Swami Shivanand, founder-president of the Haridwar-based Matri Sadan Ashram, has been fighting in Uttarakhand for the past 14 years to save the Ganga. In this struggle, Swami Nigamananda, also from this ashram, was allegedly killed by poisoning after a 115-day fast. Swami Shivanand says the administration is guilty of collusion with the illegal mining mafia.
EDITED EXCERPTS FROM AN INTERVIEW
When did you start your struggle and what problems have you faced?
We have been fighting in Uttarakhand since 1998. Two sanyasis were killed by the mining mafia. Sadly, the government and investigating agencies are hand-in-glove with them. The biggest problem we face in our fight is corruption, whether in the form of illegal mining or the complicity of the authorities.
What is your take on the CBI investigation in Swami Nigamananda’s case?
Swami Nigamanada was poisoned in the hospital where he was sent after 115 days of fasting. It was clear from the medical investigation done in the hospital that he was poisoned; he also received treatment for poisoning. However, the mining mafia is so influential that the final report prepared by AIIMS, Delhi, was a doctored one. After the closure report was filed, we met the CBI director and told him of the material with us. He asked the SP investigating the case to get a second medical board constituted, which, shockingly, was not done. All our letters to the SP remain unanswered. Even the magistrate, who had told us that he would not accept the closure report of the CBI, later gave his verdict in favour of the CBI. We complained to the higher authorities, following which he was transferred and an inquiry initiated. Surprisingly, several doctors in Singapore and elsewhere contradicted the AIIMS report, based on what they read in the newspapers, but nobody is listening to us. We would like to ask why the CBI is still hesitating to set up a second medical board.
Is this the first time a swami of Matri Sadan was poisoned?
In 2000, I too was poisoned in jail. After the medical report was filed, a CID probe was ordered into the incident. It has been 12 years and we are yet to know anything about that probe.
What is the condition of the Ganga in Uttarakhand?
The Ganga has been ravaged very badly. Today, we cannot drink from the Ganga in Haridwar. Ninety percent of the water is diverted, and that water is used in the toilets of Delhi. Sand mining is rampant in Haridwar. The worst offenders are the thousands of trucks and tractors that trample upon the Ganga, near Haridwar, with unimaginable loss to the fishes and other species. They kill the river in Haridwar itself. Who gave these people the right to destroy such a beautiful legacy of our forefathers, and not pass it on to the next generation? The first time we fasted to save the Ganga was on 3 March 1998, and since then we have been doing this regularly because of our abiding belief in the Ganga. Once we had even protested against the Allahabad High Court. Later on, when the court gave its order, it was such an epic order that it even exceeded our expectations.
What should the government do to improve the situation?
The government should decide to stop exploitation of the Ganga for commercial benefits. If all the proposed dams are built, the future generation will forget the definition of a river. No factory should be allowed within 3 km from the Ganga, and licences of polluting factories should be cancelled.
Brijesh Pandey is a Special Correspondent with Tehelka.