New Delhi: Rights activist Medha Patkar, one of the founders of the Narmada Bachao Andolan, has extended her support to the seers at Matri Sadan ashram in Haridwar who have been campaigning to save the Ganga river.
One of the seers, Brahamchari Atmabodhanand, has been on a fast since February 23. Initially, he was relying on water, salt, honey and lemon intake, but intensified his struggle one week ago by giving up those as well. As his health deteriorated on Saturday, the Uttarakhand administration took him for a medical check-up and said he would be taken to AIIMS in Delhi if required. Matri Sadan founder Shivanand Saraswati sat on hunger strike in Atmabodhanand’s place.
Last week, Patkar had tweeted that the Narendra Modi government may have forgotten about its commitment to the Ganga, but the seers at Matri Sadan had not. “If this government is committed towards saving the Ganga, then it should first save Atmabodhanand, who has been fasting for so many days to protect the river and its entire ecosystem,” Patkar told the Times of India.
“The seers of Matri Sadan are some of the very knowledgeable group of people who have science behind their protest. It is not merely a showpiece strike or a strategic strike with an agenda. They are solely fighting to save Ganga and its riparian ecology.”
Atmabodhanand’s demands are for the government to scrap hydro power electric projects on the Ganga and its adjacent tributaries, prohibit quarrying on the Ganga river bed, enact the Ganga Act and shift all stone crushers from the Ganga river bed, Hindustan Times reported. In early March, he wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, saying his fast was a tapasya against corruption and to preserve the environment.
“It is of utter dismay that mining is continuing in the restricted areas and Ganga river’s flow is being stopped by means of numerous hydropower projects which off late has resulted in environmental implications leading to the Kedarnath flash floods way back in 2013 and recently glacier breach in Tapovan, Chamoli on Rishi Ganga-Dhauli Ganga stretch,” he said in the letter.
Patkar told the Times of India that the government has been behaving in an “irresponsible way”. Irregularities and illegalities to allow sand mining on both the Narmada and the Ganga can be seen, she said.
She also argued that the seers of Matri Sadan are not religious fundamentalists but dedicated climate activists grounded in science. Seers from this ashram have been raising issues relating to the Ganga for years now.
Environmentalist G.D. Agarwal, who was also associated with Matri Sadan and called himself Swami Sanand, passed away in 2018 after fasting for nearly four months. His demands were similar to the ones Atmabodhanand is making today. Matri Sadan seer Swami Nigmanand passed away in 2011 after a 114 fast that shed light on illegal quarrying and hydro power projects.
Despite Narendra Modi having pledged on the banks of the Ganga in Varanasi that he would take immediate steps to ensure that the Ganga is cleaned, the government has paid little attention to these fasting seers whose demands pertain to the health of the Ganga.
As The Wire has reported before, despite the Modi government’s announcement on cleaning the Ganga, several reports have shown that no significant action has been taken to clean the river. A parliamentary estimates committee which evaluated the government’s efforts to rejuvenate the Ganga concluded that the government’s actions have been far from enough. A performance audit by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) also found deficiencies and shortfalls.