Last year, on October 11, Professor G.D Agrawal died in Rishikesh, Uttarakhand, on the 112th day of a hunger strike to demand a law to save the Ganga and the scrapping of hydropower projects.
Students of Azim Premji University in Bengaluru paid homage to Prof. G.D Agrawal on his 1 death anniversary on October 11, 2019. Students expressed their opinions on different socio-ecological issues concerned with the river Ganga, especially the recent Inland Waterway project.
Professor G.D Agrawal, also known as Swami Gyan Swaroop Sanand, was an environmental engineer, activist, professor, and a monk. He was associated with Matri Sadan Ashram in Haridwar, which is a collective of sages coming from different corners of India and protested environmental degradation and corruption. Matri Sadan makes use of the Gandhian tactic of Satyagraha to mobilise people and present their non-violent demands to save the Ganga. They have lead several non-violent protests since 1998, demanding a ban on river-mining and crushing activities on Ganga, also have appealed against the control of the Mafia Raj and have demanded a ban on vehicles plying on the river.
Professor G.D.Agrawal died during his Satyagraha, demanding the government take stringent action to clean Ganga, for the enactment of the Ganga Act, and to save the river from dams. Since February 2018, the professor wrote three open letters to the Prime Minister, appealing to him to stop the ecologically unfriendly projects on the Ganga. To his complete shock, he didn’t get any response from the PM, whom he considered as a fellow Ganga Putra (Ganga’s son). He reminded the Prime Minister of the promise he made to the river Ganga and his constituency (Varanasi) in 2014 and how all of it went in vain.
It seems like Professor’s G.D. Agrawal’s sacrifice was all for naught, as the government’s move to use Ganga as a National Waterway is contributing to the destruction of the ecology of the river. The students of Azim Premji University gathered together to discuss how such projects are designed to keep in toe with the interests of the corporates while sidelining the livelihoods of several local and traditional communities.
Several reports mention that 485 families have been displaced for the construction of the Sahibganj Multi-Modal Terminal (MMT). Most of these families belong to the traditional fishing community. It’s not only people who have been displaced to make the way for this ₹5,369 crore project. The government has proposed to displace tortoises as well to make way for the Haldia-Varanasi Inland Waterways Project along the Ganga. The Varanasi Tortoise Sanctuary, which was the only wildlife sanctuary in the world to protect inland tortoises, had been de-notified by the Ministry of Environment and Forest recently. After the act of de-notification, it became the first wildlife sanctuary that got scrapped after the introduction of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972.
The people living in the Ganga plains trusted PM Modi in 2014. But now, his dream project to run cargo and cruise ships in the Ganga is stripping the river of its ecology, and keeping communities away from their livelihood. The promised dignity of the Ganga is now at stake. The ailing Ganga now needs several G.D. Agrawals who can come together and speak for her to save her!