Advaniji on the Ganga
‘I am writing these lines at Parmarth Niketan, Rishikesh, an idyllic ashram located on the banks of the Holy Ganga, with the verdant mountains of the lower Himalayas towering behind it. It is run by His Holiness Swami Chidanandaji Saraswati, whose work for the reform and renaissance of Hinduism I have greatly admired.
Swamiji discussed several ongoing and future projects of his ashram with me. Among these were the cleaning up of the Ganga; making Uttrakhand, which is considered ‘Dev Bhoomi’ (Divine Land) free of plastic and other litter; and renovating and beautifying of all the pilgrimage centers in the state. The idea strongly appealed to me because the sight of pollution at Haridwar, Rishikesh, Mathura, Varanasi and other sacred places in India, which attracts tens of millions of devotees from all over the country each year, always fills me with despair. Fortunately, the Chief Minister of Uttrakhand, Maj. Gen (Retd.) B.C.Khanduri, also joined us in these discussions and it was decided that the government, civil society organizations and religious establishments should jointly undertake a massive and time-bound campaign to implement this project, first in Gangotri, where the Ganga originates, and subsequently thereafter in other places such as Yamunotri, Kedarnath, Badrinath, Uttarkashi, Hemkunt, Rishikesh and Haridwar. I feel confident of this project taking off for two reasons. Firstly, Khanduri has the reputation of being dynamic; as Minister of Surface Transport in the Vajpayee government he had earned nationwide fame for implementing the ambitious National Highway Development Project. Secondly, there are several far-sighted religious leaders, both in Uttrakhand and elsewhere in the country, who are willing to contribute to make the vision of Nirmal Ganga (pollution free Ganga) a reality.
Going forward, it is my dream to see that Ganga becomes free of pollution all along its course, right from Gangotri to Ganga Sagar, the place in West Bengal, where it merges into the ocean. Former Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi had launched a commendable project for this purpouse called the Ganga Action Plan, in the mid-1980’s. Sadly, it did not yield the desired results because it sought to be implemented in a bureaucratic way, without eliciting the enthusiastic involvement of what I might call the Ganga Parivar—the people living on both sides of the country, and, most importantly, the hundreds of religious establishments located along the course of the river.
I have no doubt that a combined determined and sustained effort of society and the state would restore the Holy Ganga to this pristine purity. It may take decades to fully reach this objective, but it is a maha yagya (mega mission) worth undertaking. Indeed, it should be our long term goal to make all the rivers, lakes and water bodies in India pollution free. After all, they are only the lifeline of our country’s development, but also the symbols and sustainers of India’s ancient and proud civilization.’