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India: The Maharashtra cabinet has approved the pilot project for revitalization of Waghari River in Yavatmal. The Agriculture Department has earmarked Rs. 415 crore for project implementation.

The cabinet approval also includes formation of a Special Purpose Vehicle for the project, which will have representation from members of Rally for Rivers, and other technical experts. The state government released a Government Resolution which formalizes the project.

Responding to the Maharashtra government’s decision, Sadhguru who launched the nationwide Rally for Rivers movement in September 2017, tweeted, “Maharashtra cabinet nod to @rallyforrivers’ Waghari revitalization project is a landmark step which will create a model & an example for the nation that ecology & economy can indeed work together.”

Maharashtra has long grappled with an agrarian crisis that simply doesn’t seem to go away. It is estimated that nearly 60% of cultivable land in Maharashtra is hit by drought this year which is believed to affect over 80 lakh farmers. In 2016, the two main regions affected by drought were Vidharba and Marathwada. This year, 26 districts across the state are reeling under drought. Along with Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra has witnessed some of the highest incidences of farmer suicides.

Which is why news of the cabinet approval for the project could not have come at a better time. In India, Maharashtra was the first state in the country to sign an MoU with Isha Foundation for river rejuvenation. The MoU agrees to plant up to 50 crore trees in the state to promote afforestation, particularly in riparian regions. The state has taken the lead in plantation drives by increasing community participation in sapling plantation through platforms such as Vanamahotsav, the annual tree-planting drive that is celebrated like a festival across India every July.

The Rally for Rivers team will work with Government of Maharashtra towards revitalization of Waghari River in Yavatmal district. To revitalize Waghari, improve soil fertility and increase farmers’ incomes, the project will undertake massive sapling plantation on both sides of the river from the active mark of the floodplains. Other significant components of the project include facilitating local farmers to shift from crop-based agriculture to chemical-free farming to improve soil fertility; increasing horticulture (fruit tree) cultivation and medicinal tree-based agriculture in the region; promoting use of micro-irrigation methods; enrolling large-scale public participation in afforestation drives on government land; and creating infrastructure and support systems for farmers’ produce through public-private partnership.

The Rally for Rivers team had presented a detailed project plan to the Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis and Forest Minister Sudhir Munghantiwar on 7 August 2018 in Mumbai. Subsequently, a Detailed Project Report (DPR) for revitalization of Waghari was submitted in November 2018.

In addition to agroforestry experts and scientists, the state government will be supported by Isha’s ‘Nadi Veeras’ – full-time Rally for Rivers’ volunteers – in executing the project. Successful implementation of the project in Maharashtra could establish a scalable and replicable model for the rest of the nation. “The project will not only support the river and biodiversity around the river but also boost farmers’ income manifold, thereby enhancing rural economy. We want to establish this as a model for the nation and the world for sustainable agriculture leading to robust economic progress and river revitalization,” said Sadhguru referring to the Yavatmal pilot project.

Rally for Rivers is a movement launched by Sadhguru in September 2017, to save India’s dying rivers. The campaign was supported by 162 million Indians making it the largest ever public-endorsed mass awareness campaign in the history of the planet. The Rally for Rivers Draft Policy Recommendations has been accepted by the Indian government for policy implementation. Several Indian states signed MoUs with Isha Foundation and are partnering with Rally for Rivers to pilot river revitalization projects in water stressed districts.

On June 6, 2018, NITI Aayog sent a national advisory to all 29 States and Union Territories outlining the Central Government’s intent on river revitalization with a Programme for Action. In his letter to the states and UTs, Amitabh Kant, CEO of NITI Aayog stated “Based on the discussions, it has been decided to launch a major mission on revitalization of rivers utilizing the existing schemes/programmes of the Government with community led efforts… I would suggest that your State/Union Territory could take up a few pilot projects for revitalization of rivers with active involvement of all stakeholders and convergence of schemes of various Ministries and State Government.”

One hundred full-time Isha volunteers – Nadi Veeras (‘river champions’) – are working on the ground to assist with implementation of river rejuvenation projects in different states as well as to advance the Rally for Rivers mission through increased community participation. The Rally for Rivers campaign was awarded the 2018 National Water Award in the category of Best Educative/Mass Awareness Efforts.

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