South Asia News
Hindu leader dies during fast against Ganges pollution
Jun 15, 2011, 9:52 GMT
New Delhi - A Hindu leader who went on a hunger strike against the pollution of India's revered Ganges river has died, news reports said Wednesday.
Swami Nigamanand, 36, was a co-founder of the Matri Sadan, a Hindu group aiming to 'fight corruption and environmental destruction.' He died on Monday in hospital in Dehradun, the capital of the northern state of Uttarakhand, the Hindu newspaper reported.
Nigamanand went on hunger strike on February 19 against the rising pollution in the Ganges and also sought a ban on river-bed mining.
According to the Matri Sadan, rock-crushing units used in mining caused sound and air pollution, giving rise to diseases such as silicosis, in which the lungs are affected by mineral dust.
Officials said the Uttarkhand government had issued orders banning mining activity in the Kumbh region as demanded by the group.
But Federal Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh said the state government, which is led by the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, had delayed the ban and ignored Nigamanand's campaign.
The activist fell into a coma on May 2 after being admitted to hospital on April 27. Doctors said his death was caused by 'coma, septicaemia and degenerative brain disorder.'
'I am extremely sorry that the swami who was fasting has died. It should not have happened,' Ramesh said. 'Illegal mining is rampant in Uttarakhand and enjoys political patronage at the highest levels. But no action was taken.'
Ramesh made the remarks on Tuesday as Indian officials signed an agreement with the World Bank to use a 1-billion-dollar loan to finance a major effort to clean up the Ganges.
The Ganges, worshipped as a living goddess by millions of Hindus, has been described as a lifeline of the country, with its river basin being home to one-third of India's 1.2 billion people.
Despite its religious heritage, the Ganges is increasingly polluted by sewage and industrial waste, and is regarded as one of the world's dirtiest rivers.