ECO TALK
 

Ram Nath Mahendra is the All-India Treasurer of Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP). He is also the Regional President (Uttar Pradesh and Uttaranchal) of the outfit. In an interview given to Eco Friends, Mr Mahendra expressed his anguish at the deplorable condition of the river Ganga and declared that VHP would soon launch a massive Clean-Ganga campaign with the help of saints in Kanpur.

You have been into social service for long.

Mr Mahendra: I came to Kanpur back in 1947 and did my graduation here. From the very beginning I have been associated with social service organisations. Eight years back, I formed Green Friends. We campaigned against smoking. We also propounded the Smriti Van Yojana (Memory Tree Plan) under which we intended to grow trees in the name of departed souls. But because the Kanpur Municipal Corporation turned a cold shoulder and we were not allotted any area, the plan remained a non-starter.

What inspired you to form Green Friends?

Mr Mahendra: I was the governor of Rotary International in 1990-91. At that time, the president of Rotary gave the slogan: Preserve Planet Earth. This slogan caught my attention and I started motivating people to plant trees, make efforts to reduce air pollution and conserve water. During my tenure, I undertook a massive plantation of 1,56,000 saplings. I also ensured these saplings were taken care of. I am happy that around 80,000 of these saplings have grown into trees. The Rotary International acknowledged this feat.

How do you find the state of Ganga in Kanpur?

Mr Mahendra: I am the Vice President of Ganga Mahasamiti. I wrote a book on Ganga some time back. While Ganga Action Plan (GAP) was being launched in 1986, I told Mr Rajiv Gandhi, the then Indian Prime Minister, that lot of money had already been pumped into the Ganga Barrage Project. In 1966, the Ganga Barrage Project was initiated. It could have been completed with an investment of Rs 80 crores. But committees after committees were constituted under the Project and nothing was done. Those involved pocketed huge amounts of money. Now the cost of Ganga Barrage has mounted to Rs 400 crores. It is still not complete.

I had envisaged in the book that a well-planned Ganga Project would solve the drinking water problem of the city. It would make dredging easy. Today, despite the GAP, the water the citizens drink is unhygienic. Ironically, the Jal Sansthan (Water Department) has been increasing water tax. Acting on this, the Supreme Court directed the Jal Sansthan to justify the increase in water tax by ensuring clean drinking water. The Jal Sansthan has done nothing to comply with this directive. The water is still contaminated and if the current trend prevails, within 2-3 years water would be available Rs 6 per bucket in Kanpur.

How can we plug the loopholes existing in the Ganga Action Plan?

Mr Mahendra: All the money invested in Ganga Action Plan (GAP) has been siphoned off by the authorities concerned. I propose that a Central Bureau Investigation (CBI) enquiry should be initiated against all those who are involved in GAP. A thorough probe should be undertaken of the inaction that has marred GAP and the guilty should be jailed. A committee of engineers, intellectuals, social workers, journalists and water experts should be set up who can monitor GAP. But the IAS (read government official) is not ready for formation of such a committee because he knows that if this committee comes into existence, he would have no scope to pocket money. The GAP is rank failure. Forget about taking a holy dip in Ganga, if you come into contact with its water you will develop diseases.

Will the Ganga Barrage reduce the drinking water scarcity problem in Kanpur?

Mr Mahendra: It is being hoped that after the bridges come up, Ganga water will touch the ghats. But only when clean water comes from upstream to the Barrage will the real problem of pollution be solved otherwise everything will come back to square one. We will continue getting unclean water.

What do you think about the pollution being caused by the leather-making units?

Mr Mahendra: The present plight of Ganga is mainly because of the tanneries. They empty all their leather waste into the river. Tannery owners are most indifferent to the pollution problem. Everybody knows that the tannery wastewater is toxic. So why aren’t the politicians, who call themselves representatives of the people, raising their voice against it? The administration is indulged in eye washing and knee-jerk activities. It says that it is closing the leather industries in phases. Actually, it is doing nothing. Even if it is closing the units, why in phases? Why isn’t it closing all the tanneries which are illegally operating? There could be two reasons behind this. Either it does not want to displease the Muslims (most of whom own the tanneries) lest it would lose vote banks or it is taking bribes from the tannery owners.

Do you know the tannery wastewater is going into the fields of many villagers?

Mr Mahendra: Yes, the innocent villagers are getting this poisonous water. Little wonder, their crops have been badly affected. The government officials are creating Putnaas (read devils) after Putnaas who are destroying the entire ecology.

So, what is VHP planning on Ganga?

Mr Mahendra: We organised the Tenth Dharam Conference in February 2003 which was attended by 10,000 Hindu saints. We passed a resolution on Ganga cleaning and expressed utter pathos at the sorry state of the Ganga. All assurances of the ruling government have turned out to be hollow. Therefore, Dhramsansad appealed to the government that it should undertake efforts on war-footing to bring back the glory of Ganga river.

If the administration and the government do not pay attention to the growing pollution in the Ganga, then Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) would launch a movement with the help of sadhus and saints very soon. We will practise anshun (hunger strike), hold dharnas (sit-ins), organise awareness rallies and meetings. The administration should be prepared to tackle the repercussions.

Recently, when the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) visited Kanpur, the VHP had put forward its proposal to take steps to prevent the further pollution in river Ganga. If this is not done, we will start a campaign with the support of saints from Kanpur. We see Ganga not as a river but regard it as our Mother. Today, the scientists are proving the utility of Ganga water but its usefulness has already been established in our scriptures. It is not without reason that Ganga is revered and worshipped as a Goddess. So, if it is neglected as it has been over the years, it is certain that government’s apathy will give rise to a massive revolution.

But floating of dead body in the river, on religious grounds, also creates pollution in Ganga.

Mr Mahendra: People will be made aware about the pollution they are causing by floating dead bodies in the river. The Hindu saints are ready to say this to the public. There is a need to dispel the some of the traditional misconceptions and only by making them aware can we handle the problem. And when saints explain this to the people, they will certainly pay heed to it. I am sure Ganga will become pure if we all join our hands together.

 

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