GD Agarwal lived by an abiding passion and he died for it too: fighting to save river Ganga. A Gandhian, an environmentalist and a former professor at the Indian Institute of Technology in Kanpur, he underwent a fast-unto-death for the past 111 days when he died today, leaving behind many unfinished battles to save the river.
He sat on his last fast on June 22 to protest against the government's alleged inaction in taking steps to make the river pollution-free. It was reminiscent of many such fasts he had undertaken in the past, including the one in 2012, which had forced Manmohan Singh-led United Progressive Alliance government to convene a meeting National Ganga River Basin Authority (NGRBA) to look into his various demands.
He wore many hats. But all of them were related to his calling as an environmentalist in one way or other. He was a faculty member of IIT-Kanpur, a member of the Central Pollution Control Board, and an honorary professor of environmental sciences at the Mahatma Gandhi Chitrakoot Gramodaya Vishwavidyalaya, in Chitrakoot, Madhya Pradesh.
Born into a farmers' family in Muzaffarnagar district in Uttar Pradesh in 1932, he graduated from University of Roorkee (present-day IIT Roorkee). He started his career as a design engineer in the Uttar Pradesh state Irrigation Department and went on obtain a doctorate in environmental engineering from the University of California at Berkeley.
But fighting for saving river Ganga overtook his all other pre-occupations.
"The purity and piety of 'Gangajal' (water of the Ganga) cannot be determined by the government employed engineers or officials, but it is a subject to be decided by our dharmacharyas," he once said.
Whenever he found governments lacking in honouring their commitments on making the Ganga free of pollution or took steps to disrupt the river's free flow, GD Agarwal went on a fast. His protests often made governments do a rethink. He had sat on a fast-unto-death against the proposed hydropower projects on river Bhagirathi, one of the two headstreams of the Ganga, in 2008.
He called off the fast only after Uttarakhand government promised to suspend work on the Bhairon Ghati and Pala-Maneri hydropower projects on the Bhagirathi river.