Agar­wal’s death draws at­ten­tion to the river’s plight

DNA (Daily News & Analysis) Mumbai Edition - - FRONT PAGE -

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.

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