FOR Indian film maker Sudheer Gupta, the contrast could not have been more stark.
As he stood beside the Tyne, now the best waterway in England and Wales for rod catches of salmon, Sudheer compared it to the Yamuna river in his home city of Delhi.
Both will feature in his latest documentary film.
Sudheer describes the heavily polluted Yamuna, the biggest tributary of the Ganges, as a “black ribbon”.
He says: “Delhi has 16 million people and there is more and more industry.”
The same massive influx of people and proliferation of industry meant the gross pollution of the Tyne in the 19th Century.
Only 40 or so years ago the Tyne was still so badly fouled that court sittings at the Moot Hall in Newcastle had to be suspended on hot days because of the pungency of the river below.
Sudheer’s film will reflect on the issues surrounding the Yamuna and the recovery of the Tyne, Wear and Tees as the North East moves into a post-industrial phase.
He has also been learning how the North East’s water network functions.
Sudheer is spending three months at Durham University’s Institute of Advanced Study, staying at the 18th Century Cosin’s Hall on Palace Green between Durham Cathedral and castle.
The institute, set up three years ago, acts as an ideas-based forum for debate and research into issues of global significance.
Experts from a wide range of disciplines spend time at the institute in the course of a year to examine a particular theme.
The theme until June next year is water. The programme, involving 20 experts, is examining the central role which water plays in people’s lives – past, present and future – and is being supported by Northumbrian Water.
The company has taken Sudheer on a tour which has included:
Kielder reservoir and its salmon hatchery.
Lamesley water treatment works in Gateshead, where sewage effluent and minewater are dealt with and “polished” in reed beds which double as a nature feature in a project which has improved water quality in the rivers Team and Tyne.
Wearhead treatment works below Burnhope reservoir in County Durham. The works have been built to look like a traditional farmstead to blend into what is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
The 52-acre Bran Sands site on the Tees, where sewage sludge is super-heated and turned into pellets for fertiliser and also burned to fuel cement kilns.
Currently being commissioned is a system whereby the sludge is pressure cooked then digested by bacteria, with the resultant methane gas being used to provide power for the site.
Sudheer, who is currently taking a PhD in Indian popular film, has made two dozen independent documentaries as well as commissioned films for Indian television and international TV networks.
His present focus is on ecology and environmental sustainability.
Work has included a documentary, More Men in Black, about a force of 10,000 recyclers on bicycles who extract black oil from the industrial drains of Delhi.
Earlier this year he completed a film on the 200,000 rag pickers who recycle part of Delhi’s waste.
Although Sudheer has seen how the North East has pushed ahead with river clean-ups and land regeneration, he points out that developed countries also have a part to play in tackling environmental problems in developing nations.
The carbon emissions of developing countries are largely owned by developed countries because they are the destination for much of what is produced, he says.
“Production, the food chain, water - we are all connected. Pollution does not leave the planet. There is no them and us,” he says.
We are all connected. Pollution does not leave the planet. There is no them and us