Hell in holy land


The quiet fast Swami Nigamananda rests in the lap of his guru Swami Shivananda

BABA RAMDEV knew how to catch attention. Infamously, he also knew how to run. Swami Nigamananda didn’t know how to do either. While Ramdev was hogging national attention with emotive issues like declaring all black money stashed abroad as “national wealth” and threatening to hang the corrupt, far away from media glare, Nigamananda, 38, had been fasting for a mind-boggling 68 days for something much more concrete — and of even greater national implication. Nigamananda was fighting to save the Ganga.

Finally, Nigamananda died on 13 June, in the same hospital, in the same ward where Ramdev was being treated in the ICU, after just seven days of fasting. Briefly, the glaring ironies around the stories of the two men created a furore. But soon — in death as in life — the real and urgent cause Nigamananda had been fighting for was quickly forgotten.

It would be a big mistake to leave it as forgotten. The amount of black money India has lost to offshore accounts is a speculative figure. Certainly it needs stringent action and needs to be brought back. But one could also as well start with all the black money floating about in the country (and a good place to begin might be among some of Ramdev’s devotees themselves.)

The Ganga, on the other hand, is not of speculative value. Not only does it have a profound civilisational and spiritual value, it is an incalculable economical force: its water and ecology support millions of Indians, generate livelihoods, power and money. If the Ganga were to die, some of India’s most populous states would be completely impoverished. India would lose much more than all the money that Swiss Banks can hold.

This then is the explosive and specific story of what the swami was fighting for. This war on corruption does not involve other nations or complex treaties. But its scale and brazenness is as staggering.

Nigamananda (who had studied in Delhi and, poignantly, left a middle-class home in Bihar in 1995 in search of ‘truth’) and Matra Sadan, the ashram he belonged to, had been waging a humbling and heroic battle against Haridwar’s mining mafia.

Their biggest adversary was one stone- crushing company called Himalaya Stone Crusher. But it would be a mistake to dismiss this story as a small local issue because it is a symptomatic story about massive political clout and such flagrant corruption that it makes one despair.

It is also a story that lays bare the sheer hypocrisy of the BJP’s public positions. Here is a party that has not only been trying to position itself as a champion of the anticorruption movement in India, it has always presented itself as the self-appointed custodian of Hindu pride. Yet, in the battle over Ganga between the Babas and the mining mafia, the party clearly — and repeatedly — sided with the mafia.

Himalaya Stone Crusher’s biggest safety net was its closeness to the BJP and the RSS. But that is a story one must come to a little later. To understand the full import of Nigamananda’s battle, one has to understand the background landscape first.

Humble abode Swami Nigamananda’s ashram
Photos: Rajiv Kala

ON THE  morning of 30 March 2010, as lakhs of pilgrims were having a holy dip in the Ganga at Haridwar, barely 1 km from the bathing ghats, forest officials were carrying out a surprise inspection at a stone crushing plant located on the banks of the river. The name of the plant was AP Associates Stone Crusher, one of 41 such plants in Haridwar and 124 in Uttarakhand.

These plants fuel the rampant illegal sand and stone mining business in the state. The gravel and concrete manufactured by them are in huge demand by the booming construction industry and reap millions of rupees for the mining mafia. The raiding team that day found 45,000 tonnes of unaccounted stones at the plant site. The plant owner had no explanation or documents to prove its source.

These 45,000 tonnes of stones are just the tip of a massive story. In Uttarakhand, only state-owned corporations can pick stones from riverside to be sold to private stone crushers. The units are required to pick the stones manually; excavation of riverbeds is strictly prohibited.

There are also half-a-dozen state agencies to regulate the stone-picking and crushing industry: the Mining Department, the State Pollution Control Board, the Central Environment Assessment Committee, the Forest Department and a legion of officers whose job is to prevent illegal mining and protect the river ecology.

Yet, brazenly, every day, the mining mafia in Haridwar plunders the stones deposited in the riverbed using advanced technology excavators. Uttarakhand is a poor state and sand, stone and soapstone are its key resources. Mining them illegally therefore is a double blow to the exchequer. But this is not all. The rampant mining has also depleted the groundwater level, deepened the riverbed, made thousands of acres of farmland uncultivable, destroyed the neighbouring forests, polluted the air and forced hundreds of farmers to migrate, having sold their lands to the same mafia for a pittance.

Making molehills out of mountains

Rampant illegal mining with the complicity of BJP ministers and MLAs threatens to destroy Uttarakhand’s ecology and river systems

Bageshwar Dist

 VIOLATION Soapstone mining beyond permissible depth. No reforestation or refilling of mine pits

  ACTION PROPOSED Officials justify it saying since everyone does it, that’s the norm

Reckless mining is turning large tracts into ugly deserts

Haridwar Dist

 VIOLATION Stone quarrying on private lands beyond the permissible depth of 1.5 metres

 ACTION PROPOSED Divisional forest officer imposed a fine of 36 lakh in one case

RESULT DM revoked the order saying DFO exceeded jurisdiction

Rudraprayag Dist

 VIOLATION A stone-crusher on the banks of Madhumaheshwar Ganga

 ACTION PROPOSED Environment laws say crushers have to be at least 500 metres away from the river

 RESULT No action taken. The crusher is polluting the river and destroying the adjoining farmlands

Haridwar Dist

 VIOLATION No sprinklers or high walls. No equipment to absorb respiratory suspended particle matter

 ACTION PROPOSED Cancellation of the crusher licence

  RESULT No action taken so far


Haridwar Dist

VIOLATION AP Associates crusher had a stock of 45,000 tonnes of illegally mined stones

 ACTION PROPOSED DFO slapped a fine of Rs 1.15 crore

 RESULT DM revoked the order saying DFO exceeded jurisdiction

Haridwar Dist

VIOLATION Himalaya Stone Crusher was operating in violation of environmental and mining laws

 ACTION PROPOSED Uttarakhand HC ordered its closure on 26 May

 RESULT Has been shut down since

At AP Associates, it was evident the stones had been illegally excavated from the bed of the Ganga. This was the first time in many years that a stone crusher in Haridwar had been raided. There was a new officer in town, Divisional Forest Officer RD Pathak, who was trying to resuscitate the comatose Forest Department.

But while the raiding team was still conducting its inspection, Pathak got a call. The caller was a Cabinet minister, incharge of five powerful portfolios. Anticipating the flurry of calls his raid would trigger, Pathak had handed his phone to his orderly and instructed him to tell the minister he was away in the forests and had left his phone behind. But the minister persisted, making incessant calls. Finally, a few hours later, Pathak took his call.

“Pathak sahab, please call your officers back. You know that the crusher is run by my people. Your officers are unnecessarily harassing my people,” said the minister. By this time, Pathak’s team had finished their check and finalised the report.

Later, using a time-honoured evasion tactic, when asked to produce documents justifying the mammoth stock of unaccounted stones at his crusher, the owner Jitendra Singh got himself admitted into hospital. Four days later, he submitted photocopies of bogus receipts that he claimed as proof for having bought these stones. Pathak rejected the receipts on the grounds that there were no corresponding records at the source from where Singh had claimed to have bought the stock. Pathak slapped a penalty of around Rs 1.15 crore — Rs 58 lakh for stealing the natural resource and Rs 57 lakh for causing damage to the environment — under Section 26 of the Indian Forest Act, 1927.

Nigamananda and the Matra Sadan ashram had been waging a lonely battle against the mining mafia, especially Himalaya Stone Crusher

Two months later, on 9 June, Haridwar District Magistrate R Meenakshi Sundaram revoked Pathak’s order and reversed the fine imposed by him. The same receipts that Pathak had found fake were amazingly held genuine by Sundaram.

A month later, on 8 July, Pathak, only 11 months into this assignment, was transferred. Sundaram still continues to be Haridwar DM. The new Haridwar DFO, Gopalsingh Rana, who replaced Pathak, has not carried out even a single raid on the mining mafia since he took charge.

Under the Indian Forest Act, a district magistrate whose primary job is to collect revenue does not have any powers to review or revoke an order passed by a DFO. The appellate authority is the Forest Conservator. But Sundaram not only heard the appeal, he also passed an order in favour of the stone crushing plant.

“The Forest Department can conduct raids only on reserve forest land. It’s the Revenue Department, Industries Department, Pollution Control Board or the mining inspector who can check a stone crusher. Still, when the DFO’s report came, we did not ignore it,” Sundaram told TEHELKA. “We formed a committee involving Revenue, Mining and Industries Department people. But the report that we got from the joint committee suggested otherwise.” Pathak refused to comment on Sundaram’s assertion. “I did my job and that’s all I have to say,” he remarks.


The mine lords of UttarakhandState politicians are involved in illegal mining along with local businessmen
Jagdish KalakotiROLE Member of the BJP state executive committee, owns a soapstone mine in Bageshwar district Gyanesh AgarwalROLE Owner of the Himalaya Stone Crusher, against which Swami Nigamananda went on an indefinite fast
Madan KaushikROLE Urban Development Minister; was allegedly protecting the Himalaya Stone Crusher company Diwakar BhattROLE Revenue Minister who owns a stone crusher in Haridwar district


THE PROBLEM is, even if Sundaram was right, the series of departments that according to him are authorised to check illegal mining are doing precious nothing to check the menace. TEHELKA visited three stone crushers in Haridwar. Each of them was being run in violation of the most essential pollution control norms. Locals said that the suspended air particles released by these plants were causing tuberculosis and respiratory diseases among the locals and making their fields uncultivable.

“The dust envelops our fields and causes damage to the crops,” says Kishansingh, 55, a farmer in Sajjanpur-Pilli village, who has 7 bighas on which he harvests rice and wheat. “Those whose fields are adjacent to the crusher cannot harvest at all. If there is an inspection, the crusher owner starts the water sprinklers. The moment the inspection is over, it’s back to square one.” His wife Bhagwati adds, “These crushers use JCB machines to excavate the Ganga. We heard some mahatma had died, so for the past one week, this has stopped.”

Dr Vijendra Singh, 54, who practices medicine in Jagjitpur, says trees in his village don’t bear fruits. “The noise and air pollution arising out of the two crushers operating here is unbearable. Asthma, respiratory diseases, TB and stomach ailments are common among the villagers,” he says.

Yet, the Uttarakhand Environment Protection and Pollution Control Board — the statutory body mandated to enforce environmental norms — has given each of these crushers a no-objection certificate. When TEHELKA asked Pollution Control Board chief Dr Ajay Gairula for the list of crushers that have an NOC from his department and those that have been penalised for violating norms, all we drew was a blank.

If the inaction of the Pollution Control Board is shocking enough, consider this: the whole of Haridwar and Pauri districts has just one mining inspector. The man presently posted at this job is Shailendra Singh. He says he has nobody else, not even a peon, to assist him. He admits he has not carried out a single inspection on crushers in the past two years of his tenure.

He tells TEHELKA that, on 11 May, the last time he tried to stop a cavalcade of trucks ferrying illegally mined stones, he was arrested by the UP Police on charges of robbery and criminal assault and released only after the SDM and Additional SP of Roorkee reached the spot and intervened. The mining mafia, however, still managed to get an FIR registered against him at Biharigarh Police Station (Saharanpur). The case against him is still pending.

Every way you turn, the system has become despairingly rotten. If you join the loot, there are rich dividends. If you enforce the law, the odds are heavily stacked against you. Haridwar SDM Hardev Singh says that on three occasions when his team raided the mining mafia and caught them red-handed, digging the riverbank with JCBs, they were assaulted. “We registered FIRs. In one case, an accused was arrested. But then nothing happened,” he says.

A member of the raiding party who was assaulted says — on condition of anonymity as he feared reprisal from the mafia — that he was now under pressure to strike a compromise with the mining mafia and drop the case. “If we even catch so much as a pony carrying illegally mined stones, we immediately get a call from the powersthat- be to release the goods,” he says.

Before his transfer, Pathak had prepared a report listing 18 crusher companies involved in illegal mining. To prove his case, he had annexed pictures of JCBs used by the owners to dig the Ganga.

When TEHELKA asked Sundaram about this report, he said, “Yes there was one such report. Some of it was found to be true, some were not proven.” But he failed to enumerate any action that was taken.

UNDER THE present BJP government, headed by Chief Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal ‘Nishank’, illegal mining in the state has reached catastrophic proportions. Every year, the mining mafia illegally excavates millions of cubic metres of stones from the riverbeds of the Ganga, Yamuna, Gaula and Sharda rivers, and soapstone from the hills.

This mafia is actively supported by ministers. Such is their sense of impunity, in some cases, the mines and stone crushers are owned by BJP netas in their own name.

Take Minister Diwakar Bhatt for instance. He is in-charge of three portfolios — revenue, food and civil supplies and soldiers’ welfare. His son Lalit owns a stone crusher named Om Sri Kailapeer in Sajjanpur- Pilli. When TEHELKA confronted Bhatt about allegations of illegal mining by his crusher, he tossed it aside. “I don’t deny there is illegal mining in the state. But why don’t people talk about those who illegally excavate thousands of tonnes of stones every day? I don’t do anything wrong,” he says.

Jagdish Kalakoti, another BJP politician, owns a soapstone mine spread over 2.9 acres in Chatikhet village in Bageshwar. He is presently a member of the BJP’s state executive committee. He bagged the mining licence in 2002 when the BJP government was in power. Kalakoti told TEHELKA his mine contributes Rs 25- Rs 30 lakh to state revenues every year, while he himself makes a profit of around Rs 1 crore.

Health and Education Minister Balwant Singh Bhauryal also owns a soapstone mine named Vaishnavi Soap Stone Pvt Ltd, in Visa village in Bageshwar district. (He admitted to the mine, but denied the illegal mining). District BJP leaders Thakur Singh Gadiya and Vikran Singh Shahi also own soapstone mines. There are 45 soapstone mines in Bageshwar and 15 in Pittoragarh.

Nanda Vallabh Bhatt, the state vicepresident of People’s Union for Civil Liberties, alleges that illegal and reckless stone mining in the Pittoragarh and Bageshwar districts has turned scores of villages into desert. In most of these cases, the land is owned by local farmers but the mining licence has been procured by the BJP politicians after obtaining a no-objection certificate from the actual land owner.

“It’s a misperception that soapstone mining is damaging the environment,” says Kalakoti. “It’s beneficial to the licenceholder, the government and the farmers who own the land.”

This pattern of denial and paralysis dominates the land. As per the rules, excavation only up to an average of 7 to 8 feet is permissible, but the licencees dig up to 65 to 80 feet (See the pictures).

Dinesh Kumar, District Mining Officer in charge of Bageshwar, Almora and Pittoragarh districts, admits that the licencees mine way beyond permissible limits and almost never act on the mandatory need to fill the pits and plant trees on the mined land. Despite this, by his own admission, he has not issued any notice or levied a fine of a single rupee in the past two years.

Another BJP minister who has often been accused of sheltering the mining mafia is Madan Kaushik, presently in charge of five powerful portfolios — urban development, excise, tourism, sugarcane development and sugarcane industry. Kaushik is an MLA from Haridwar. Before he joined the BJP in 1998, he was district convener of the Bajrang Dal’s Haridwar unit. BJP insiders will tell you that he draws his clout from BJP stalwart Sushma Swaraj, whom he considers his political mentor.

Himalaya Stone Crusher, the plant Nigamananda died fighting, was reportedly patronised by Kaushik. Kaushik told TEHELKA, “I have been elected from Haridwar and I’m friends with many local residents, including the owner of Himalaya. But that doesn’t mean I’m sheltering anyone. I don’t have a single stake in Himalaya or any other crusher in the area.”

Clearly though, the owner has had a long history of such friendships.

Though Himalaya Crusher was located close to human habitations and had been accused of blatant illegalities, it prospered for 14 years. It was finally shut down only after the Uttarakhand High Court ordered its closure on 26 May, 25 days after Swami Nigamananda had slipped into a coma and 16 days before he passed away.

The order by the two-judge high court Bench headed by Uttarakhand Chief Justice Barin Ghosh is full of censure and tells its own strong story. The Bench wrote: “The crusher owners got their licence renewed from time to time by the executive authority concerned despite the resistance raised by several social activists… representatives of the surrounding villages. One of the most prominent resistances was manifested by the saints of Matra Sadan ashram whose location, as it appears, is not far from this crusher. But their voice proved to be a wild-goose chase against the influence of the crusher owners, gen was perhaps an outcome of this high profiteering calling.” It added, “Under the garb of lifting boulders, the crusher owners started to dig the floor and banks of national river Ganga, causing deleterious affect not only upon the entire surrounding society but also upon humanity at large.”

An important indictment. Unfortunately, Swami Nigamananda was no longer there to hear it.

THE STORY of the two Babas and their anticorruption drive — one a parody, the other purer; one full of hot noise, the other marked by stoic action — is told at a glance by the nature of their ashrams.

If you visit Haridwar, a zig-zag road lined with giant hoardings of a beaming Ramdev and his key associate Acharya Balkrishna, leads you to Ramdev’s sprawling ashram — Patanjali Yogpeeth Phase 1. (Besides Patanjali Yogpeeth Phase 1, Ramdev has two more ashrams — Patanjali Yogpeeth Phase 2, a sprawl of 30 acres, and Yoga Gram, a naturopathy and Ayurvedic treatment centre, as expensive as any private hospital, spread over 125 acres in Aurangabad village, Haridwar.)

This mafia is backed by ministers. Such is their sense of impunity, in some cases, the mines and stone crushers are owned by BJP leaders in their own name

Ashram is a misnomer; business empire would be a more appropriate way to describe the scale of Ramdev’s operations. Patanjali Yogpeeth Phase 1, which sprawls behind a majestic iron gate, houses an Ayurveda medical college, an Ayurveda university, air-conditioned administration and residential blocks and a separate block where Ramdev himself lives. There are also three auditoriums (one of which is the largest in Asia), the office of Bharat Swabhiman, a trust formed by Ramdev to kickstart his supposedly anti-black money campaign, Sant Ravi Das langar, and a Maharishi Valmiki Dharamshala, which houses and feeds the poor free for the first three days, after which money is charged. (There has never been an independent verification of Ramdev’s claims of feeding and housing the poor free for the first three days. Like his other land and financial dealings, Ramdev’s charity too remains a mystery.)

There is another road in Haridwar, narrow, broken and potholed, which leads to an ashram in Jagjitpur village, named Matra Sadan. Situated on the banks of the Ganga, the ashram was set up in 1997 by Swami Shivananda, an ascetic who is now 64 and weighs less than 50 kg. The objective of the ashram was to promote Vedic traditions and strive for preservation of nature, especially the holy Ganga. Shivananda purchased four acres for Rs 10 lakh to set up the ashram along with his seven disciples. One among them was Nigamananda, who was 24 at the time.

Anyone can walk into this ashram. There is no boundary wall, only a broken fence of wild bushes; no ironed gate, just a makeshift barrier of bamboo. Unlike Patanjali Yogpeeth that charges 10 as entry fee per vehicle, entry to Matra Sadan is free. But then, there is nothing inside Matra Sadan that warrants an entry fee. Just a couple of shabbily constructed quarters, a cowshed and a yagashala (a small enclosure for performing yagas). If a visitor happens to be present during meal time, the swami and his disciples insist he stay and eat. (Of course, the hospitality at Matra Sadan is free; Ramdev’s restaurant is the most expensive in Haridwar).

Like the ashrams, the nature of the two anti-corruption protests were radically different. Ramdev erected huge tents in Ramlila Maidan and floated astronomical figures to get people all roused up and indignant (how Rs 50,000 crore would be given to every district if the government was forced to bring back the black money.) Nigamananda’s protest was much more pragmatic. And rooted in reality.

Meeting Ramdev’s demands might have meant legislating Byzantine laws, changing the basic framework of Constitution, perhaps even changing our status from being a constitutional and democratic republic to an autocracy of holy and righteous men. But to meet Matra Sadan’s demands, all the Uttarakhand government needed to do was to enforce the law.

On a bitterly cold morning on 19 February, Shivananda’s disciple Nigamananda sat under a mango tree in the ashram compound and started an indefinite fast. He was protesting the stay order by the high court Bench that had allowed Himalaya Stone Crusher to continue its activities. Matra Sadan’s allegation was that the stone crusher was functioning in the Kumbh Mela area, which, according to state government regulations, should be free of any stone quarrying or crushing activity.

This was Matra Sadan’s 30th satyagraha against illegal sand and stone mining over the past 14 years. Nigamananda had previously participated in five of them — fasting for extended periods, which on occasion stretched into a couple of months.

Besides Matra Sadan, no other organisation or political outfit had resisted the rampant illegal mining along the Ganga. Over the past 10 years, the state government had sent Shivananda and his disciples to jail thrice for staging agitations. On all three occasions, the ruling party was the BJP. So much for protecting the river that is the fount of Hindu civilisation.

Matra Sadan launched its first agitation on 3 March 1998, in the midst of the Kumbh Mela. (Haridwar hosts the Kumbh once every 12 years). Nigamananda, along with another swami, Gokulananda, sat on an indefinite fast, demanding a complete ban on stone and sand mining and crushing activities in the entire Mela area. At the time, there were five ghats in the area that were affected by this. The fast was broken after one week, when the officer-in-charge of the Kumbh gave a written assurance that their demands would be met. The mining and crushing was halted while the mela was on. But once the mela ended, it resumed. So did Matra Sadan’s agitation.

Nigamananda, along with a swami named Gudanand Saraswati, resumed their fast on 27 May 1998. On the 12th day of the fast, the district administration gave a written assurance that mining and crushing within the Mela area would be completely stopped. The administration kept its promise in the case of three ghats — Chandi Ghat, Dhobhi Ghat and Jagjitpur Ghat.

But illegal mining continued in the remaining two ghats — Misarpur and Ajitpur. The government kept issuing conflicting and scandalous notifications to keep these ghats outside the notified Mela area so that the illegal mining and crushing could continue operating there. The biggest beneficiary of the government’s deceit was Himalaya Stone Crusher.

The story of the government’s blatant and dogged efforts to protect Himalaya Stone Crusher boggles the mind. Reportedly patronised by BJP minister Madan Kaushik, the crusher is owned by a Haridwar resident named Gyanesh Agarwal. The Agrawal family is closely linked to the RSS. In 2009, when the then RSS Sarsanghchalak KS Sudarshan came to Haridwar, of all the places, he chose to stay at Agarwal’s house — a massive mansion in the heart of the city. Agarwal’s father Hazari Lal Agarwal is a member of the Bharat Vikas Parishad, a saffron outfit with close links to the RSS and VHP. Gyanesh and his brother are often invited as chief guests at RSS and VHPorganised functions in Haridwar.

Agarwal admitted that not only Sudarshan but current RSS supremo Mohan Bhagwat have stayed many times at his house. “But that doesn’t mean we are RSS members. As a businessman I keep close relations with all kinds of outfits,” he says.

Agarwal had set up a huge crushing plant in Ajitpur village in 1998. This fell under the Mela area. Matra Sadan had been agitating against this. When TEHELKA visited Ajitpur on 19 June, the villagers said the plant used to openly excavate stones from both sides of the river banks.

On 20 January 2008, Matra Sadan again started its satyagraha. Through various notifications, the government had placed Ajitpur outside the demarcated Mela area. Swami Shivananda produced government maps prepared during the Kumbh Mela of 1998, which showed the boundary of the mela extended up to Ajitpur.

Nigamananda fasted for 73 days. Finally, the BJP government announced the formation of a high-powered committee to streamline the notified Kumbh Mela area. The committee recommended the inclusion of Ajitpur village in the notified Kumbh Mela area. The government failed to implement its own committee report.

On 6 February 2009, Matra Sadan resumed the agitation. This time another sadhu named Brahmachari Dayananda sat unamfor an indefinite fast. On 7 March, the government finally relented and the Garhwal Division Commissioner made the announcement that stone picking at two more ghats — Misarpur and Ajitpur — would be temporarily suspended. But there was no stay on Himalaya Stone Crusher. After a few weeks, the stone picking at these two ghats resumed again.

Between 15 October 2009 and 25 March 2010, four more swamis of Matra Sadan sat on indefinite fasts. The agitation lasted for 173 days.

On 29 December 2009, the Uttarakhand government issued a fresh notification demarcating the Kumbh Mela area for the impending 2010 fair. But the boundaries were again demarcated in a way that the area where Himalaya Stone Crusher was situated fell outside the notified area and could continue to operate.

During the agitation, Union Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh visited the ashram and sent an inspection team to verify the Matra Sadan’s claims of illegal mining along the banks of the Ganga. The Centre’s team found evidence of rampant illegal mining and submitted a report validating Matra Sadan’s claims.

In January 2010, Ramesh even wrote a letter to the Uttarakhand CM saying, “I would urge you to kindly have the matter looked into so that necessary instructions are issued to the officers concerned to take immediate action to stop illegal mining going on in your state, including at Missarpur and Ajitpur in Haridwar, before the situation takes an ugly turn.”

Inviting proof An invitation card showing mining don Gyanesh Agarwal as chief guest at an RSS event
Inviting proof An invitation card showing mining don Gyanesh Agarwal as chief guest at an RSS event

Eventually the government stopped the stone-picking at Missarpur and Ajitpur ghats. But yet again, Himalaya Stone Crusher was exempt. Matra Sadan continued to protest.

Shivananda himself sat on a fast from 20 January. On 5 February, for the first time in 12 years, the government finally issued a notification that extended the boundary of Kumbh Mela area to include the location of Himalaya Stone Crusher.

On 6 February, Shivananda broke his fast. But little did he know that while the government had issued the notification, it had not framed the corresponding rules to execute the order.

The crusher owner approached the high court and sought a stay on the government’s order. In April, the court struck down the order and ruled in favour of Himalaya Stone Crusher on the ground that no rules had been framed to regulate the stone-crushing activity. Shockingly, the government didn’t contest in court. It didn’t even file an affidavit.

On 18 November 2010, Shivananda resumed his fast, demanding that the government should frame clear and unambiguous orders and rules. On 10 December, the government did issue a fresh unambiguous notification. It also framed the corresponding rules. The swami broke his fast on 11 December.

On 14 December 2010, for the first time, Himalaya Crusher’s activity was stalled, but only briefly. On the very same day, it filed a writ petition in the high court. The court gave the government six weeks to reply. In the meantime, it stayed the government order.

To fight this flagrant injustice, Swami Shivananda also filed an SLP opposing the stay on the government order. Simultaneously, another sadhu, Swami Yajnanda, sat on an indefinite fast against the high court’s order. He fasted till 19 February 2011. Fatefully, on that day, Nigamananda took Yajnanda’s position.

Ramdev’s demands meant legislating Byzantine laws. But to meet Nigamananda’s demands, all that the state needed to do was to enforce the law

BY 27 APRIL, 68 days into his heroic fast, Nigamanada’s health started slipping. The ashram sent an SMS to the chief secretary. The district administration landed up at the ashram and shifted Nigamananda to the Haridwar District Hospital. Until that day, neither any government official or minister had gone to see Nigamananda or persuade him to break his fast. “We did go a couple of times even before 27 April but made the mistake of not making any entry. So we don’t have any evidence to prove that,” claims Sundaram.

Shivananda claims that on 30 April, a nurse came to the ward, injected Nigamananda and took the syringe away with her. On the same night, his health started deteriorating again. On 2 May, he slipped into a coma. Briefly, he was shifted around to several hospitals, eventually being sent to the Himalayan Super Speciality Hospital in Dehradun. From 2 May to 13 June — the day Nigamananda died — no minister or bureaucrat went to see him.

Three days earlier, on 10 June, Ramdev was admitted to the same ward of the same hospital. The ICU was immediately converted into a VIP room for Ramdev. Chief Minister Nishank went to see him the very next day. Emerging from the hospital, the CM told the waiting media jamboree, “Ramdev’s life is important for the country and I am praying to God for his early recovery. The state government will do whatever it takes to save his life.” In the same breath, he lambasted the Central government for forcibly removing Ramdev from the Ramlila Maidan and called the UPA regime thoroughly corrupt.

On 12 June, the CMwent to see Ramdev again. The same afternoon, Ramdev broke his fast in the midst of a full media spectacle, flanked by other super rich, jet-setting gurus — Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, Morari Bapu and Ramdev aide Balkrishna. As Ramdev sipped a glass of juice, TV channels broke the news: “Baba Ramdev ends his fast.”

Just a few doors away, Nigamananda was breathing his last.

IN 2007, a pungent satiric song by famous folk-song writer Narendra Singh Negi brought ND Tiwari’s government down. The BJP had used Negi’s song about Tiwari’s sexual misadventures with great relish then. Now — ominously for the BJP — Negi has written a song about Chief Minister Nishank. Skewering the CM for his corruptions, the lyrics of the song ask: “Ab kathagya kholo tu?” (How much more will you eat now?) — a euphemism for asking how much more money he wants to make before he hangs up his boots. The song lists all the alleged scams and scandals the CM has been involved with in his two year tenure.

Final journey Sadhus of Matra Sadan ashram carry the body of Swami Nigamananda for burial
Photo Courtesy: Matra Sadan

(Apart from illegal mining, Nishank has been embroiled in several high-profile controversies on corruption related to land and power projects. However, at the height of the furore around him, BJP President Nitin Gadkari flew down and gave him a clean chit.)

The epic story of Nigamananda and Matra Sadan’s struggle against corruption puts all of this — and much of the current frenzied lip service against corruption — to shame. It is proof that, like in the film Peepli Live, we are all interested in the circus, not in the tragedy. For 14 years, as the swamis struggled relentlessly against a visible and flagrant corruption, forget the national media, even the local media gave them absolutely no attention.

In a country that constantly and willingly genuflects before spiritual charlatans and tinsel men of god who drive Lexuses and travel in limousines and charge their devotees Rs 50,000 to sit in the first row and Rs 20,000 to sit in the back row, it is a searing blot on our conscience that no one paid any heed to the real Babas and their 14- year non-violent war against corruption.

Therefore, perhaps, the only glimmer of hope in this cautionary tale is that while the blustering, low-on-facts, high-onemotion black money crusade lies shrouded in ambiguity, the Matra Sadan Babas’ struggle has finally yielded a real triumph.

For 14 years, as the sadhus struggled against flagrant corruption, forget the national media, even the local media gave them no attention

On 26 May, while Nigamananda lay in a coma in the hospital, Uttarakhand Chief Justice Barin Ghosh and his colleague Justice Sarvesh Kumar Gupta ordered the closure of Himalaya Stone Crusher. Everything the court said upheld the allegations Matra Sadan had levelled for more than a decade.

This is what the order said: “Due to consistent digging and mining in the Ganga by Himalaya Stone Crusher and others, the river has become deepened and as a result the groundwater level has depleted in the thousands of acres of surrounding land. Even hand pumps in the villages in the area have been without drinking water in their borings.

“Because of dust emanating from the crushers, the agricultural production in many villages has been reduced to nullity. So is the case in surrounding orchards, especially of mangoes, forcing the farmers to sell their lands to crusher owners. The illegal mining has also caused soil erosion in large swathes along the Ganga.

“The Himalayan Stone Crusher was being run in violation of the Mining Policy 2001, which mandated that crushers should be at least 5 km from any human habitation. The suspended particles released by the crushers are causing diseases like tuberculosis, asthma and other respiratory diseases to local villagers.

“The crusher, located in the agricultural green belt and also ecologically fragile zone, was never granted the NOC by Haridwar Development Authority.”

Baba Nigamananda is dead. But Himalaya Stone Crusher is shut down.

At least, for the moment.

Ashish Khetan is Editor, Investigations with Tehelka.
[email protected]

Manoj Rawat is a Principal Correspondent with Tehelka Hindi, Dehradun.
[email protected]


  1. feel so bad that those who try to protect our environment, our country are left in the lurch.. more young men n women should join ‘country before self’ bandwagon


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