Save Ganga and Swami
| Onkareshwar Pandey - 04 Aug 2018

Save Ganga and Swami

By Deepak Parvatiyar*

Decades ago, in 1985, Bollywood’s showman late Raj Kapoor had made a Bollywood blockbuster Ram Teri Ganga Maili. In English it means Ram your Ganga is dirty! Though the film was about the physical exploitation of a woman throughout her journey from the hills to the plains, the filmmaker was shrewd enough to make the woman symbolize the Holy Ganga to make it more politically relevant at a time when Rajiv Gandhi had just become the Prime Minister with a landslide victory and also on an election plank of cleaning Ganga!

Today both Rajiv and Raj are no more there and the filth has put the Ganga too on ventilator! Today Ganga is breathing poison and this despite the crores that have been pumped into it (at least on papers) to make her clean by removing the toxins from her arterial route ever since Rajiv’s time! While Rajiv’s clean Ganga projects flopped for publicly known reasons, the same land mafia-sand mafia-bureaucrat -politician nexus today more ominously threatens to hasten the death of the dying river. 

A dying Ganga means so far politicians have just paid lip service only to hoodwink voters by playing with their sentiments. To name them would be a redundant exercise for we all know who they are. But soon there won’t be any choice either. After all, what can be more telling than the fact that Ganga’s water is no more found fit for public consumption even at the holiest pilgrimage towns on her banks including Kashi and Haridwar. Only recently, on July 27, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) in one of its harshest chastisements of the authorities, asked them to educate people by installing display boards at a gap of 100 kilometres, indicating whether the Ganga water there was fit for drinking and bathing – “If cigarette packets can contain a warning saying it is ‘injurious to health,’ why not the people be informed of the adverse effects [of Ganga water].”

This public admonishment of Ganga authorities by any court has come for the umpteenth time but to no avail. Only a few days earlier, on July 19, the NGT had remarked that even as the government  had spent over Rs. 7,000 crore in two years to clean the Ganga, it still remains a "serious environmental issue". It went on to state: "Though the compliance affidavit may claim that all the steps have been taken, the object of the directions in letter and spirit and effect on the ground is not adequate…It is not possible to accept that the Ganges is pollution free."

Even last year on July 13, 2017, the NGT had rapped the government stating “It remains undisputed before the Tribunal that no part of river Ganga and its tributaries is free of pollution as of today…”  It could be nothing short of a tragedy if a court of law finds itself so helpless in getting its orders executed.

As it becomes amply clear, a polluted Ganga means a money spinning racket for a select few who are guided by their own vested interest. Just consider the remark made by the NGT in July last year and this is quite revealing: “…violators must realize their consistent defaults,… Deficiencies in the regulatory and supervisory regimes are writ large from the record of the case.”

In May 2016 too, the NGT had lamented that “The problem is that nobody wants to do anything [to clean Ganga].”

Yet, it is not that nobody wants to do anything to clean the Ganga. Ask millions of Ganga devotees and they feel deceived time and again by the tall promises of the political leaders. But they are as hapless as those who somehow ventured into accumulating pressure on the authorities in their own humble ways. Just consider that in 2011 34-year-old young Swami Nigmananda, who had been fasting for almost four months since February 19, to protest illegal mining and stone crushing along the Ganga near Haridwar had died at the Himalayan hospital in Jollygrant in Dehradun. There was nobody to listen to his demands to save the Ganga!

Ganga is accorded the status of our National River but she is not just a river but a matter of faith. For a Sadhu like Swami Nigamananda, she was much more. After all, in Hindu mythology, she enjoys the exalted stature of a Devi (deity). She was the mother of Bhishma. The Vedas mention her. Her water is still considered sacrosanct by the Hindus. Her water had scientifically proven medicinal properties which are hardly there anymore.

This time yet another sadhu, Swami Gyan Swaroop Sanand, is sitting on an indefinite fast for well over a month for the sake of the Holy Ganga. Unlike young Nigamananda, he is 87-year-old and guided more by logic and scientific temper than mere sentiments and faith. For him, Ganga is not a Devi but a stream of water with healing properties. After all, Sanand aka Professor Guru Das Agarwal, is one of the finest environmental scientists of the country too. He had taught at one of the finest institutions of the country, the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur where he had also held the position of head of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering! In 2002, his former students at IIT-Kanpur conferred on him the Best Teacher Award. He has guided many Masters and Doctoral students who are now leaders in the field of environmental engineering and science.

Besides, he was also the first Member Secretary of the Central Pollution Control Board. He had studied civil engineering at the University of Roorkee (now IIT Roorkee), and had obtained a Ph.D in environmental engineering from the prestigious University of California.

A respected scholar, he has many scientific publications too under his name and has in the past served as member in various government committees for improving environmental quality of the country. Although he renounced the world to become an ascetic in 2011, his knowledge on Ganga cannot be overlooked. In fact he is notable for his successful fast in 2009 to stop the damming of the Bhagirathi River.

But while in 2009 the then government had listened to him, this time the present government has simply ignored his demand for a separate legislation for Ganga. It was only on the 43rd day of his fast -- he is sustaining only on lime water -- that Union minister for Drinking Water and Sanitation, Uma Bharti, visited him at his ashram in Haridwar at around midnight on 4th August with a request to break his fast.  The Swami though did not relent. Even as Bharti assured him that the Government will bring out the legislation in the next couple of months, the Swami told her that first he would see that happen and then only he will end his fast. His supporters are worried that he is left to die, which will rather be very unfortunate. They have been making fervent appeal to the government, particularly Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who had famously declared before contesting the Lok Sabha elections from Varanasi that he was contesting from there at the call of “Ma Ganga” and that he was a “son” of “Ma Ganga”. 

From August 3, his supporters have decided to go on relay fast at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi. On July 30 too, on the completion of the 38th day of Prof Agarwal’s fast, his supporters and Ganga activists from 11 states of the country converged for a prayer meeting at Delhi’s Rajghat. This was the second time in a fortnight’s time that activists gathered at Rajghat. Last time even a prominent Congress politician Harish Rawat – a former chief minister of Uttarakhand who was also a Union Water Resources Minister – was present at the gathering. But his presence had made many wary of the prospects of Prof. Agarwal’s agitation acquiring political contours and that it might lose its sanctity. His supporters say that although they welcome support from political parties, they want to keep the movement apolitical for the sake of Ganga and Prof Agarwal. After all, his life as they say, is important.

Besides, as is highlighted in above paragraphs, lack of political will alone is apparently responsible for the decay of Ganga. It may not be an exaggeration to conclude that the money spent on River Ganga has actually gone down the drain. The dying Ganga has made the day for corrupt officers, land and sand mafia, and politicians.

This unholy nexus had made Raj Kapoor’s Ganga ( the role was played by Yasmin who was given the screen name Mandakini by Raj Kapoor) suffer then. Had Raj been alive now, then perhaps he might have considered a movie sequel with the title Ram Teri Ganga Ko Humne Maar Daala (Ram we have killed your Ganga)!

Hope the selective collusion does not kill Professor Agarwal as well as the river for real. The NGT has rung the warning bells many times on Ganga. The Swami has just tried to amplify these chimes by risking his life. It is now for the the Government to save both.

*The writer is a New Delhi based senior journalist and a member of World Water Council

Photo - UPSDC

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