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This Ganga crusader is on a fast unto death, will give up water to save the river

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G.D. Agrawal began his fast unto death for an ‘eternal’ Ganga on 22 June. He has had only three glasses of water every day since then.

New Delhi: G.D. Agrawal, an 86-year-old environmental activist and former IIT-Kanpur professor, is willing to die if that’s what will take to make the Ganga an ‘aviral’ (eternal) river.

Agrawal, also known as Swami Gyan Swaroop Sanand, has been on a fast unto death since 22 June — 110 days as on 9 October — at Kankhal near Haridwar. He has had only three glasses of water every day in that period. But now, he’s willing to give up even that.

“On Tuesday, around noon, I will give up water,” Agrawal told ThePrint. “I don’t want to go into all the details anymore. I barely have any energy left.”

Four demands

Agrawal has four demands to make the Ganga ‘aviral’: Pass the Ganga Protection Act, stop all hydroelectric projects (proposed or under construction) in the upper reaches of the Ganga and its tributaries (Bhagirathi, Alaknanda, Mandakini, etc), ban river bed sand mining in the Haridwar region, and form an autonomous body to manage the affairs of the river.

“The government has done nothing till now. That is the situation. I will probably only have a few days left after I quit water, but I will stay committed to this until my last breath” Agrawal said.

Ministers’ letters

The government’s response to Agrawal’s fast has been a series of letters — from Uma Bharati, former minister for Ganga rejuvenation, and Nitin Gadkari, who has succeeded her in that ministry.

Also read: Gadkari’s clean Ganga promise by 2020 far-fetched? A fact-check on progress of vital schemes

Gadkari, who is also minister for water resources, river development, road transport, highways and shipping, wrote on 30 June: “As you are aware, the government of India is committed to the eternal and pure flow of the Ganga. A number of steps for the purity of the river have already been taken, while others are under process. We are sure these will materialise soon at ground level.

“You are requested to abandon your fast and bring your precious suggestions in person.”

Bharati, now the minister for drinking water and sanitation, then wrote to Agrawal on 1 July, saying he had been the inspiration behind her movement for a clean Ganga.

“PM Modi is completely devoted to the Ganga. I have made a very good scheme for the river, which Nitin Gadkari ji is implementing very well. We will fulfill your dreams, please end your fast,” she said.

Then, on 3 July, Gadkari wrote again — this time a letter detailing what the government was doing for the Ganga.

“The government is working on tree plantation, biodiversity and beautification of the valley. It is also running 65 projects to improve conditions at moksh dhams. It has even identified 68 new towns and cities where the government will contain the flow of dirty water in to Ganga. I want to assure you that all these projects will be completed by 2019,” he wrote.

“Besides, the government is considering not starting any new hydropower projects and waiting on the ones that have not yet begun, despite approval. Our government is committed to the Ganga Bill, and I assure you that this will be approved by cabinet within a month. I hope all these steps will satisfy you and you will give up your fast to guide me in this regard.”

Also read: A Modi promise not kept: Images reveal how a pure Ganga turns disgustingly brown

However, a close aide of Agrawal said the letters were hardly enough.

“Their letters have actually been very glib and vague. It doesn’t seem like they’re taking this seriously at all,” the aide said.

Six hunger strikes in 10 years

This is Agrawal’s sixth hunger strike for the Ganga since he began his crusade in 2008. In 2010, after he went without food for 34 days, Jairam Ramesh, the union minister for environment, forests and climate change at the time, met him personally. What followed was a cancellation of dam projects in the upper reaches of the Ganga.

The projects were resumed in 2013, prompting Agrawal to quit as board member of National Ganga River Basin Authority. He has since been striving in different ways to get governments to pay attention to the deteriorating quality of the river.

A well-known figure, Agrawal has gained support from various quarters for his latest protest.

On 30 September, Congress president Rahul Gandhi tweeted in solidarity with the environmentalist and urged others to join the ‘Ganga Sadbhawana Yatra’, which began 2 October.

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