ENVIRONMENTALIST BABA Balbir Singh Seechewal, a native of Seechewal village in Jalandhar district, was conferred the Padma Shri on Wednesday on the eve of the 68th Republic Day of India. He was given the award for social service and rejuvenating the 165-km-long rivulet, Kali Bein, which was “reduced to a filthy drain” due to several dozen villages and towns discharging sewer water into it.
Speaking to The Indian Express on phone, Baba Seechewal confirmed that he had received a call from some ministry to inform him about the award. He said his responsibility towards society has increased manifold with this award. Baba Seechewal has been cleaning the highly polluted Kali Bein (now called Holy Bein) along with his followers without any government help since 2000 and has presented a rare example of cleaning the natural water.
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In fact, his work has become the role model for the ongoing Ganga Rejuvenation Project under which the 2,500-km-long river would be cleaned by the Centre and even the Union Minister for Water Resources, River Project and Ganga Rejuvenation, Uma Bharti, called it Gur Sthan (place of reverence) for her project.
Earlier, too, he was chosen among top 30 activists from across the world as Heroes of the Environment by Time magazine some years back. President APJ Abdul Kalam, who visited Bein twice, had specially mentioned his work at international platforms many a time. Born on February 2, 1962, at Seechewal village located some 50 km from the district headquarters in one of the remote areas, the Baba had also been sarpanch of this village twice and won the Nirmal Gram award for his village from the Centre in 2007-08.
Under Ik Onkar Charitable Trust of which he is a trustee, he got round-the-clock water supply, sewer system, toilets at every house with the help of villagers and started regular cleanliness drive in his village in the late 90s. He opened a school, a college, three stadiums, including astro-turf-laden hockey ground, a shopping mall, Nanak Hut, a radio station, all under the trust. Both the school and college have CCTV cameras installed in every classroom and even the entire village is Wifi enabled. A computer lab in Sultanpur Lodhi, a town close to the village, is also run by Baba to train poor children.
Seechewal has been preparing around one lakh plants of 40 types at the village nursery to distribute free of cost. Seechewal, a student of second year at DAV College Nakodar, came into contact with Sant Avtar Singh, who used to live in their village, in 1981, and then he started staying with the Sant at his place called Nirmal Kutoya.
After the Sant’s death on June 6, 1988, Baba Seechewal succeeded him. Seechewal also got several roads made and people used to call him Sarkan Wala Baba (Road-making Baba). “We curse our country for over population. But I feel people are our greatest resource and I want even a sweeper to learn computers,” said the Baba.