June 15, 2011
On Tuesday, India signed a deal for a $1-billion loan from the World Bank to clean up the Ganga. Just a day earlier, in a tragic coincidence, a 34-year old swami died after a four month-long hunger strike, protesting the mining mafia illegally quarrying in the river.
Besieged with questions about Swami Nigamanand's death at the official function to sign the World Bank deal, Union Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh blamed the Uttarakhand government and promised Central government action against the mafias. “In view of the fact that the State government has demonstrated a continued reluctance to take action against illegal mining, I think, we will have no option but to invoke Section 5 of the Environment Protection Act and take action on our own,” he told journalists. That Section gives the Centre “power to direct the closure, prohibition or regulation of any industry”.
So far, Mr. Ramesh's Ministry has chosen to exhort the State government, rather than taking direct action. On January 6 last year, the Minister says, he sent a letter to Chief Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal “Nishank,” asking him to take steps to end illegal sand mining in the Ganga at Haridwar. “Unfortunately, no action was coming from the State government over the last 15 or 16 months,” said Mr. Ramesh. He adds that on December 9, 2009, he sent an investigation team to Haridwar, and gave the Chief Minister a copy of its report and recommendations.
“According to law, minor minerals are a responsibility of the State government [and] major minerals are a responsibility of the Central government,” he said.
Swami Nigamanand of the Haridwar-based Matri Sadan Ashram died after a record 114-day hunger strike demanding that quarrying in the Ganga be stopped, and alleging government corruption in aid of the mafia.
“Rampant in Uttarakhand”
“I am extremely sorry that the swami, who was fasting, has died. It should not have happened,” said Mr. Ramesh. “I myself have been to Matri Sadan twice and I have told the Chief Minister on a number of occasions that illegal mining is rampant in Uttarakhand, that illegal mining enjoys political patronage at the highest levels…But no action was taken.”