The Ganga is much more than a source of water in India. It is as much a symbol for radical Hindu outfits as an environmentalist metaphor for the appalling pollution, decay and exploitation that characterizes India’s abuse of its natural assets.
Appalling pollution: A file photo of washermen at a bank of the Ganga in Varanasi. Photo Harikrishna Katragadda/Mint
The river’s mythological and geological status probably explains why ascetics and hydrologists readily lock horns with the government on how the problems that plague the river ought to be best addressed.
Swami Nigamanand’s protest fast that ended in his death recently has focused attention on a group that has over the decades used petitions, protests, science and marathon fasts to champion their cause—without gaining the attention of the wider Indian public—to restore the Ganga to its glory.
He’s a former head and founder of the Matri Sadan ashram in Haridwar. A mentor to the deceased Nigamanand, he has undertaken several fasts over three decades to highlight illegal stone mining off the banks of the Ganga. Some of his fasts have stretched over a month. Shivananda is currently caught up in an imbroglio—Nigamanand’s family has accused him of forcing the younger ascetic to fast until death.
Photo : Pradeep Gaur/Mint
Veer Bhadra Mishra 71
He is the head of the Sankat Mochan Foundation, a Varanasi-based non-profit that has singularly focused efforts on cleaning the Ganga since 1982.
Mishra is the head priest of the Sankat Mochan temple as well as a former university professor of fluid mechanics. Mishra has been advocating a system of ponds that siphons water via gravity and purifies sewage water in various stages. His methods, however, are yet to be implemented by the state government.
Photo Harikrishna Katragadda/Mint
Swami Nigamanand 36
The ascetic whose death kicked up a storm was an engineering graduate from Darbanga, Bihar, and was known as Swaroopam Kumar Mishra. He succumbed after a 115-day fast protesting illegal stone mining along the Ganga and refused intravenous nutrition even after being forcibly admitted by state authorities to the hospital.
Ravi Chopra 64
He was among the first activists to employ rigorous scientific studies to highlight the environmental degradation of the Ganga. As director of the People’s Science Institute in Dehradun, he is a member of the National Ganga River Basin Authority and spearheaded the first, and now biennial State of the Environment Report in 1982. Chopra is a graduate from the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay, and has a masters in materials and metallurgical sciences from Stevens Institute of Technology, New Jersey.
Photo Pradeep Gaur/Mint