Under the guidance of Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, The Art of Living has embarked on numerous far-reaching projects to clean and rejuvenate rivers, tributaries and water bodies, plant trees and teach natural farming to farmers.
A team comprising geologists, hydro-geologists, environmentalists, and agriculturists working alongside the community leaders from rural parts of the country to implement the various projects. Systematic and scientific plans have been drawn up to rejuvenate rivers and a 360 approach adopted. The multi-dimensional approach of the organization includes building artificial recharge structures, undertaking extensive afforestation focusing on native species, and training the local farmers on sustainable agriculture as part of the river-revival initiatives. Bringing a spiritual awakening in these communities to build youth and community leadership stands at the core of these efforts and is the key to the successes of the projects so far.
In reviving rivers, the first step entails identifying the long-buried rivers of the past. Through the help of modern technology such as remote sensing and satellite maps, geographers and geologists are able to plot the once flowing and thriving rivers deeply buried under silt. Factors like Slope, Drainage Network, Soil Texture, Land Use, Geomorphology, Lineaments, Groundwater prospects, Village boundaries are studied and analyzed. The scope was eventually expanded to include ponds and wells. In addition to these GIS-based thematic maps, long term rainfall patterns are also analyzed to approximately estimate the availability of surface water for groundwater recharge. This holistic understanding of the project area enables the identification of suitable locations for constructing artificial recharge structures.
Upon identifying stretches of land for rejuvenation, the task then turns to win the hearts and minds of the local population. Gomare put it well when he said: “for the success of such projects it is important for the local community to feel a sense of ownership and responsibility to make any change sustainable over the long term.”
Implementation of the tasks involves clearing silt, recreating catchment areas through groundwater recharge structures, and replanting trees for a holistic and long-term solution.
Scientific studies by the team revealed that it is deforestation that is the root cause of dry riverbeds and wells. Without tree roots to hold and store water, sediments are easily washed by flowing rainwater leading to erosion. Further, the eroded silt is accumulated on riverbeds and flattens the cavity that stores water. The resulting phenomenon spreads water thinly over a vast area of land and easily evaporates. Vital water, therefore, gets lost into the atmosphere rather than nourishing crops sorely needed by all humans to survive.
The Art of Living team has planted thousands of trees. Hardy and drought-resistant, endemic trees need less water to grow.
All in all, the projects are working in accordance with the wisdom of nature and the results have been spectacular. Seeing the rivers flow again and the lakes brimming with water, the elderly recall their childhood days of fondly frolicking in the same bodies of water. They are happy that their grandchildren could now relive those wonderful days with them.
Himanshu Kalra is the COO of The Art Of Living foundation. He was formerly the VP of Deutsche Bank and an IIT Delhi graduate. He is currently heading one of the country's 'River Rejuvenation' programs and is also the initiator of the 'Startup Rekindle' program for entrepreneurs.