Skip to main content

Fight for conserving Ganga far from over: Priests warn Modi

By Medha Patkar and Sandeep Pandey*
The legendary Prof Guru Das Agrawal, who got promoted from a lecturer directly to professor at the prestigious Indian Institute of Technology at Kanpur after having finished his PhD from University of California at Berkeley in two years and laid the foundation of India's anti-pollution regimen as the first member-secretary of Central Pollution Control Board, ultimately failed to convince a government about his viewpoint on rejuvenation of river Ganga and had to pay for this with his life.
He died on October 11, 2018 after 112 days of fasting on lemon water and honey, last three days of which were without any water at all.
It may be intriguing why the government, which rode to power on a Hindutva agenda, did not listen to a Hindu saint, which he had become in 2011, at the age of 79 years, on an issue of ecological and religious significance of Ganga, which was at the core of Prime Minister's election campaign. Swami Gyan Swaroop Sanand, as Prof Agrawal was now known, had put forward a draft for National River Gangaji (Conservation and Management) Act in 2012. The government came up with The National River Ganga (Rejuvenation, Protection and Management) Bill in 2017 and updated it in 2018. The two draft Bills however, differed in their basic perspectives.
During his sixth and last fast he wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on August 5, 2018 that whereas the National Environmental Appellate authority of previous Manmohan Singh government had suspended the Lohari Nagpala hydroelectric project, even after some construction was over, on his clearly articulated demands and declared a length of over hundred kilometres of Bhagirathi from Gangotri to Uttarkashi as an Eco-Sensitive Zone, which means no destructive activity could take place here, the present government had not done a thing for conservation of Ganga even after four and a half years of being in power. He repeated his four demands which he had intimated to PM before going on fast:
  1. The draft prepared by him along with Advocate MC Mehta and Paritosh Tyagi, among others, be placed before and passed by the Parliament, 
  2. All under-construction and proposed hydroelectric projects on streams directly flowing into Ganga in the upper reaches, downstream and its tributaries be scrapped with immediate effect, 
  3. All mining and deforestation activities be banned in Ganga basin, and 
  4. Form Ganga Bhakt Parishad to work to protect the interest of Ganga. 
He never heard from the PM till his death, even though during his fifth fast in 2013 Rajnath Singh as the then Bhartiya Janata Party president had promised to him that all his demands related to Ganga would be met when Narendra Modi government will come to power.
Prof Agrawal wanted Ganga to be declared a national symbol. His main emphasis was on conservation of Ganga in its natural pristine glory, unobstructed natural flow, which he called as Aviral, and unpolluted water quality, which he described as Nirmal. He also wanted a ban on discharge of any untreated or treated sewage or industrial effluents in Ganga, incineration of any kind of solid waste, setting up of any units discharging pollutants, deforestation, illegal stone quarrying and sand mining, river-front development structures and chemicals or hazardous substances to be used in its vicinity. These have become necessary if any river is to be protected against destruction and degradation.
It is important to know that Prof Agrawal's important learnings emerged from his engineering experience with Rihand dam while working for the Uttar Pradesh State Irrigation Department.
As a true scientist Prof Agrawal precisely defined Aviral to mean minimum environmental/ecological flow at every place, including the downstream of each dam, and at all times with universal bed, lateral, open-to-air, longitudinal and temporal connectivities. He believed that to preserve the unique qualities of water of Ganga, that is, non-putrefying, disease destroying, health enhancing and pollution destroying it was necessary to ensure its Aviral flow.
Similarly, Nirmal doesn't merely mean meeting the standards on water quality related to pH (measure of acidity or alkalinity), Dissolved Oxygen, Biological Oxygen Demand, Chemical Oxygen Demand, Total Dissolved Solids, Free Chlorine and Total Chlorine or water treated by Reverse Osmosis process and Ultraviolet rays.
The special 'self-cleaning' property of Ganga, he concluded scientifically, is because of presence of bacteriophages, coliform destroying capabilities, large amounts of exo-cellular polymers coming from trees present in Himalayan uplands, unique mix of heavy and radioactive metals, ultra fine silt or micro nucleii in the water. Essentially it is the rocks, sediment, vegetation including medicinal plants or ecology of the upper region that contributes to special property of Ganga described as Nirmal.
Nitin Gadkari, Minister for Water Resources, Riven Basin Development and Ganga Rejuvenation, is known to have publicly said that he understands the concept of Nirmal but not that of Aviral. It is quite obvious that accepting Prof Agrawal's concept of Aviral would disallow construction of any more dams.
Another view emanating from the ruling BJP government is that they don't care about the country, religion or its people but are only interested in 'Development.' Development which is clearly corporate driven and, as is now established, yields sufficient kickbacks to fund the next electoral cycle of the political party in power.
Hence even though a senior functionary of Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh, who tried to mediate, said he agreed theoretically with Prof Agrawal's vision on Ganga, the compulsions of realpolitik sealed the fate of Prof Agrawal and by extension that of Ganga. This threat will loom large on life and livelihood of people living in other river valleys too.
Prof Agrawal also fasted five times during the United Progressive Alliance regime. However, he never faced a threat to his life. The only time he fasted during the National Democratic Alliance government's tenure it proved fatal for him. This also demonstrates that the development paradigm is not sensitive to socio-cultural issues, including religion, or environmental issues, in spite of the PM having won a United Nations award, and is more brazenly pro-corporate and less humane under the present government.
The vacuum created by Prof Agrawal's demise almost seems to be unfillable. Where is another strong voice for Ganga? To many religious minded Prof Agrawal appeared to be in the mould of mythological figure Bhagirath, almost single handedly taking up the cause of Ganga.
A true condolence to him would be to brace ourselves for fight against governments which believe in concept of development with attendant destruction of nature, corporations which implement such misplaced and misgoverned ideas of governments, contractors plundering natural resources including sand from river bed and the catchment, all three insensitive to human beings in the name of 'development.'
The fight for conservation of Ganga is far from over. The chief priest of Matre Sadan, the ashram in Haridwar Prof Agrawal chose as his fast site, Swami Shivanand has warned Narendra Modi that after Swami Sanand he and his disciples will ensure that the chain of fasting doesn't break. One Swami Gopal Das had also begun fasting soon after Swami Sanand started his fast on June 22, 2018.
Earlier Swami Nigmanand, also associated with Matre Sadan, laid down his life in 2011 on the 115th day of his fast, which is alleged to be a murder at the behest of a mining mafia associated with the then ruling BJP government in Uttarakhand. How many more lives will be sacrificed at the altar of development?
---
*Well-known social activists

Comments

TRENDING

Girl child education: 20 major states 'score' better than Gujarat, says GoI report

By Rajiv Shah
A Government of India report, released last month, has suggested that “model” Gujarat has failed to make any progress vis-à-vis other states in ensuring that girls continue to remain enrolled after they leave primary schools. The report finds that, in the age group 14-17, Gujarat’s 71% girls are enrolled at the secondary and higher secondary level, which is worse than 20 out of 22 major states for which data have been made available.

Savarkar in Ahmedabad "declared support" to two-nation theory in 1937, followed by Jinnah three years later

By Our Representative
One of the top freedom fighters whom BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi revere the most, Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, was also a great supporter of the two nation theory for India, one for Hindus another for Muslims, claims a new expose on the man who is also known to be the original proponent of the concept of Hindutva.

Congress 'promises' cancellation of Adani power project: Jharkhand elections

Counterview Desk
Pointing out that people's issues take a backseat in Jharkhand's 2019 assembly elections, the state's civil rights organization, the Jharkhand Janadhikar Mahasabha, a coalition of activists and people’s organisations, has said that political parties have largely ignored in their electoral manifestos the need to implement the fifth schedule of the Constitution in a predominantly tribal district.

Hindutva founders 'borrowed' Nazi, fascist idea of one flag, one leader, one ideology

By Shamsul Islam*
With the unleashing of the reign of terror by the RSS/BJP rulers against working-class, peasant organizations, women organizations, student movements, intellectuals, writers, poets and progressive social/political activists, India also witnessed a series of resistance programmes organized by the pro-people cultural organizations in different parts of the country. My address in some of these programmes is reproduced here... 
***  Before sharing my views on the tasks of artists-writers-intellectuals in the times of fascism, let me briefly define fascism and how it is different from totalitarianism. Totalitarianism is political concept, a dictatorship of an individual, family or group which prohibits opposition in any form, and exercises an extremely high degree of control over public and private life. It is also described as authoritarianism.
Whereas fascism, while retaining all these repressive characteristics, also believes in god-ordained superiority of race, cultur…

Ex-World Bank chief economist doubts spurt in India's ease of doing business rank

By Rajiv Shah
This is in continuation of my previous blog where I had quoted from a commentary which top economist Prof Kaushik Basu had written in the New York Times (NYT) a little less than a month ago, on November 6, to be exact. He recalled this article through a tweet on November 29, soon after it was made known that India's growth rate had slumped (officially!) to 4.5%.

With RSS around, does India need foreign enemy to undo its democratic-secular fabric?

By Shamsul Islam*
Many well-meaning liberal and secular political analysts are highly perturbed by sectarian policy decisions of RSS/BJP rulers led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, especially after starting his second inning. They are vocal in red-flagging lynching incidents, policies of the Modi government on Kashmir, the National Register of Citizens (NRC), the demand for 'Bharat Ratna' to Savarkar who submitted 6-7 mercy petitions to the British masters (getting remission of 40 years out of 50 years' sentence), and the murder of constitutional norms in Goa, Karnataka and now in Maharashtra.

Post-Balakot, danger that events might spiral out of control is 'greater, not less'

By Tapan Bose*
The fear of war in South Asia is increasing. Tensions are escalating between India and Pakistan after the Indian defence minister's announcement in August this year that India may revoke its current commitment to only use nuclear weapons in retaliation for a nuclear attack, known as ‘no first use’. According to some experts who are watching the situation the risk of a conflict between the two countries has never been greater since they both tested nuclear weapons in 1998.

Ships recycling Bill 'allows' India to be turned into a landfill for foreign hazardous waste

Counterview Desk
In a letter to M Venkaiah Naidu, chairman, Rajya Sabha, senior activist Gopal Krishna of the Toxics Watch Alliance has said that the Recycling of Ships Bill, 2019 should be referred to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Science and Technology, Environment, Forests and Climate Change to "safeguard country’s maritime environment from harmful and hazardous wastes and materials".

Worrying signs in BJP: Modi, Shah begin 'cold-shouldering' Gujarat CM, party chief

By RK Misra*
The political developments in neighbouring Maharashtra where a Shiv Sena-NCP-Congress government assumed office has had a trickle down effect in Gujarat with both the ruling BJP and the Congress opposition going into revamp mode.

'Favouring' tribals and ignoring Adivasis? Behind coercion of India's aborigines

By Mohan Guruswamy*
Tribal people account for 8.2% of India’s population. They are spread over all of India’s States and Union Territories. Even so they can be broadly classified into three groupings. The first grouping consists of populations who predate the Indo-Aryan migrations. These are termed by many anthropologists as the Austro-Asiatic-speaking Australoid people.