Cleaning the Ghats of Kolkata – Part 2

This is part 2 of the series. To read about part 1, click here.

In the part 1 of the series, we have seen how we have polluted the ghats of Kolkata, which had for many decades been the lifeline of the city, through its water transport, providing drinking water, and having historical and religious sites. However, we ourselves are responsible for not maintaining the ghats, leading them to be shabby and dilapidated, making them a place for garbage dump, and a breeding area of mosquitoes. However, as we are looking at the western world, how they are maintaining cities, some of which have been raged to the ground, awareness is spreading among the masses in and around Kolkata.

We have looked at how several committees within the city are looking forward to making Kolkata a cleaner and greener city. While the authorities have done a wonderful job in the Newtown and to some extent salt lake area, such could not be made possible without the awareness of the public around the crowded old town, which lies at the bank of the river. While a rich section of the society is aware about cleaning the ghats of Kolkata, most common people, especially those living near the river are not. It is up to the committees, to spread the news of keeping the environment clean.

Some committees like Y-East and Bouddi have initiated a cleanliness drive along the ghats of Kolkata. They have engaged over 100 local people to clean up some of the well-known ghats of Kolkata. For more information about that matter, visit https://www.y-east.org/diary/bouddi-and-y-east-begin-hooghly-river-clean-up-project-in-kolkata/ Y-East and Techno Main Salt Lake college has also organized a Plogging competition around the city, helping with the cause. Schools like Delhi Public School in Kolkata also campaigned to spread awareness to keep the Hooghly river clean. There are some Facebook groups and communities where like minded people come together to save the Hooghly river flowing past Kolkata. We all need to come together and make Kolkata a clean and green city to live.

Written by – Himadri Paul

Places in India to Witness the Advent of Spring

Spring season is welcomed in India with a seasonal festival. Spring marks the end of the harsh, cold winter, and the beginning of a warm sunny summer. Spring is the time, when the trees are filled with new leaves and flowers. Viewing blossoms is viewed as an important festival in many parts of the world, the most notable among which is cherry blossom in Japan. Though we have followed Japan and started some kind of festival in big cities, we always have cherished our own spring blossoms. Let us now look at a few places in India where we can witness trees in full bloom at the advent of spring.

1)Kashmir :

No doubt the Vale of Kashmir has to be in the list. Kashmir is situated in the northernmost part of India, where winters are harsh. Hence, the advent of spring is viewed as an important festival by the Kashmiris. The almond trees first burst into blossoms, followed by apple, cherry, and chestnut. The Tulip Garden of Srinagar gets filled with thousands of tulips at this time. It, along with other Mughal Gardens, attract tourists from all over the country and abroad.

2)Sikkim :

Sikkim is the least populated state in India, but is one of the most diversifying ecological hotspots in the country. Rhododendron and orchids cover up the hilly state at the advent of spring. The Yumthang valley of North Sikkim burst into flowering at this time, and it is thus popularly known as the Valley of Flowers. As the weather remains pleasant during this time, with little rainfall, tourists throng in thousands to this wonderful little state of India to witness spring at its full grandeur.

3)Purulia :

Tucked away in the western corner of West Bengal, the splendour of Purulia is best witnessed during spring, when the Palash trees are full of orange-red, flame-like flowers. With development of tourism in Purulia in recent years, tourists have started visiting remotest parts of Bengal villages, to witness the advent of spring. Rabindranath Tagore, during his stay at Shantiniketan, liked the Palash bloom in the area, and gave rise to Basanta Utsav in Shantiniketan.

4)Ladakh :

In the cold desert landscape of Ladakh, we have the apricot blossom in spring. In Leh and Kargil regions, winter snow makes way for apricot trees to burst into blossoms as the temperatures turn less harsh during spring. Though the locals have enjoyed apricot blossoms for centuries, Ladakh is a bit cut off from the rest of India due to snow in high mountain passes along the route. Leh is however, connected to Delhi via flight services, thus helping tourists reach there and witness the landscape of pink and white apricot flowers in the midst of brown hills and blue skies.

5)Manipur :

Giant Himalayan Lily, a flowering plant with huge flowers bloom at the advent of spring in the north-eastern Indian state of Manipur. Small villages like Liyai Khullen village in Senapati district are filled with majestic blooms of these giant flowers in late spring. Though Manipur is an off-beat tourist spot in India, nevertheless, the state has much to offer, and if we have some festival like that of cherry blossoms in Meghalaya, we will surely see a large influx of tourists in this quiet, picturesque state.

Have you witnessed any of these blossoms? Let us know in the comment section below.

Written by – Himadri Paul

Cleaning the Ghats of Kolkata (Part 1)

The Bhagirathi-Hooghly river flows through one of the most densely populated regions in India. Starting from Berhampore in Murshidabad, Nabadwip-Mayapur in Nadia, along the Hooghly industrial region of Bandel-Naihati, Chandannagar, Chinasurah, Serampore-Barrackpore, culminating at Kolkata-Howrah, the most densely populated region in entire eastern India. It is thus a hectic task to keep the Bhagirathi-Hooghly river pollution-free at least at the ghats. Though the ghats north of Kolkata are quite clean and well-maintained, the ghats around Kolkata are one of the dirtiest, with more space for garbage than for bathing.

The ghats along Hooghly, North 24 Pargannas and Howrah were quite poor until recently. However, almost all of them underwent extensive maintenance and renovation, as well as garbage removal. Now most of the ghats along with the river banks underwent redevelopment and brought under riverside beautification project. In Kolkata, though efforts have been made to beautify the Princep Ghat area, the other ghats still lie shabby, littered with garbage. The Millennium Park, which was expected to be the top recreational centre when inaugurated back in 2007, is now a disused place, with defunct rides and amphitheatre centres. The Babughat now has a footbridge over the ghat area, which is really clean and tourist friendly, but the ghat itself is still a garbage dump area. The stretch from Armenian Ghat to Bagbajar Ma er Ghat is worse with the riverfront being used as warehouse centres and slums. Within this stretch lies the Mallick Ghat, the largest flower market of Asia, the Jagannath Ghat, in the Burrabazar wholesale market area, Nimtala Ghat, the largest cremation centre in Kolkata, the Sovabajar Ghat, with many temples, and the Kumartuli Ghat, the area which is renowned for making Durga idols. The situation is not any better north of Bagbajar ghat in Cossipore and Baranagar. Only the Dakshineshwar Ghat fared well in northern Kolkata despite being the crowdest, attracting thousands of devotees each day.

If developed, the area could have been a major tourist hub and recreational centre. The whole Kolkata riverfront contains various tourist centres, like the Princep Ghat, the Eden Gardens Pagoda, the Metcalfe Hall and other building museums of BBD Bag, the Sarada Ma house, the Sarbamangala Temple of Cossipore, and Baranagar Ramakrishna Math. However, illegal encroachments, illegal parking slots, ill-maintenance by the municipality, lack of awareness, and most importantly, lack of our interest in our own city Kolkata is what is stopping it from developing into a Grand Strand that the cities of the West have.

How we can develop the ghats of Kolkata is being covered in the second part of this article.

Organic Farming in India – Good or Harmful?

The term organic farming refers to farming methods using only biofertilizers, biopesticides, for growing traditional, heirloom, high-yielding, and even genetically-modified seeds. Organic farming is at its nascent stage in India, where a few farms have taken up the new initiative to make food crops healthy. Despite being a healthier alternative, organic farming poses substantial challenges to farmers, and may never replace chemical fertilizers and pesticides throughout the country.

Sikkim is currently the only state in India whose agriculture is 100% organic. Only 4 other states – Meghalaya, Mizoram, Uttarakhand and Goa have more than 10% of the land under organic farming. Overall, the whole country has only 2% of land under organic cultivation. The top 3 states by areas under organic farming – Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Maharashtra constitute more than half the total area for organic farming.

Though many states of India have their own organic farming policies, most of them are not looking to meet their targets. Andhra Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Mizoram, Kerala, Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh have desired to become fully organic farming states in coming years. Karnataka, Maharashtra and Rajasthan have their own policies for organic farming. However, none have made it as far as Sikkim. Despite its small area, India has the highest number of organic farmers in the world.

Organic farming in India has the potential to become popular in hilly areas, and areas of large ecological diversity. This is because chemical fertilizers and pesticides can get washed away by rain water to rivers, lakes and ponds, polluting them, causing diseases to man and the wild. Eutrophication still possesses major problems across rural India. This is predominant in the hills as run-off water in the hills easily reach the plains and subsequently the rivers. It also poses a hazard to pisciculture as chemical fertilizers and pesticides kill fish and aquatic life.

However, despite its advantages, the drawbacks are keeping a check on the growth of organic farming in India. Firstly, productivity is low at around 60-75% of the yield of conventional agriculture. Secondly, India has a huge middle and low income class population which cannot afford an increase in prices for daily food items and groceries. Thirdly, it would be impossible to feed the huge population of India though its own produce and India would then need to import more food crops to avoid a famine. Lastly, organic food is healthier is a myth, though organic food is environment friendly.

We can have organic farms where environment protection is our top priority. The hilly states, which have opted for organic farming policy should implement them as soon as possible with or without assistance from the Centre. However, for the bulk of the produce, we still require it to be dependent on conventional agriculture, to sustain the huge demand to feed the overgrowing population of India.

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Written by – Himadri Paul

Saraswati – A Lost River (Part 1)

The mythical Saraswati river has long ceased to exist a long time ago. But the river still exists in our minds as the spiritual Saraswati river, which sustained early Vedic ages, and has been praised for providing water to early Vedic Civilization. Saraswati river is mentioned in Rig Veda as a perennial river flowing through between the Indus and Ganges basin, and flows directly into the sea. It is being worshipped by the Vedic people and the source of life and agriculture in arid landscape. However, no such Saraswati river has been found in India till recent years.

The exact location of the Saraswati river can not be ascertained from Rig Veda or the Vedic civilization, as Vedic civilization was rural by nature, and lacked important cities or ruins along the river channel. However, if we go back a few hundred years earlier, we can find the flourishing Indus Valley Civilization, which is predominantly urban in nature. The Indus Valley Civilization grew up not only on the course of the Indus river, but lay scattered across far flung places which lie beyond the Indus basin. Starting from the north, we have Ropar in Punjab, Rakhigarhi in Haryana, Kalibangan in Rajasthan, Dholavira and Lothal in Gujarat. With the exception of Lothal, which is a sea-port and has access to the sea, the other sites lay far from any navigable rivers. Hence, many historians and archeologists have come to the conclusion that a large river existed at the sites of Indus Valley Civilization in India. The large river can be a perennial one, probably the mythical Saraswati river, though this theory is debated.

A seasonal stream named Ghaggar-Hakra channel flows starting from Ropar, through Rakhigarhi, Kalibangan and ends at swamps of Dholavira. In early years of research, the scientists have found evidence of an exceptionally wide river bed at some places. This led them to believe that a much wider river, with a huge discharge previously flowed through the channel sometime in the past. Many scientists have thus claimed the existence of a large perennial river, presumably the Saraswati river to have existed in the channel of Ghaggar-Hakra channel in Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan.

Now the question arises is from where so much water would have come. Scientists have found no headwater source between the Satluj and Yamuna rivers. The Ghaggar-Hakra river is entirely seasonal flowing only during monsoon, and there is no possibility of a perennial snow-fed source in the Himalayas. The scientists have collected bed-rock sediments in the river bed, and have made extensive studies on their characteristics. As late as 2019, the researchers found that the bed-rock sediments in Ghaggar-Hakra channel matches only those of Satluj river, a major perennial source of the Indus river flowing from Lake Manasarovar in China. This led to a final conclusion that the Sutlej previously flowed through a different course, possibly through the Ghaggar-Hakra channel.

So, does it mean that the Indus Valley Civilization died with the changing course of Satluj? On the contrary, scientists say that the Satluj meandered long before the Indus Valley Civilization came into picture. The drifting began at least 16000 years ago, and the migration would have completed by 9500 years ago. The Indus Valley Civilization dating 3000-1500 BC may not have received Saraswati river up to its full potential. However, many historians opined that Saraswati would have still contained a lot of water by the Harappan era, catching water from run-offs from the Himalayas, which is enough to sustain a civilization, but insufficient to cause disastrous flooding. The basin also was thought to receive more rainfall than today, until the expansion of the desert and catching of the run-offs by the Sutlej and Yamuna at the time of Vedic era.

Today, the Ghaggar-Hakra channel is almost non-existent except during monsoon season. The desert has expanded to the whole basin, choking any water streams that flow from the north. There are plans by the Indian Government to revive the Saraswati river to its full glory for both religious, as well as irrigation purposes. How the Government is planning to revive the river in the middle of the desert is being covered in the second part of this article.

Written by – Himadri Paul