Purge before we perish

As CMS Vatavaran Film Festival opens this week, we pick three films that reflect the state of environment in the country

Updated - October 05, 2015 04:30 pm IST

Published - October 04, 2015 09:42 pm IST

A still from The Battle Begins

A still from The Battle Begins

Cleansing the soul of Punjab

With 16 per cent of the global population but only four per cent of the world’s fresh water, the concern for the rapidly deteriorating condition of water bodies in India needs no special emphasis. But these are just numbers that can be tossed during debates and meetings. On the ground you need to motivate people to save their lifelines. Something like what Sant Balbir Singh Seechewal’s is doing in a village in Punjab. Lacing his message in the form of keertans he strikes an instant chord with people to save Sutlej. With the media’s attention on governmental works to clean major rivers like Ganga and Yamuna, society’s efforts to clean smaller water bodies often remain out of focus. Surendra Manan’s film The Battle Begins highlights this collective action to stop pollution of river and water bodies.

Revolving around Sant Seechewal, the film depicts how this unusual holy man in Punjab developed a bond with sufferers of contaminated water, sensitised them, rekindled their hope and readied them to take direct action. The film traces how industrial and domestic affluent and sewerage in Jalandhar and Ludhiana are released into open drains with the municipal authorities either having limited or no capacity to treat them. While passing through several villages, hamlets and towns, the drains become the source of stench, diseases and unhygienic conditions and when they meet Sutlej and Beas, they wreck havoc by polluting two major sources of potable water in the State.

“I zeroed on Punjab – the land of five rivers – which in the past was the main source of clean and potable water in North India. Today the blessing has turned into a curse,” says Surendra. The film highlights violation of indigenous right of people to clean drinking water forcing them to turn to bottled water, lack of environmental justice and missing corporate accountability. “Sant Seechewal through his campaign drew attention to the conspiracy of turning a precious natural source into a commodity and the unconstitutional, illegal, immoral and anti-nature activity of dumping non-treated waste into the water bodies,” explains Surendra. Sant addresses massive gatherings organised by his followers along the route of the drains to create awareness.

Not limited to mouthing concerns, Sant and his followers checked the contamination levels using TDS meters revealing the presence of metals like nickel, chromium, zinc, ferrous, sulphur, phosphate and chloride in the underground and flowing river water.

Sant’s campaign is not confined to Punjab as he has also reached out to four districts of Rajasthan who receive the Sutlej and Beas water through feeder canals. He remarks just as people irrespective of their religion and region require clean water so do birds, animals and plants. Sant uses simple techniques to treat water in Gurayan village entailing passing it through trenches with filters and collecting it in a pond. This is subsequently pumped out and churned. Removing the forth it is let out in a open from where it is moved to another field through underground pipe and then another. The filter water is used for irrigation resulting in abundance of crops without using fertilisers.

With demonstrations, memorandum and petitions failing, the campaign turns to direct action with people gathering at Kala Singha to block the drain – a place where the waste are dumped in the drains by the industries. “This action was justified and it resulted in installation of a treatment plant there,” remarks Surendra. “With administrative orders and court directions been ignored, such peaceful and non-violent campaigns are necessary to demonstrate public resentment.”

Beach side tragedy

With 40 per cent of India’s coastline subject to erosion, Shekar Dattatri’s Disappearing Beaches –– A Wake Up Call calls for sensible coastal development policies and practices. The film came into being when Shekar on seeing a Power Point presentation by Pondy Citizens’ Action Network, suggested making a short film to ensure its wider dissemination.

Though Puducherry-centric, the film is relevantto the entire coastline. The State lost four kilometres of beach with six to seven more adversely affected. The process continues since 1986 when a harbour was constructed. The reason was breakwaters made to check velocity of waves but disrupting the longshore draft – the continuous and constant movement of sand due to wave action and water currents along the beach resulting in sand accumulation on one side and its erosion on the other. Engineers suggested a sand bypass system which uses dredger to pump sand from the excess side to the depleting side as a remedial measure which was used for sometime and later given up.

The loss is multidimensional. “We lose prime sea facing estate, beach tourism and common public place while the fishing community loses the space for keeping their boats and drying nets. The beaches act as a buffer for cyclone and tsunami and do not allow inland movement of salt water,” explains Shekar.

The inefficacy of remedial steps namely groynes and sea walls too are depicted in the film. The groynes and sea walls tend to damage the area ahead of the structure. Far worse is the constant refilling — which the eroded beaches require – entailing wastage of public money and depletion of hills.

With plans afoot for 300 new ports there is a necessity to ask why, says Shekar. “Instead of number, what is required is super efficient ports which can handle the traffic smoothly. These must have sand bypass system – the only solution to disruption of longshore drift.”

Sad tale of two cities

Rishu Nigam’s Losing Ground presents the story of two cities surging towards modernisation without taking into account the damage to environment “Climate change being an abstract subject, it is a challenge to visualise and depict in order to impress the audience,” points Rishu.

Made as part of The Energy and Resource Institute’s (TERI) project, the idea was to communicate the research work of the institute in two coastal cities – the heavily industrialised Visakhapatnam on the East and the tourism driven Panjim on the West – both being subject to rampant urbanisation.

Visakhapatnam was chosen for its vulnerability to cyclones which till the shooting of the film had never suffered from any one. While highlighting its vulnerability the film projected TERI’s future climate model of the city being hit by a severe cyclone, mapping the services and infrastructure likely to be affected. Ironically, a day after it was screen cyclone Hudhud crushed the infrastructure projected as vulnerable. A short sequence of the impact was later added to the film’s end.

Development in Panjim has spurted growth in real estate and erosion of sea forcing many residents like Patricia Pinto to lament at its state. “The planning and development have caused instances of flooding. It is a sad tragedy that a river bank in the city gets inundated whenever there is high rainfall,” reveals Rinku adding that a one metre rise in sea level will aggravate the situation. The film builds a case for methodical data collection and strengthening of inventory of vulnerable infrastructure and services to safeguard these iconic cities from climatic risks.

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