Punjab godman is an environmental warrior
While most of godmen and saints these days preach divinity and speak about life after death sitting in fortified mansions and keeping a safe distance from their followers, Baba Seechewal is different. He talks of, and seeks to solve, the problems that people are facing in this very life. Preserving the environment, checking water pollution, planting trees and reviving dying rivers are some of the causes on his agenda.
Silent reformer: Baba Seechewal revived the 110 mile long Kali Bein rivulet that was once in a miserable condition due to inflow of dirty effluents (Photo courtesy: The Sunday Indian)
Sant Balbir Singh Seechewal, popularly known as Baba Seechewal, has raised the bar while re-scripting the role that a saint could play in the modern age. He has played a key role in reviving the 110-mile-long Kali Bein rivulet by mobilising the people to take part in an anti-river pollution campaign. The prestigious Time magazine selected him as one of the “30 heroes of the environment” for cleaning up Punjab's Kali Bein.
He has imparted a wider perspective to the concept of 'kar sewa' by drawing the public into the mission of making their surroundings better and pollution free.
Before the emergence of Baba Seechewal on the environment front, the concern for water pollution and air pollution was confined to a section of the intelligentsia and officials of Punjab Pollution Control Board (PPCB). What they had been doing was just updating each other about the status of the degeneration of water bodies and the receding ground water level in the state.
But Baba Seechewal pitchforked the issue of degradation of the environment to the forefront. He raised his voice against the industrial units discharging effluents in the water bodies and polluting them with impunity. Taking up cudgels to make all the water bodies pollution-free, he adopted the cause of the Buddha Nullah. The nullah was extremely polluted and was spreading deadly diseases among people living along its banks. He initiated a campaign for generating awareness among different sections of the society to solve the problem of the de-silting of the water body as the PPCB and industries had failed in complying with the high court's orders in this regard.
Another unprecedented step taken by Baba Seechewal was to put up a bund of sandbags at Kala Sanghian drain in Jalandhar to stop the flow of toxic effluents into the rivulet. This action prompted the government to take immediate action against the erring industrial units.
Apart from environmental concern, Baba Seechewal champions a few other causes also. He also understands the importance of education and has played a significant role in eradicating illiteracy in his surrounding areas. A number of educational institutes are being run by this saint to impart education to the poor, needy and orphan students. He also runs a school and a college to impart basic, higher and technical education to the students of the backward area of Seechewal. In 2007, an environment research centre was established in the college which got appreciation from the former President of India, Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam.
In most of his sermons, Sant Balbir Singh preaches that tree plantation is a pious duty of all. He distributes saplings as prasad of god to his devotees with an advice not only to plant them but also to take care of them till they grow up. While giving saplings of fruit trees to the people, he also asks them to bring the fruit of the trees for him to eat. This is to ensure that his disciples actually plant it and nurture it into a tree.
Says Baba Seechewal: “People are being denied their fundamental rights. What kind of freedom is this? For instance, the right to live is our Constitutional right. But people are being forced to die by drinking polluted water and the government does not take any action against the people who are polluting our water bodies. I request the guardians of our constitution to ensure its implementation in letter and spirit.”
Published by special arrangement with The Sunday Indian