Engineer and environmentalist-turned-sadhu Swami Gyan Swaroop Sanand alias Professor G D Agrawal, who died on Thursday after 111-day fast for Ganga, envisioned the holy river very differently.
For him Ganga wasn’t just a mighty stream. It was a symbol of human spirit and salvation. And therefore, he was ready to die for it... and he did.
He looked very frail and weak when I met him last month for an interview, but his resolve was very strong. He wasn’t ready to break his fast until his demands were met.
Swami Sanand — as he was called after he became a saint in 2011 — wasn’t the first one to die fasting for Ganga in Uttarakhand.
Before him a sadhu Nigamanand also died in Haridwar in 2011 after fasting for almost 4 months. Another Sadhu Gopal Das is now sitting on fast at Rishikesh to save Ganga.
Prof Agrawal, a trained civil engineer who did his Ph.D. from University of California, Berkeley taught at IIT Kanpur.
He was also the first member secretary of Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB). His attachment to Ganga kept growing as he understood its importance and finally he became a crusader.
“Why do you call Ganga Jeevandayini (life giver)?” He interrupted me while I was interviewing him last month.
According to him all rivers were Jeevandayinis but Ganga was something more than that. “Even Nile and Amazon are life givers. Ganga is different from them. It can’t be compared to other rivers,” he said stressing on the ecological and religious importance of Ganga.
Well known environmentalist Ravi Chopra, who has also been a member of the Supreme Court appointed expert committees on Dams, closely followed professor G D Agrawal and his work. He recalls, “When Professor Agrawal was teaching at IIT Kanpur in 1970s, one question always fascinated him. What are the qualities of Ganga which kept its water fresh for long period of time? Then he got a research done by a student (on this subject) and he himself was the guide of this research.”
Guide and researcher were able to show that the self-purifying capacity of Ganga was far greater than any other river. Perhaps, the result of this research set professor Agrawal on an eternal devote journey. He always called Ganga as mother. Maa Ganga was his expression for the river.
“Did you ever hear someone saying: Main us desh ka vaasi hoon jis desh main Amazon bahati hai,” he asked. “But we say: main us desh ka vaasi hoon jis desh main Ganga bahati hai”. According to him Ganga symbolised India.
He counted the scientific reasons quoting several research papers to explain how water of Ganga doesn’t putrefy and how it cleans itself.
Ganga is rog-nashini (cures-ailments) and sadan-nashak (kills the rot and dirt). He believed the interruption in the flow of Ganga is killing this endowed quality of the holy river.
Professor Agrawal always said that the Ganga derives its special non-putrefying qualities from its sediments. It is not just the water, but it is the water, the sediments and the ecosystem of the river that gives it the unique quality. Therefore, he was against linking Ganga’s importance just for drinking, generating electricity or irrigational need. For him the unrestricted flow of river was paramount.
“For government, it is just a resource and they want to exploit it to fullest. Because they think if we use it more and more people will be happy, and they will vote for us,” he said.
This was his fifth fast for Ganga and its tributaries in last ten years. He first sat on fast in 2008 and then in 2009 with a demand to revoke the under construction and proposed hydro-power projects on Bhagirathi river.
The then UPA government agreed to some of his demands and declared the 100 kilometers stretch from Gomukh to Uttarkashi an eco-sensitive zone. This was a big achievement for his efforts.
Now the government has changed the name of Water Resources Ministry, adding the phrase ‘Ganga Rejuvination’ but the efforts by government didn’t impress professor Agrawal who was against construction of more dams on river Ganga and its tributaries in Uttarakhand. He wanted the ecological flow of the river maintained and a strict law to protect river Ganga.
Prof G D Agrawal was very unhappy with the current form of proposed bill by the government. He believed the proposed bill provides unrestricted powers to ministers and bureaucrats. He wanted prohibition on mining of Ganga’s river bed and advocated formation of Ganga Bhakt Parishad that would include experts from various fields and lovers of Ganga with at least one NRI.
Last month on September 17, when Prime Minister Modi went to Varanasi to celebrate his birthday, professor Agrawal had already completed 88 days on fast in Haridwar.
He had written several letters to the prime minister and expected Modi to visit him and discuss the plans to save Ganga. He was very hurt and angry that PM Modi didn’t come to meet him despite such a long protest.
“He is going to Varanasi seek blessings of Lord Vishwanath. If he was doing the right thing, Lord Vishwanath had blessed him from anywhere. He (Modi) fought last election from Varanasi saying he has been called by Ganga Maa but now I can see he has no concern for Ganga,” the anguished saint said.
Today, those who adore Ganga and revere professor Agrawal are sad and dejected. More so because they feel the government never understood the importance of the river and the saint.
“The present regime simply did not have the wisdom to understand the scientific principles on which his faith was based. Their minds were too simple to grasp the concept of Ganga being India’s civilizational identity,” said Ravi Chopra.