Revered G D Agarwal, a former professor at the Indian Institute of Technology in Kanpur and a man who devoted his life to the cause of saving River Ganga, died after fasting for over a 100 days in his bed to get the government and Prime Minister Narendra Modi to follow through on promises to rejuvenate the Ganga, is really a sad and disturbing one. Agarwal’s association with the river began when he was a child “because of his grandmother”. What he wanted the government to put a halt on all hydroelectric projects along the tributaries of the Ganga and urged for the enactment of a Ganga Protection Management Act. He 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. Why? Because Ganga has been a cradle of human civilisation since time immemorial. Millions depend on this great river for physical and spiritual sustenance. People have immense faith in the powers of healing and regeneration of the Ganga. He had vowed to continue his hunger strike — his sixth, which he claimed would be his last — to “save the Ganga” until death.
Hindus in India regard the river Ganga as a goddess. They firmly believe that the holy water of this river possesses the sanctifying virtues. The civilisation and the cultural life of North and Eastern India flowered and flourished in the basin of the Ganga. 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.
As many as 27 large cities and 300 industrial units let their untreated wastes into the Ganga. The erosion of the banks is a permanent feature; and this fact has been constantly making the waters muddy, full of dirt, and filthy. Large portions of its banks are protected with trees and forests; and the remaining parts are, obviously, battered by erosion. The main Ganges river pollution contributors are those in industry – specifically in this case those of the leather industry who use vast amounts of chromium and other toxins and chemicals – the majority of which ends up in the slow-paced waters of the Ganges during the dry season, peak time for the tanning industry and also when the river is moving at its slowest. Apart from humans, many other kinds of lives are in danger due to Ganga’s degeneration.
Agarwal sacrificed his life for a cause. Such people are not born now. He was determined to die for the Ganga. On the banks of the Ganga in Varanasi, Prime Minister Modi in 2014 had pledged that he would ensure that the Ganga would be cleaned up by 2019. Our government is taking an active interest in cleaning the water of Ganga River. A clean Ganga fund has also been set up to collect funds that would be used in various activities relating to the rejuvenation of Ganga River. No doubt, for executing this project, a separate authority, called, “The Central Ganga Authority” has been set up. His decision to stop taking water was aimed at putting more pressure on the government to accept his demands. Don’t we think that the Ganga, which is virtually synonymous with Indian civilisation, is dying? The Ganges is one of the most polluted rivers in India in which level of pollutants is more than 3000 times than the permissible limit defined by the WHO as ‘safe’. It is the symbol of India’s spiritual heritage. It represents the 5,000-year-old civilisation of India. Ganga is vitally important to India, that’s why we have to save the Ganga River from pollution. It is our duty to save the Ganga River. Is it not imperative to keep natural resources pure as these sustain life and maintain ecological balance? Let Agarwal’s death for a good cause be recognised by the Central Government and ‘clean Ganga’ project be acted upon at the earliest. Let us also implement a strict law so that offenders can be punished for causing pollution.
(The views expressed by the author in the article are his/her own.)