Lucknow, Feb 1 (IANS) – Red-faced and panicky, the authorities in the holy Uttar Pradesh city of Allahabad begged with them not to boycott the dip in the Sangam — the confluence of the Ganges, the Yamuna and the mythical Saraswati — to mark Mauni Amavasya (new moon night) during the annual Magh Mela Saturday.
The angry religious leaders, led by two pontiffs of the Hindu faith, have relented somewhat, consenting to sprinkle water from the Sangam but still refusing to wade into the polluted confluence.
“The Shankaracharyas (pontiffs) agreed as they did not wish to break the age-old tradition,” an aide of Swami Swaroopanand, the Shankaracharya of Dwarka, told IANS on the phone from Allahabad Saturday.
But rage over the state of the Ganges — the holiest of holy rivers for Hindus — is still bubbling.
“Far from being potable, Ganges water is not even fit for bathing,” lamented a saffron-clad ascetic in Allahabad for the month-long Magh Mela that began on January 14.
The annual religious event is a smaller version of the mammoth Kumbh Mela, a 12-yearly Hindu fair.
Admitted Allahabad district magistrate Devesh Chaturvedi: “In principle, their objection to the pollution of the river is valid. But there is little that can be done immediately.”
This was the first time religious leaders took such a stand on an environmental issue and the authorities feared it might deter thousands of pilgrims who have flocked to Allahabad for the Magh Mela from taking a holy dip.
Meanwhile, a local religious leader has filed a public interest petition in the Allahabad High Court to get the government to clean up the Ganges.
Mahant Gurbachan Das, in his petition, drew the court’s attention to the fact that the entire city’s sewage was dumped into the holy river.
“The government had spent Rs.3 billion on the much-publicised Ganga Action Plan for which a lot of foreign grants had also been received over the years. But what is the end result?” Das told IANS over the telephone.
Said Swami Swaroopanand: “They (the authorities) are responsible for ruining the holy Ganges. Today the water is not even fit for a dip.”
What has irked the religious leaders is the fact that the Uttar Pradesh government had spent Rs.210 million to divert all sewage drains from the river during the 2001 Kumbh Mela but did not extend the facility beyond the fair.
They have demanded to know why so much money was spent on a temporary measure.
“Politicians and bureaucrats responsible for eating up the funds meant for ridding the holy Ganges of pollution must be punished,” said the fiery octogenarian Swaroopanand.
© Copyright 2003 IANS India Private Limited, New Delhi. Posted on Religioscope with permission.