Environmentalist GD Agarwal also known as Swami Gyan Swaroop Sanand who was on an indefinite fast since June this year, died in Rishikesh on Thursday. His primary objective was to demand a clean ‘River Ganga’.
A former Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) professor, Agarwal, 87, was unhappy over unsatisfactory and ineffective efforts at cleaning the Ganga. Besides, Agarwal was also against ongoing construction of dams/barrages/tunnels on Ganga which he said would totally destroy the natural flow and quality of the river water.
The PhD holder in environmental engineering from the University of California at Berkeley had served as secretary of the Central Pollution Control Board, the country’s premier anti-pollution body, and helped put together environmental legislation in India. He was once a professor at IIT Kanpur.
An environmental activist for decades, he formally became a ‘swami’ in 2011 at the age 79. Even before that he had undertaken a number of fasts for environmental causes, the most notable being 2009 fast demanding to stop the construction of dams on the Bhagirathi River.
Prime Minister Modi had pledged in 2014, on the banks of the Ganga in Varanasi, that he would ensure that the Ganga would be cleaned up by 2019. However, a parliamentary estimates committee which evaluated the government’s efforts to rejuvenate the Ganga concluded that the government’s actions have been far from enough.
Current Status of Cleaning Ganga
In August this year, the National Green Tribunal (which is hearing petitions around Ganga-cleaning projects) pulled up the government for its tardy job and said that the stretches between Haridwar and Unnao were “unfit for drinking and bathing” and that authorities should display “health warnings”. Union Water Resources Minister Nitin Gadkari has promised that 80% of the river will be cleaned by May 2019. His predecessor, Uma Bharti, had promised a clean river by 2018. So far, the State governments have concentrated on superficially cleaning the river by using trash skimmers and improving crematoria-infrastructure.
The Union Water Resources Ministry has been focussed on ensuring a transparent tendering and bidding process. Only this year have treatment plants at Haridwar and Varanasi begun to be constructed. In May 2014, there were 31 treatment plants with a capacity of 485 MLD. As of May 2018, 94 projects, with a treatment capacity of 1,928 MLD, were under way. A financial audit in March suggested that while ₹20,601 crore had been sanctioned for 193 projects, only ₹4,254 crore had actually been spent on their implementation.
Agarwal’s death, is a big setback for the Save Ganga movement and its tributaries. It is a saga of neglect and apathy by the authorities concerned.