G. D. Agrawal

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G. D. Agrawal
G. D. Agrawal.jpg
G. D. Agrawal
Guru Das Agrawal

(1932-07-20)20 July 1932
Died11 October 2018(2018-10-11) (aged 86)
Cause of deathFast-unto-death
Resting placeChitrakoot,
Madhya Pradesh,
Other namesSant Swami Sanand,
Swami Gyan Swaroop Sanand
EducationCivil engineering
Environmental engineering
Alma materBenaras Hindu University IIT Roorkee, University of California at Berkeley
OccupationEnvironmental Engineer
EmployerGovernment of India Central Pollution Control Board, Civil and Environmental Engineering at IIT Kanpur
Known forStopping construction of dams on the Bhagirathi River in 2009
TitleFirst Member-Secretary (CPCB), former Head of the Department (IIT)
Term17 years at IIT Kanpur

Guru das Agrawal also known as Sant Swami Sanand, Sant Swami Gyan Swaroop Sanand (20 July 1932 – 11 October 2018) was an Indian environmentalist, engineer, religious leader, monk, environmental activist, professor. He was the Patron of Ganga Mahasabha founded by Madan Mohan Malviya in 1905.

He is notable for a number of fasts undertaken to stop many projects on River Ganga. His fast in 2009 led to the damming of the Bhagirathi River being stopped.[1]

Agrawal died on 11 October 2018, after fasting since 22 June 2018, demanding the government act on its promises to clean and save the Ganga.[2]

Early life[edit]

Born to a farming family in Kandhla, Muzaffarnagar district, Uttar Pradesh in 1932, he studied in local primary and secondary schools and graduated in civil engineering from the University of Roorkee (now IIT Roorkee). While he was the member secretary of the Central Pollution Control Board during 1979–80, he was also a visiting professor for environmental engineering at the University of Roorkee.

In July 2011, he became a Hindu sannyasi and was known by his new name Swami Gyanswaroop Sanand.[3]


He was the member-secretary of the Government of India's Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB). He was formerly head of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at IIT Kanpur. Agrawal was a sought-after environmental impact assessment consultant and is a director of Envirotech Instruments (P) Limited, New Delhi, a company that he established with some of his former students from IIT-Kanpur. At CPCB he was instrumental in shaping India's pollution control regulatory structure. He ensured pollution inspections and assessments are objective oriented and believed in practical solutions. He was a member of various government committees shaping policy-making and administrative mechanisms to improve India's environmental quality.


Agrawal embraced 'sanyas' at Sri Vidya Mutt on Sunday in the 79th year of his age. After 'diksha', he became Swami Gyanswaroop Sanand. As a 'sanyasi', he will now study Hindu Shastras and spirituality. "In fact, I had taken 'diksha' by 'Guruji' (Shankaracharya Swami Swaroopanand Saraswati) at Joshi Mutt on the occasion of Ganga Dussehra on 11 June. Today I formally became a sanyasi," he said.

In Hindu ashram system, a sanyasi renounces worldly and materialistic pursuits and spends the rest of his life in spiritual contemplation. But, in his new avatar of Swami Gyansaroop Sanand, Agrawal will continue to fight for the Ganges. "I have dedicated my life to Mother Ganga and I will follow the direction of 'Guruji'," he told TOI.

"The purity and piety of 'Gangajal' (water of the Ganges) cannot be determined by the government employed engineers or officials, but it is a subject to be decided by our dharmacharyas," claimed the environmentalist. The scientist-turned-sanyasi was very unhappy with the state of affairs at the National Ganga River Basin Authority (NGRBA), an empowered planning, financing monitoring and coordinating authority for the Ganges under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986. According to him, the Mission Clean Ganga-2020 would meet the same fate as the Ganga Action Plan (launched in 1986) that failed to achieve the goal despite investment of crores of rupees. Even former union environment minister Jairam Ramesh had admitted in Lok Sabha that the Ganges and Yamuna were not clean as they were 20 years ago despite investment of Rs 17 billion.

"No plan or programme of cleaning Mother Ganga will be acceptable if it is not accepted by the Shankaracharyas. The Shankaracharyas of all four peeths should have to sit together to save the Ganga," he said and added "it is not possible for an individual or a group of people to decide the fate of the Ganga."

Refusing to learn a lesson from the failure of GAP, the government is committing the same mistakes and working on the old pattern. "In fact, they have no concern for the Ganga at all. Was any person, official or engineer made accountable for the failure of GAP? Was any person punished for the mistake" he questioned. "Now, the same thing is going to happen. Is there anyone to take guarantee that the Ganga would be clean by 2020," he wondered and expressed his fear that the huge funds received from the World Bank would be exhausted again without any fruitful result. He, however, also held people equally responsible for the plight of the Ganges, who refused to stop dumping puja material and garbage into the national river.

Agrawal consistently campaigned actively for rivers. He had sat on a fast-unto-death to ensure that river Bhagirathi was allowed to flow in its natural form between Gangotri and Uttarkashi. He called off his first fast on the 18th day on 30 June 2008 after the Uttarakhand government promised in writing to suspend work on the Bhairon Ghati (380 MW) and Pala-Maneri (480 MW) hydropower projects (HPPs) on the Bhagirathi river, and the Central government also gave a written commitment to ensure perennial environmental flows in all stretches of Bhagirathi and to keep it alive. Charging the Central government with reneging on this commitment, Agrawal resumed his fast-unto-death on 14 January 2009. He broke the fast on the 38th day on 20 February 2009 when the Central government gave a written commitment to suspend all work on the Loharinag-Pala HPP with immediate effect.

Environmental activism[edit]


Despite numerous protests and representations by local citizens, a total of 6 hydroelectric power-plant dams were planned, seeking clearance or already under construction, on a 125 kilometres (78 mi) stretch of the Bhagirathi River's 2,525 kilometres (1,569 mi) length. This run is from the river's source at the Gangotri Glacier to the remote town of Uttarkashi in the Himalayan foothills. In pursuit of its energy intensive agenda for economic growth, the Indian Government had hastily pushed hydroelectric generating projects on the river, in the process destroying what many describe as the traditional Indian ethos of worshiping and living in harmony with nature.[4]


Agrawal campaigned to save the sacred River Ganges, the natural mother of Indian culture and civilisation, by insisting on maintaining the uninterrupted flow of Bhagirathi River in its natural form between Gangotri to Uttarkashi.


Agrawal started a fast on 13 June 2009 at Uttarkashi. His demand was very limited and specific i.e. to allow flow of the Ganges in its original channel in this 125 kilometres (78 mi) stretch from its origin. This is the only stretch left where the Ganges can still be seen undisturbed by man. The free-running of the river is a crucial element of its sacred status.[5]

Before his fast began in January, Agrawal said, "The water ...(of the Ganges) is not ordinary water to a Hindu. It is a matter of the life and death of Hindu faith".[5]

Allegation by Uttarakhand Minister

Diwakar Bhatt in press conference alleged that, "It may be that the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) of the US or Pakistan's Inter Service Intelligence (ISI) are behind these so-called anti-hydro projects in Uttarakhand, as by doing so they are hampering development of the state and ultimately of India. So by that way they are traitors and should be opposed by people too."[6]


In mid-June 2013, Agrawal began his fast in the wake of inactivity of National Ganga River Basin Authority. He stopped taking water on 21 September as his fast entered 101st day. Due to Government's apathy towards Agrawal's fast, three members of National Ganga River Basin Authority, Rajendra Singh, Ravi Chopra and Rashid Siddiqui resigned.[7]


In February 2018, Agrawal sent an open letter to the Prime Minister Narendra Modi urging him to stop environmentally unfriendly projects and to ensure what he calls 'aviral' flow of the river in the upper stretches of river Ganga.[8] He reminded the prime minister that "It will be four years in May when the Central government will complete four years in office but nothing has been done so far for the cause of Ganga".[9] Agrawal's letter to PM made some specific demands. These were:

  • Stop ALL the construction activities on the (a) Vishnugad-Pipalkoti project in Alaknanda river and (b) Phata-Byung and Singoli-Bhatwari on Mandakini river.
  • Immediate action to pass the Ganga protection act formulated by the committee headed Justice (Retired) Giridhar Malviy
  • Formation of a 'Ganga Bhaktha Parishad'.

Agrawal had mentioned in the letter that if no action is taken by Ganga Dussehra (22 June 2018), he will go on fast-unto-death. He wrote another letter to PM on 13 June. After receiving no response from the government, he began his fast on 22 June at Haridwar].[10][11]

On the 19th day of his fast, police evicted from his fast venue to AIIMS Rishikesh. Based on a petition filed by Agrawal against forced eviction, Uttarakhand high-court stepped in and said he needs to taken to hospital only if his health is in danger.[12][13]

The government responded to Agrawal's fast via Nitin Gadkari (Union Minister for Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation) but it failed to resolve the impasse. Agrawal alleges that government is focussing on cleaning river Ganga whereas his holistic vision ensures 'aviral-nirmal' Ganga.

On 13 August (53rd day of the fast), Agrawal has been admitted to AIIMS again.

On 9 October (109th day of the fast), he stopped drinking water and has refused to take medicine, water or any fluid/juice orally. However, he gave written consent to doctors for administering potassium orally and drip to provide 500ML saline fluid per day to maintain minimum fluid and electrolyte need of the body.[14]

On 11 October (111th day of the fast), he died from starvation, aged 86.

Dam stopped[edit]

Work on the Loharinag Pala Hydro Power Project was stopped when Agrawal came close to dying on the 38th day of his fast in protest of the harnessing of the river Bhagirathi. In a letter dated 19 February 2009 to Agrawal, the Ministry of Power stated that it had ordered immediate suspension of work on the Loharinag-Pala Hydropower Project on the Bhagirathi River. In response Agrawal ended his fast the next morning at 11:00 am.[15] The Indian government agreed to speed up its inquiry into how electricity could be generated without the flow of the Ganges being impeded.[5]

Agrawal's devotion to the River Ganges comes from his strong Hindu faith and his conviction that India is staring at an unprecedented ecological and cultural catastrophe. As a citizen and a patriot, he has made it his life's mission to recall India to its traditional reverence for nature and to share that wisdom with the "developed" world. His sense of duty allows him to do no less.[5]

National Ganges River Basin Authority[edit]

His campaign was taken up by leaders of the opposition party who called for stopping all dam constructions upstream of the river. The Government of India was quick to commit itself to ensuring perennial environmentally acceptable flows throughout the river and also informing Agrawal of the same. The Government then went a step ahead and declared the Ganges a National River[16] and set up the National Ganga River Basin Authority (NGRBA) as an empowered planning, implementing and monitoring authority for the Ganges.[17]

On 4 November 2009, in New Delhi, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, also the chairman of NGRBA, directed concerned officials to expedite setting up of a National Ganges River Basin Research Institute (NGRBRI). The Centre for Environmental Studies and Technology (CEST), Banaras Hindu University was named as the research institute to act as knowledge centre for collection and analysis of all relevant data regarding the Ganges basin.

Objectives of NGRBRI are:

  • To generate basic ecological data required by NGBRA for short and long-term planning of sustainable development of the Ganges River basin
  • To investigate the hydrology and pollution problems along the river basin
  • To study social, cultural and religious dimensions and develop eco-friendly technologies for sustainable development
  • To act as knowledge centre for collection and analysis of all relevant data regarding the Ganges basin
  • To develop long-term models for future planning for maintaining water quality and its sustainable varied uses[18]

On 10 February 2010, Union Minister of State (Independent Charge) for Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh, addressing the Ganges–Yamuna summit organised by the Nehru Memorial Library and Museum said: "I have said in the Parliament that India is a civilisation of rivers, and it should not become a land of tunnels." He said some new projects on Bhagirathi River would not be allowed. "There are no two opinions. There is just one mass opinion that the projects proposed on the river Bhagirathi, named Pala Maneri and Bhaironghati projects, will not be entertained any further by the government."[19]


  1. ^ "Dying for the Ganges: A Scientist Turned Swami Risks All". National Geographic Blog.
  2. ^ "'Ganga Activist' GD Agrawal, On Fast From About 4 Months For Clean Ganga, Dies at 87 - HeadLines Today". headlinestoday.org. Headlines Today. 11 October 2018. Retrieved 11 October 2018.
  3. ^ Noted environmentalist embraces sanyas Times of India – 4 July 2011
  4. ^ "Fast to death against Ganges dams Dis". Saving Iceland. 24 June 2008. Archived from the original on 24 July 2011. Retrieved 3 March 2010.
  5. ^ a b c d John Vidal (13 March 2009). "Himalayas hydroelectric dam project stopped after scientist on hunger strike against the project almost dies". reprint by International Rivers. Guardian News and Media Limited. Archived from the original on 2 October 2011. Retrieved 1 March 2010.
  6. ^ "Diwakar Bhatt Alleges Environmentalist Prof GD Aggarwal as CIA Agent". Archived from the original on 18 October 2010. Retrieved 4 October 2010.
  7. ^ "Ex-IIT Professor G D Agrawal gives up water after fasting for 101 days". Retrieved 23 September 2013.
  8. ^ "Letter to PM 24th Feb 2018". Gangatapasya.
  9. ^ Thapliyal, Jotirmay (28 February 2018). "Opposing dams on Ganga, octogenarian announces fast". The Tribune. India. Retrieved 19 January 2020.
  10. ^ "Environmentalist on fast after failing to get reply from fellow 'gangaputra' Modi". The Tribune.
  11. ^ गंगाजी और पन-बिजली. Ganga Today (in Hindi).
  12. ^ "Police evicts GD Agrawal from venue of hunger strike on 19th day of fast". United News of India.
  13. ^ "High Court steps-in, in GD Agrawal's stir, fast continues on 20th day". United News of India.
  14. ^ http://www.uniindia.com/g-d-agrawal-continues-fast-on-112th-day-at-aiims-rishikesh/india/news/1375495.html
  15. ^ Agrawal, G.D. (23 November 2009). "Agrawal's Fast Successful POSTED BY GD AGRAWAL". Press Release – 20.02.2009. Retrieved 3 March 2010.
  16. ^ Singh, Govind (21 November 2008). "EcoLocalizer River Pollution Control Strategy: Ganga Declared the "National River" of India". EcoLocalizer. Green Options Media. Retrieved 3 March 2010.
  17. ^ Singh, Binay (4 November 2009). "First anniversary of Ganga being declared as National River of India". The Times of India. Archived from the original on 11 August 2011. Retrieved 3 March 2010.
  18. ^ TNN (22 February 2010). "City to get National Ganga River Basin Research Institute". The Times of India. Archived from the original on 11 August 2011. Retrieved 3 March 2010.
  19. ^ ANI (10 February 2010). "Jairam Ramesh emphasises at the need of river conservation". Oneindia. Greynium Information Technologies Pvt. Ltd. Retrieved 3 March 2010.

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