Activist G D Agarwal
Veteran environmentalist, a professor of engineering and a Hindu ascetic, G D Agrawal, fasting in protest to save river Ganga for more than four months in Haridwar passed away on October 11.
He was 86. He had fasted demanding that the government stop construction of all hydropower projects on the tributaries of Ganga in Uttarakhand, pass a law protecting and managing the river and ensure that the river does not run dry.
He had said the Union and Uttarakhand state government had not responded to his several pleas in writing leading him to take to fasting.
After months of fasting, he had recently announced that he would stop taking fluids as well to draw the Union and state government’s attention. “I will give up fluids from October 10 and I would die before the Dussehra. I will have no regrets even if I die in the course of saving the Ganga. The end of my life would not mean the end of efforts being undertaken to save the river.”
On October 10, a day after he stopped taking fluids besides solid food, the Uttarakhand government had forcibly moved him to AIIMS Rishikesh and administered him salts via a drip. But his health deteriorated further and he refused to be moved to the AIIMS in Delhi.
Agrawal, once a professor at the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur had served as a board member of the National Ganga River Basin Authority and was the first member-secretary of the Central Pollution Control Board, the Union government’s apex body to regulate pollution. He later took vows to become a Hindu ascetic and from then came to be known as Swami Gyan Swaroop Sanand. It was his ability to mobilise both science and religious belief to his single-minded pursuit of protecting Ganga that often made a wide coalition of environmentalists, activists, scientists as well as religious leaders coalesce around his efforts to make government respond.
He fasted four times between 2008-2012 forcing the Union government to engage with his demands. His demands coupled with efforts of other activists led the then environment minister Jairam Ramesh to pass orders banning construction of dams on one of the tributaries of river Ganga, the Bhagirathi.
But in 2012 he resigned from the role as a member of the newly set up National Ganga River Basin Authority claiming it was not serving its basic purpose.
Since 2014, the union government under the NDA has altered its position on the dams on Ganga tributaries, carefully crafting a change of stance before the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court has been engaged with the question of ban on hydropower projects in Uttarakhand since the natural calamity of 2013. The Union government has dithered from taking a clear stand against the projects even as it advocates for ‘Namami’ and ‘aviral’ Ganga. The environment ministry and the water resources ministry’s earlier strong views against hydropower projects had been whittled down over time with the intervention of the Prime Minister’s office asking for consonance between the push for hydropower by the power ministry and the averments of other arms of the government.