‘It’s a religious issue. If you could, then give it (land) voluntarily’

Prashant Bhardwaj, deputy chairman, Saraswati Heritage Development Board talks to The Indian Express about the project to revive River Saraswati

Written by Khushboo Sandhu | Published:August 15, 2016 5:15 am
prasanth 759 Prashant Bhardwaj at his Sector-14 offce in Panchkula. Sahil Walia

Prashant Bhardwaj, deputy chairman, Saraswati Heritage Development Board talks to The Indian Express about the project to revive River Saraswati

What evidences are there to suggest the existence of Saraswati?

Dr V S Wakankar, an archaeologist and Padma Shri awardee, had been working on the issue since 1962. In 1985, he along with others, took out a yatra from Adi Badri to Kutch. For the first three days, Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar, who was then a zila pracharak in Yamunanagar, was part of the yatra. Dr Wakankar in his report wrote that several archaeological sites are on this course, which implies that civilization existed there. There are other studies as well that corroborate this fact.

ISRO has done hydrological studies and GIS mapping of Saraswati river. Central Groundwater Board dug up 24 borewells and Rajasthan Ground Water Board dug up 14 on the basis of GIS mapping. The isotopic analysis was done by BARC, Mumbai. The water quality of ground water and that found in palaeochannel did not match.

Recently, Wadia Institute of Geology took samples of water from Mugalwali (Yamunanagar). The preliminary report suggests that the characteristics of the sample were of river water. They took samples from a borewell located 50 metres away. The characteristics of this water were entirely different.

Are there other instances where the dry river bed has been revived through interlinking channels?

Revival of the Saraswati is the first-of-its-kind work through which the dry river bed has been revived. A stretch of around 55 km from Adi Badri to Uncha Chandna is being cleared by employing workers under Mahatma Gandhi Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme. Around 37 km is clear. At some places, the course is hindered due to the land being encroached upon. The 153-km stretch from Uncha Chandna to Kaithal was almost clear. Thereafter, travelling for four kilometres in Punjab, the Saraswati and Ghaggar merge.

Will the government be acquiring the land from the farmers?

We are saying it is a religious issue. If you could, then give it voluntarily and the government will honour you. There are patches in different places amounting to 12 km that will be required.

What steps are being taken to check pollution of the river?

Cremation grounds are present throughout the channel. It is an indicator that the main course of the river was here. I held a meeting in Kaithal recently, where it was proposed that by diverting some water from the main course, a pond can be created where people can immerse the ashes instead of doing this in the main course. This will ensure that the religious sentiments of the people are protected and the main course of the river is not polluted.

People need to contribute towards this. When people have religious sentiments towards the river, then why do they throw in all kinds of pollutants in it? It has to be a joint effort of the people and the government, otherwise no policy of the government will work. A sewerage treatment plant will be installed on the Seechewaal model of Punjab.

Digging work for the river is almost complete. What are the plans to make the river flow perennially?

We will be constructing three dams, at Adi Badri, Lohgarh and Haripur. The attempt is to construct these in two to three years. It might take more time. The project has multiple facets. It involves water conservation, water harvesting, flood management, minor irrigation and promotion of tourism. The river Somb which is a tributary of Saraswati causes flooding in Yamunanagar. Construction of a reservoir will ensure that the water is channelized. Through interlinking of channels, we will ensure that water also reaches the southern parts of Haryana where there is a shortage.

Development of heritage city is another aspect. Under this, infrastructure will be provided for developing places like Adi Badri and Pehowa. There is a scheme of the central government through which we will get funds. Haryana has so much history to showcase, which we haven’t been able to till now. It was a weakness of previous governments.

The Centre also constituted a committee for Saraswati. What decisions have been taken by the committee?

A multidisciplinary committee on Saraswati was constituted last year for a period of two years. Ten months after constituting it, the first meeting was held last month. We have now decided to hold a meeting every two to three months. We are planning to start a fellowship programme for research in the field. An interstate co-ordination committee will be made.

Why is there so much stress on the revival of the Saraswati?

It has brought a paradigm shift in Indian history. Britishers taught us that Aryans came from Central Asia. A study of genes by Gyaneshwar Chaubey at Tartu University in Estonia has found that that people did not come to India from Central Asia, rather it was the other way round.

The British also said that Mesopotamia, Unan were the older civlizations. When digging took place at Harappa, Mohenjodaro, they agreed that civilization existed here and is older than theirs. But they could not accept it for many years. With the existence of the bed of Saraswati and archaeological sites including Rakhigarhi, it proves that Aryan civilization emerged in India and we are the oldest civilization in the world. We should be proud of that.

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