Skip to main content

Saint-engineer stakes his life to save Ganga before an “insensitive” government and society

Swami Sanand, formerly Pof GD Agrawal
By Sandeep Pandey*
Matre Sadan, on the bank 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 Ganga, is no ordinary sadhu. Earlier Swami 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 115th day of his fast in 2011 after he was allegedly poisoned with organophosphate while in hospital during the BJP rule in Uttarakhand. He is said to have become the victim of a mining mafia run by a person reportedly associated with RSS.
Now Swami Gyan Swaroop Sanand, formerly known as Professor Guru Das Agrawal, is on fast and appears committed to laying down his life for the sake of Ganga. He says his well wishers should worry more about the health of Ganga than his health.
He thinks that it is too late now to redeem the situation. He is critical of the Swachcha Bharat Abhiyan. He doesn't think that a few people picking up brooms can clean local areas.
According to him, 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 the phrase of 'sustainable development' once in their four-and-a-half-years regime. Development for government means construction.
Recently the Uttarakhand government took a decision to construct a road though the Jim Corbett National Park posing a threat to 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 crore.
Swami Sanand thinks this is a disastrous project as it'll involve cutting large number of trees, creating instability by cutting hilly slopes, muck of which will come down in rivers. He expressed astonishment that Nitin Gadkari can hold both ministries of Road Transport & Highways, Shipping and Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation at the same time.
It requires the ingenuity of Prof GD Agrawal to see this contradiction. The 285 projects undertaken under National Mission for Clean Ganga, which is also popularly known as Namami Gange, are mostly related sewage treatment plants' construction and riverfront development, which has nothing to do with conservation.
Prof Sandeep Pandey
Similarly, Swami Sanand points out that among achievements of forest department will be counted approving projects which will involve clearing of forests! According to him, the present idea of development is an enemy of environment and doesn't think Ganga can be saved unless the task is given to people who are sensitive towards it.
On August 20, 2018 the Uttarakhand High Court ordered the state government that no untreated sewage should be dumped in Ganga. As against installed capacity of 45 millions litres per day STP in Haridwar, about double the amount flows into 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 former UPA 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 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 Gandkari 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 a STP capacity of only 80 MLD was 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 Kawanriya 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 questions 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, 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 eco-sensitive zone.
His fourth fast was from January 14 to April 16, 2012 in stages – on fruits in Allahabad, lemon water in Haridwar – both without water in Varanasi after which he had to be admitted in All India Institute of Medical Sciences, Delhi. In 2013 he fasted from 13 June 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 Narendra Modi government will come to power it'll accept all demands of Swami Sanand related to Ganga. However, the Modi government has been a big let down. Swami Sanand feels Manmohan Singh-Jairam Ramesh-Jayanthi Natarajan team was more sensitive than Narendra Modi-Nitin Gadkari-Uma Bharti towards caring about Ganga.
He has special praise for Jairam Ramesh who got the making of Ganga Master Plan by foreign experts with United States funds cancelled. On Pranab Mukherjee's suggestion this task was given to 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 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 his 62nd day of fast on August 22, 2018.
---
*Magsaysay Award winning scholar-activist

Comments

TRENDING

Economist-editor's allegations on Narmada defamatory, baseless: Medha Patkar

Counterview Desk  In a reply directly addressed to well-known economist, journalist and columnist Swaminathan S Anklesaria Aiyar’s two articles in the Times of India (republished here and here ), calling them defamatory and wondering whether they were borne out of “ignorance or a conspiracy through political alliance”, Narmada Bachao Andolan leader Medha Pakar has said that the Narmada Sardar Saravar Project and the people's movement by adivasis, farmers, labourers, fish workers, potters and all the generations’ old communities from the river valley have suddenly come to be focused on, since the Gujarat elections are in the doorstep. She believes that while the “defamatory accusations with baseless conceptions such as ‘urban naxals’ are to be laughed at as the electoral strategic moves, one gets shocked to read the articles by a known old columnist like Swaminathan Ankalesaria Aiyar, published in a reputed daily like the Times of India." According to her, Aiyar’s two articl

Hindutva groups threat to peace, freedom: US diaspora groups tell FBI, other govt depts

By Our Representative  The Islamophobic and neo-Nazi ideology of Hindutva is a clear and present danger to peace and freedoms in the United States, a coalition of civil rights organizations told key officials of the U.S. Attorney General’s Office, the US Department of Justice (DOJ), and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) at a recent event in Edison, New Jersey. At the event titled United Against Hate, activists from American Muslims for Democracy (AMD), Hindus for Human Rights (HfHR) and Indian American Muslim Council (IAMC) made detailed presentations on this ideology of Hindu supremacism that is committing mass persecution of India’s Muslims and Christians and is rearing its ugly head in New Jersey as well as across the US. Attending the event were David S Leonardis, Special Investigator from the New Jersey Department of Law & Public Safety; Michael E Campion, Chief of the Civil Rights Division for the US Attorney General's Office; and Jonathan R Norbut of the U.S. Dep

Facing tough times, Rajasthan's Raika herders hold first-ever camel cheese festival

By Rosamma Thomas*  During the pandemic, the annual Pushkar camel fair in Rajasthan did not occur for fear of contagion; in 2022, it was called off again as lumpy skin disease affected cattle. At Sadri in Pali district, however, festivity continues – a two-day Camel Cheese Festival was held on November 23 and 24, 2022. Visitors spent time with the camel herds and their Raika, drank camel-milk tea with the herders and then returned to lunch at the Kumbhalgarh Camel Dairy, from where the Kumbhalgarh Fort is visible, to taste camel cheese. The Raika herders have been facing a tough time – camels are no longer used as much for transport or agriculture in Rajasthan. The animals have limited utility, but their milk is prized. Camel Charisma, the dairy at Kumbhalgarh, sends camel milk across the country to people who use it in therapy – for autistic children, improved blood sugar levels, or even to treat cancer. It is believed that the health benefits of the camel milk is because the animals

Buddhist shrines were 'massively destroyed' by Brahmanical rulers: Historian DN Jha

Nalanda mahavihara By Our Representative Prominent historian DN Jha, an expert in India's ancient and medieval past, in his new book , "Against the Grain: Notes on Identity, Intolerance and History", in a sharp critique of "Hindutva ideologues", who look at the ancient period of Indian history as "a golden age marked by social harmony, devoid of any religious violence", has said, "Demolition and desecration of rival religious establishments, and the appropriation of their idols, was not uncommon in India before the advent of Islam".

As polls approach, electorate 'failing to realise': Gujarat model is in a shambles

By DN Rath*  Gujarat assembly elections, scheduled to be held on 1 and 5 December 2022, is viewed by many as dress rehearsal for the 2024 Lok Sabha elections. When the suffering people have been pointing towards redressal of some local issues like absence of cleanliness, sewage problem, shortage of water supply, troubles created by stray cattle, insufficiency of streetlights, etc., it is evident that they are not fully aware that assembly elections are being fought on ideological standpoints and policy decisions. Nor is there the realisation that the state is in a shambles and the much-trumpeted ‘Gujarat model’ of development has proved to be a hoax. Like other states, the people of Gujarat are also back-broken by steep rise in prices to the tune of 400% in last 20 years. It is not that the government cannot control the spurt in prices if it so wants. Apart from the fact that price rise is an inevitability in a capitalist economy, artificial shortage triggered by massive hoarding, b

Shedding Hindu-Hindi-Hindustan? New Modi-Shah love for Tamil Nadu 'ignores' Periyar

By Sandeep Pandey*   The Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) or the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) have long argued for ‘Hindu-Hindi-Hindustan’, which into recent years has translated into a crisper English expression: ‘One Nation-One Religion-One Language’. Given this backdrop, it is curious that the BJP government has organised the Kashi Tamil Sangamam in Varanasi, the Prime Minister’s constituency. Why did the BJP and RSS feel the need for such an event? All Narendra Modi events are highly publicised and have multiple political objectives. It is never an innocuous religious/cultural event as it may appear from the face of it. Afterall, RSS calls itself a cultural organisation, but has never ceased to surprise us with its political designs. Tamil Nadu has a long history of opposing imposition of Hindi by Union governments. Periyar EV Ramasamy had opposed the idea of compulsory teaching in Hindi as far back as in 1937. The 1960s witnessed violent protests against Hindi in which a number

Amit Shah accused of inciting communal passion: Demand to postpone Gujarat polls

Counterview Desk  In an email representation to the Election Commission of India (ECI), Dr EAS Sarma, former secretary to the Government of India, has objected to the statement reported to have been made by Union home minister Amit Shah, who allegedly justified the 2002 Gujarat riots stating that certain sections of people “taught a lesson” to the rioters. Noting that the statement, if correct, “in effect implies those other than the law enforcement authorities had taken law into their hands”, Sarma says, “Shah's statement needs to be viewed by the ECI in conjunction with the reported fact that it was the Union Home Ministry that cleared the release of the eleven rape convicts in the Bilkis Bano case, directly related to the infamous Godhra incidents in 2002, which triggered the shameful sequence of events that shook the nation's conscience.” According to Sarma, if the statement is true, “I am constrained to draw the inevitable inference that it would have already impacted th

BJP poll gimmick? Bilkis Bano rape case 'pardon' vs Rajiv assassins' release

By Sandeep Pandey*  Supreme Court has released six convicts in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case. This was bound to happen as earlier AG Perarivalan was released in the same case, setting a precedent. Even though four of them are Sri Lankans but a popular Tamil sentiment favoured the release of these convicts which is why Tamil political parties supported this and resolutions were passed by different governments in Tamil Nadu to his effect.  Rajiv Gandhi paid the price of sending Indian Peace Keeping Force to Sri Lanka where it got entangled with Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and eventually the whole operation ended up is a fiasco.  However, most importantly Sonia and Priyanka Gandhi and probably Rahul too do not have any objections to the release of these convicts. In fact, Sonia Gandhi played an important role in getting the death sentence of the only lady among the convicts Nalini commuted to life term through the Tamil Nadu Governor. Priyanka visited Nalini in Vellore Jail and

Diminishing returns: Hydro projects contribute less than 10% of India's power generation

Counterview Desk  Pointing out that India’s hydro generation remains around 10% for the last six years, the advocacy group South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People (SANDRP) has said that power generation from hydropower projects continues to show diminishing returns, as has been the story close to three decades now. Yet, says SANDRP in a note, the Government of India continues to push large hydro by announcing a slew of additional subsidies for hydropower projects, more for political economy reason. In fact, attempts are being made to flog unviable hydropower projects with various kind of manipulations, illegalities and violations, it adds. Text : In last six years, from 2016-17 to 2021-22, India’s large hydropower projects (projects above 25 MW installed capacity) have contributed just around 10% of the total power generation, going as low as 9.68% in 2017-18. In fact, in three of these six years, large hydro contributed less than 10% and recovering only marginally in the rest,

Odisha survey reveals 56% children have not attended any classes post-pandemic

By Our Representative   The Learning Recovery Programme (LRP) has been taken up by the state government's Odisha School Education Programme Authority (OSEPA) to provide a learning opportunity to students to make up for losses in studies due to the closure of schools on account of the Covid-19 pandemic. However, lack of awareness among children and their parents and absence of robust monitoring have blocked its effective implementation, reveals a pilot fact-finding study conducted by the NGO Atmashakti Trust. The pilot study was conducted with school-going children in two blocks of the Nuapada district, where over 500 grassroots workers divided into 33 groups visited 68 schools in one day and interviewed 115 children to understand the implementation of LRP. The study was a part of its 26-day nationwide campaign, "Education Cannot Wait. Act Now!" which kickstarted on November 15, comprising Odisha, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh, where