Prof G.D. Agrawal, the IIT Kanpur professor who dedicated his life to save River Ganga and whose untiring efforts forced the previous United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government to declare the Ganga as national river and also a 100-kilometre stretch from Gaumukh to Uttarkashi as an Eco-sensitive Zone, died on October 11 at a hospital in Rishikesh, Uttarakhad. He had been on a fast since June 22 demanding an immediate halt to all hydroelectric power projects on the tributaries of river Ganga, a law to check pollution in the river, and maintenance of a minimum environment flow in the river. Prof Agrawal, who had taken sanyas, was popularly known as Swami Gyanswarup Sanand.
Despite the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government’s highly publicised commitment to rejuvenating the Ganga river Prof Agrawal’s fast-unto-death and his demands did not elicit any response from it. Prime Minister Narendra Modi calls himself a son of River Ganga, and he announced an ambitious Rs.20,000 crore project, Namami Gange, to clean the river. For 111 days, the venerable scientist-turned-sanyasi remained on just water, honey and lemon and kept requesting the government to do something for the river. He had also informed the Prime Minister that if his demands were not met, he would give up even water from October 9, the start of Navratri celebrations. But to no avail.
The government kept trying to divert his attention saying that it was working on his demands, that a law similar to what he was seeking was under its consideration, and that the case of maintaining minimum environment flow was also being considered. The Prime Minister did not show the courtesy of replying to his letter. It was water resources and Ganga Rejuvenation Minister Nitin Gadkari who wrote to him. Former Ganga Rejuvenation Minister Uma Bharati, who declares that her life is dedicated to Ganga Maiya, tried persuading the seer to end his fast, but without success.
Prof Agrawal, who was fasting at Matrisadan ashram in Haridwar, was forcibly shifted to the All India Institute of Medical Scienced (AIIMS) at Rishikesh on October 10. He died the next day. There is no doubt his death will once again bring the pitiable condition of the Ganga to the forefront, but how effective that will be in actually curing the river is anybody’s guess.
Another seer, Swami Nigamananda, died of fasting for 115 days in 2011 demanding a ban on mining activities in the Ganga at least in the Kumbh area.
Prof Agrawal, who has been quoted extensively in Frontline in his long fight for the river, once described the Ganga Action Plan as the “biggest loot of public money”. Unfortunately, the loot continues in a new name, says the critics of Namami Gange.