RIP, GD Agar­wal

Millennium Post - - Mp Editorial -

Lead­ing en­vi­ron­men­tal­ist GD Agar­wal, who was on an in­def­i­nite fast since June 22 urg­ing the gov­ern­ment to clean the river Ganga and bring in a leg­is­la­tion to pre­vent fur­ther dam­age to the river’s ecosys­tem, passed away yes­ter­day at AIIMS, Rishikesh. The 87-year-old sain­tac­tivist was at one point of time a Pro­fes­sor at the In­dian In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy, Kan­pur. He had also served as a mem­ber Sec­re­tary of the Cen­tral Pol­lu­tion Con­trol Board (CPCB) and was a big name in en­vi­ron­men­tal engi­neer­ing. Agar­wal had un­der­taken sev­eral fasts in the past to protest the con­struc­tion of dams, bar­rages, and tun­nels on the Ganga and its trib­u­taries. He was a long­stand­ing en­vi­ron­ment ac­tivist, who stud­ied the eco-sys­tem of the river thor­oughly over a long pe­riod of time. Not only did he live on the banks of river Ganga, but he had also ded­i­cated his life to the cause of clean­ing the river. It is rare that we have such a learned and ded­i­cated ac­tivist work­ing on a cause that does not of­fer im­me­di­ate recog­ni­tion or ap­pre­ci­a­tion. Till he died on Thurs­day, few peo­ple knew that Agar­wal was on a fast since June 22. But the Ut­tarak­hand gov­ern­ment, which forcibly ad­mit­ted him to AIIMS (Rishikesh) af­ter he stopped con­sum­ing even wa­ter, can­not claim in­no­cence in the mat­ter. The state gov­ern­ment was well aware of his fast and de­mands but it did not en­gage with the ac­tivist in the ini­tial phase of the fast. It was only when the fast en­tered a cru­cial phase and Agar­wal’s health be­gan de­te­ri­o­rat­ing rapidly that the state gov­ern­ment rep­re­sen­ta­tives held talks with him which failed to ar­rive at any con­clu­sion. Agar­wal was de­mand­ing an un­in­ter­rupted flow of the Ganga from Gan­gotri to Ut­tarkashi. Nat­u­rally, if the gov­ern­ment ac­cepted his de­mand, it would have had to forego some of the de­vel­op­ment projects that it in­tended to build in the re­gion.

The death of an ac­tivist while he was on a fast de­mand­ing the clean­ing of a river that has sus­tained the civil­i­sa­tion for ages, is a sad com­men­tary on the state of ac­tivism and the gov­ern­ment’s in­dif­fer­ence to ac­tivists’ de­mands. De­spite it be­ing a BJP’S favourite topic, the clean­ing of Ganga has not been un­der­taken on a se­ri­ous note. The Cen­tral gov­ern­ment had launched a num­ber of schemes for clean­ing the sec­ond long­est river in the coun­try but most of these schemes re­main on pa­per while the river is pol­luted be­yond re­demp­tion at many places, es­pe­cially near in­dus­trial towns. A ma­jor source of pol­lu­tion comes from in­dus­trial units that flush out highly toxic ef­flu­ents into the river. Though there are laws mak­ing it manda­tory to treat the dirty wa­ter be­fore al­low­ing it to en­ter the river, the non-com­pli­ance of these laws is com­mon­place and a se­ri­ous prob­lem. In­stalling ef­flu­ent treat­ment plants for dif­fer­ent types of in­dus­tries is both cost-in­ten­sive and im­prac­ti­cal at times, mak­ing the in­dus­tries ig­nore their duty and re­spon­si­bil­ity with re­gards to en­vi­ron­men­tal con­cerns. As most of the fac­to­ries are housed in small units and res­i­den­tial ar­eas, they con­tinue to pol­lute by drain­ing out dirty wa­ter into the river while in­stal­la­tion of ef­flu­ent treat­ment plants is prac­ti­cally not pos­si­ble given the small size of the in­di­vid­ual fac­to­ries. The gov­ern­ment can re­quest and put pres­sure on big in­dus­trial units to set up their sep­a­rate treat­ment plants but the same is not pos­si­ble with thou­sands of small in­dus­tries and fac­to­ries spread across the en­tire city. So, there are prac­ti­cal dif­fi­cul­ties in clean­ing the river and the gov­ern­ment can­not fast-track it.

Ir­re­spec­tive of the chal­lenges, the gov­ern­ment will have to do some­thing tan­gi­ble about the rivers in the coun­try, es­pe­cially the man­ner and pace at which the rivers are get­ting pol­luted. The Ya­muna in Delhi is con­sid­ered worse than an open drain, such is the level of pol­lu­tion. For­get tak­ing a bath, the stench com­ing out of the river is so strong that it would de­sist any­one from com­ing close to the river. The rea­son why the Ya­muna is so pol­luted in the na­tional cap­i­tal is no dif­fer­ent from the rea­son why the Ganga looks so dirty, for ex­am­ple, in Kan­pur. All the dirty wa­ter from fac­to­ries to homes in Delhi fi­nally ends up join­ing the streams of Ya­muna through thou­sands of drains that carry un­treated dirty to the river. The agen­cies re­spon­si­ble to en­sure that this does not hap­pen have sim­ply failed to make any dif­fer­ence to the sit­u­a­tion. Both the state and the cen­tral gov­ern­ments have too failed to take any mea­sure that ef­fec­tively brings about a turn­around in the sit­u­a­tion. The Union gov­ern­ment has a min­istry called Wa­ter Re­sources, River De­vel­op­ment & Ganga Re­ju­ve­na­tion and a sim­i­lar min­istry is also func­tion­ing in most of the states. But few peo­ple know what ex­actly they do or what their achieve­ments are. If mak­ing the rivers clean is part of their brief, the min­istries have failed mis­er­ably to per­form. These min­istries should have hailed Agar­wal as a hero and re­warded him for his re­lent­less work. But his death while on ag­i­ta­tion is an­other ex­am­ple of how the min­istries con­cerned have failed to ac­cord due pri­or­ity to is­sues on their hands.

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