NGT order on Ganga sparks debate in Haridwar over river’s status
The government has classified the Ganga as a canal, prompting anger from religious leadersindia Updated: Jul 18, 2017 08:08 IST
Efforts to protect the Ganga have put Haridwar in a spot, where a thriving pilgrimage business is likely to be hit by orders from the country’s top environment court that banned new construction around the river and imposed heavy fines for dumping waste in it.
The administration has till now attempted to skirt the restrictions by classifying the river as a canal, drawing the anger of religious leaders.
Ganga, which brings waters to millions of Indians in its more than 2,500-km course from Uttarakhand to the Bay of Bengal, is considered sacred by Hindus, making Haridwar – largely regarded as the spot where the river enters the plains after originating in the Himalayas — one of Hinduism’s most important pilgrimages.
Lakhs of Hindus visit Haridwar every year, powering the local economy runs by the thousands of thousands of shops, eateries and guesthouses.
Most of these will be subject to the National Green Tribunal’s restrictions announced last week. The NGT laid down a fine of Rs 50,000 for anyone dumping waste within 500 metres of the river and banned construction work within 100 mtrs of the banks.
But the order mentions the word “river”, and traders in Haridwar said it does not apply to them.
“The British built the Ganga canal for irrigation purposes on which majority of Ganga ghats of Haridwar are based, including Har-Ki-Pauri,” said Durgesh Singh, a local trader and a member of the Samajwadi Party.
Har ki Pauri is the most important landmark in the city and the epicentre for Kumbh gatherings that draw lakhs of pilgrims who leave behind trash such as plastic packets and waste from offerings.
The previous state government led by Harish Rawat issued a notification declaring the Ganga as a canal from Bhoopatwala till Shri Daksheswar Mahadev temple, a stretch within which lay Har ki Pauri. The notification was seen as an attempt to ‘avoid’ problems for development works close to the bank.
“The previous government’s order stands till date. The authority will deal accordingly when the new notification is issued,” Ashok Pandey, commissioner, municipal corporation told Hindustan Times.
After assuming office, chief minister Trivendra Singh Rawat suggested that the predecessor’s decision could be reversed. We “wash all the sins of previous government”, he said in a visit to Haridwar, without naming Harish Rawat.
Local legislator and urban development minister in the BJP government, Madan Kaushik said government will go through the NGT order before taking any steps. “The government’s intention is clear and is committed to protect the river”.
The Ganga Sabha, a body that looks after the matters pertaining to Har-Ki-Pauri, said it will oppose the government if it tries to protect commercial interests over the river.
“For centuries Kumbh and Ardh Kumbh were organised on banks of Ganga at Har-Ki-Pauri so how can one challenge or question the existence of Har-Ki-Pauri or the main stream of Ganga?” said Purushottam Sharma, president of Ganga Sabha.
JP Badauni, a local RTI activist who had earlier filed petitions on the Ganga said that on behalf of city-based akhadas, he will shortly file a writ petition in the High Court and NGT seeking clarification on the river and canal.