Sant Seechewal struggles to save Punjab flood survivors

Jalandhar (Punjab), Aug 24 (IANS) Flooded with emotions, a sea of humanity has erupted to help the victims in the waterlogged villages of Punjab.

Eco warrior Sant Balbir Singh Seechewal, who came into the global limelight after reviving the almost dead 160-km-long Kali Bein, a rivulet sacred to the Sikhs, reached up to the flood affected people. He, along with his volunteers has been moving in boats from house to house, from dawn to dusk to provide relief material to the affected people.

At present, boats are the only means to connect to the nearly 70 marooned villages, located along the banks of the Satluj river in Jalandhar and Kapurthala districts. This was the worst flood to hit the state in 40 years.

Hundreds of families have been trapped on the rooftops of their houses, awaiting relief material from the administration and volunteers.

"Our volunteers are visiting the villages to provide the relief material, especially the medicines and drinking water, and food to the flood-hit people," Sant Seechewal told IANS in a village in the Shahkot sub-division, the worst-affected in Jalandhar district.

They are also providing fodder for the cattle.

Riding a motor boat, Sant Seechewal, who is often heard asking his volunteers to give more relief material to the children and the elderly, said there was a huge shortage of boats in the area.

"If the administration deploys more boats, the relief material could easily be distributed to many," he said.

According to him, most of the villages are still marooned in three-four feet of water. "Now, many of villagers have been suffering from water-borne diseases like diarrhoea. They desperately need medicine and we are providing them. Secondly, there is a huge demand for drinking water," he said.

"Each boat with two to three volunteers carries relief material of two to three quintals and this is distributed from dawn to dusk," he said, who was often seen feeding the abandoned cattle stranded in the flooded paddy fields.

Sant Seechewal's volunteers are also helping the Indian Army and the local administration in plugging the breaches and in rescuing people.

Kirpal Singh of Lohian village, who was sitting outside his "kutcha" house along with his family, said they were surviving only because of Baba Seechewal. "Baba Seechewal is the only hope in this village. His volunteers are daily coming here and serving us cooked food and milk. For our cattle, they are providing fodder. They have given us their helpline numbers too," he said.

At most places, the villagers refused to leave their houses fearing theft despite the administration efforts to relocate the women, children and the elders to the relief camps.

Non-Resident Indian (NRI) and Canada-based philanthropist Sukhi Bath, who was accompanying Sant Seechewal in a relief operation, said he was deeply saddened by this natural disaster.

"I visited many natural disaster-hit places in the past, but in my life I have never seen such scene. In 25 to 30 villages that I have visited, I have seen people standing on the rooftops. They have nothing to eat, no medicine and they have no future as their crop has been totally damaged," said Bath with moist eyes.

"They are desperately looking for medicines," he added.

In Jalandhar and Kapurthala districts, a majority of the palatial houses in villages belong to NRIs, who are mainly settled in the Europe, Canada and the US.

Locals are appealing to the NRIs to come forward and adopt villages to rehabilitate them. Bath said there are many Punjabi NRIs who willing to donate generously.

Wearing his trademark maroon robes, Sant Seechewal, the only Asian winner of TIME magazine's 'Hero of Environment' award appealed to the people and the NRIs to donate monetarily to help rehabilitate the people.

Chief Minister Amarinder Singh on Saturday said the Indian Army has initiated the challenging task of plugging the biggest breach of around 500 feet in the Jania Chahal village in Jalandhar.

"Closely monitoring the progress," he tweeted.

He appealed to the flood-hit people to move to the specially created camps.

More than 300 villages, mainly in Ropar, Anandpur Sahib, Jalandhar, Kapurthala and Ferozepur districts, have been badly hit by the swollen Satluj river, damaging crops and forcing tens of thousands of villagers to spend nights on rooftops.

(Vishal Gulati can be reached at vishal.g@ians.in)

--IANS

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