Graciela Chichilnisky at the United Nations that evinced my interest in two things—the transfer paradox in international trade and Climate Change.

A professor at Columbia University in New York, Graciela was the lead author of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that won the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize.

Along the way, Graciela co-founded a company in the US for Direct Air Capture to remove CO2 directly from the atmosphere while I mentored Mini Mines, an Indian Startup that has developed a low-cost, carbon-negative patented technology to extract Lithium from waste batteries.

What is interesting is that both companies address the issue of climate change and power the growing circular carbon economy, a term increasingly gaining currency in the sustainable development dialogue.

But my venture to mentor Mini Mines was primarily due to the Indian philosophical thought of the Vedas and Upanishads that sees man as an indispensable and integral component of the universe, and where utilization of natural resources is based on human restraint confined to desirable needs and necessities.

The same also manifests in the concept of Ecocentrism, which finds inherent (intrinsic) value in all of nature. Ecocentrism addresses the shortcomings of other Western worldviews that compromise the Earth’s biological and ecological diversity and offers hope for solving the environmental crisis.

To address the systemic environmental crisis and prevent environmental problems worldwide, an eco-centric policy for sustainable development is always a better alternative than currently dominant economic growth paradigms.

In India, it is K.N. Govindacharya, a leading thinker and a social, environmental and political activist who propounded the notion of Eco-centric Development and is its leading torch bearer.

Govindacharya has been advocating the cause of the sacred River Ganga, “Aviral Ganga, Nirmal Ganga,” and has played a crucial role in the movement, which resulted in the declaration of River Ganga as the National River of India.

The story of India is perhaps as old as the story of the River Ganga, which is the lifeline of India, a country of over a billion people that will soon surpass China in terms of the population to be the most populous country in the world.

Therefore the issue of degradation and pollution of the River Ganga has been not only an alarming one but also one that stirs the nation’s emotions because of the river’s unique bond with the peoples of India.

Many Hindu sages have sacrificed their lives for the cause of the River Ganga. Most noted ones include Swami Nigamanand, who went on a hunger strike to protest against the illegal mining in the riverbed and to save the River Ganga from pollution. He died on June 13, 2011, on the 115th day of his fast.

Another prominent name who sacrificed his life for the River Ganga is of Dr G. D. Agrawal, also known as Sant Swami Gyan Swaroop Sanand, who was also the Patron of Ganga Mahasabha, founded by Pt. Madan Mohan Malviya in 1905.

He was an Indian environmentalist, engineer, religious leader, monk, and professor who died on October 11, 2018, after fasting since June 22, 2018, demanding the government act on its promises to clean and save the River Ganga.

Government apathy and inaction has been a major cause of river pollution in India. In August 2011, the National Mission for Clean Ganga (NMCG) was established to address pollution challenges in the River Ganga and to ensure its rejuvenation.

In June 2014, the Union Government of India announced the Namami Gange Programme with the aims of controlling pollution, conservation and rejuvenation of National River Ganga.

Soon the practice found an institutional isomorphism in India when in 2015, the Chief Minister of Delhi Arvind Kejriwal embarked on a Clean Yamuna Mission. The river’s stretch in Delhi is one of its most polluted sections.

After five years, in November 2021, a 6-Point Action Plan was announced by Arvind Kejriwal to clean the River Yamuna by February 2025.

But just like any other country, India also has a history of failed plans because of the reasons of unrealistic planning, over ambitious planning, faulty implementation and corruption, among others.

Govindacharya has been working independently for the national issues that concern India since 2004. He seeks a National Transformation of the country synchronous and in harmony with the Indian culture and geographic configuration and profile.

To address the important issue of climate change, Govindacharya’s concept of Eco-centric development is finding increased acceptance and gaining adherents at an exponential pace as more and more people realize the concept is vital and non-negotiable for the progress and prosperity of the country.

Even during the times of COVID, Govindacharya promoted the cause of Eco-Centric Development and undertook a detailed study of three major rivers in India.

The first study was of River Ganga from Rama Taposthali to Ganga Sagar and the second one was the Narmada Parikrama from Amarkantak to Amarkantak.

The last one was of River Yamuna from Vikasnagar to Prayagraj in Uttar Pradesh.

He also established a series of Nadi Samvad (River Dialogue) to share his learning and experiences with the Government, Society and people.

Rivers and their waters have a great significance in bestowing auspiciousness to the world as expressed in the Apah Suktam of the Rig Veda.

So, during a recent meeting with Govindacharya, it was indeed a pleasant surprise to know about his forthcoming initiative, Ganga Samvad Yatra.

From October 11 to November 30, 2022, Govindacharya will undertake a walk called the Ganga Samvad Yatra along the banks of River Ganga to comprehend, investigate and explore the vital issue of Eco-centric development in contemporary times.

Ganga Samvad Yatra shall commence from the town of Narora in Uttar Pradesh which is famous for its Nuclear Power Reactor and will culminate in the historic town of Bithoor.

During his walk, Govindacharya will interact with the farmers, villagers, students, local communities and other stakeholders of rural India along the banks of the River Ganga.

Govindacharya’s Ganga Samvad Yatra will not only play an important role to underline and strengthen India’s civilizational connect and bond with the River Ganga but will also help explore and incorporate sustainable strategies in our pursuit of the SDGs and Eco-centric development for peace and prosperity in harmony with nature. [IDN-InDepthNews – 31 August 2022]

Photo: Manish Uprety F.R.A.S. (right) with K.N. Govindacharya (left)

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