Sunday, February 25, 2018
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The massive crowds that visited the last day of the Mahakumbh on Mahashivratri day must have come as a big surprise to those who were presuming that like other years, Mahashivratri will be more or less a localized affair. That was not so. And I had been saying all through that crowds will keep on coming till the last day because this was not ordinary Kumbh, but Mahakumbh coming after 12 Kumbs i.e 144 years. This significance weighed heavy with those who were saying that a dip in the Ganga on any day of the Mahakumbh period would be purifying their souls and giving them a passport to ‘moksha’. The very heavy rush at Allahabad Junction too was quite beyond anticipation even if the Railways had anticipated it. Reports from other stations, particularly Kanpur, revealed that mammoth crowds could be witnessed there consisting mainly of people returning from the Sangam bath.

Railway Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal also had a dip on the Mahashivratri day. It was apparently presumed that since not many people were expected on the last day, there would be no harm in case the Minister took a dip on this day even though the unwritten code was that VVIPs would not come on main bathing days as they would distract the attention of the administration which will go all out to serve them to their satisfaction. A report says that this is what apparently happened because while top officials were  busy with the Minister, there was no senior to manage the crowds. This may be an unkind cut because a senior officer does not control or direct the traffic movement. That is done by the  police jawans. A large number of cops who had come from outstations had been sent back because none expected the crowds to be so large on Mahashivratri day. If minor stampedes did occur at the Junction, as reported in the press, it could not  have been owing to the absence of top officials who were busy with the Ministers. Let us accept that the crowds were stupendous and so many people were apparently not  expected. But despite  various hurdles and pinpricks, the show was grand and all those who contributed laboriously and honestly towards making it a   grand and gorgeous affair, deserve a special pat—including the Railway people who worked round the clock to ensure best service to the people..

‘Sangam’ rivers must be made pollution free 

The Ganga Action Plan has been there for long. But the result is there for all to see. When the Mahakumbh was on, we received complaints about muddy or reddish water. Only the flow on the Arail side was satisfactory. Isn’t that tragic? Year after year, saints and seers  assemble here, lodge protests, sometimes threaten a boycott  the bathing ceremony but they are satisfied with the temporary relief that is given by releasing fresh water from Narora dam and elsewhere.  The Ganga Action Plan (GAP) was launched in 1985 to restore the river back to bathing water quality. But has the goal been achieved? Under GAP  till recently  Rs 1,400 crore  had been spent in creating sewage conveyance and treatment facilities, crematoria etc on the Ganga and its tributaries. But the fact is that the river still remains polluted and GAP is still chasing the target—with over 45 per cent sewage generated in the basin undergoing no treatment. As a result, the pollution levels have only increased  in the river at all places (except Rishikesh upstream) . If only  some sort of national  upsurge were to be started on the pattern of the Jamuna-rescue agitation, things may improve.  Reports indicate that  thousands of people  have been on  a march from Mathura to Delhi to raise awareness in order to save the dying Yamuna river which at many places  is now seen as a mere sewer. The Supreme Court has expressed extreme displeasure that despite the creation of a Yamuna Development Authority and Rs 12,000 crore having been spent, the river has been reduced to a drain.

We must give serious thought to the  Sabarmati river-front experiment in Ahmedabad. According to Surendra Sharma, president of the Braj Mandal Heritage Conservation Society , “Not too long ago, the Sabarmati river was a drain. Today, it is a sight to behold.” If what has been done in respect of Sabarmati is also planned and executed for our two sacred rivers in the cities through which they flow then, with other steps already being taken, our sacred rivers too will turn over a new leaf, so to speak. Says Surendra Sharma: “Permanent walls have been built on both sides of the Sabarmati riverbank preventing release of any discharge from the city into the river. They have covered nullahs in which all the small and big drains open. The covered space is used for commercial and social purposes to recover the costs of running the system. This appears a workable solution,”  says Sharma.

But awakening will have to come from within because our people, especially those in the bureaucracy, seem to get a sadistic and perverted pleasure in defying court orders till they are hauled up for contempt. This appears to be more so in UP and is borne out by the information given by another  environmentalist Shravan Kumar Singh, who says that  “In the Taj city (Agra), despite the orders of the Supreme Court, dhobis, who wash clothes in the river have not been shifted. Dairies within the city and the crematorium at Taj Ganj or the hundreds of sweet-making units in the interiors have not yet been shifted”. If what  Shravan alleges is correct then why hasn’t anyone filed contempt  proceedings against those concerned? Yamuna activists say millions of rupees have gone down the gutter in the two Yamuna Action Plans which have not made any discernible change to the river system. This will go on unless there is a mass awakening. One wonders why the Anna Hazares and the Kejtriwals do not fight or fast for the cleanliness of the Ganga and the Yamuna.The march by people is a reflection of the deep anguish that sems to prevail all around. At best it is a good beginning. But the people must impress upon the  Governments  to invest their time, labour and funds in order to undertake cleanliness drives. The people must  demand pucca ghats and  ask the authorities to ensure removal of silt through proper dredging. But  such pressure tactics may prove to be more effective if seers and saints too join in the drive so that our sacred rivers, which have allegedly turned into drains, may regain their lost glory as has happened in the case of the Sabarmati river.

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