NEW DELHI: “This is my last responsibility...Many people die unhappy. It’s time for the future generation to take responsibility of the holy river,” environmentalist GD Agarwal had said in his last conversation with TNIE in July this year. He had vowed to continue his hunger strike — his sixth, which he claimed would be his last — to “save the Ganga” until death.
The academic-turned-swami, also known as Swami Gyan Swaroop Sanand, breathed his last at around 1.30 pm on Thursday following a heart attack. He was 87.
Agarwal had been on a fast to save the Ganga since June 22. On October 9, he gave up drinking water and was forcibly taken from his ashram in Haridwar to AIIMS-Rishikesh the next day, where tests revealed potassium deficiency and dehydration.
Since 2008, Agarwal had sat on indefinite hunger strike several times asking the Central government to honour its promise to protect the holy river. Among his demands were the enactment of a Ganga Protection Management Act and halting hydropower projects along the tributaries of the Ganga, Alakanda and Mandakini.
Agarwal’s association with the river began when he was a child “because of his grandmother”. His devotion towards the Ganga grew as its importance unfolded before him at various stages — as a former chair of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at IIT-Kanpur, first member secretary to the Central Pollution Control Board and consultant on the river’s health.
“He sacrificed his life for a cause. Such people are not born now. He was determined to die for the Ganga,” said Yamuna Jiye Abhiyan convener Manoj Mishra.
Congress leader Jairam Ramesh also expressed his anguish at “the martyrdom” of Agarwal in a tweet. “I had known him for a long time. I used to meet him frequently when I was environment minister between 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 indefatigable crusader not only for Nirmal Ganga but also for Aviral Ganga... I salute his commitment and dedication, his scholarship and learning, his faith and passion,” Ramesh tweeted.
Campaign for clean river
Born into a farming family in Kandhla, Muzaffarnagar district, UP, in 1932, Prof G D Agarwal graduated in civil engineering from IIT Roorkee. He began his career as a design engineer in the UP irrigation department. He obtained a PhD in environmental engineering from the University of California. He was HoD, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, at IIT Kanpur and first member-secretary of Central Pollution Control Board. In 2012, he quit as a board member of National Ganga River Basin Authority, calling it a sham.