Catholics help save 'lifeline' river in India

In a landmark campaign, hundreds will walk over 1,000 kilometers to protect the Narmada River
Catholics help save 'lifeline' river in India

Archbishop Leo Cornelio was welcomed with shower of flower petals as he joined a march to save a major river from pollution in central India. (Photo courtesy of the archbishop's office)

Catholics have joined Hindus in India's Madhya Pradesh state to try and save a river from pollution that is turning its water toxic.

Archbishop Leo Cornelio of Bhopal joined the Narmada Seva Yatra (meaning, "protect Narmada march") along with the state's Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan as it passed through Hoshangabad district on Jan. 16.

The march is scheduled to end May 11 after covering the 1,077 kilometers of the river that passes through the state. The 1,312 kilometer river flows west running through two other states before connecting with the Arabian Sea.

A group of more than 100 people including Hindu ascetics, activists and political leaders plan to walk the entire duration. Local villages will welcome them as they pass through and accompany them to the next village, creating a relay effect.

Archbishop Cornelio said it was essential to clean the river or "the entire state will face a severe water crisis. It is the collective responsibility of everyone to ensure that the river is protected," he told ucanews.com.

The prelate addressed thousands of people, mostly Hindus, gathered to witness the march. "The Catholic Church has always believed in protecting environment," he said.

A few priests, nuns and children from Christian schools accompanied the archbishop and pledged the Christian community's support.

"We all marched to the bank of the river supporting the move to keep the river clean. When people vow to protect the river and environment things will change," said Father Preetham Rayan Mendonca.

Campaign coordinator, Vishnu Dattu Sharma said that they designed the program to ensure the participation of everyone irrespective of caste, religion or language.

"We go to every village on the banks of the river and involve everyone," said Sharma, who is also the state general secretary of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party.

"We also plant fruit tree saplings on the riverbank and form special village committees to take care of them and pledge not to pollute the river further," Sharma said.

Over the years, the main water source has become polluted and the water is increasingly becoming harmful for consumption, said Hindu seer, Mahesh Prasad, who is active in the campaign to clean the river.

"The factories dump effluence into the river untreated, the villages drain out sewerage into it, pilgrims dump waste and leftover worship material, even the ashes of burnt bodies, half-burned bodies and animal carcasses are thrown into it making it highly contaminated," he said.

The Narmada River is the fifth longest in the Indian sub-continent and known as the lifeline of Madhya Pradesh as it flows through 16 of the state's 51 districts providing water to major cities such as Indore, Jabalpur and the capital, Bhopal.

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