Greater Noida resident Vikrant Tongad thought of saving the environment by planting trees. But he soon realised that while afforestation is important to conserve the environment, far more serious issues needed to be taken care of. Soft government policies on environment conservation, for instance, were destroying environment.
The year was 2010, when there was a flurry of construction activity in Greater Noida, where Tongad saw that almost every builder was drawing groundwater with impunity. Now that gave the lawyer a focus.
Tongad approached the National Green Tribunal (NGT) to stop this rampant misuse of groundwater. “It takes thousands of years for water to collect inside the earth, but only a few hours to take it all out and waste. It’s scary how in Gautam Budh Nagar, you can’t see the water even if you go 300ft deep. What are we leaving for our future generations?” he asks. Tongad’s persistence resulted in NGT issuing a ban on withdrawal of underground water from Jan 11, 2013. Builders were told to purchase treated water from Noida/Greater Noida Authority for their construction activities. Tongad then formed Social action for Forest and Environment to create awareness about the environment. He also forced the government to make its national policy on groundwater more stringent. “In the name of stopping the misuse of groundwater all the government had done was increase the fee 10 times, but the need is to punish to those who do so,” he says.
Through his efforts he has managed to draw the attention of the NGT towards the destruction of 360 hectares of Surajpur Wetlands by the government authorities. “The government was converting it into another picnic spot in the city — we have enough of picnic spots. In the name of development, massive construction activity was taking place inside this virgin area that had taken thousands of years to develop. Native flora and fauna was being destroyed. We approached the courts, which in turn put a stop on all such activity in the wetland area. The birds have come back now,” he says triumphantly, but is quick to add, “I am not against eco tourism but why destroy our virgin areas?”
Tongad has adopted a three-pronged approach: holding workshops in schools and Residents’ Welfare Associations on ecological balance, reviving old water bodies and safeguarding virgin forest areas, and taking the litigation route to force the government change its faulty policies.
Tongad says his movement has spread far and wide and several smaller chapters in different cities that are working on his lines. “However, over 20 of our cases on different environmental issues are pending in courts. We need more people doing hardcore activism in environment,” signs off Tongad.
It’s time we wake up from our deep slumber, else in the next 100 years, humans will become extinct,” warns Vikrant Sharma. Under the banner of Jal Biradari, Sharma is known for protecting and reviving River Hindon that flows from Saharanpur through parts of the National Capital Region before merging with River Yamuna, from ensuing pollution.
“The fight has been on for the last one-and-a-half decade. And it is not just for this river, but all rivers in the country facing pollution,” adds the lawyer-turned-crusader.Sharma, Coordinator of Jal Biradari of Ghaziabad district, says the efforts have just started bearing fruits.
“We have been able to generate awareness about the problems related with Hindon River and the government has started looking in as well, but no concrete steps have been taken till now. There was no law to stop people from throwing anything into the river, and so we got an order from the National Green Tribunal (NGT) that anyone found guilty will be fined `20,000. It had been implemented, but only to some extent and at some places,” he shares, adding that if travelling ticketless in trains and stealing electricity are non-bailable offences, why not add polluting rivers to that list?
He gives the examples of the industries situated at Western UP that discharge effluents minus treatments on most occasions into the river thereby contaminating it badly. “It destroys the river’s biodiversity and dissolves its oxygen levels,” educates Sharma, who adds how the vegetables and fruits growing on the banks of Hindon River are getting affected by the pollutants.
Sharma and his fellow environmentalists filed RTIs and petitions to collect data and information to substantiate claims that the industries and factories are polluting the river water.“When hazardous chemicals that have arsenic, lead, copper as well as acids are thrown into the river, they become a threat to human life. People who are doing this should be brought under the purview of non-bailable offence. Until then, the situation will never improve and the river will never be clean. One can try and keep generating awareness for years, decades and centuries, but it is important that realisation strikes us now,” feels Sharmam who works closely with Rajendra Waterman Singh and other environmental activists who proposed a draft river policy in the first quarter of 2011. This draft had included the issue of “what is a river?”
The activist also credits social media, which, he says, has played a very important role in furthering his cause. “We do not depend on the media anymore, as social media has had a faster, more impactful reach and raised the percentage of awareness for our campaigns,” he avers.