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Vishwas Yevale, Ashish Yevale and Sandeep Joshi

Modern cities are discharging waste at an unprecedented rate and quantities, polluting streams and rivers, lakes and reservoirs. This is reducing our finite freshwater resources at an alarming rate. The paucity of clean and pure water is increasingly affecting poor communities living downstream.  Jal Dindi – a sacred voyage on the rivers Indrayani and Bhima in the Upper Bhima Basin of Maharashtra – is making people aware of issues related to environment pollution, its health and cultural impacts and motivating them to seek viable solutions by linking devotion to ecology. It’s a successful experiment being organized annually in the month of October for the past 12 years. The innovative model is replicable on any water body in any region or nation. It goes beyond any geographical and ecopolitcal boundaries by linking human mind to sustainability.

A file picture of Jal Dindi taking off at Alandi town in Pune district
Photos courtesy: Jal Dindi Pratisthan

Jal Dindi (Jal – Water, Dindi– Journey) – a journey through the waters – started in the year 2002 in collaboration with the Clean River Committee, Pune. It uses scientific and ethical inquest to lessen the negative impacts of social, cultural and economic issues on sustainable development and management of river basins. It covers a 450 km river stretch on Indrayani and Bhima rivers arising in the Sahaydri hills, wading through148 villages and 10 towns with populations approximating over 40 lakh.

Jal Dindi starts from Alandi – a holy town in Pune district in October every year – and concludes in Pandharpur – another holy town – revered as the seat of Lord Vithoba. The Upper Bhima river basin covers areas in Pune, Ahmednagar and Solapur districts. The major rivers in the basin are Pushpawati, Are, Kukadi, Mina, Ghod, Vel, Bhima, Bhama, Andhra, Kundali, Indrayani, Pawna, Mula and Mutha. All these rivers originate in the Western Ghats and flow eastward. They are intercepted by a number of bunds, minor, medium and large irrigation projects. The reservoirs are crucial for agricultural growth. The Upper Bhima basin has also witnessed rapid urban, agricultural and industrial development in the recent past. It is well known for its sugar cane farms and automobile industries.

Jal Dindi is an adventure expedition on boats (kayaks, dinghies, sculls, army boats and sail boats), inspired by the 700-year-old tradition of the Ashadhi Vari, an annual pilgrimage by lakhs of devotees – about 12 lakhs - on foot from Alandi to Pandharpur, a distance of 250 kilometres. Jal Dindi touches and encompasses all aspects of life. It focuses on positive attitude, environment, health and spirituality. Every participating individual tries to understand his surrounding – rivers, plants, animals, environment and society as a whole and their interrelationship. Impacts of human actions – pollution and the deteriorating health of aquatic ecosystems are observed, studied and documented during the Jal Dindi. It brings about a realization of the fact that others are using wastewaters of urbanised areas as a source of water for their routine activities.

Jal Dindi has following objectives –

  • Propagation of `Water Literacy’ among the masses
  • Study of the impact of urbanization and modern agriculture on river, lake and ground water quality considering river basin as a unit
  •  Monitoring regularly the streams, rivers and lake water bodies to assess the ecological health. This assessment includes the physical surveys, ecological surveys, sampling and testing of samples for water quality parameters
  • Execution of target oriented research programs related to aquatic ecosystems, pollution, economics and culture
  • Designing and promotion of a participatory program to involve society at large in preserving, conserving, developing and protecting freshwater resources
  • To imbibe environmental education with ethics through well-designed courses and capacity building programs at school and college level
  • To publish reports, research papers, abstracts, manuals, newsletters related to rivers, lakes and human interactions with aquatic systems

Jal Dindi is a platform for anyone and everyone to contribute and gain
Photos courtesy: Jal Dindi Pratisthan

Participation in Jal Dindi

Jal Dindi brings illiterate and literate, urbanites and villagers together on common platform overlooking all social barriers. In fact it is a platform for anyone and everyone to contribute and gain. It dissolves all the differences with the divine goal of conserving the heath of aquatic ecosystems. The participation is increasing every year and coming from all socio-economic strata of the society including scientists (1%), doctors (0.1%), engineers (0.1%), government officials (0.1%), students (20%), artists (10%), sportspersons (1%), villagers and rest (68.6%).

It has become a common platform for all participants to understand the river basin, its development and environmental issues. During the journey many environmental and water literacy programs like tree plantation are conducted. Students and general population are educated on concepts of aquatic ecology, water quality and its impact on human health and environment etc. Boat and kayak rides are organised at every halt to bring the peoples close to the water body and to understand the importance of clean water sources, environmental restoration and impact of pollution on health, energy conservation etc.

During the journeys, environment and water literacy programmes in villages along the path, besides health camps related to dental and maternal and child health are organised. These programmes attract huge crowds of students and women. This has created a remarkable awareness about the water quality and its impact on health among the villagers who are the backbone of Indian agricultural economy.

Scientific Awareness and Involvement

The water quality research findings of Jal Dindi has concluded that the ingress of untreated/partially treated domestic and industrial waste water and also the agricultural runoffs are leading to surface and ground water pollution and ecological imbalance in the Bhima River Basin. The problem of surface and groundwater pollution was more near the urban centres, which raises serious issues of water quality and equity for downstream poor people who are compelled to consume very hard and highly polluted groundwater.

Jal Dindi rooted in local traditions was widely accepted by the masses, who turn up in thousands. Being woven with a tradition that goes back eight centuries people have developed a genuine affinity towards the Jal Dindi and its programmes on environment and health. Being an annual activity, it has now become a tradition having expanded beyond an individual or an organization. Hence its continuity is assured.

It has provided a platform for different groups from all walks of life such as experts in the field of environment, health, education, spiritual personalities, villagers, government agencies and professionals to merge techno-scientific board room planning and developmental models with on field work. One important conclusion is water health and culture should be the focus in Regional Economy and Development (RED) as it is the most important component in River Basin Management (RBM).

Is Jal Dindi Replicable?

Jal Dindi model is replicable on any lake, river, or a stream. Jalmaitri Yatra (Water Friendship Journey) is now being organized at various places. One such journey was from Temghar Reservoir near the origin of Mutha River to the city of Pune. It was organized to understand the difference between natural purity of the water source and impacts of pollution in densely populated urban areas, to boost up the ecological intelligence of students and masses.

Awareness camps during summer and mid-term vacations are organized in the villages of Upper Bhima Basin to cultivate curiosity and affinity among school children towards water bodies. These activities are growing with adventurism, love and affection for nature, water and woven with spirituality. Hence, it can be replicated in other parts of the country and even across the world.

Dr. Vishwas Yevale is a gynaecologist, who, in his free time, is seen kayaking in the Mula-Mutha rivers that flow through the heart of Pune. He has authored books on river conversation and Yoga. He is the founder of Jal Dindi, and believes every person is a Yogarthi, born with the potential to venture confidently on the journey of health and happiness. He invites those interested in participating in this year’s Jal Dindi to be held between October 5-16, 2014, to write to his mailing address This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.">This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)

(This is an edited version of a paper reproduced with permission of the main author)

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