By Prarthana Mitra
One of India’s foremost green warriors, GD Agrawal died on Thursday at the end of 111 days of his indefinite fast to save the Ganga. On a fast since June 22 (day of Ganga’s origin according to myth), Agrawal has been writing fervently to the government since February to clean and protect the sacred river. But his demands remain largely ignored to this day.
On Wednesday, the 87-year-old was diagnosed with hernia, high blood pressure and coronary artery disease, as his condition worsened due to the fast. He was shifted from Haridwar and admitted to the AIIMS hospital in Rishikesh, where he died of heart attack.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi offered his condolences over social media, tweeting his condolences, “Saddened by the demise of Shri GD Agarwal Ji. His passion towards learning, education, saving the environment, particularly Ganga cleaning will always be remembered.”
Who is GD Agrawal?
Also known as Swami Gyan Swaroop Sanand, Agrawal was a former professor at IIT-Kanpur and an environmental engineer, before he became the Patron of the Ganga Mahasabha, an NGO founded by Madan Mohan Malviya in 1905.
He has also served as a former member secretary of the Central Pollution Control Board. Agrawal has been instrumental in impeding the construction of a dam across River Bhagirathi in 2009. His intervention also led the UPA government to label 135 km of the riverfront from Gaumukh to Uttarkashi an eco-sensitive zone.
Recent reports suggest that he gave up his intake of water mixed with honey earlier this week, after talks on his demands failed. One of his demands included concrete measures to maintain the river’s uninterrupted flow between Gangotri and Uttarkashi in Uttarakhand. He also demanded the scrapping of hydroelectric projects across Alaknanda and Mandakini (tributaries of Ganga).
On Wednesday, however, Union Water Resources and Ganga River Rejuvenation Minister Nitin Gadkari announced that the centre was ready to meet nearly all of his demands; he had even written a letter to Agarwal to give up his fast. The ministry also released a gazette notification mandating the threshold for environmental flow at various locations along the river. Gadkari also announced that a draft legislation on protecting the Ganga had also been sent to the Cabinet for approval.
However, IITians for Holy Ganga, a forum dedicated to ecological and cultural conservation of the river, claimed otherwise. The government paid no heed to his demands, they told the press. His letters to Modi went unanswered, and Gadkari’s response to his demands on October 9 was a tokenistic gesture at best. His resilience and commitment to rejuvenating the Ganga, in the face of an unmoved government, will be remembered and serve as an inspiration to generations of environmental activists to come.
Prarthana Mitra is a staff writer at Qrius.