Manoj Misra, Convener, Yamuna Jiye Abhiyaan (Campaign for a Living Yamuna River), a Civil Society Consortium & former Indian Forest Service Officer, is a passionate social ecologist focused on river development and rejuvenation throughout his career as an active environmental scholar, activist, and policy researcher.
Mr. Manoj Misra was renowned throughout his career for being the kind, humble, and guiding light that he always was. Manoji was a 1979 batch Indian Forest Service officer who worked for 22 years in the forest department, until taking voluntary retirement in 2001.
In 2002, he founded PEACE, a non-governmental organization committed to advancing the cause of natural conservation. He also led TRAFFIC India, a part of WWF-India, and published over 100 articles in various publications, journals, and newspapers. His dedication to the Yamuna began in 2007 when he started the Yamuna Jiye Abhiyaan (YJA), a river rejuvenation campaign.
Contributions of an Environmentalist
Misra initiated various petitions with the National Green Tribunal (NGT), the most noteworthy of which was the January 13, 2015, NGT verdict titled ‘Mailey se Nirmal Yamuna Revitalization Project 2017’, which asked for deadlines to be set for cleaning up the river, and action from both the state and the Centre.
The event was chaired Mr K J Joy, Founding Member and Senior Fellow, Society for Promoting Participative Ecosystem Management (SOPPECOM), Pune, with distinguished panelists.
Panelists include Ms Mallika Bhanot (Volunteer with Ganga Ahvaan), Ms Nivedita Khandekar(Independent Journalist), Mr V R Raman (National Convenor, Public Health Resource Network), Mr Ranjan Panda (Waterman of Odisha), Mr Leo F Saldanha (Founding Trustee and Coordinator, Environment Support Group), Mr Gopal Krishna (Toxics Watch Alliance),Mr Lokendra Thakkar (Coordinator, State Knowledge Center on Climate Change), Ms Bhavreen Kandhari (Founder, Warrior Moms & Air Quality Enthusiast), Mr Suresh Babu (SV, Director, Rivers Wetlands and Water Policy, WWF India), Mr Himanshu Thakkar (Coordinator, South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers & People), Mr Siddharth Agarwal (Founder, Veditum India Foundation and Convenor, India Rivers Forum), and Ms Ipsita Pati (Principal Correspondent, Times of India). With a family member, Ms. Shraddha Bakshi.
The program commenced with a video a tribute to Mr. Manoj Misra, replaying his address at the 2014 India Rivers Week in New Delhi, in which he passionately advocated Indian rivers.
Ms. Simi Mehta, CEO of IMPRI, began the event by announcing the publication of an E-book based on Manoj Misra’s lectures at IMPRI on Environment & Public Policy, challenges surrounding the river Yamuna, and the urgent need for its restoration to comprehend the complexity of environmental conservation.
Ms Mehta shared that this E-book is a testament to his extraordinary contributions to environmental conservation and profound impact on the preservation of the Yamuna River, and that it is a great honor and deep respect to represent this book as a tribute to the extraordinary achievements of an extraordinary individual. She concluded her opening remarks by stating that Mr. Misra’s lectures would be available on the IMPRI Platform and will be publicly available for future times to come.
The introductory speech by the chair, Mr. K J Joy, began with him expressing his gratitude to Ms. Simi Mehta and the numerous collectives that had joined, of which Mr. Misra was a vital member and Manoj will be remembered by the India River Forum and the WWF for his contributions.
Mr. Joy shared his first encounter with Manoj sir, back in 2011, he was astounded by his ability to equate the whole river system on the earth to the human body, asserting “The rivers are the arteries of our planet, and any type of blockages of the arteries could have a detrimental effect.” Similarly, if you govern rivers with dams and infrastructure, the rivers will deflect. He defined it in such an approach that anyone could connect to and comprehend it.
This gave the impression that Manoj sir was a different and unique individual, for such a passionate plea was unheard of in the water industry for the last 40 years. Since that day, the two have been linked, and since the India River Forum was established in 2014, the two have been an essential part of that initiative.
Mr. Manoj Misra was appointed to the Forum for Policy Dialogue on Water Conflicts’ Standing Committee in 2016 because of his enthusiasm for rivers and abilities to communicate and advocate. He was the primary contact in the water industry for questions and politically delicate matters.
Remembering Yamuna Man
A soft voice leading you on the right path. He always articulated his ideas in a calm and gentle manner. Known to be quite persuasive and for executing his role effectively. Their last meeting was in March of 2023. Mr, Joy shared, “Manoj is Yamuna”, When someone speaks of the Yamuna and its rejuvenation, Manoj Misra comes to mind. The work done in the Yamunaji Abhiyan, in 2011,
resulted in the 2015 verdict, which was crucial in the development of the Nirmal Yamuna Plan. Mr. Misra brought the proposal to the NGT, which resulted in the formation of a committee to investigate the Yamuna project. He is highly recognized for his conservation and restoration of Yamuna.
His expertise and involvement with rivers is not confined to the Yamuna; for example, he was at the forefront of those opposed to hydropower development in the Ganga Basin.
Manoj Misra and Mr. Shashi Shekhar (appointed Ex-Secretary of the Ministry of Water Resources), both batchmates from the Indian Forest Services, worked towards Ganga Rejuvenation in 2015.
They both collaborated to investigate the Kedarnath tragedy in 2015. Mr. Shekhar revealed that the tragedy that unfolded, could only be comprehended with the aid of Manoj Misra’s crucial inputs of looking into the connections between hydropower projects, which culminated in the Supreme Court looking into it and coming up with subordinate legislation for it. Mr Misra was involved in intra and interstate disputes involving or relating to water.
Manoj Misra is well-known for his tryst with the government’s dilution of the environmental impact assessment. Mr Misra presented a paper that explained EIA. The water conservation forum supported his claim, and the campaign was launched.
Prior to the UP elections, a Cabinet subcommittee approved the Kembethua project. Mr. Misra submitted a letter to the Prime Minister claiming that the authorized project is illegal and citing official documentation to back up his argument. Bundelkhand would be in jeopardy as a result of this project.
Mr. Misra drafted the National Water Policy in 2019, which aimed at the protection and rejuvenation of rivers. He believed that it was the citizens and the state’s constitutional obligation to safeguard waterways.
Mr. Joy concluded his speech by stating that he knew Manoj sir as a passionate social ecologist, who focused on river development and rejuvenation throughout his career as an active environmental scholar, activist, and policy researcher.
Our next speaker, Mr V R Raman, personified Manoj sir in Gramsci’s idea of organic intervention and their first meeting was in Chhattisgarh in 1996, when he learned about environmental literacy from him.
Mr. Misra well articulated his cause of how the forest department can work with the tribal affairs department for tribal healthcare. Tribal areas in Chhattisgarh are also conflict zones for healthcare system development and how that can help overcome the problems. The two reconnected in 2015 when Mr. Raman was working in the water sanitation sector during the rise of water issues between India, Bangladesh, and Nepal.
Mr. Raman closed his speech by saying, “Manoj sir was both a social ecologist and a social activist.” He changed this formal voyage into a social adventure as a social activist.
The following panelist, Lokendra Thakar, described how Mr. Misra founded the “Friends of Earth” organization in the early 1990s. They actively began working on environmental concerns. He regarded him as his source of inspiration.
Mr. Manoj possessed a rich reservoir of information on rivers, water, animals, and the forest. He resigned from his position, exited the system, and continued to stand up against issues, and we need more individuals like him. He was willing to oppose government authorities when it comes to the environment, as a member of the Madhya Pradesh Action Plan for Wildlife Committee.
Mr. Thakur explained how he used to look out for Manoj sir’s good morning messages on Twitter on a daily basis, and he closed his speech by saying that he will complete the assignment entrusted to him by Manoj sir, which is to draft the Wildlife Action Plan for the Madhya Pradesh State Government.
Our next speaker for the event, Ms.Nivedita Khandekar. She was one of the many whose mornings began with Manoj sir’s daily good morning tweets on Twitter. Her first encounter with Mr. Misra occurred in 2007, while she was working in HT. She stated that he would treat everyone with dignity and that his contribution to journalism would be invaluable- he would acknowledge the journalists’ efforts and provide honest feedback.
She discussed the trilogy of books that he was writing, the first of which, “Wildlife @ 50: Saving the Wild, Securing the Future,” was released in September 2022. The second was on the Water Act, and the third and last one was meant to be on the Wildlife Act, for which he requested her assistance in writing a chapter about her experiences working in the environment/environmental journalism. She admired him for his optimism and his quest of bringing Yamuna back to its natural state, as well as government agencies causing difficulties with the rivers’ status. It was an ICC talk in
2011 that served as an example in a series known as, “Living Rivers and Dying Rivers”, which was very focused and well-crafted, through which we recall today, “fortunately, unlike us, rivers can be restored from the state of almost death”.
Mr. Ranjan Panda was the next panelist, and he said that before meeting Manoj sir, he used to understand things via social lenses. After meeting him, Mr Misra helped him grasp the connection between forest and water and instilled in him a solid sense that science and technology can do much more than improve social awareness of water. Understanding rivers from all angles was critical, as was popularising science and technology education to help people comprehend rivers.
Mr. Panda said, “Mr. Misra was an encyclopedia on Yamuna and river understanding, and I was just a learning Maharathi.” They worked together in, the Living Rivers and Dying Rivers initiative.
Interactions with him were always interesting and educational. He placed faith in government agencies and considered it vital to collaborate with them. Manoj sir always shared, to render use of the good officers’ expertise and their access to the government system to make your ambitions a reality. Mr. Misra never hesitated to share his wisdom with a junior.
One of his most memorable Twitter messages for Mr. Panda was, “Work of a cause, not for applause. Live life to impress but to express. Don’t strive to make your presence noticed. Just make your absence felt.”
Dr. Leo F Salhadan, the event’s next speaker, spoke about his memorable tweet of Mr. Misra’s favorite, “Have a fun-filled and joyful 2023.”
He set us a metaphorical challenge by making the Yamuna the focal point of his work for several years. The challenge is that political power is centered along the Yamuna, despite the fact that it is the most polluted river in the country; it is a metaphor for how India is governed. His work serves as a guide for everyone since he used to justify his work with real facts and data, before forming an opinion. He combined research, policy, and practices for us, and we should take it forward as he did the metaphorical task of Yamuna.
As a metaphorical challenge, work on both living and dying rivers. For if you want dying rivers, you need a dying country. Living rivers, living country. Celebrate his eternal presence by using his analogies.
Ms Mallika Bhanot, our next panelist, stated that Manoj sir was the immediate point of contact for anything environmental. He worked like a network, connecting the right individuals at the right time. She said, in a room full of chaos and volatility, his calmness would stand out.
He was the cause for the government acknowledging, on an affidavit for the first time in history, that there was a direct and indirect effect in intensifying the impact of the 2013 tragedy. The State became aware of hydropower projects and associated challenges in the Himalayas for the first time. She stated that Manoj sir would discuss the technical aspects of environmental concerns and refer to rivers as if they were living beings. Rivers are referred to as mothers.
As a Philosophy student striving to preserve Ganga’s cultural holiness, he invited her to write a chapter on seeking water as divine in his latest book on the Water Act.
They have produced resolutions such as Chardham road expansion, since the complete environmental impact study was bypassed. That obtained them a meeting with the PM after gathering 64 signatures. They drafted the People’s Ganga Act.
Ms Bhanot is a member of the Bhagirathi environmentally sensitive zone Committee, which oversees the river Bhagirathi’s sole eco-sensitive zone. She remembered how she and Mr. Misra were in charge of enacting legislation to safeguard such environmentally sensitive zones. He used to explain that all of these valleys are equally vulnerable and must be treated like living creatures in order to flow. She ended her speech by reading a poem she penned about how much Manoj sir meant to her.
Mr. Suresh Babu, the event’s next speaker, stated that Mr. Misra examined science, policy, and practice, with the fourth pillar being people and their approach to making them understand rivers.
Mr. Misra invented the People’s Health Index and established the first of its kind,” Nadi Mitr Mandil”, to bring people together and critically examine the river and the river’s health. Through Nadi Mitr Mandil, he used his activism, scientific and academic rigor to dissect and demystify challenges, and understanding of hydraulics and hydropower projects to articulate them while also empowering local people with solutions.
He intends to complete the unfinished river regulation and ended his address by recalling his discussion on defining rivers at the India Rivers forum.
Our next speaker, Mr. Siddharth Agarwal saw Mr. Misra as a humble companion and mentor who served as the glue and driving force in whatever circumstance that was thrown at him. He had a tremendous depth of knowledge as well as character, and he spoke with a sense of knowing, causing one to eagerly acquire information from him. He concluded his conversation by stating, Manoj sir had the capacity to become a mentor without ego and was never dismissive.
Ms. Shraddha Bakshi, Mr. Manoj Misra’s sister, was the event’s last speaker. She expressed her gratitude, adding that learning that so many people admire her brother mattered a lot to her. She shed light on portions of his personal life and how he came to be known as Manoj Misra. She recalled how, as youngsters, their father would take Mr Misra on early morning nature walks. Their father ensured that they were up to date on current events. She also mentioned that he was passionate about pursuing a career in Indian Forest Services and changing the system from the inside.
The event concluded with a vote of thanks by Nayana, a Researcher at IMPRI, who thanked all the speakers and the chair for making the session an enriching experience for all the viewers and participants.
Acknowledgment: Narayani Bhatnagar, a researcher at IMPRI.
VIDEOS & AUDIOS
YouTube Live Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0RIi4n8-6hk
YouTube HQ Video: https://youtu.be/dHrf2OxRCWw
Read eBook Voice of Yamuna: Manoj Misra – Tribute to an Environmental Hero | IMPRI BOOKS
Manoj Misra | Interlinkages of River Avoidable and Flawed Concept | IMPRI #WebPolicyTalk