Pune: A day after Dussehra, about a dozen boats sailed off into the Indrayani which skirts around Alandi, the Samadhi place of saint Dnyaneshwar, on a unique river expedition to the pilgrim town of Pandharpur, carrying palanquin of the famous saint with messages of water conservation.
Christened "Jal Dindi" by its pioneer Vishwas Yeole, the starting of the expedition on Friday marked the tenth year of this remarkable environmental awareness drive modelled on the
famous pilgrimage on foot undertaken every year by Warkari sect devotees of Lord Vitthal to Pandharpur.
"This is a special moment for our endeavour as the little known excercise undertaken in 2002 by a group of environmentalists is now gathering support at all levels with greater participation in the downstream riparian towns which bear the brunt of polluted water flow thanks to urbanization and industrialisation in Pune region," said Yeole, a medico by profession, in a talk with a news agency from the boat he sailed in.
Joined by like-minded environment concerned groups in the city, he embarked upon the "Jal Dindi" programme roping in some students the Government Engineering College who run a boat club on the banks of river Mutha that flows through the city, with a 12-day annual scheduled voyage during which the volunteers on the boats conduct various tests to measure water pollution level collecting data that is later sent to Maharashtra pollution control board.
"We are trying to blend health, environment and spirituality to spread this message of water conservation because the problem of pollution is becoming serious with industrial development in urban areas as well as haphazard management of grabage and sewege disposal, threatening the population living along the river banks," Yeole said.
"The malady is that the planners in the big cities situated upstream, seem to be sacrificing the well being of the downstream population in their pursuit of industrial and economic development, showing little concern for pollutants that are channeled into the river," Yeole, himself an expert in water sport who is familiar with boating and rowing, said.
Along the way, the 'Jal Dindi' activists numbering around 125, would be organising health camps, showing films on ecology and environment protection, tree plantation and a demonstraton of water purification to the population living on the river bank.
"The spiritual dimension to the expedition comes from the 800 year old tradition of pilgrimage undertaken on foot annually by lakhs of Warkari sect devotees from all over
Maharashtra as well as the neigbouring states, who carry the palanquins of saint Dynaneshwar and Tukaram from Alandi and Dehu to Pandharpur converging on the bank of river Chandrabhaga or Bhima on the auspicious Ashadhi Ekadashi day," said Vinod Bodhankar, a trustee of the Jal Dindi pratishthan who is now planning to undertake similar awarness boat expeditions across other rivers in the state.
"What is heartening is that the effort is now being acknowledged by the education department of Maharashtra government which has included the Jal Dindi drive in its text books for school students," Yeole noted.