Haridwar: A 26-year-old Swami Atambodhanand silently presides over a meeting of a small group of seers and activists at Matri Sadan – an ashram located near the banks of the Ganga River. The group deliberates on strategies to escalate their voice to ‘save’ Ganga. In fact, this ashram’s fight for a ban on mining and stone crushers around Ganga has been on for over a decade.
In the ongoing election season, Ganga hardly features on the agendas of political parties. Nevertheless, in Haridwar’s Matri Sadan, the discussion to keep Ganga ‘aviral’ (free flowing) never ends. Devoted to the cause, Atambodhanand has been fasting for 179 days in ashram premises, but now, the young seer plans to stop drinking water as well.
On October 11 last year, Professor GD Agarwal alias Swami Sanand, who was also associated with the ashram died in a hospital in Rishikesh after fasting for 112 days.
Swami Sanand wanted all hydro power projects to be scrapped from the Ganga basin, further demanding a ban on operational stone crushers and mining activity in the five kilometres radius of river in Haridwar.
“Government is irresponsive, no one concerned about the Ganga River. I have written a letter to the Prime Minister and given deadline of April 25. From April 27 I will leave even water,” Atambodhanand said. Neither his nor Swami Sanand’s pleas to the government have been addressed.
District Magistrate Deepak Rawat told News18 that they are constantly monitoring the health of the seer and are committed to provide best medical support. “We can only forward the demands (raised by seer) to the competent authorities and will subsequently follow the standing orders,” DM Rawat said.
It was the death of the 36-year-old Swami Nigmananda of the ashram in June 2011, after 100 days of fasting that riveted national attention on these seers.
The ashram had also been at loggerheads with the Uttarakhand government. In December 2016, the director general, National Mission for Clean Ganga forwarded Matri Sadan’s representation to Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) which in its order asked officials to ensure that no legal or illegal mining takes place in the Ganga stretch. The CPCB also stayed the operation of stone crushers.
However, the Uttarakhand government gave its representation to CPCB in February this year and as a result, CPCB on March 26 revoked the ban on ‘legal quarrying’ of river bed material. The Board also asked government to re-examine the issue of existing stone crushers. But the head of the Matri Sadan, Swami Shivanand, said they will keep pressing their demands.