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.

Swami Shivananda

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.

Photo Harikrishna Katragadda/Mint

Swami Nigamanand 36

Ravi Chopra 64

Photo Pradeep Gaur/Mint