Sadhus do not merely deliver sermons or remain lost in meditation. In Bijnor some of them have been saving dolphins too.
The World Wildlife Fund has turned to sadhus in its efforts to conserve the Platanista Gangeticaor Ganga river dolphin, an endangered species under the Indian Wildlife Protection Act, in a 165 km stretch of the Upper Ganga between Bijnor and Narora.
The sadhus quote a reference to the dolphin in Valmiki's Ramayan, where it is called the 'cow of the Ganga'. Quoting chapter and verse, they cite a line from the Bal Khand, the first chapter of the epic, whose English translation would run: "The Ganga, when it landed on earth, brought with it turtles and crocodiles and dolphins."
Said sadhu Akhilesh Kumar, a Vedic Scholar from Karnvas, "For us, dolphins are the cows of the Ganga. We need to protect them." Sadhu Radheyshyam from the Brighu Rishi Ashram in Beria added: "We want people to come forward and help conserve the Puspukata (as the dolphin is called in Sanskrit).
Roping in the sadhus was the brainchild of Sandeep Behra, Senior Coordinator, World Wildlife Fund - India. At a large gathering of sadhus at Narora in 2000, Behra approached some of the prominent ones among them, and convinced them to join his efforts towards saving the dolphin. Said Behra: "As elsewhere, dolphins in the Ganga are threatened by growing river pollution, fishing and poor river basin management."
The results have been heartening. In 1993-94, the number of the dolphins in this stretch was just 20. In 2001, when the sadhus ventured into the conservation, the figure of dolphins in the stretch was somewhere between 25 and 30. At latest count it was 45. Of these 18 are calves, which will grow to full size in coming years, which is most encouraging."
The sadhus, with the help of the WWF, have been holding meetings at village and taluka levels. “Refeering to the dolphin as 'cow of the river' has aroused the religious sentiments of the locals,” said a senior WWF coordinator.
The government, on its part has no major plans for the conservation of dolphins. Said D Basu, surveyor in the forest department: "The UP Government is trying to bring the Bijnor to Narora stretch under the National Wetland Programme."
The are around 600 dolphins across all of UP.