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Mainstream, VOL LVI No 38 New Delhi September 8, 2018

Saint-Engineer stakes his Life to Save Ganga before an Insensitive Government and Society

Sunday 9 September 2018

by Sandeep Pandey

Matre Sadan, on the banks of river Ganga, is no ordinary Ashram in Haridwar and Swami Gyan Swaroop Sanand, fasting since June 22, 2018, demanding a law for conservation of the Ganga, is no ordinary sadhu. Earlier Swamis Shivanand, head priest of the Ashram, his disciples Nigmanand, Dayanand, Yajnanand and Purnanand have observed long fasts to prevent illegal mining in Ganga in Haridwar. Nigmanand died on the 115th day of his fast in 2011 after he was poisoned with organophosphate while in hospital during the regime of the Bharatiya Janata Party Government in Uttarakhand at the behest of a mining mafia, Gyanesh Agarwal, associated with the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh.

Now Swami Gyan Swaroop Sanand, formerly known as Professor Guru Das Aggrawal, is on fast and appears committed to laying down his life for the sake of the Ganga. He says his well-wishers should worry more about the health of the Ganga than his health. Swami Sanand thinks that it is too late now to redeem the situation. He is critical of the Swachch Bharat Abhiyan. He doesn’t think that a few people picking up brooms can clean the local areas. The pollution is a result of flawed developmental policies. A pro-ecology development policy is necessary for sustainable development. But the Narendra Modi Government has not even uttered ‘sustainable development’ once in their four-and-a-half-years regime. Development for government means construction. Recently the Uttarakhand Government has taken a decision to contruct a road though the Jim Corbett National Park posing a threat to the forest and wild life. The government has also undertaken an ambitious all-weather Char Dham road project connecting Kedarnath, Badrinath, Gangotri and Yamunotri at an estimated cost of Rs 12,000 crores. Swami Sanand thinks this is a disastrous project as it’ll involve cutting a large number of trees, creating instability by cutting hilly slopes, the muck of which will come down in rivers.

He expressed astonishment that Nitin Gadkari can hold both Ministries of Road Transport and Highways, Shipping and Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation at the same time. It requires the ingenuity of Prof G.D. Agrawal to see this contradiction. The 285 projects undertaken under the National Mission for Clean Ganga, which is also popularly known as Namami Gange, are mostly related to Sewage Treatment Plants’ construction and riverfront development, which has nothing to do with conservation. Similarly, he said that among the achievements of the Forest Department will be counted approving projects which will involve clearing of forests!

Swami Sanand thinks that the present idea of development is an enemy of environment and doesn’t think the Ganga can be saved unless the task is given to people who are sensitive towards it. On August 20, 2018 the Uttarakhand High Court has ordered the State Government that no untreated sewage should be dumped in the Ganga. As against the installed capacity of 45 million litres per day STP in Haridwar, about double the amount flows into the Ganga untreated. Swami Sanand asks: what was the Pollution Control Board and National Green Tribunal doing till now? He also raises a question on how these sewage flows are measured. Most likely it is not the maximum flow. It is the flow on the particular day when it was measured. Sometimes the flow estimate may be derived as multiplication of population with an assumption of 50 litres per person per day sewage generated.

As an example of bad planning he points to the pumping station at Assi drain in Varanasi which pumps the sewage upstream to 35 MLD capacity STP in Ramana. What is the logic of pumping sewage upstream of river? He also narrated the incident when Environment Minister in the United Progressive Alliance Government, Saifuddin Soz, visited the Rajendra Prasad Ghat Sewage Pumping Station in Varanasi to be told that it was not functioning for the last month-and-a-half. With such callous attitude he is not sure how the Ganga can be made clean. He feels that the commitment as well as competence to even operate the STPs is missing. North India has no good consultants in this area.

Nitin Gadkari, in his letter requesting Swami Sanand to end his fast, has mentioned that in Kanpur 80 MLD sewage out of 140 MLD flowing through Seesamau drain is now being diverted to Bingawan STP. Swami Sanand questions: why was an STP capacity of only 80 MLD created? When the city was expanding, higher STP capacity should have been planned. But the approach of the government is to build whatever capacity can be created from the available funds. The nature of planning is adhoc.

Swami Sanand is also quite critical of activities like Kanwariya yatras and Ram Kathas in the name of religion and culture which create more pollution. He gave the example of how people treat Kanwariyas with chole-bhature and other eatables from roadside stalls and waste including plastic is thrown around. Morari Bapu delivered a Ram Katha at Gangotri Dham, Uttarkashi from August 18 to 26, 2018. Swami Sanand questioned the wisdom of conducting Ram Katha at this location which would have put additional burden on local ecology.

Swami Sanand went on fast from June 13 to 30, 2008, January 14 to February 20, 2009 and July 20 to August 23, 2010 against three hydroelectric projects at Bhairon Ghati, Lohari Nagpala and Pala Maneri and was able to stall them all (even though the tunnel in Lohari Nagpala was complete) and got the government to declare 125 kilometres of Bhagirathi as an Eco-sensitive zone. His fourth fast was from January 14 to April 16, 2012 in stages—on fruits in Allahabad, lemon water in Haridwar, without water in Varanasi afer which he had to be admitted to the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, Delhi. In 2013 he fasted from June 13 to October 13, in which he spent 15 days in jail. President of Ganga Sabha, Jitrendranand, delivered a letter to him from the then BJP President, Rajnath Singh, committing that when the Narendra Modi Government will come to power it’ll accept all the demands of Swami Sanand related to the Ganga. However, the Modi Government has been a big let down. Swami Sanand feels that the Manmohan Singh-Jairam Ramesh-Jayanthi Natarajan team was more sensitive than the Narendra Modi-Nitin Gadkari-Uma Bharati team towards caring about Ganga. He has special praise for Jairam Ramesh who got the making of the Ganga Master Plan by foreign experts with United States funds cancelled. On Pranab Mukherjee’s suggestion this task was given to the Indian Institute of Technology Consortium.

Swami Sanand wrote a letter to Nitin Gadkari on July 4 and to the Prime Minister on August 5, 2018. But there has been no reply from either. Swami Sanand is disappointed with the government as well as civil society, including the IIT Consortium, and therefore has put his life at stake. Are we going to let this seer simply die fasting?

[Note: This article was written after conversation with Swami Sanand at Matre Sadan, Haridwar on the 62nd day of his fast on August 22, 2018.—S.P.]

Noted social activist and Magsaysay awardee Dr Sandeep Pandey is the Vice-President of the Socialist Party (India). He was elected to this post at the founding conference of the party at Hyderabad on May 28-29, 2011.

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