Our nation is the epitome of how a two-faced authoritarian rule looks like! On one face, it calls the holy Ganga (Ganges) the very essence of our being and on the dark, more gruesome face, we treat it like a drain where we dump all imaginable waste into it. That’s a river we revere!
You wouldn’t have heard of a revered waterbody being treated like a drain anywhere else, have you?
Enter Guru Das Agrawal (20 July 1932 – 11 October 2018) a true Gandhian who literally gave away his life trying to make the government wake up to see the apathy the holy river is in.
Agrawal had a highly illustrious career – in a nutshell, he was an environmental engineer, an ex-IIT professor, an activist, and a monk.
GD Agrawal’s life and times
- Also known as Sant Swami Gyan Swaroop (he became a seer in his later years), Dr. Agrawal was very proficient in academia. He became a civil engineer by graduating from IIT Roorkee and went on to become a design engineer at the Uttar Pradesh Irrigation Department.
- Soon, he obtained a D. in environmental engineering at the University of California at Berkeley (UC Berkeley) and has published many scientific papers. He also taught Civil and Environmental Engineering at the IIT Kanpur.
- He was also Director of Envirotech Instruments (P) Limited, a company that manufactured low-cost pollution meters.
- He became the first-ever member secretary of the Central Pollution Control Board in 1974.
- He was also actively involved in the work done by the NGO Ganga Mahasabha which was founded by Pandit Madan Mohan Malviya way back in 1905.
Dr. GD Agrawal’s achievements and why his activism was treated like a joke by the government
- Agrawal always protested peacefully by announcing indefinite hunger strikes to grab the attention towards India’s downward spiraling environment.
- He fasted in 2009 to highlight the failure of the Ganga Action Plan formulated in 1986 and the crores wasted in its non-implementation. His single demand – allow the Ganges to flow normally over its entire 125-kilometer stretch without any hydroelectric projects (dams) or sand mining projects circumventing its path.
- The-then Union Ministry of Power gave in to his demands and set up a review committee to research his claims. Eventually, they dismissed his pleas.
- In 2013, he fasted again to protest against the negligence of duty by the National Ganga River Basin Authority on the plight of the Ganga. His demands were simple:
- adopting water conservation measures like drip irrigation
- setting up a law to oversee the maintenance of sewage treatment plants around the Ganga
- regulation of the hazardous and effluent discharge into the river by industries and the common man
However, all his demands have not been met to this day. Ganga cleanup initiatives are very isolated. The river is still very dirty and low on oxygen.
- In 2018, he had penned an open letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi challenging him to fulfill his promises on the Namami Gange project and stop all environmentally unfriendly projects that hinder the flow of the Ganga (Vishnugad-Pipalkoti project in Alaknanda river and (b) Phata-Byung and Singoli-Bhatwari on Mandakini river)
- He severely advocated for the formation of a Ganga Protection Act and the formation of a ‘Ganga Bhakt Parishad’ to help safeguard any damage done to the Ganga, either by mining, ‘aviral (meaning continuous)’ flow formation and cleaning up of the severely populated Ganga.
Eventually, he fasted ‘unto-death’ at Haridwar since 22nd June 2018 upon seeing inaction by the Modi Government.
- After lots of assurances (the Loharinag Pala Hydro Power Project was stopped for some time)
- Fake promises were made to him by Nitin Gadkari, ex-Union Minister for Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation that the Ganga cleanup program will be started, but nothing happened.
- Finally, he was evicted from his fasting spot and ‘suspiciously’ (an inquiry is being set up to probe his mysterious death) died at the age of 86 while being treated at the AIIMS.
Why his death is a major blow to the Government’s fake ‘jumla’ of Namami Gange
Dr. Agarwal fasted many times in his life to alert the authorities on the fact the Ganga is dying due to excessive human intervention in its natural course. His final four-month hunger strike failed to tap the attention of PM Narendra Modi even after constant media coverage.
- He is evidently the second person to have died while campaigning for the rejuvenation of the Ganges – Nigamanand Saraswati or Swami Nigamananda (2 August 1976 – 13 June 2011), also died in vain. He went on an indefinite hunger strike on 19 February 2011 to seek a complete ban on illegal mining in the river bed and the pollution it was suffering from.
- Narendra Modi claims that Ganga is the soul of all Indians and being an elected representative at the Lok Sabha from the constituency of Varanasi, he failed to take decisive action. It has been almost 5 years since he became PM. Sad!
- On the part of a government (not just the BJP) which always considers the river sacred in Hinduism and pledges to clean it up in marathons, rallies, international summits and what not – this is as shameful as it gets!
- To be frank, Ganga is a pilgrimage site in itself! You do not litter and rip apart a holy site, do you? That’s sacrilege!
The 1,500-mile long river is still ailing! Human waste, industrial effluents, and lots of other waste are being dumped into it daily and we are waiting like sitting ducks for the river to choke and give up on us!
Agrawal’s death was simply an alarm that was put on snooze by the BJP and will be done by the next government that replaces it in future. That’s what’s happened ever since we found the Ganga!
Champions of change like Agrawal will never succeed – this world is blind to see the good until something goes really bad! This is why Dr. Agrawal died in vain, and the Ganga might someday die too – in vain…
We have to take forward Dr. Agrawal’s legacy forward. His hard work cannot be washed away by his demise. Please pledge to protect the Ganga in your own capacity, pray for your holy river’s life!
Rest in peace, Dr. Agrawal! You will be deeply remembered! We will uphold your ideologies until we no longer can!