Ganga and Saints Die in Silence

Atmabodhananda has been   fasting since October 24, 2018, at Matri Sadan Ashrama in Haridwar, barely two weeks after Prof Agarwal or Swami Gyan Swaroop Sanand died fasting for the river Ganga on October 11 after 112 days of fast. Of late, Atmabodhananda has been refusing to take glucose with water and he also declared his wish to stop taking water from October 27. Their demands are: cancellation of all existing and proposed dams on the Ganga and its tributaries, prohibition of mining and forest cutting in its highest floodplains and constitution of autonomous Ganga Council and a special Ganga protection law. Writing on the issues taken up by Prof Agarwal, Banjot Kaur reports: "In his letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on June 13, 2018, the 86-year old had demanded that all hydroelectric projects along the Alaknanda, Dhauli Ganga, Mandakini and Pindar rivers (the streams and rivers which lead to the making of the Ganga in Uttarakhand) be stopped to ensure natural flow of the river. He had also demanded that mining be completely stopped here, especially in the Haridwar-Kumbh region... Also, it is not that these fasts have never moved governments. Jairam Ramesh, the then Union Environment Minister, heeded to demands of GD Agarwal in 2010. He did not let two hydel power projects—Bharon Ghati and Pala Maneri—start on the Bhagirathi and Loharinag Pala was stopped." Before Swami Sanand several other saints of this ashrama died fasting to pressurise the government on these issues, one saint, Gopal Das 'disappeared', Nigamananda died on June 13, 2011 after 115 days of fast.

But are these demands so urgent and necessary that some persons may think of fasting to death for these and many others are coming out in support? Even in this feverish atmosphere of parliament election, almost every day in some place or other in the country some protest is taking place in support of the fasting seers and in support of the demands. In Benaras, Modi's constituency, sadhus agitated. Thousands participated in many protest marches; one such recent march was from Delhi to Haridwar. What might be the reasons of these demands of Aviral (uninterrupted) and Nirmal (Clean) Ganga. These are not merely some spiritual or religious desires; the NMCG (National Mission of Clean Ganga) portal declares: "A comprehensive River Basin Management Plan for Ganga is being prepared by the consortium of seven Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) (Kanpur, Delhi, Madras, Bombay, Kharagpur, Guwahati and Roorkee). The Plan is being prepared with the objectives of taking comprehensive measures for restoration of the wholesomeness of the Ganga ecosystem and improvement of its ecological health, with due regard to the issue of competing water uses in the river basin. The wholesomeness of the river can be grasped in terms of four defining concepts: "Aviral Dhara" (Continuous flow), 'Nirmal Dhara" (Unpolluted Flow), Geologic Entity, and Ecological Entity. One rnay recall, Swami Gyan Swarpop Sanand or Prof G D Agarwal was a pioneer of Environmental Engineering in the country, taught for many years at IIT-Kanpur and he was behind the creation of Pollution Control Boards. Their demands cannot be belittled as being driven by spirituality and/or aesthetics.

Scientists have done rigorous analyses before presenting their views in the SWOT analysis report made by 7-IIT consortium. The MT SWOT study [December 2011] remarked—"The upper and lower Ganga canals have diverted almost entire amount of the river flow in Uttar Pradesh. This diversion has reduced the capacity of the river to absorb pollution as absence of adequate flows has affected the process of dilution". And if one bothers about aquatic animals, they face a severe threat—every time their corridor is cut into separate pieces, their habitat suffers fragmentation, they experience reduced propagation rate; less diversity and reduced genetic pool threaten ecosystems. For example, the barrages and dams are also responsible for reduction in number of national aquatic animal—the Ganges Dolphin. It was very disheartening to learn for environmental scientists that the Ganga Manthan meet organised by the NDA government did not focus on urgent environmental needs like ensuring more and freer flow of the Ganga. Prof B D Tripathi of BHU thinks: "Ganga Manthan lacked the discussions on how to ensure continuous and uninterrupted flow of river from Gangotri to Ganga Sagar to be maintained". Slowing down of the river has many other untoward consequences. It increased silting, elevation of river bed, and when a huge flow comes due to excess rainfall the river cannot contain the flow, it floods more easily, it may change course in some unthought-of way. River water also becomes more saline due to reduced flow. And the most amusing thing is that due to silting many dams are actually storing less and less water and making these dams more and more useless.

Just now information arrived from Matri Sadan that the Director of National Clean Ganga Mission Mr Rajiv Ranjan Mishra and Executive Director (Projects) Mr G Ashoke Kumar visited Matri Sadan Ashrama and talked with Atmabodhananda. They assured that within a week they would give in writing their decision to postpone making the proposed dams and also stopping ongoing construction works of four big dams on Ganga. On this basis, Atmabodhananda has decided to postpone his decision of stopping water intake till May 2.



Vol. 51, No. 44, May 5 - 11, 2019