Concern for Ganga crosses religious barriers
Ganga does not discriminate. It acts as the lifeline for both the Hindu and Muslim villages along its banks. Concerns over the ever-increasing pollution in the river have now prompted Hindu and Muslim religious leaders to join hands. President of All India Imams Association, Umer Ahmed Iliasi, visited the Maha Kumbh Mela and extended his support to the Save Ganga Movement flagged off by Swami Chidanand Saraswati of Parmarth Niketan Ashram in Allahabad. In return, Swami Chidanand gifted three sacred trees—neem, rudraksha and kalp vriksha—to him as a souvenir of their union for the protection and preservation of the environment, particularly Ganga.
"We are here on the confluence of the Ganga, Yamuna and Saraswati, and in this basket is a confluence of three sacred trees symbolizing the confluence of our love, our union and our commitment for each other and for our Mother Earth. Our natural environment and our Mother Ganga give to all with no discrimination. So its protection and preservation is everyone’s responsibility,” says Swami Chidanand.
Iliasi also assured that imams from all over India will join the cause. “I will plant these sacred trees at our mosque in Delhi and they will grow to stand as wonderful symbols of the sacredness of our union. They will grow there as a mark of our commitment to save the river.”
Several Muslim groups in Allahabad have extended their support for the Ganga campaign. Prior to the Paush Poornima Snaan, members of these groups performed vazoo (the ritual of cleaning oneself before the prayers) in the waters of Ganga as a mark of their support to saving the Ganga, which they call the lifeline of Indian civilization.
BJP leader and former Madhya Pradesh chief minister Uma Bharti, who took out a Ganga yatra to focus on the problems ailing the river, had said a few days ago that she would carry the pot of polluted waters to seers to make them understand the problem of river contamination. She said the high level of water contamination could cause cancer in those taking a regular dip in the Ganga near Sangam.
Taking an oath at the Harishchandra ghat on February 5 to make the river clean and pure, the Shankarachrya, mahants, mahamandleshwars and seers announced to block eminent roads leading to Sangam if the authorities failed to check the release of effluents into the river. Jagatguru Shankaracharya Swami Narendranand Saraswati Ji Maharaj of Sumerupeeth in Kashi claims water from the Sharda additional canal, tanneries and factories along with sewage is released into the river.
Harichaitanya Brahmachari of Shriparamhans Ashram inTikar Mafi claimed that protests have failed to awaken the government from its slumber and even the local administration is not ready to hear the grievances of saints and seers on the issue. The Mela administration officials had sought stopping of release of additional 1,000 cusecs water in Ganga due to recent flood-like situation witnessed in the Mela area.
Since the water release has been stopped, the colour of the river has changed, says Brahmachari. He alleges the authorities usually release untreated water from factories and tanneries in the Ganga at night. He says the alarming condition of the river would be discussed during the dharma sansad (religious parliament) to be held on February 13.
Mahant Narendra Giri also came down heavily on Mela authorities on the issue and claimed that untreated water of tanneries has been released into river Ganga and seers, mahants and the akharas have been chalking out their strategy on the issue.
Scores of saints including dandi swamis attended the oath ceremony at Harishchandra Ghat meeting and lambasted the callous attitude of the government. They demanded effective capping of effluent discharge in the Ganga and sufficient volume of water in the river throughout the Kumbh Mela. Several seers said the government is cheating Kalpwasis and saints alike as the water level rises in the Ganga only on the day of major baths and recedes within 24 hours.
Government officials, however, claim the situation has improved. "Officials of the pollution control department have gone through the issue and pointed out that the status of water has improved at Shringverpur and the situation would improve within 24 hours. We are trying to ascertain how the colour of water changed within 24 hours and are discussing the issue with officials concerned,” says divisional commissioner, Devesh Chaturvedi.