Craze for moksha muddies Ganga waters
The Ganga in the temple town of Varanasi. File picture
Kanpur, May 29: The minister had reason to be furious. He had just learnt that his mother’s body had been fished out from the Ganga by an NGO during a river-cleaning operation.
Throw it back into the river, he ordered. How dare anyone interfere with his mother’s progress to moksha?
When his mother died in July 1997, the state minister (now an ex-minister), belonging to an extremely backward caste in eastern Uttar Pradesh, had done merely what hundreds of fellow Hindus have been doing.
He took the body to Shuklaganj on the Ganga’s banks and, after a puja, lowered it into the water and let go.
Despite a court order banning the practice, dumping of bodies in the holy river is beginning to rival industrial pollution around Kanpur.
Some do it from faith, as a final act of love to ensure eternal bliss for the dead. Others because they are too poor to afford a cremation.
This month alone, Eco-Friends, a voluntary group cleansing a 10-km stretch of the river near Kanpur, fished out 92 human bodies along with four animal carcasses.
The body of the ex-minister’s mother had surfaced during a three-phase cleansing drive by the NGO in 1997-98 that yielded 118 corpses. Another 100 came up as other voluntary groups joined in.
“Earlier, river animals like turtles would take care of the bodies. But with pollution having reduced the number of these scavengers, the corpses are left to rot,” said environment activist Akhilesh Srivastava.
Once fished out, the bodies are buried on the banks, as was that of the former minister’s mother despite his orders.
A series of anti-pollution litigations taken up by the Supreme Court and Allahabad High Court in the late ’80s and ’90s have failed to end the menace. Advocate M.C. Mehta’s crusade led the Supreme Court to close down about 250 small tanneries in Kanpur’s Jujma area in the late ’80s. Following a petition in the late ’90s, Justice Giridhar Malviya of the high court banned cattle-washing, dumping of animal and human bodies and defecation in the river.
But without an enforcement agency, this had little impact. No offender has ever been punished under the Water Pollution (Prevention and Control) Act.
The high court had ordered the state government to set up a river police who would guard the stretches of the river along cities like Kanpur, Unnao and Allahabad. This was not done. To make matters worse, the electric crematorium on the Shuklaganj side of the river lies defunct while the one on the Kanpur side is closed most of the time because of power shortage.
The special secretary, environment, Anwarul Haque, told The Telegraph: “We are aware of the challenge in preventing pollution of the Ganga, especially in the Kanpur stretch. We are trying to combat it by spreading awareness with the help of voluntary groups.”