FOR THE SAKE OF GANGA
Agarwal’s death draws attention to the river’s plight
Scientist and environmentalist GD Agarwal had one enduring passion: To clean and revive a sacred river that a billionplus Hindus refer to as mother. He was pained to see the river turning into a huge dumping ground for all sorts of pollutants, including hazardous industrial effluents and human waste. But what pained him even more was the spate of hydel power projects that would cause immeasurable damage to the river by disrupting and depleting its natural flow. In his last and final letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Agarwal, a former IIT Kanpur professor, had urged the PM to “cancel all the hydel power projects that are under construction over Alakananda , Dhauliganga, Nandakini, Pindar and Mandakini and also cancel all the proposed hydel power projects on Gangaji and all feeder streams of Gangaji”. Saving the Ganga for him was also about saving the river ecosystem and the green cover on its banks. In the same letter, Agarwal had requested the PM to take measures to stop “deforestation, slaughtering/processing of living species/matter and that all types of mining activities be completely stopped and this be enforced and this be specifically enforced in Haridwar Kumbha-kshetra”. Agarwal knew that the health of the river and the health of the environment are inextricably linked. He also knew that mere lip-service to the cause of Swachh Ganga would delay urgent rescue measures. Hence, his emphasis on getting committed like-minded people to form a board, which will “act only in the interests benefitting Gangaji and only Gangaji’s favourable interests”. It was clear that despite the PM’S much-publicised Namami Gange mission, his government wasn’t being effective in making any palpable difference to the health of the river. But the late scientist’s concerns go beyond the immediate consequences and casts the spotlight on the environment vs development debate. Namami Gange’s painfully slow progress can be atributed to urban and industrial pollution, catchment degradation, flood plain encroachment, unsustainable sand mining, dams, diversions and hydropower projects, biodiversity loss, deforestation, loss of local water bodies, unsustainable groundwater extraction, and failure of pollution control mechanism. At the core, it was a burgeoning population’s indiscriminate exploitation of resources. Unlike Agarwal, whose deep love for the Ganga had propelled him to undertake fasts earlier as well, others in seats of power have treated the river’s health and sacredness, as per their convenience. This is why the National Green Tribunal (NGT) was scathing in its criticism of the Uttarakhand government in June this year. The NGT found that the work done on the ground for Ganga rejuvenation was not adequate and regular monitoring was required to improve the situation. The state of the Ganga shows the huge gap between words and actions — when intent has rarely translated into sweeping measures to deal with even a systemic problem like untreated sewage entering the river. Perhaps, Agarwal would have been delighted to know that on Wednesday the central government mandated maintaining minimum environmental flows at various locations of the river to ensure its continuous flow. This means the river would never run dry.