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How one doctor ‘cured’ a river

How one woman mobilised an entire town to reclaim its river

The state of the river pre-cleanup

It took a surgery of her own, and the power of social media, to transform a doctor into a social activist.

Dr Rakhi Anand Agarwal is a gynaecologist in Najibabad, a town in the Bijnor district of Uttar Pradesh. For 15 years, she had been living no farther than two kilometres from the Malan river, which flows through the town, but had never paid it any attention…until five years ago, when after undergoing an operation, her mother advised her to spend time feeding the fish in the river, as part of her recuperation.

Mobilising more people

What she saw in the river dismayed her. It was full of religious offerings in plastic bags, as well as much of the town’s waste.

“I wanted to do something about it, but didn’t know what. Also I wondered what people would say about a doctor crusading to clean up a river. Anyway, I made a beginning by starting to clean the river banks, along with my clinic staff”, she said.

More hands on deck

On Day 1, they started cleaning at 7 am. Two hours later, the area looked much the same. But they persisted in doing this every day before the morning OPD. When asked for help, the locals joined in…for a while.

Mountains of garbage remained. People were still throwing things into the river.

When Dr Agarwal took her cause to social media, school and college students began volunteering their time. Finally, the civic administration stepped in. A JCB was deployed, and accomplished more in a day than what the team could in weeks.

Taking the cleanliness pledge

The town trash is no longer dumped in the river. Factories are also prohibited from discharging effluents into it.

Finally, the day came when she could do what she had come to the river for: Feed the fish.

The team has planted and monitored the growth of hundreds of trees along the river banks, which are now 15-20 feet tall. The area has become so pleasant that people now practise yoga there!

The river post-cleanup

“Initially, when I started cleaning the river with my staff, I had to combat a lot of criticism. People said ‘you are a doctor, not a cleaner’; some even said that I had taken the nagarpalika’s contract! But today, I am both a doctor and a changemaker”, she signed off.

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