“A River Runs Through It” by Padmaparna Ghosh
Haridwar: Swami Nigamananda’s death exposes government failure to stop mining on banks
By Padmaparna Ghosh
June 27, 2011
On February 19, ‘Clean Ganga’ crusader Swami Nigamananda sat on a fast-unto-death in Haridwar to protest against illegal mining and quarrying on the river bed. The 34-year-old ascetic died on June 13, ironically, on the same day the Government joined hands with the World Bank for a comprehensive Rs 7,000 crore project to clean the river. The swami died at the same hospital, the Himalayan Institute in Dehradun, where Baba Ramdev was being treated for complications induced by his much publicised nine-day fast.
This was not the first time Nigamananda had sat on a fast. He had undertaken one in December 2001 that lasted 68 days. In 1997, Nigamananda and Swami Shivananda founded Matri Sadan Ashram, a group of around 10 swamis, who have been running a ‘Save the Ganga’ campaign.
The Supreme Court has banned quarrying and allows only collection of silt from river banks and river beds. On the basis of a pil filed in 2009, the Uttarakhand High Court also ordered a stay on quarrying. But despite protests and court bans, illegal quarrying continues to proliferate in the hill states. “The Government should be asked if it is monitoring who is quarrying and where, even after leases have been cancelled,” says Vimal Bhai, convenor of the Matu People’s Organisation, a group of environmental activists from Uttarakhand.
The Centre’s past attempts to rid the river of pollution have come a cropper. The latest scheme will be implemented under the National Ganga River Basin Project. The Centre’s share will be Rs 5,100 crore and that of the five state governments-Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand and West Bengal-Rs 1,900 crore. World Bank will provide both technical and financial assistance-$801 million as loan and $199 million as credit.