From fishing out corpses from waters of holy river to reviving sewage treatment plants .. Guddu Baba has made every possible effort to save Ganges.
Believed to be the oldest spectator of growth of Indian civilization, River Ganga that runs through five states in the country covering 26 percent of the landmass, also finds many references in the Hindu mythology. Surprisingly, River Ganga gushes through the imagination of writers, poets and filmmakers but remains doomed by frightening increase in pollution levels at present. Unfortunately, a holy dip in the river, which is said to have been produced by the sweat of Lord Vishnu’s feet, is presently causing health risk among devotees.
It was this ritual of holy dip, being performed by a devotee at Patna’s Bas Ghat, that helped environmental activist Vikas Chandra alias Guddu Baba discover his great cause on a pitch dark night back in the year 1998. “At the crematory grounds of Patna, I saw a man bathing in sewage that was flowing on the sides of dried Ganga. When I approached him, he told me that he did not have the money to go to other side of the river and reach its main stream which was cleaner. He chose to perform his wife’s last riots where it was more feasible for him in economical terms,” recounts the 52-year-old man who has become a beacon of hope for saving Ganges having served the holy river for past two decades.
Often hailed as ‘Ganga Ma’ (Mother Ganga), India’s longest river supports lives of hundreds of millions of people in the country who depend on it for varied needs including sourcing irrigation waters, livelihood generation, power production, among others. Guddu Baba, who had lost his mother at a tender age of 4, has been the role of a dutiful and devoted role of ‘son of the earth’ by contributing in the cleanliness of ‘Ganga Ma’.
In the past three decades, an expenditure worth Rs 20,000 crore spent by government (according to a 2012 Central Pollution Control Board report) has failed to curb pollution levels in the holy river. On the other hand, proving that it is not the money but will that matters, a modest amount of Rs 5 lakh awarded to this environmentalist back in 2009 by news channel CNN-IBN and business tycoon Mukesh Ambani for his concerted efforts, is still being sustained by him and his volunteers to work towards the cause.
First man to rise up to the cause
Forerunner of the ‘Save Ganga’ campaign, Guddu Baba sat on a 48-hour long fast at G.P. Circle in the city on December 31, 1998 after his encounter with the man bathing in the sewage. He wanted to draw the attention of the authorities in slumber. “I shared this incident with Captain Vijay Bahadur, instructor of flying club, Patna. We wrote to all the higher officials of Patna appealing them to work for Ganga,” he remembers.
His slogans – “Ganga ki dhara ko wapas lao” (Bring back the clean currents of Ganga), “ Ganga putro jago” (Wake up! Oh, son of Ganga), “ Ganga ko pollution free karo” (Free Ganga of the pollution)– and his initiative of cleaning Ganga soon found resonance among Patnaites. It was for the first time that a common man had come out to save Ganges. Guddu Baba was already featuring in headlines.
Ganges – the dumpyard of dead bodies?
Guddu Baba who has filed 33 Public Interest Litigations (PIL) so far in High Court and four in apex court, filed his first PIL in the year 2000. It was for a cause that appalled him and ignited the activist soul in him at the same time.
Whilst he was on a boat ride near post department office of Patna Medical College and Hospital (PMCH), one night, he saw a dog barking furiously. Upon following the dog, Guddu Baba discovered thousands of dead bodies lay scattered on the stretch. Some were even eaten by scavengers and dogs.
His firm belief that a soul can never be at peace if the body of the deceased is left to rot prompted him to start working for proper cremation of unclaimed dead bodies. “I wrote to the state government requesting them to arrange for a proper cremation ceremony for these dead bodies, as they deserve it. When state government did not respond, we made a human chain outside District Magistrate’s office on June21, 1999. Our call was not being heeded. Eventually, I filed a PIL in Patna High Court on July 21, 2000 against the inappropriate disposal of bodies,” says Guddu Baba highlighting the course of events.
‘70,000 unclaimed dead bodies dumped every year in country’
The matter reached the High Court (HC), and judges saw the actual pictures of dead bodies dumped on the bank of river Ganga. Yet, in the affidavit filed by hospital authorities, the officials stated that only because the dead bodies were found outside post-mortem department of PMCH, the onus could not solely lie on hospital administration.
This case went on for long and a CBI enquiry committee was set up to shed light on merits of the case. However, the committee supported PMCH administration’s claims that the dead bodies were flowing from Danapur and not being dumped by hospital authorities.
The concerned environmentalist in Guddu Baba was not ready to buy hospital’s excuses. He was sure of the allegations that he had made. “The dead bodies showed clear marks that a post-mortem had been performed on them,” he states. At last, on March 16, 2001 Patna HC issued an order that stated that unclaimed bodies are state government’s responsibility.
Consequently, PMCH decided to allot Rs 300 for the cremation ceremony of each unclaimed body. Now the amount has been increased to Rs 1,000 since 2007. Rogi Kalyan Samiti, a state administration’s organisation, also provides the money for the cremation of these unclaimed bodies.
Dumping of dead bodies in the Ganges by hospital authorities stopped, but then Guddu Baba and his teammates were again shocked to find that Railways Department was indulging in a similar practise. “We once caught the railway authorities red-handed while dumping the bodies in Ganges in 2004. J.R.P was accused of the shameful act, officials were suspended. The case is still going on and the matter is pending the Supreme Court (SC),” he clarifies.
A set of data collected in 2013 from all the states through DGP reveals that 70,000 unclaimed dead bodies are found dumped every year in the country, Baba informs. The apex court has already issued notice to home ministry to frame proper guideline for disposal of these dead bodies.
Animal carcasses find their way to Ganga too!
Municipal Corporation Act clearly states that the disposal of animal bodies is Municipal Corporation’s duty. But an RTI puts forth a distressing revelation that Patna Municipal Corporation (PMC) or Municipal Corporation of any other district, or Panchayat authorities do not have any set procedures for disposal of animal bodies and have never ever spent even a single penny for the same.
In 2010, then chief judge of Patna HC, Deepak Mishra issued an order that no animal body will be dumped in Ganges or on road following a PIL filed on April 29, 2010. Notwithstanding the HC orders, PMC did not take any action regarding the disposal of animal carcasses.
Swinging into action, Guddu Baba in the year 2012 wrote to PMC commissioner, DM, Pollution Control Board secretary, Solid waste Management Secretary and asked them to chalk a plan for the disposal of animal bodies. This matter is still going on, and the state government has assured that within six months they would design a scientific method for the disposal of animal bodies.
Sewage- another key contributor to pollution in Ganges
A recent research published by six government agencies reveals that 118 towns located on the basins of river Ganga collectively generate over 3,636 million litres per day (MLD) of sewage . This is much higher that treatment capacity of approximately 1,027 MLD of the existing 55 sewage treatment plants (STPs) in these towns spread over five states.
In view of the fact that untreated sewage is a key contributor in the rising pollution levels in Ganga, Guddu Baba helped in reviving the city’s sewage treatment plant set up in 1986 under Rajiv Gandhi’s Ganga Action Plan. “All three plants – at Beur, Saedpur and Pahari – were lying dysfunctional at that time. This point was brought in court and all these plants were revived,” he informs.
The sad part, Guddu Baba further adds, is that all these plants are 40 old now and their capacity has deteriorated over time. “The treatment capacity of Beur treatment plant is 35 mld per day, for Saedpur treatment plant is 45 mld per day and for Pahari treatment plant is 25 mld per day. Total 105 mld sewage water can be treated every day whereas the city every day generates 500 mld wastewater.” Consequently, 400 mld untreated water is still disposed in Ganga from Patna alone. State government has also accepted the failure of present set-up to resolve the current issue.
Illegal sand mining is another emerging concern
Stressing upon the environment hazards created by illegal sand mining in River Ganga, Guddu Baba states, “It’s no surpise that contractors don’t even fill tenders for sand mining, because the whole process is going on. No state or district government or administration has ever taken any step for it.”
The ever-so-spirited Guddu Baba
Those who follow his efforts are often reminded of the song, “Mano toh mai Ganga Maa hu, na mana toh behta pani” (If you have faith, I am Mother Ganga for you… If you don’t believe, these are just flowing currents).
A double postgraduate in public administration and later in political science, 52-year-old Vikas Chandra was born in Allahabad in 1964. A bachelor till date, Guddu Baba says that he purposely focussed less on his personal life to dedicate himself entirely for the cause of Ganges. “My education has helped me a lot. Information about public administration has given me vivid idea of people and governance,” he confides.
Although his brother has often expressed displeasure over his activism streak, Guddu Baba found support in Vijay Bahadur, Captain of Flying Club Association and Anju Singh, who still walk shoulder to shoulder with him.
“Apart from the Rs.5 lakh that I received in 2009, I have never received any help from anybody, but that money is still helping us,” he says while concluding that they lack of funds has never acted as a roadblock for him or his teammates even when they decided to fish out corpses to clean the waters of holy rivers.