When he was a teenager, Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev set off on a 160-km expedition down the river Cauvery, in a raft made from four tyre tubes and 10 sticks of bamboo. "If you tried that today," he says, "You would be caught in the rocks because there just isn't enough water. The time of exploiting this resource has passed, we need to look at rejuvenation." The Sadhguru's mammoth campaign, Rally for Rivers India's Lifeline was flagged off on September 1 with great aplomb, as hundreds of thousands of people all dressed in blue, came together across 60 cities to pledge their solidarity for the cause. The Sadhguru, talks to Aknisree Karthik about his initiative, the need for more policy and what it takes to garner support
You have gone from being a young man crazy about bikes to a global spiritual leader. Tell us about this metamorphosis
Sadhguru: It is not about a craze for bikes or anything else. It is just that whether it is riding a motorcycle, playing golf or conducting a program, I do it with utmost intensity, with absolute passion and involvement. I don’t think one thing is more important than something else. That’s why I am involved with just about anything that is with me at that moment. That’s what spirituality is. It means your interest and involvement in life has gone so deep, you want to know the most profound parts of life. And then you discover, with needed intensity, all is profound.
Let’s talk about Rally for Rivers – India’s Lifeline. What triggered this campaign and why now?
Sadhguru: Rivers have been the lifelines of this nation. We are a culture that has grown out of riverbanks. But today, our rivers are at dangerous levels of depletion. If you fly over India, the nation looks resembles a brown desert. Several rivers don’t even make it to the ocean for several months of the year. When the rains come, there are floods and other wise nothing. Rivers that have been perennial for millions of years have turned seasonal in the span of a single generation. If you ignore this, then that is our statement: We have no love for the generations to come.
How alarming is the situation for rivers in India, especially the Cauvery, the lifeline for both Karnataka and Tamil Nadu?
Sadhguru: Between the ages of 12 and 17, I swam in the Cauvery every day. I even traversed 163 km down the river, on a raft made of four truck tubes and ten sticks of bamboo. It was incredible. If you tried that today, you’d find yourself caught on the rocks because there just isn’t water. The time to exploit this precious resource is gone. We need to look at the regeneration of our rivers.
These two states need to think in terms of having the Cauvery flow into the ocean all year round. Who gets what is relevant only if there is something to get! Let us revive the tributaries that contribute to the Cauvery. Let us make her flow.
This is an ambitious plan, requiring support from the union government, the states and the people. How have you garnered this?
Sadhguru: Our rivers are essentially forest fed. When precipitation happens, because of vegetation, the soil becomes moist and retains water, which is let off into the river gradually. People think that trees exist because there is water. Actually, there is water because of the trees. We need to ensure that river banks have atleast a kilometer of trees on either side. Government land should be converted to forests and farm lands should mandatorily grow fruit trees. If this is to happen, policy needs to support farmers for a few years until these trees bear fruit. We are building a policy recommendation in this respect with help from several experts. I have also been speaking to various organizations, public and private sector companies about this. And some states have already started acting. Madhya Pradesh has implemented a policy for Narmada with our inputs, and Maharashtra has signed an MoU with us to plant crore trees. So there is a phenomenal response from everywhere. We need to convert this into action. Let us remember one thing. This is not a matter of ambition so much as survival. I plan to drive from Kanyakumari to the Himalayas between September 3 and October 2, covering 16 states and holding major events along the way. Several Chief Ministers and governors have also confirmed their participation. In Delhi, we will present the River Rejuvenation policy proposal to the government.
Please talk about how this initiative is ‘non-religious’ in nature..,
Sadhguru: How can water, which is the fundamental source of life on this planet, be a religious issue? This is not about religion, it is about living sensibly.
Is there any scientific study to confirm that planting of trees upto 1 km on both sides of the rivers will help revive them ?
Sadhguru: There is substantial scientific evidence to show this happens. A group of experts, including soil scientists, hydrogeology and remote sensing experts, policy experts, IAS and IFS officers and many others, are working on the policy and putting all this together. If we act now and ensure tree cover for a minimum of a kilometer if we can do more it will be great in fifteen years, there will be a significant change in our rivers. But if we wait for fifteen years to act, it may take a century to turn things around because the damage will be done and the ecosystem lost.
What is your opinion on India’s development under Prime Minister Narendra Modi? What are your views on some of his biggest initiatives – demonetization, the cattle trade ban and GST…
Sadhguru: One thing I can say for certain is that the nation is the foremost thought in the minds of the top leadership. The Prime Minister himself works 18-20 hours a day, which is very inspiring. There are no magic solutions for the problems India is facing because we have been an occupied nation for nearly 1000 years. Many aspects that make up a healthy society have been destroyed. These problems cannot be solved in a year or two. It will take sustained effort to build this nation back and it is not the job of any one party or one Prime Minister, it is the responsibility of every citizen. Let us make it happen!