NOT JUST dammed and polluted, the mighty Ganga is being mindlessly exploited for economic benefits. If construction of dams, barrages and tunnels is killing the river in its upper stretches, sand mining, illegal quarrying and ill-planned urbanisation are choking it downstream.
Most mining operations along the Ganga are unauthorised and companies often illegally mine deeper and beyond the permitted zones. The effects of rampant illegal mining are all too apparent. “Illegal mining has depleted groundwater levels, rendered farmlands barren and deepened the riverbed,” says Hemant Dhyani of Ganga Avhaan, an NGO working to save the river. “But there is nobody to check these companies because they have considerable political clout and are very well networked.”
Uttarakhand has 141 stone crushers along the Ganga riverbed, all of which have a flourishing illegal sand and stone mining business in the state. Tractor trolleys and trucks haul sand and stone from the riverbed, turning it into a motorable road in the lean and dry seasons.
Faced with powerful business interests and a state government unwilling to stop illegal sand mining and stone crushing operations, Swami Nigamananda from the Matri Sadan Ashram in Haridwar started a peaceful protest to save the river; Haridwar has nearly 40 stone crushing and sandmining operations along the riverbed. Nigamananda began an indefinite fast on 19 February 2011 against a stay order by the Uttarakhand High Court that allowed quarrying operations by the Himalaya Stone Crushers Private Limited to continue in Haridwar. Members of Matri Sadan allege that the company was operating a stone crusher in the Kumbh Mela notified area. As per law, the area should be free of any stone quarrying or crushing activity. After 68 days of fasting, Nigamananda died on 14 June 2011 in a government hospital, fighting for his cause. The government turned a blind eye to his demands.