How One Man Single-Handedly Cleaned Up A 160 Km Long Indian River

How One Man Single-Handedly Cleaned Up A 160 Km Long Indian River

The Kali Bein river flows through the state of Punjab and after a run of 160 kilometres, it roars into the confluence of the Sutlej and Beas rivers. It got its name from minerals in its bedrock that gave it a blackish-greenish hue but over the years, its reputation became more and more dire as it came to be associated with pollution and as the dump yard for industrial waste. But one man with a special allegiance to the river, Sant Balbir Singh Seechewal, changed all of that. Today, he’s better known as ‘Eco Baba.’

Eco Baba overlooking a drain at Kali Bein river
Eco Baba overlooking a drain at Kali Bein

The only Indian and Asian at the time to win the TIME ‘Hero of the Environment’ award in 2008, Eco Baba has come a long way in his journey--99 miles to be exact. He has been cleaning the holy river since the early 2000s, with help from volunteers and villages across the banks.

He even managed to rope in the Punjab government  to help him implement the ‘Seechewal Model’ that is a low-cost, underground sewage system that treats stored sewage water for agriculture and irrigation.

The dying Kali Bein had become the drain for over 40 villages, leaving dry patches in the river and farms parched. In an interview with the Indian Express, Baba Seechewal said that the delay by state officials was only making the situation worse as the groundwater was getting contaminated and spreading deadly diseases. A village headman also claimed that people were dying as a result of high toxicity in the water, land and air in the region.

The river lined with trees today
The river lined with trees

When the wait for state action took more than two years, Baba Seechewal launched a public awareness campaign. Both monetary and voluntary support started seeping in and at its peak, the movement had more than 24 villages actively participating in the river clean-up drive.

Right from clearing the water hyacinths, silt, garbage and sewage, Baba along with volunteers restored the normal flow of the river and revived natural springs that filled up the dry lands. Trees were planted at the banks and fishing was banned. Today, bathing ghats, gardens, brick roads and lush green fruit bearing trees stand guard at the every corner of the river.

Baba Seechewal has also caught the eye of the central government for the river Ganga clean-up. Besides being an environmentalist, he has set up schools , technical centres and degree colleges.

Not to mention he is constantly developing new low-cost methods to treat garbage and also works towards addressing the issues of poverty, superstition and atrocities against women. In a country that’s drowning in a web of its own social and environmental ills, we can only hope he inspires more people to follow in his footsteps.