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Story of Shailaja Deshpande and Jeevit Nadi – Living River Foundation

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Story of Shailaja Deshpande and Jeevit Nadi – Living River Foundation

SalamatRaho, an initiative by NomadLawyer brings to you the story of Shailaja Deshpande. Shailaja Deshpande is one such crusader whose mission is to save rivers from dying a slow death. She was amongst the few who realized that a river doesn’t just carry water, it carries life. Hence, an initiative to save rivers saw the light of the day and it is named– Jeevit Nadi- Living River Foundation.

Living River Foundation

A crusade is, simply put, something that’s bigger than you are. It’s a “cause” with an impact that reaches beyond your personal wants and needs.

Background of Shailaja Deshpande

She grew up in a small village on the banks of river Krishna. She completed her education in Pune and got married. Subsequently, she established a school with a friend. Her husband’s business grew and to support him, she joined his business and started designing interiors and also did a course in the subject. 

After running successful projects in Interiors over 14 years, she wanted to do something different but more in the field of environment and took up a course  in the Ecological Society Pune, an inclusive post grad diploma in ‘Sustainable Management of Natural Resources And Nature Conservation’. In Interiors, there was wastage of material, tiles, cement, fittings and what not. Somehow it was bothering her deep inside. Natural resource management actually gives a dimension of conserving everything and restoring back the disturbed ecosystem. The Ecological Society later gave her a good opportunity to manage a unique project funded by Global forest watch in catchment areas of rivers of Pune. 

During that time she attended a birthday celebration by the riverside where the father of a one year old child took an oath stating he will bring his son back to swim in this river after 15 years. The river was in a pathetic condition and swimming in it was impossible. This had a strong impact on her mind and emotions.

Also Read: Volunteer Projects Archives – Nomad Lawyer

Turning point for Shailaja 

She started having regular meetings with her group members on the river side or used their Ecological Society office during monsoons. She started organizing different sessions with experts in the field and learning with them – Ecological, Geography, Archaeology, Biotechnology, Green Chemistry, Hydro geology opened new dimensions and Tuesday’s with River continued for over a year.

Jeevit Nadi

Do Watch: https://youtu.be/jtLhlrDzQGU

This is how ‘Jeevit Nadi’- an initiative to save the rivers- was born.

Root cause: why our rivers are in a terrible state

Shailaja and her group kept trying to find the root cause of why the rivers are dying. The road map was slowly opening in front of her. One Vision- Revival of Rivers, One Mission – Revival of Rivers & One Goal- Revival of Rivers.

History tells us that all civilizations flourished because there was a river there. Civilization doomed when rivers dried. The reality has not changed even today. The river is a natural phenomenon of Nature, an integral part of Hydrological cycle. Rivers create a wind channel  and control the temperature. A water security can be there for a city  if rivers are there. An asset which cannot be ignored even for our selfish reasons.  But we took the river for granted. This is the root cause why our rivers are in a terrible state. 

So if you wish to restore her, one must consider the whole watershed of the River, which includes her tributaries, streams, springs, natural storm drains, her base flows and her flood plains, her wetlands and her riparian zones, her pools, riffles and cascades, her capacity to erode rocks to make them porous for ground water recharge. Her hyporheic zones which enable her recharge and discharge areas and replenishing and discharging of shallow aquifers. 

A Road Map towards Restoration was designed. Case-studies all around the world suggest that “River revival is not possible without participation of citizens”. The decision was taken to work with people for River.

Various projects were initiated to involve the local residents in saving the rivers and creating awareness about how to participate in their own capacity.

 “ Muthai River Walk” –  1st Signature program- Mutha is name of river, “ Aai in Marathi is mother”. Understanding the river is important. The River does not flow through the city but City is settled because this River existed. The story of River is woven beautifully through Archaeology, Historical evidences, ecology, and current transformations. Now it has become an integral part of schools & college curriculums. Corporates take River walk under CSR. 

Mobile River Exhibition’-  2nd signature program “Story of the River” in picture formats and “You tube video is created. Shailaja and her team go to schools, colleges, Corporates with this exhibition which is self-explanatory. Youtube videos are shared on social media.

‘ Muthai River Festival’  The 3rd Signature Program. Jeevit Nadi took up the responsibility of  celebrating one of its kind ‘Festival of Rivers’ on India River Day from 2015 on the banks of the river. It is a weeklong celebration, conducted annually, based on different themes. It involved people from every field and age group. Respect the Code Red (Awareness on HFL – red and blue lines) Flora Trails, bird count and Mutha bird watch trail, paint the River, Click the River, Trek to the source are some of the activities conducted so far. ‘Conceptual Riverfront Design Competition’ for architecture students was a hit where colleges from all over India participated.

This festival helped spread awareness amongst citizens about the river issues and remedies for river conservation

‘Toxin free life style’ our 4th Signature Program. During their exploration with different scientists, they came across a research which was mind blogging. Every day, a city with an average population of 50 lakh approximately, uses average 40gms of toxic chemicals through personal and household hygiene products. 2,00,000 kgs of untreated chemicals are dumped into the river daily.

So, If 70% sewage is from the domestic sector in most of the rivers, then we can stop this at source by using biodegradable and natural products, and by having a transition in lifestyle.

“Toxin free Life style” workshops started happening.  They got immediate response from colleges, environment departments & Corporates for orientation. Jeevit Nadi was invited to design the syllabus for various schools and colleges too.  Faculties started taking these workshops. They started undergoing “Train the Trainers” program. University like Symbiosis is creating new entrepreneurs by introducing this in curricula. 

‘Adopt A stretch’- 5th Signature program –  is an outcome of Muthai River Walks. “Adopt A stretch” – Idea is to create a group, adopt a river stretch for a period of one year. “ One hour for River”  works there consistently, clean the river bank, check sources of pollution, assess measures for prevention, study human impacts, observe and document biodiversity, record changes and probable causes. This program led them to create Citizen Science groups . 


They Teamed-up with various other organizations including Schools, Charitable Trusts, Corporate Social Responsibility Trusts, Ecology Expert Organizations, education institutes, engineering colleges, design institutes, research institutes and Government bodies to achieve the objectives of this project. 

Shailaja’s  learning during this whole journey

People in urban areas are not indifferent to their rivers.They wish to do “something”, but they don’t know where to start.

River warriors like Shailaja became the means to bring together good intentions in the society & convert it into meaningful action towards river conservation.

“We do not inherit earth from our ancestors, 

We borrow it from our children”

Let’s give our children what is rightfully theirs

Let us join hands to revive our rivers for all living beings on our planet.

If you want to support his initiative to write to [email protected] 

Shailaja Deshpande


Founder, Director – Jeevitnadi- Living River Foundation


[email protected]

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