G. D. Agrawal

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G. D. Agrawal
Swami Gyan Swaroop Sanand
G. D. Agrawal.jpg
G.D. Agrawal at a meeting in Varanasi at Sarv Seva Sangh, Rajghat in October 2011
Born 1932
Kandhla, Muzaffarnagar district, Uttar Pradesh, British Raj
Residence Chitrakoot, Madhya Pradesh
Nationality Indian
Education Civil Engineering Environmental Engineering
Alma mater IIT Roorkee, University of California at Berkeley
Occupation Environmental Engineer
Employer Government of India Central Pollution Control Board, Civil and Environmental Engineering at IIT Kanpur
Known for Stopping construction of dams on the Bhagirathi River in 2009
Title First Member-Secretary (CPCB), former Head of the Department (IIT)
Term 17 years at IIT Kanpur
Religion Hinduism

G. D. Agrawal alias Swami Gyan Swaroop Sanand (born 20 July 1932) is the doyen of environmental engineers in India[citation needed]. After a long career, he continues to teach and inspire students as an Honorary Professor of environmental sciences at the Mahatma Gandhi Chitrakoot Gramodaya Vishwavidyalaya, in Chitrakoot, Madhya Pradesh. He is notable for his successful fast in 2009 to stop the damming of the Bhagirathi River[1]

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.

He began his professional career as a design engineer in the Uttar Pradesh state Irrigation Department, and later obtained a PhD in environmental engineering from the University of California at Berkeley. He has authored many scientific publications. Agrawal was raised to be deeply religious and educated to be rigorously scientific.[1] In July 2011, he became a Hindu sannyasi and now he is known by his new name Swami Gyanswaroop Sanand.[2]


He was the first 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 is 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. He is an engineer's engineer, the person his peers turn to for solutions to difficult technical problems. At CPCB he was influential in shaping India's pollution control regulatory structure. He has been a member of various government committees shaping policy-making and administrative mechanisms to improve India's environmental quality.[1]


Agrawal's students remember him with admiration, awe and affection. In 2002, his former students at IIT-Kanpur conferred on him the Best Teacher Award. He has guided many Masters and Doctoral students who are now leaders in the field of environmental engineering and science. Among his prominent students was the late Anil Agarwal, the pioneering founder of the Centre for Science and Environment, New Delhi.

Agrawal has been committed to supporting rural development initiatives grounded in scientific methodology. He has helped mentor well-known development activists including: Dunu Roy (IIT Bombay,’67) of Hazards Centre, New Delhi, Ravi Chopra (IIT-Bombay,’68) of People's Science Institute, Dehra Doon and Rajendra Singh, a Magsaysay awardee and founder of Tarun Bharat Sangh.[1]


Agrawal lives a Gandhian lifestyle in his spartan, two-room cottage in Chitrakoot, Madhya Pradesh. He sweeps his own floors, washes his own clothes and cooks his own meals. He retains only a few possessions and dresses in handspun handwoven khadi cloth. These are the deliberate choices of a devout Hindu with respect for simplicity in living and reverence for nature.[1] 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 June 11. 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 is 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 Rs17 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 has always 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.[3]


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 2008 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.[4]

Before his fast began in January, Agarwal 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".[4]

He requested the Government of India and the State Government of Uttarakhand to stop construction of Hydro Electric projects in this stretch of river, especially the Loharinag Pala Hydro Power Project, so that river flow not be diverted through series of tunnels and reservoirs resulting in destruction of the ecology of the river and its self purifying properties. Indians across the world got sensitised to this issue due to the selfless resolve of Professor Agrawal and lent their support to him.[5]

He suspended his fast on 30 June after the Union Ministry of Power decided to appoint a high level expert group to investigate the technical issues pertaining to ensuring adequate environmental flows in all stretches of the Bhagirathi river and keeping it alive. The government gave written agreement to arrive at a mutually acceptable solution in three months. After six and a half months there was no solution shown by the Central Government, so Agrawal resumed his fast on 14 January 2009 in Hindu Mahasabha Bhawan, Near Birla Mandir, Mandir Marg, New Delhi.[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 September 21 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]

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.[8] The Indian government agreed to speed up its inquiry into how electricity could be generated without the flow of the Ganges being impeded.[4]

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.[4]

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 Agarwal of the same. The Government then went a step ahead and declared the Ganges a National River[9] and set up the National Ganga River Basin Authority (NGRBA) as an empowered planning, implementing and monitoring authority for the Ganges.[10]

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[11]

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."[12]


  1. ^ a b c d e Desh (21 May 2008). "Professor GD Agrawal's Fast unto death over Dam on Bhagirathi". Drishtikone. Retrieved 2 March 2010. 
  2. ^ Noted environmentalist embraces sanyas Times of India – 4 July 2011
  3. ^ "Fast to death against Ganges dams Dis". Saving Iceland. 24 June 2008. Retrieved 3 March 2010. 
  4. ^ a b c d John Vidal, environment editor (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. Retrieved 1 March 2010. 
  5. ^ a b Singh, Pavitra (18 January 2009). "Pavitra Sing Prof. Guru Das Agrawal resumes his fast to seek uninterrupted natural flow in the Holy Ganges from Gangotri to Uttarkas". Retrieved 3 March 2010. 
  6. ^ Diwakar Bhatt Alleges Environmentalist Prof GD Aggarwal as CIA Agent
  7. ^ "Ex-IIT Professor G D Agrawal gives up water after fasting for 101 days". Retrieved 23 September 2013. 
  8. ^ Agrawal, G.D. (23 November 2009). "Agrawal's Fast Successful POSTED BY GD AGARWAL". Press Release – 20.02.2009. Retrieved 3 March 2010. 
  9. ^ 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. 
  10. ^ Singh, Binay (4 November 2009). "First anniversary of Ganga being declared as National River of India". Times of India. Bennett, Coleman & Co. Retrieved 3 March 2010. 
  11. ^ TNN (22 February 2010). "City to get National Ganga River Basin Research Institute". Times of India. Bennett, Coleman & Co. Ltd. Retrieved 3 March 2010. 
  12. ^ ANI (10 February 2010). "Jairam Ramesh emphasises at the need of river conservation". Oneindia. Greynium Information Technologies Pvt. Ltd. Retrieved 3 March 2010. 

External sources[edit]