Manushi will make common cause with Ganga Abhiyan led by Shankracharya Swami Swaroopanand Saraswati ji and hold a daily candlelight vigil outside the Prime Minister's residence on Racecourse Road starting 13th February, 2012 between 6 and 7 p.m.
This vigil is in solidarity with the fast unto death undertaken by Swami Gyanswaroop Anand ( known as Prof GD Aggarwal of IIT Kanpur before he took sanyas in 2011) to remind Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of his broken promises with regard to saving Ganga from wilful destruction and pollution. The team will have no more than 5-6 persons in order not to defy the orders against an assembly of more than 6 persons.
We wish to communicate to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh that he has reduced the supposedly high powered National Ganga River Basin Authority created for the specific purpose of restoring the purity and sacredness of Ganga waters to a meaningless institution which has only held two meetings in the three years since its creation. This has happened despite the fact that the PM heads this body and at the time of its creation the PM had announced that Ganga will be given the status of a "National River" given its iconic status as a uniquely sacred river for the people of India.
The Government of India agrees that Ma Ganga is the most sacred of all our rivers but does nothing meaningful to stop all those activities that have transformed it into a dead river. It is being systematically destroyed through the following measures:
Dry river beds of Ganga in the Himalayas
1. Construction of bumper to bumper power projects involving mega dams in the Himalayas which have choked the flow of the river leaving only a miserable trickle in the river bed. Thus Ganga has virtually disappeared as a free flowing in the very land of its birth. The power projects are politician and contractor friendly. They produce only a fraction of the promised electricity because the river flow has been choked every few kilometers. The reservoirs are heavily silted and the projects will become altogether dysfunctional very soon.
2. Extensive deforestation and damage to the fragile Himalayas due to a continuous blasting to make way for tunnels and dams.
3. Pouring of sewerage and poisonous industrial effluents in the Holy River.
4. Sucking away 90% of river water after Rishikesh for irrigation. By the time the Ganga reaches Kanpur or the holy city of Prayag it is no better than an open stinking sewer. It does not have even one drop of fresh water.
|Sewage poured in Ganga in every town
and city it passes through
The World Wild Life Fund (WWF) has reported that the Ganga is one of the ‘Top Ten Rivers at Risk' world-wide. So are the Himalayas in the ‘Top Twelve Endangered Places on the Earth'.
The Ganga Action Plan launched in 1985 with much fanfare by the Rajiv Gandhi led Congress Government proved an utter failure. Billions of rupees were wasted under the pretense of cleaning the Ganga. Today Mother Ganga is loaded with far greater pollution than in 1985 with 1 billion litres of sewage flowing into the sacred river every day. Swami describes the GAP as an organized "official loot of public money". This was borne out by a report of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) as well as one by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of Parliament. The CAG report, dated December 13, 2000, detailed the official loot of public money in clear details. It categorically said that the action plan, launched with the objective of restoring the water quality of the Ganga and its tributaries to bathing level, was not able to achieve its goals despite a total expenditure of Rs.901.71 crore over 15 years. It also listed how funds had been misused/diverted for unrelated purposes such as the purchase of vehicles, computers and photocopiers and the construction of an office.
The PAC headed by Buta Singh, which submitted its report on February 4, 2004, corroborated the CAG's findings. It censured the States as well as the Centre for the failure of the GAP.
Under popular pressure, including that of Shankracharya of Jyotirmath and Prof GD Aggarwal, the UPA Government announced in February 2009 the setting up of the National Ganga River Basin Authority (NGRBA). In November 2008, the Central Government had also notified that it was giving Ganga the status of a ‘National River'. The NGRBA is an empowered planning, financing monitoring and coordinating authority for the Ganga River under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986. The Authority is headed by the Prime Minister and has as its members, the Chief Ministers of the states through which the Ganga flows viz. Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand and West Bengal. The Ministers of Environment & Forests, Finance, Urban Development, Water Resources, Power, Science & Technology and the Deputy Chairman, Planning Commission will also be Members of NGRBA. It also has 9 non official members some of whom are leading environmentalists.
After 9 long months following its creation, the first meeting of the NGRBA was held in New Delhi on 5 October 2009. It was decided that no untreated municipal sewage and industrial effluents would be allowed to flow into the Ganga by 2020. But there is no evidence of improvements at the ground level.
However, it has met only twice in the last 3 years and failed to make the slightest difference in putting a halt to the wilful destruction of Ganga. Last month 7 of the 9 non official members of NGRBA wrote to the PM threatening resignation from the Authority if he failed to convene an emergency meeting and come up with a concrete plan of action for saving Ganga in keeping with its declared status as a "national river."
Prof. Agarwal Fasts to Save Ganga
|Swami Gyanswaroop Anand,
formerly known as Prof GD Aggarwal
Professor GD Agarwal (now Swami Gyanswaroop Anand), former head of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur, undertook an indefinite fast in June 2008 against the implementation of environmentally disastrous hydro-electric power projects on the 125 KM stretch of the Ganga River from Gangotri to Uttarkashi. His fast unto death evoked a very strong response from the people leading to wide-spread public protests. This forced the Uttarakhand State Government to review these projects and to stop work at Pala Maneri and Bhairon Ghati (both I & II). The Central Government, however, through the National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC) continued with the work at Loharinag Pala dam. Unable to tolerate this callous attitude of the Government of India towards the sacred Ganga, Professor Agarwal again went on a fast-unto-death from 13 January, 2009 to 20 February, 2009. He broke his fast after the Government of India gave him a written assurance that the Loharinag Pala project would be reviewed by a high-level expert group. But this promise was soon dishonoured.
In 2010, Swami Gyanswaroop Anand undertook three prolonged fasts into death to persuade the government of India to let the river and its tributaries flow freely at least in its catchment area in the Himalayas by banning the construction of power projects. He also demanded that 135 kilometres from its origin at Gangotri to Uttarkashi be declared as an eco-sensitive zone where Ganga's flow will not be tampered with at all. Prof. Agarwal's reasoning was that people of this generation should have the chance to see what this sacred river looks like and have the right to its uniquely pure waters at least in its land of origin.
The last fast of 2010 was from 20 July 2010 at Matri Sadan in Haridwar and lasted 38 days. In an unprecedented move, the Government of India did scrap the Lohari Nag Pala project and agreed to cancel all further projects. The 135 km stretch from Gangotri to Uttarkashi of 135 km was declared as a special fragile zone when which would be protected against further damage by scrapping all the power projects intended for the area.
Left: Stagnant and filth laden waters of Ganga. Right: Landslides like the one above on Gangotri Rajmarg are a common occurencein the Hmalyas due to massive deforestation and mindless blasting of the mountains.
But this promise too has been violated. Eighty year old Swami Gyanswaroop Anand says that as a Ganga devotee he cannot stay a mute witness to the wilful defiling and killing of the most sacred symbol of India civilization. Therefore, with the blessings of Shankrachanya Swarup Sanand ji, he began yet another indefinite fast on January 15th, 2012, which he prefers to call his tapasya.
In an open letter dated 3rd January 2012, Shankracharyaji of Jyotirmath informed the Government that unless concrete and determined steps are put into motion within a month to halt the killing of the Ganga, a team of sanyasis - starting with Swami Gyanswaroop Anand would undertake a fast into death in three phases. The first phase began on 15thJanuary where five sanyasis took a vow to put their lives on the line for Ganga one after another. This team includes Shankracharya designate Swami Avimukteshwaranand. Starting January 15th, for 21 days, Swani Gyan Swarup Sanand ji remained on a frugal diet of fruits (falaahar).
|Shankracharya designate Swami
Avimukteshwarand of Jyotirpeeth and Swami
Gyan Swarup Anand at a pryaer meeting at
Rajghat on 7th February, 2012 on their way
from Prayag to Haridwar
On February 7th, he along with Swami Avinurktesdwanand ji came to Gandhi Samadhi at Rajghat in New Delhi to seek Bapu's blessings and reaffirm their resolve to carry on with their tapasya and tyag. From February 8, 2012 Swami Gyan Swaroop will begin his second phase of tapasya at Haridwar by forgoing all food and survive only on water and air. After a month, if government still remains adamant, Swami ji will stop taking water as well. In case he dies as a result, another sanyasi will take his place. According to Swami Avimukteshwaranand ji, 5 sanyasis have already taken a vow and 10 others want to follow in their footsteps so that there is a continuous chain of people willing to lay down their life for saving Ganga.
Swami Gyan Swarup and Swami Avinurktesdwanand are averse to calling it a "fast into death" or even a "protest fast". He says: "Ganga ji is our mother. We have tried all other means, including court cases, sustained advocacy campaigns to save our holy mother. When all such human efforts fail, tapasya and prayer is the only option left for restoring the health of our mother. If even this fails, we would pray to Ishwar to take away our lives rather than see our mother being subjected to such utter degradation."
|One of the many dysfunctional Water Treatment Plants for the supposed of Cleaning of Ganga.
Swami ji gave the following example to describe the total lack of transparency in spending the money. "For the 2013 Sacred Kumbh Mela on the banks of Ganga at Prayag, the Government has sanctioned Rs 1000 crores. But that money is being used to lay sewer lines without bothering to construct appropriate numbers of water treatment plants. Kanhaiyyipur naala is the first big drain powering untreated sewage into the Ganga at Prayag. In April 2011, we measured that the daily flow was 30-35 million litres per day (mld) of sewage. But when the local government started constructing a Sewage Treatment Plant, the pumping station had a capacity of only 20 mld. When we asked why this mismatch, we were told the 15 mld comes from the Air Force Base Station. Therefore, the city administration will not take responsibility for the muck that the air force station is powering into Ganga. The absurdity did not stop there. The Treatment Plant is designed to deal with only 10 mld.
With such shoddy and callous planning and total lack of transparency or accountability in spending the Rs 7000 crores sanctioned for "cleaning Ganga" after the NGRBA came into existence, how can they claim that the river will regain its purity (become normal) by 2020?
Our demnads include the following:
1. Let Ganga waters flow freely in the Himalayas and plains: Ganga ko aviral behne do - in order for its water to retain their purity. Blocking their flow through dams and an endless series of tunnels deadens the water. Even aquatic life does not survive in such water. Water retains its purity by constant exposure to the sun and its own riverbed.
2. Undertake massive reforestation of the highly denuded and endangered Himalayas in order for them to sustain the various rivers that originate there and prevent landslides.
3. Stop powering sewage and industrial effluents into the sacred waters of Ganga. Let that water be treated and used for non-domestic purposes.
4. Stop taking away 90% of the river water for irrigation purposes because that destroys the ecological flow. Only a small fraction should be diverted for irrigation.
5. Water harvesting should be made mandatory for every town, city and village so that the bulk of their water requirements are met from what they have harvested locally.
6. Treat Ganga with the respect it deserves after being accorded the status of a "National River" (Rashtra Nadi) and nurture it as the most revered symbol of Indian civilization.
Swami Swarupanand ji and Shankracharya ji have posed a challenge to all those of us who swear by the sacredness of the holiest of our holy rivers-Ganga. How can we claim to worship the river, consider its waters so sacred that a mere dip in them is supposed to wash away all our sins-- if we remain indifferent to its daily rape and devastation?
We urge all those who value Ganga as the most iconic symbol of India's civilization and culture to send protest letters to the Prime Minister's Office and hold similar supportive demonstrations in their respective cities and towns.
Author(s) : Madhu Purnima Kishwar on behalf of Ganga Abhiyan