Clean Ganga activist GD Agarwal dies after fasting for 111 days, Centre says most demands met
Environmental activist and rationalist GD Agarwal, a former Indian Institute of Technoloy (IIT) professor popularly known as Swami Gyanswarup Sanand, died in a Rishikesh hospital on Thursday, the 112th day of a hunger strike demanding a law to save the Ganga, scrapping of hydropower projects on the river, and free flow of its waters.
Agarwal, who was 86, was taken to the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), Rishikesh, by the administration of neighbouring Haridwar in Uttarakhand on Wednesday, a day after he stopped drinking even water. He had been accepting water with honey during the duration of his hunger strike, which he started on June 22.
“The seer is dead. On October 9 he declared (his intention) to quit water, following which the next day we admitted him at AIIMS on Wednesday afternoon,” said Deepak Rawat, district magistrate (DM) of Haridwar. Dr Ravi Kant, the director of AIIMS, Rishikesh, said Agarwal died of cardiac arrest coupled with arrhythmia at around 2pm. “His potassium levels were low and his blood pressure was high,” he said.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressed grief at the demise of the activist. “Saddened by the demise of Shri GD Agarwal Ji. His passion towards learning, education, saving the environment, particularly Ganga cleaning will always be remembered. My condolences,” he tweeted.
The Centre, in a reaction to his death, said that almost all the demands made by Agarwal had been accepted. Water Resources and Ganga River Rejuvenation Minister Nitin Gadkari had said, “We have accepted almost all his demands (on cleaning of the Ganga). One demand was to ensure environmental flow and we have come out with a notification.”
Agarwal was a professor at the IIT-Kanpur, and also served as a member-secretary of the anti-pollution watchdog the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB).
Since renouncing the materialistic world seven years ago, he was staying at Matri Sadan, the epicentre of an agitation for cleansing the Ganga of pollution. Matri Sadan founder Swami Sivananda has himself been on fast several times.
It was not the first time that Agarwal had gone on hunger strike.
His fast in 2009 led to the scrapping of two dams - Bhairon Ghati (380 Mw) and Pala Maneri (480 Mw) - on the Bhagirathi river, a tributary of the Ganga in higher reaches of Uttarakhand. His fast in 2016 forced the Haridwar administration to crack down on illegal mining in the area.
Following the flash floods in Kedarnath in June 2013, Agarwal staged a 105-day fast, citing inactivity by National Ganga River Basin Authority, which is meant to protect the Ganga from pollution and overuse. “I had resigned from authority in support of Swami Sanand (Agarwal) over the then government’s apathy. Swami Sanand was quite concerned about the Ganga and was first to present himself for agitation,” said Rajendra Singh,a Magsaysay awardee and close associate of Agarwal.
“Nobody wants to help the Ganga, be it the Congress or BJP,” Agarwal told HT last year. “Whenever I sit on fast, they come and make promises so that I end my fast. But nothing happens. Everything is very bureaucratic.”
His latest hunger strike started after he failed to receive any response from the central government to a letter seeking enactment of the Ganga Protection Act as drafted by retired judge Giridhar Malaviya, which sought a total ban on quarrying and stone crushing on the Ganga river bed and scrapping of all hydel projects on the river in Uttarakhand.
His died a day after the environment ministry issued a notification for the free flow of 20-30% of water in river Ganga in the next three years.
Agarwal is the second activist to have died while on hunger strike for efforts to save the Ganga. In 2011, Swami Nigmananda Saraswati died after a fast of 115 days in Haridwar protesting against illegal mining in the Ganga’s environs.
“For hundred days at 86 years of age, being on agitation without food intake is nothing but a miracle,” said Swami Harichetnanand, who was with Agarwal at Matri Sadan. “He was an IIT professor, it is hard to believe in less than a decade of taking up sainthood, he assumed such power and will.”
Former environment minister Jairam Ramesh expressed his condolences. “I am deeply anguished by the martyrdom of Prof GD Agarwal. I had known him for a long time. I used to meet him very frequently when I was environment minister 2009-2011 and kept in touch with him. He treated me very kindly always as he and my father had been contemporaries in the IIT system. He was an indefatigable crusader not only for Nirmal (pure) Ganga but also for Aviral (continuously flowing) Ganga... I salute his commitment and dedication, his scholarship and learning, his faith and passion,” Ramesh wrote in a statement.