Activist GD Agarwal, 87 years old – who was on an indefinite fast to urge the government to clean river Ganga died on Thursday (October 11, 2018) in Rishikesh.
Bharat Dogra is a senior journalist who has been involved with several social movements and initiatives.
Swami Sanand breathed his last on October 11 on the 111th day of his fast. It is a tragedy of national proportions that all through this long period of over 100 days nothing could be done to sort out the matter to convince him to call off his fast.
In fact he gave the government enough time to meet his demands. Starting with his first letter stating his demands written to the Prime Minister on February 24 2018, he gave a time of over seven months for the issues to be resolved.
Who exactly was Swami Sanand and what was he asking for? He was earlier known as Prof. G.D Aggarwal and was widely recognized as an authority on the protection of Ganga River. After getting his doctorate from the University of California, Berkeley, he taught at the IITs and then served as Secretary Member in the Central Board of Pollution Control. He gradually became more and more devoted to the pursuit of protecting the Ganga River and took sanyas to devote himself fully to this issue.
He went on several fasts to press for various demands relating to this issue and in most cases his demands were met to a significant extent as his understanding of these issues was widely respected and his demands had the backing of scientific research and studies which he often quoted.
It should have been possible this time also to meet his demands to not just save his life but also promote the cause of environment protection. His demands related to legislation for Ganga protection based on the recommendations of Justice Girdhari Malviya commission constituted by this very government, reconsideration of some hydro projects in ecologically sensitive areas and constituting a consultation group on Ganga river related issues (which would include people devoted to Ganga protection) .
These demands appear to be quite reasonable demands, the kind of demands which would have been voiced by many people devoted to Ganga river protection.
Unfortunately, however, these demands did not get adequate attention in the crucial four months between February and June i.e. the time between first announcing the decision for fasting for these demands and actually starting the fast. As his demands did not elicit the proper response, Swami Sanand started his fast on the announced date of June 22. After some days the coming and going of ministers and exchange of messages started but evidently this was not to the satisfaction of Swami Sanand and this is why he continued his fast. Restrictions were also placed on supportive activities of his followers.
Clearly much more could have been done to save the life of Swami Sanand. One can only hope that his sacrifice will lead to more care and attention for the protection of Ganga as well as other rivers. Whenever and wherever people work sincerely and honestly for river protection, Swami Sanand will be remembered with great respect.