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Last Updated : Oct 11, 2018 08:03 PM IST | Source: Moneycontrol.com

GD Agarwal: The engineer-turned-environmentalist who fasted unto death to save the Ganga

In February 2018, the octogenarian had urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi to take steps to stop construction of hydroelectric projects along the river’s tributaries and enact the Ganga Protection Management Act

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Environmentalist G D Agarwal, who ha sbeen fasting for over 100 days for a clean Ganga, being forcibly taken to hospital after his health deteriorated in Haridwar on October. (PTI)
Environmentalist G D Agarwal, who ha sbeen fasting for over 100 days for a clean Ganga, being forcibly taken to hospital after his health deteriorated in Haridwar on October. (PTI)

Most Hindu men in India would want their ashes to be immersed in the Holy Ganga after they leave the planet for their heavenly abode. In Hindu tradition, they say a man needs to be one with the elements of nature after they die.

GD Agarwal, however, was one who was with nature even during his life. Such was his dedication towards the cause of cleaning the holiest river of India, that he yielded his life to it. Agarwal died on October 11 at the AIIMS hospital in Rishikesh at the age of 87, reportedly of a cardiac arrest.

Agarwal was on a fast-unto-death for the past 111 days, demanding that a law be formulated in order to protect river Ganga and maintain its uninterrupted flow between Gangotri and Uttarkashi in Uttarakhand. He was shifted by the police from Haridwar on October 10.


Born in 1932 to a farmer’s family in Uttar Pradesh, Agarwal went on to obtain a degree in civil engineering from the University of Roorkee, now known as IIT Roorkee. Later, he earned a doctorate in environmental engineering from the University of California at Berkeley.

Agarwal was the Head of Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at IIT Kanpur. In 1979, he became the first member secretary of the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB). He juggled this with being a visiting faculty member at his alma mater, IIT Roorkee.

Being a consistent vocal critic of building hydro-electric projects, Agarwal first went on a fast in 2009, protesting against the Loharinag Pala Hydro Power Project being planned on river Bhagirathi. After over a month, Agarwal's health started to deteriorate rapidly, compelling the government to suspend the dam construction.

In 2011, Agarwal renounced worldly pursuits and embraced the life of an ascetic. He took the name Swami Gyanswaroop Sanand.

In 2013, Agarwal again went on an indefinite fast, discontent by the working of the National Ganges River Basin Authority (NGRBA) set up by the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to clean the river. The Congress government bowed down to his demands after Agarwal’s two-and-a-half-month long fast.

In February 2018, the octogenarian had urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi to take steps to stop construction of hydroelectric projects along the river’s tributaries and enact the Ganga Protection Management Act.

On June 22, he sat for another indefinite fast, one last time. For the 109 days, the activist only consumed water mixed with honey. However, on October 9, he gave up water too after talks on his demands failed.

Agarwal had once told the British daily Guardian, "This water is not ordinary water to a Hindu. It is a matter of the life and death of the Hindu faith." Wonder if he knew that his passion to clean what he considered an epitome of the Hindu faith would take his own life.
First Published on Oct 11, 2018 08:03 pm
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