In recent weeks, the sages of Matri Sadan, an ashram based in Haridwar ( Uttarakhand ) have been very active in their efforts to protect Ganga river. Their preferred method has been again to draw attention to the numerous violations of earlier promises to protect the Ganga river. On September 13, the fast of Swami Atmabodhanand completed 25 days. A wider meeting of friends from various parts of the country has been called to express solidarity with the fasting sage.
He is a young monk from Kerala, in his mid twenties. He started his career on succesSful note in more worldly terms as a computer engineer, then gave it all up and came to Matri Sadan to devote his life to the protection of Ganga river and other such higher goals.
He is guided in this by Swami Shivanand , the elder saint who started the Matri Sadan in 1997 to save the Ganga. He is a post graduate in Chemistry. The demands of these sages have been basd on scientific facts, even though they speak about the river in devotional terms.
These demands are based mainly on stopping construction of dams and hydel projects in the Himalayan reach of the Ganga river and its tributaries, stopping destructive mining and related stone crushing activities in and around the rivers. More recently, demands of an unbiased inquiry into the death of some sages and their mistreatment as well as speedy disposal of certain judicial processes have also been addded.
These demands are in continuation of the demands raised by Swami Sanand, the sage of Matri Sadan with the highest scientific credentials, who died while fasting for the protection of the Ganga river in 2018. It has been stated that he had the best scientific understanding of issues relating to protection of Ganga river and disagreed strongly with the official approach of the current government which has publicized huge achievements without recording significant progress.
At the time of another recent fast of Atmabodhanand, Medha Patkar, leading activist of Narmada Bachao Aandolan , had extended strong support to the demands voiced by the young sage and his colleagues, adding that the demands were rooted firmly in scientific facts.
So far three saints associated with Matra Sadan have died here fasting for protection of Ganga. One saint of this ashram is reported to have been killed by the mining mafia for raising his voice against destructive mining activities.
In fact soon after the latest fast of the young sage with curled hair started, in another development about 60 experts and eminent citizens wrote to the government , protesting aganst its recent decision to re-start seven hydel projects on the Ganga river and its tributries in its Himalayan reach in Uttarakhand. These had been stopped earlier on the recommendations of a committee of experts constituted at the direction of the Supreme Court of India. These include bigger projects like Tehri Stage II, Tapovan Vishnugad and Vishnugad Pipalkoti.
Given the obstinate attitude of the government in continuing such projects, Matra Sadan started observing long protest fasts for protection of Ganga river. Hence this ashram became known far and wide as the abode of saints who are very deeply devoted to the protection of Ganga river. Swami Shivanand on his own has fasted 17 times.
This recognition of this ashram spread further when Swami Gyan Swaroop Sanand selected this ashram for starting his long fast against indiscriminate dam construction and other aspects of ecological ruin, a fast which attracted attention all over the country in 2018.
On October 11 2018 Swami Sanand, earlier known as Prof. G.D. Aggarwal, passed away on the 111th day of his fast at Rishikesh ( Uttarakhand). He had earlier made an important contribution as Member Secretary of the Central Pollution Control Board. He obtained doctorate from University of California Berkeley and taught at IIT Kanpur.
In the later years of his life he became a sage or a sanyasi and devoted himself fully to the protection of Ganga river. During his fasts for protection of river he often quoted scientifically conducted studies. His main demand related to the implementation of a report on Ganga protection which had been prepared by an officially constituted committee ( constituted by the present union government).
His another demand for a relook at some highly dubious hydel projects in the Himalayan region was based on careful study and reasoning. Again he did not ask for anything arbitrary but only for more debate on these dubious projects and stopping the construction till then. It is sad that despite the union government claiming to pay top priority to Ganga protection a sage scientist with the highest level of commitment to river protection had to die after a 111 days fast while raising demands relating to protection of Ganga river.
Even after the supreme sacrifice of Swami Sanand th problems remained resolved and so other sages pf Matri Sadan continued to fast for long periods to draw attention to the various threats to the Ganga river. These efforts and sacrifices continue to this day.
The issues raised by these sages and their fasts have sound scientific base and several studies on the highly destructive impacts of hydel projects and sand and gravel mining on these rivers are already available. Hence the issues and demands raised by these sages of Matri sadan Should get wide support.
Bharat Dogra is a journalist and author. His recent books include ‘Man Over Machine’ and ‘Vimla and Sunderlal Bahuguna, Chipko Movement and the Struggle Against Tehri Dam’.