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Dying to save a dying river

india Updated: Nov 20, 2011 11:48 IST

Over the years, successive governments at the Centre and in the states that are nourished by the Ganga have invested enormous amounts of money and political support to clean it up and save its fragile ecology. They have also sourced mammoth funds from various external donor agencies for the same. But in reality, the impact has been unimpressive. Now with the death of Swami Nigamanand, who was on a protest fast for 115 days against illegal stone quarrying and sand mining in the Ganga riverbed, both of which are, among other reasons, responsible for the deteriorating condition of the river. Swami Nigamanand was fighting the BJP’s Uttarakhand government’s refusal to check mining along a stretch of Ganga near Rishikesh. He died unheard by a government led by chief minister Ramesh Pokhriyal, the same man who after the Copenhagen climate summit in 2009 held a Cabinet meeting along the banks of the Ganga and pledged his wholehearted efforts to save India’s national river.

The seer was fighting a case against a quarrying company and the state to end quarrying and rampant mining along the 80-km Ganga stretch from Muni ki Reti to Rishikesh in Tehri district and further up to Laksar town in Haridwar. Though the government had passed a ban order, it did not deploy its resources to stop it completely. Or, as many are now saying, it was not done intentionally. The result of intensive quarrying and sand mining is evident in the areas around Roorkee, located in the downstream area: river islands have been destroyed, deep crevices — as deep as 40-ft — are now found in the riverbed; the water is polluted thanks to the movement of trucks and earth-moving machines; and there are signs of depleting fish catch. These illegal activities have also impacted the Rajaji National Park. In its various judgements, the Supreme Court has also upheld the view that such activities are bound to cause a severe impact on the local ecology and it is the duty of the government to devise and implement a coherent and coordinated programme to meet its obligation of sustainable development based on inter-generational equality.

The case of the seer’s death is still under investigation with many alleging foul play. While the police investigates the matter and the anti-quarrying cases continue in the courts, it is doubly important to uncover the links that exist between the state government and the quarrying mafia and how this relationship is rendering the government ineffectual. The inter-party politics and the debate over whether Baba Ramdev got more attention than Swami Nigamanand is fruitless. This will only serve to deflect attention from the real issues.