The Covid-19 outbreak hasn’t come in the way of caring for the environment for one group of people in Madhya Pradesh. As they had been doing for the past 17 years now, members of Vidisha district’s Betwa Utthan Samiti continue to clean the filth from the Betwa river even amid the pandemic. What helps is that their manner of functioning has always involved social distancing.
The group comprises around 30 members and collects the garbage from the river and puts them in pans.
And through a chain, from one member to the next, the garbage is moved along the river banks and finally taken to the dumping ground.
The Samiti members say they clear hundreds of kilograms of garbage from the river every day. The garbage mainly consists of plastic wrappers, bottles, clothes, religious offerings and dead plants.
These are the same banks sitting beside which Kalidasa, widely regarded as the greatest poet and dramatist of Sanskrit, is said to have written two verses of his legendary poem- Meghaduta.
Every morning, for a couple of hours, the members of the group come to the river’s ghats to provide their labour— they call it ‘Shram-Daan’, which translates to ‘donating labour’ — for cleaning the river. The group says it has been active for 365 days for the last 17 years.
The coronavirus lockdown also couldn’t break their streak as the city was in the green zone. The members include people from all walks of life, from young to elders, from policemen to teachers.
Another unique aspect of this group is for all to see when an RSS swayamsevak hands over the garbage pan to a Muslim standing next to him. “Our group has set an example of religious harmony. Even in times of communal tension, the group does stop cleaning the river,” said Atul Shah, vice-president, Betwa Utthan Samiti.
“Once Moharram and Dussehra occurred on the same day. Going by our daily routine, the members participated in ‘Shram-Daan’,” he added.
A member, Sohail Ahmed Babloo, said, “We have been coming here for 10 years. Our only purpose is to help clean the river and do our bit for the environment.”
GS Chouhan, District Seva Pramukh, RSS, said, “Our members have been closely involved with the group to clean the river.“
Members of Betwa Utthan Samiti plant trees on June 5, 2020, World Environment Day. The Samiti was founded by then collector of Vidisha, Sudha Chaudhary, on January 11, 2003. It is headed by the district collector. River Betwa rises in Raisen district of Madhya Pradesh’s Vindhya Range, and flows about 600km north to Uttar Pradesh’s Hamirpur, where it meets Yamuna.
“Before we started working, the river was so dirty that you couldn’t stand the smell in its surrounding,” Shah said. The river flows through districts of MP and UP acting as a lifeline for lakhs of people.
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