Congress veteran Digvijaya Singh, who is on `Narmada Parikrama yatra’ since the last four months, is worried about the plight of the revered river due to illegal sand mining, and wants urgent measures to ensure its revival.
The 70-year-old former chief minister and his wife Amrita started `parikrama’ (circumambulation ) of the Narmada river in Madhya Pradesh as a “religious and spiritual” exercise.
Singh said the Narmada is the “oldest” river in India and advocated its revival.
To back his claim, Singh pointed at temporary roads that have come up for sand excavation in the Narmada at Babri area in Narsullaganj tehsil of the Budhni constituency represented by Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan.
“Such is the worrisome condition of Narmada – the lifeline of Madhya Pradesh,” he said.
“The flow of the Narmada is much reduced. Water from the dams constructed on it should be released at regular intervals to maintain the flow,” said Singh, who embarked on the yatra on foot on September 30 from Narsinghpur district.
His Narmada yatra is likely to conclude by March-end after covering a distance of more than 3,000km.
“The state government should launch a crackdown on the illegal mining in the river,” he demanded.
During his march, he is often handed petals and sweets. Long-bearded priests of temples on the sides of the river come running when they see Singh in their midst.
They address him `Raja Sahab’ and his journalist-wife `Rani Sahiba’ and request them to visit their temples to pay obeisance.
“The water in the river has become brackish and unfit for drinking, especially before the Narmada flows into the Arabian Sea in Gujarat,” the former chief minister said as he is greeted by the Hindu faithful with “Narmada Har” chants during the yatra.
“The Narmada Control Authority (NCA) should take corrective measures to maintain adequate flow in the river,” said Singh, who has taken a brief sabbatical from politics to undertake the journey for “religious and spiritual” benefits.
“I have seen only three live saplings planted on the river sides during a drive of the state government,” he said.
Singh said they have covered a distance of 1,800 kilometres till now.
“Recently, I saw some freshly planted saplings. This is not the season to plant saplings,” he maintained.
The BJP government in MP is spending around Rs 4,000 crore to rejuvenate the river (after Chouhan did Narmada parikrama last year) under an initiative.
Under it, the government has claimed to have planted 6.50 crore saplings last year on the banks of the Narmada and now plans to plant another 8.5 crore.
“The catch of Hilsa fish — a much-loved delicacy in West Bengal — has come down considerably in the Narmada. Once the turnover of the fish catch was worth Rs 400-500 crore which has now dipped to Rs 80-100 crore, ” he stated.
“The aquatic life is in danger in the river,” he claimed.
The Narmada is considered older than the Ganga, according to Hindu scriptures. Lakhs of people do `Narmada Parikrama’ every year
Singh said the government should make a proper route for the pilgrims who take Narmada Parikrama and build rest houses for them.
“I am amazed the way people living on the banks of the Narmada welcome and help those doing Narmada Parikrama,” he added.
“Rampant illegal sand mining with machines is being done in the river. Roads have been built in the bed of the river,” he told PTI.