Interview with Mr. Rajendra Singh

I interviewed Mr. Rajendra Singh, one of the members of the National River Ganga Basin Authority, also known as Waterman of Rajasthan when I was visiting his NGO to get a training about ecology of Ganga. I made two interviews- one about his thoughts on why Ganga Action Plan was a complete failure and other one was about the current National River Ganga Basin Authority. I was really happy to have it done.

Rajendra Singh talking about the complete failure of Ganga Action Plan-

 

2nd interview of Mr. Singh where he talks about the National River Ganga Basin Authority-

Union Carbide Gas Disaster, Bhopal

union carbide gas disaster

I went to Bhopal a few days ago with my friend to visit the city and the NGOs working on Bhopal gas disaster that took place in 1984. I had no idea about NGOs working on this issue so I called my friend Nandlal Master from Lok Samiti, Varanasi to see if he knew someone and he named me an NGO called Chingari Trust.  Nandlal Master is a social activist from Varanasi and he knew about Chingari Trust because Chingari Trust gives award to the women working against bad corporations and they had chosen 5 women from Nandlal Master’s NGO in Varanasi. I was sure that there would be other NGOs working on this issue but after reaching there I learnt that Chingari was the only NGO in all of Bhopal working continuously on this issue.

wall paintings around factory are

I was really surprised to see that no other NGO was helping the people affected by that disaster. Anyways, I called the NGO and they seemed so helpful and invited me to visit their office and working site. Their office was very close to the affected area. By mistake we reached their rehabilitation center instead of their office and to be honest I was hoping to see an office with a few people working there and was not expecting to see anyone who was personally affected but as I stepped in the office building I was shocked to see the number of affected people.

families with the affected kids

There were so many families who had brought their kids to the office because the Chingari Trust offers physical exercise classes to the affected people. I saw at least 100 kids, all aged starting from a few months to 20 years old. I just could not believe how badly they were affected. I had heard about this issue several times before and knew that the people who were present near to the affected area during the accident time were the only people who got affected and now no more new case is seen but after visiting Chingari Trust and talking with people there I came to know that still new kids are born with the diseases.

really sad

The Chingari Trust was just awesome, doing really honest business. The president of the Chingari Trust, Rashida Bee, was awarded with almost Rs. 50,00,000 in San Francisco, USA for her work with the affected people and she used the same money to form the Chingari trust and donated the rest to the Chingari trust itself. She told me that they were working on another project to open a new hospital for the affected people as the hospital they had was not enough to host all of the affected people. Now I was more shocked to hear that there were more people needing help.

newpaper cuttings

I was talking with the IT guy of the Chingari Trust and he told me that all the ground water near the affected area is completely contaminated due to the chemicals leak after the accident and is causing huge problems to the local community. Many people living around the affected area complain about it. He gave me a tour of the affected area which was hardly 10 minutes walk from the Chingari Trust. There was another surprise waiting for me near to the affected area. Now I was surprised to see that the government has allowed people to live just across the road from the Dow Chemical factory.

he was trying to say something to me

It just seemed like any other neighborhood in India. I was talking with Lane about it and he told me that in the United States usually such factories are setup away from the city so that in case of any problem the community doesn’t get affected which made sense to me and I was wondering if our government never thought about it while giving the license to Dow Chemicals. Don’t they think that they should at least moved people away after that accident took place? So many questions. We all know that there is huge politics involved in this issue also but government should never play with the lives of thousands of innocent people. After talking with Rashida Bee and other people at the NGO my idea about the issue completely changed. Now I also believe that not only Dow Chemicals but Indian government people working with Dow Chemicals in India are also responsible for the condition and they must be punished.

Please click here to see more photos of Chingari Trust office

Rohtang Pass

the traffic jam

After Shimla and Manali we went to Rohtang Pass which was the only place in whole journey where we could see snow. We were all so excited to be there. Our driver told us that we have to leave early in the morning otherwise there will be a huge traffic jam late in the day time and we won’t be able to reach to the snow. We woke up by 5 am and were ready to leave by 6. The driver told us that we were already late but it was only 6 and we thought that he was joking but in reality he was right. We were stuck in a huge traffic jam starting from about 15 Kms before the snow. I had never ever seen that huge traffic jam in my whole life.

people enjoying the snow

I could easily see the vehicles lined up for kilometers on the mountain, it was just a disaster. I just could not believe on my eyes. We were stuck in the traffic for hours. Before we started our trip, our driver asked us if we had brought some warm clothes for the snow. We showed him our clothes and he said that it was not warm enough for the snow and we needed to either buy or hire some special clothes for snow. Attila told me that he had already been to several places where there is regular snow and he thought that I did not need any special clothing for Rohtang but since my driver was keep insisting me to rent a special cloth, I asked him to take me to some shop where I could either buy or rent the clothes.

Buddha

I was mostly worried about my baby and wife. He took me to a shop where they were renting all those custom rejected long jackets. They were renting those jackets with a pair of shoes for Rs. 1000. It was very expensive that kind of clothing. I asked my driver to take me somewhere else but he said that there are only a few shops and after we leave that place, we wont find any shop on the way to Rohtang. After bargaining they agreed on the Rs. 500. I knew that I was paying them extra but I did not have any other way. After renting the clothes we moved to Rohtang pass which was still about 40 Kms.

it was everywhere

After moving from there I realized that my driver had cheated me. There were hundreds of shops everywhere on the way to Rohtang and they had a fixed rate of Rs. 50 for the clothes I had rented for Rs. 500. There were shops even in Rohtang pass and in any case it was not that cold that we needed such clothing. We did not use those clothes at all because it was just not needed. Anyways, we arrived Rohtang and it was nice. There was snow but people had ruined it with the garbage that they brought with themselves. The snow was black, there were animals shitting and peeing everywhere and of course plastic everywhere as usual.

really sad

There were people renting snowboard, snow bikes and there was some hand pulled service also. This pulled thing was really sad and I was thinking about the people who were enjoying it. It was already kind of hard to breath there and a lot of people were hiring this service where they sit in a chair kind of thing and then two three people pull the chair up on the height and then bring them down. It was really hard work and I did not understand how people could support such service?  Anyways, the snow bike drivers were also crazy. Although the whole area was full with people but they would still drive the bike like crazy.

snow bikes

The skiboard guys were more crazy. They had only one pair of shoes to wear with the board and they wanted all feet size people to use  this same shoes. I had never skied but it looked strange to me so I asked Attila about it and he said its very important to have right size shoes when skiing otherwise it can brake your ankles. A lot of were hiring those ski boards and were struggling with it. It was so funny to watch them.  We were on the snow for almost four hours  and enjoyed it a lot. We drove back to our hotel around 5 PM. It was a nice experience except the driving cheating us for a few hundred rupees.

Please click here to see more pictures:

Winning a television

I was watching news on India TV news channel today and it made remember of my best video of the day prize I had won on India TV three years ago. Actually once I and Lane went to see the untreated sewage discharge in Nagwa, Varanasi and Lane had a digital camera and used his camera and captured the video of the untreated sewage mixing in Ganga. Later I sent this video to India TV news channel and selected my video as best video of the day and I won a prize a color TV. I was so excited to have won this prize and actually I did not have a TV at that time and no money to buy it so the prize was really nice.

I contacted India TV and they asked me to send them a bank draft of Rs. 2300 which was supposed to be a tax which is given on lottery winning amount. I was so happy for the prize and I decided to give them Rs. 2300 as tax. I sent the money and then sent me a letter saying that I had won a TV and I could get it at the nearest Sansui TV store. Actually this latter was written on Sansui’s letterhead because Sansui was the sponsor of the program. They had mentioned their Varanasi office address on the letterhead and I went to the address mentioned.

When I arrived at the address, I came to know that the office was closed an year ago. I immediately contacted India TV again and they asked me to contact Sansui Mumbai office. I contacted Sansui Mumbai office and they asked me to contact their Lucknow office. I contacted Lucknow office and they asked me to contact them after a week. I contacted them again after a week and they told me that no Sansui dealer in Varanasi had the TV model I had won so I would have to wait again. I again contacted them after a week but same story.

I contacted India TV to make a complaint and they told me that their responsibility was only to collect money from me and send it to Sansui, that’s all, now it was Sansui’s responsibility to give me the TV. I was shocked to hear their answer. I told them that I would go to police if they don’t help me and they said I was free to do so. I was continously in touch with Sansui Mumbai office, Lucknow office, Varanasi dealers, India TV and nobody was helping me. The letter they had given me was only valid for three months and now I was going to pass this six months and I was really worried about it.

I called to the Sansui’s Lucknow and Mumbai office and told them that I was going to police and they also said it was up to me. Their Lucknow office would tell me again and again to contact them later and I just did not know what to do. Lucknow office was telling me that they were running in shortage of TVs because of the festival season. Finally I decided to go to the police to register my complaint so that I could have a written evidence of me contacting Sansui and India TV before expiration of the document. I went to my nearest police station and asked them to register my complaint.

But their response was more shocking than India TV and Sansui. The policemen told me that they did not know under which act they would register the complaint. I told them that my complaint should go under act for cheating but said they were not aware of such act. They asked me to contact the bigger police station. As I was about to leave the police station, one of the policemen sitting there called me and asked if I knew someone at the bigger police station and I said no. And then he told me that if I did not know anyone at the bigger police station, then my complaint would not be registered.

I was shocked to hear this. I finally gave up on this idea of registering a complaint and contacted Sansui’s Lucknow office again and I was pretending to be so polite with them this time. Finally after spending over six months I got my prize but I had to go to Lucknow to get it. I took an overnight train to Lucknow, got my prize there and brought it back by a bus. I am sure that I had spent more than Rs. 1500 on telephone calls and trip to Lucknow. I was not that excited for a color TV but I was more excited for a prize I had won but I had to go through some serious trouble to get it.

I have made several videos after this incident and I would have loved to send it to India TV but I just don’t want to do anymore because their approach after taking money from me was just as crazy as it could be. I just could not believe what India TV, Sansui and police did with me.

Coca-Cola research for book


broken pipe of rainwater harvesting system

broken pipe of rainwater harvesting system

I worked with the American writer Mr. Michael Blanding for two days (14th and 15th of June) in Mehndiganj as his translator and local assistant. He is writing a book on the Coca-Cola issue. This book is called Coke Machine and will be published under Penguin Publications, USA. (update – purchase here) I met him on the 14th at Lok Samiti’s office in Mehndiganj. Michael has already written a few articles about the Coke issue in Columbia but this time’s article is going to focus on Indian, Columbian and Mexican issues. One of his most popular articles is “Coke: The New Nike?”

another broken pipe

another broken pipe

I already knew about the Indian and Columbian issues but I did not know that Mexico was also affected. Michael told me that Mexico is the biggest market of Coke products and now they have a huge problem of obesity and other health-related problems. Obesity was not a problem in Mexico a few years ago but since Coke’s sale has increased in Mexico, obesity has also increased with it. He told me that Coke and Pepsi both are going to introduce Nariyal Paani (Coconut water) in India, which sounded crazy. What is the need to do it? I am sure that they will never ever be able to provide the natural drink, after all it will be mixed with chemicals.

jammed pipe

jammed pipe

We interviewed about ten people, visited Coke’s rain water-harvesting sites�at different places and saw Coke’s waste-water discharge system. I was hoping to see something better this time but the situation is still the same. We went to Coke’s two rain water harvesting sites, one of them was on the roof-top of the Agriculture Research Center, Kallipur village and another one was at the roof-top of the Mijramurad Police station. We saw that none of the water harvesting sites were in working condition and most of the pipes were either broken or jammed.

rainwater harvesting at the roof top of Mijramurad police station

rainwater harvesting at the roof top of Mijramurad police station

We talked to people working at the Agriculture Research Center and all�of them said that Coke had started the site about two years ago just to show off. It stopped working within the next few months and no one from Coke ever came to repair it. Even though they informed the Coke officials about it but they did not entertain villagers. People said that now the roof-top over-flows and their rain-water harvesting site doesn’t work at all. We saw the well also which was supposed to hold all the rain water and then recharge the ground water, and we found it was completely dry. People said that they never saw any water in the well because the pipes connected with the wells are jammed.

We went to see other rain water harvesting sites at the roof top of the Mirjamurad police station and the situation was the same there as well. Most of those pipes were either broken or jammed. We talked to a journalist who lived near the police station and few police officers and all of them had the same opinion as the Agriculture Research Institute employees. They also said that the site was started about two years ago and then it stopped working within the next two-three months and no one from Coke ever came to see it.

We talked to people living near the plant, and all of them said that they were suffering with water problems and all of them blamed Coke for this problem. They said that they had never felt any water shortage before Coke had arrived in Mehndiganj. Many people showed us their wells which were completely dry and they showed us their hand pumps which do not work any more. Farmers told us that they buy the water to irrigate the land because their bore wells do not work any more. There are a few rich people who have submersible pumps to get water and they sell the water to poor farmers.

We visited two of the ponds dug by the village committee. They showed us how their ponds are different from Coke’s ponds or rain water harvesting sites. They told us that they have chosen the land that has lime in the soil which filters the water very well. The village committee has connected nearby villages to the pond through pipes and this way all the rainwater will run towards the pond and will recharge the groundwater. It did not seem to me that Coke had done anything like this with their ponds. It seemed that the village committee is doing a great job.

Nandlal Master, President of Lok Samiti, said that Coke had conducted a groundwater testing through an agency called TERI (TATA Environmental Research Institute) and they have also advised that Coke leave Mehndiganj. I also think that Coke should leave Mehndiganj as soon as possible because I have been visiting Mehndiganj for the past three years and I see situation getting worse and worse every time I go there. I am so excited for Michael’s book to be published. I hope that he will also support the struggle of Mehndiganj’s people.

Frustration in villages

I visited my village after being away for ten years and I saw a lot of changes that made me sad. I used to think that Indian villages were still safe but the reality was completely different. I still remember that there was a pond right in front of my village house but this time half of it was covered with clay and other waste. India’s buying power have increased a lot within past fifteen years, and now people like to buy different things but they do not know how to get rid of the waste that comes out of the stuffs we buy.

I don’t blame people for this problem; government has no plan for waste management. All these things are new to India and we do not know about it, so we need to be educated about it. It has been part of Indian culture to throw rubbish outside of the house, but the good thing about past rubbish was that it was made of natural resources. Cows and other animals have also been wandering here and there in India since India has been in existence and these animals used to finish all that trash because our trash was natural, but now our trash is made of plastic and other strange chemicals and definitely they can not finish it anymore.

People living in the villages have also started buying packed products and usually they throw all the waste in the open spaces or ponds or places like that. Same thing happened with the pond in front of my village house. People throw all of their waste in this pond and now half of the pond is almost gone. People do not know how it will affect their lives in the future. I talked about it with the people in the village and nobody took interest in it. They think that it is good to cover the whole pond because there is always water in it and it spawns mosquitoes.

Of course covering the ponds is not a good solution to get rid of the mosquitoes because they could clean it and keep it clean and then the pond will not spawn mosquitoes. I knew that there was a well near that pond and I was very interested in that well because once about fifteen years ago my brother had fallen in it, so I wanted to see it. However when I reached near that spot, I found that there was nothing like a well here, just nothing. There was plain ground. I was wondering how that well disappeared. I asked my cousin about it and he told me that they had covered that well completely.

It was shocking for me. It did not make any sense to me. I just did not understand why they made that decision. I have seen people facing water shortages and I know how important a well could be to recharge ground water, but the sad thing was that people in my village never thought about it because they did not know about it. I also talked about it with people and they told me that this well was useless for them. The first reason was that my brother had fallen in it so they were scared that somebody else could fall in it again and the second reason was that the water was not drinkable anymore.

They could have used a screen so that rain water could pass through it but they decided to cover it completely. I saw each and everyone in the village using plastic somehow in their daily lives and they throw all these plastics somewhere out of the house. They just do not know anything about plastics. It is still not too late for the government to control all these bad things and they can do it by introducing environmental studies and making them compulsory for all students.

Villages are also getting huge problems now. The quality of education has decreased a lot, and actually I would say there is not education at all in the villages. Students just go to schools, pass time by massaging the feet of their teachers and finally get a degree, its true. Finally they go to cities to get jobs and find that they can not have a job because they never learnt anything. They find themselves far away from the city life. They can not socialize, can not make friends…

And when they see girls wearing short skirts it increases their sexual frustration. They also want to have sex but in fact they can not have because they can not get integrated. So finally they reach brothels and since they are not aware of the use of condoms, they contract HIV and all other kinds of dangerous sexually transmitted diseases. When they come back to their village, they pass it to someone else. Young people living in villages like chewing gutka a lot which has become the biggest cause of mouth cancer in India. I noticed that most of the young people were chewing gutka.

People say that a third world war will happen for water, and after seeing things going on in India nowadays, it seems to me that India will be the first country to start this war because we will have largest number of people in the whole world. We have killed all of our rivers, have cut down 80% of the jungles and now we have started killing our ground water. The pesticides that have been banned in Europe and America can be easily found in Indian markets and farmers use them for agricultural purposes because they do not know how harmful those pesticides are.

The Indian government seems to have no control over India, over Indian people or over anything and these things will explode in the future like a nuclear bomb.The whole world is doing research to repair the damage we have done to this planet but India seems to be the only country of the world where we have been destroying the planet for years and it doesn’t seem that it will stop soon. If the environment has anything to do in terms of setting quality of living, then Indians will have the worst quality of living in the whole world within next fifteen-twenty years. I don’t know if the Indian government will ever wake up, but Indians will wake-up someday for sure but by that time it will be too late.

Kolkata

I arrived in Kolkata an hour ago and now at Durbar’s office. I have spent only an hour in Kolkatta and my cream color T-shirt is almost black now. Its fucking polluted city. There is smoke everywhere. It seems like Bengali people like dark colors a lot. Taxis are dark yellow, buses are dark green, buildings look very old, and yea they have trams also. It is not something I was expecting. It seems like I will have so fun here. Forgot to bring the data cable for my camera so will upload pics when I get back home.

Durbar guys are very nice. They all seem like they are welcoming us. They said that conference will start tomorrow so its day off for me. Maybe I will do some touristic activity today.

Ganges sewage…

This video is a award winning video on India TV news channel. I sent this video to India TV news channel and it was selected as the best video of the day and I won a color TV. Even though I had to pay twenty-five percent tax and had to make phone calls worth almost a thousand rupee and wait for six months but finally I got the television. I was not expecting for this much trouble but I had to do all the things. Even I had to go to Lucknow and bring the TV to Benares by bus. I used bus becasue I was scared of the police. They are always in the trains and at the railway stations looking for a new customer. If they see you travelling with anything big, new and expensive then they want a party from you. But I did not want to share my happy moments with the people who make others sad.

I made this video with Lane two years ago when he is was in India. We went together to the sewage discharge point in Nagwa and used his camera to make the video.

photo documentary about Ganga

A student from Singpore is staying at my place. She had contacted me through couchsurfing. She just wanted to meet me. But when I saw that she was doing research about Ganga, I asked her if she would be my paying guest. She was also looking for home stay so she decided to rent my apartment. She is making a photo documentary called Son of Ganga which will be about people’s relation with Ganga in Benares. She says that it was her own personal research motivated by her father but when she informed her school about it and asked for leave, her school told her to do it with them.

She wanted to do her research with Sankat Mochan Foundation. She wrote them about twenty days ago but hasn’t got any response yet. I had already talked to her a lot about pollution in Ganga. I took her to a place where sewage is discharged directly, without treating, to the river. She was shocked to see the quantity of the sewer water. She said that she never thought that Ganga was this polluted. When I told her that there were more than 10 places like that in Benares alone, she just could not imagine it.

I showed her another point of sewage discharge near Shivala ghat and Assi ghat. Assi ghat sewage drain has a funny story. The Government spent a lot of money to divert this drain and mix it with Nagwa one so that people don’t see a direct sewage discharge. But now Assi ghat drain has started again. It again has a lot of sewer water that mixes with Ganga in front of people. I never understood why government spent that huge amount of money just to hide it. They could have spent the same money to built a small treatment plant.

There is an another river called Varuna in Varanasi which has become a complete drain now. The Hindi word for drain is ‘nala’ and this river is known as “Varuna Nala” by the locals. I never knew that Varuna River and Varuna Nala are samething. I just came to know about it few days ago. There is a religious walk called Antargrih where people start walking from Manikarnika ghat and cover all of Benares. One part of this walk is to walk along the Varuna River and do some rituals where it mixes with Ganga.

Most of the Muslim neighborhoods and slaughter houses are along the Varuna river. All the animal waste from more than ten-fifteen slaughter houses is dumped directly into the river. There is lots of sewage discharge also. Varuna River is the best place for criminals to throw murdered bodies because nobody wants to walk along this river. So it is not rare to find human bodies as well in this river. And it all mixes with Ganga after seven or eight kilometers.

This walk is sometime this month and I and Nadia have decided to do it. I have heard that people drink the Varuna’s water when it mixes with Ganga. They walk along the river, see all the waste mixing in it, human and animal bodies flowing in the river and a huge quantity of sewage discharge, but they still drink this same water just because of the religious reason. I can not imagine what I will be seeing but I am so excited for it.

Mehdiganj Conference 30/03/08

It was last day of conference and protest day in Mehndiganj and we wanted to cover it as much as we could. As we reached near the conference place, I saw more than 10 cops sitting there. I had seen the video of protest in the year 2006 when Police bate protesters hard. I was a bit sacred to see them but I knew they couldn’t do it again because everything was covered on camera and Police had to answer the court for beating people.

We wanted to interview few people who were from out of Varanasi. Amanda was interested inactivists from Kaladera, Rajasthan. There is a Coke plant in Kaladeraalso andhave created same problem as Mehndiganj. We interviewed a activist named Mr. Kudi ji who runs movement against Coke in Kaladera. He was very niceand honest person. He told usabout the problem in Kaladera. He told us that they had verygood qualitywater before Coke but now it is very bad.Ithas sour taste and bad smell. TERI (Tata Energy Research Institute) have alsosuggested Coke to leave Kaladera.

He had two other activists with him who were wearing Rajasthani turban.I had heard a lot about length of Rajasthaniturban. I wanted to see someone wearing it.Ihad heard that it could be made of up to 15 meters long cloth. I toldthem to tie their turban. I was shocked to see the length, it was 11 meters long. Amanda and me couldn’t believe it.

After interviewing him, we interviewed a guy from a laboratory based inChandauli district that had done some researchat Coke’s rain water harvesting sites. He told us that he went to several rain water harvestingsites of Coke but no one was working properly. He said that most of the water filter compounds were stuffed withbricks. Coke says that they are trying to balance the ground water by rain water harvesting but hesaid that if there is no rain how Coke could do it. I agree with him. We have less rain sincepast5 years. His ideas were different. He thinks that we should try to bring rain, which is possible by only planting huge number of trees.