Tribute : The beloved son of Maa Ganga

Tribute : The beloved son of Maa Ganga

As a co-founder and President of Sankat Mochan Foundation, Veer Bhadra Mishra was in the forefront of the struggle to clean river Ganga for over 25...

As a co-founder and President of Sankat Mochan Foundation, Veer Bhadra Mishra was in the forefront of the struggle to clean river Ganga for over 25 years. "Our organisation is small but the task is huge," he shared in one of his last interviews in December 2012 GBSNP Varma tri2 For thousands of years, the Ganga has been nourishing people both spiritually and physically and for more than twenty five years, Veer Bhadra Mishra, as the president of Sankat Mochan Foundation, an organization he co-founded with like-minded people of Varanasi in 1982, was an activist in the forefront of the struggle to clean up the river. "Once while taking bath, I saw tiny dead fish floating, which was due to effluents discharged into the river by a chromium plating plant." He was born in 1938, and graduated from Benaras Hindu University in 1960. In his post-graduation, he specialised in Hydrology and earned his Ph.D. in Ground Water Infiltration. He became the head-priest at the age of 14 of the 400-year-old Sankat Mochan temple in 1952, when his father passed away. "Sant Tulasi Das is our ancestor and he has written the last four chapters of Ram Charit Manas here," shared Mishra, as he sat in bhaitak room one evening last December as he received people visiting him, at his home on Tulasi Ghat. He was tall, with a shock of silvery hair and moustache and a very expressive face. Blue veins stood out like ridges on shriveling skin. "Ganga Ma," he said repeatedly, disturbed at the filth and raw sewage flowing into it everyday. "As many as 33 pipes disgorge raw sewage into the river from the left bank alone. There are many other point sources discharging sewage into the river from different sides." As a soft breeze blew from the river, and boats filled with devotees and tourists crisscrossed its grey, murky waters, he said, "The 7 km long stretch of the river along Varanasi extending from Asi to Varuna is completed polluted." Priest by tradition and inheritance, and scientist by training, he had the ability to combine spirituality and science in his approach to cleaning the river. He had the credibility and authority that allowed him to be independent and outspoken without being rancorous. "Of course, I have had my share of people who always wanted to scuttle the plan, our organisation had developed." "Our organisation is small, but the task is huge," he added, as he continued with suppressed anger as he spoke about the continual fight and frustration and the passionate love for the river. The gamut of emotions flowed easily and left the audience in the room deeply disturbed. The campaign consumed him. "We're a catalytic agent, spreading awareness. Our organisation held street corner meetings, talked with pandas, women, held dance and painting competitions for school children, held poets' conferences, and many other activities to bring people into this movement." He had an infectious intensity while speaking about 'Swatch Ganga' campaign. In his talk, religious imagery and verses from scriptures were interspersed with lab findings. "Every person wants to have 'darshan' and 'sparsha' of Ganga Ma, and take a holy dip...The biochemical oxygen demand (BOD) is as high as 20 mg/l and fecal coli form count is around 1.5 million per 100 ml."
In collaboration with the scientists from University of California in Berkeley, the organisation developed a plan for cleaning the river. "We found that 'Advanced Integrated Wastewater Pond System, (AIWPS), developed at the University of California by Professor William Oswald and Dr. F.B.Green is the most suitable for Varanasi. But the government went ahead with a different plan. We saw how disastrous Ganga Action Plan, Phase 1 was. Money simply went down the drain. Even now, after the launch of phase 2, after all the approvals and preparing detailed project report and technical feasibility studies, we haven't seen much movement." However, he remained hopeful till the end. "Whatever Ganga Mata needs, we would do." Veer Bhadra Mishra, the religious and temporal head of Sankat Mochan temple in Varanasi and former professor of Hydrology at Benaras Hindu University, who steered the Campaign for a Clean Ganges, passed away on 13 March. He was 75 at the time of his death
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