The Baba who spent 10 years in cleaning a river, now cleans railway stations, lays roads and doesn’t hesitate to flatten mounds to create smoother passages for his fellow villagers.
Imagine bringing back a river to life, once again. That’s just what 58-year-old Balbir Singh Seechewal did in Seechwal in Jalandhar district in Punjab. His efforts to save the river date back almost 20 years, to a time when he would helplessly watch the Punjab Pollution Control Board’s failure in complying with the high court’s order to desilt the 160-km long Kali Bein rivulet.
Baba Seechawal put on saffron robes in 1981, dropping out of college after he realised that he was more inclined towards spirituality rather than studies. He began his mission during the 1990s, a couple of years after he was anointed head of Nirmal Kuteya, a sect that propagates the oneness of the Nirankar or formless God. He was chosen as head of the sect after the death of its guru, Avtar Singh.
The Baba had attended a conference called upon by an NGO in Jalandhar to restore the polluted Kali Bein rivulet that Guru Nanak had once bathed in during his 14-year sojourn in Sultanpur Lodhi in Kapurthala district. This rivulet was just 13 km from Seechewal, Baba’s hometown. The rivulet finally merged with the Beas river. Enroute, six towns and a host of small villages empty their sewerage into the river.
When the Baba learnt that Guru Nanak had used the river to bathe in, he knew he had his work cut out. He knew that his calling was to clean up this rivulet and restore the neglected river to its former, pristine glory.
The Baba gathered a few followers and they literally jumped into the river, taking out weeds, cleaning up the river bed, building sewage treatment plants in villages along the river’s banks along the way. The marathon project took over 10 years, literally funded by the enthusiasm of a growing band of followers, sewaks, and environmentalists.
What makes Eco Baba so different from the other saffron-clad gurus one encounters? It is the fact that he combines his self-help philosophy with the environmental essence of the Gurbani. In an interview, Eco Baba was quick to quote from the Guru Granth Sahib when he said, Balihari kudrat vaseya, Tera Ant Na Jai Lakhia. Roughly translated, it means that ‘the Almighty pervades everywhere in his creation’.
For his untiring work, he was named the Hero of Environment by Time magazine and has received the Padmashri in 2017.
The Baba has not stopped short of just cleaning up the river. He has since embarked on several social missions and has been hailed as Rastewale Baba or the one who makes paths. He has also been bestowed the title of Sadakanwale Baba, the one who lays roads, besides Railwaywale Baba, the one who cleans up railway stations, for he has done all of them. He has not allowed anything to stand in his way, and he has flattened mounds, if necessary to create smoother passages for his fellow villagers.
No wonder, then, that he is now known everywhere as Eco Baba, the baba who works for the environment.
He is, indeed, the one true citizen Baba who sees God in nature.