11th October 2018 had marked the unfortunate death of Guru Das Agrawal also known as Sant Swami Sanand, Sant Swami Gyan Swaroop Sanand was an Indian environmental engineer, religious leader, monk, environmentalist activist, professor, and he was the Patron of Ganga Mahasabha founded by Madan Mohan Malviya in 1905. Known as Swami Gyan Swaroop Sanand after he took vows to become a Hindu ascetic some years ago, Agrawal was no ordinary protestor, nor a fringe environmentalist. He was an academician, holding the chair at the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology in Kanpur, in one of the finest technical institutes of India. He served as the board of the National Ganga River Basin Authority and was the first member secretary of the Central Pollution Control Board. He has been engaged by the government at various levels to advise on the health of rivers.
In furtherance of his demands, flow of the rivers was to be maintained to curb pollution, that encroachments along the riverbanks be removed, and a special law be enacted to deal with pollution and encroachment of the river,.On 22 June 2018, he had addressed a letter to the government that he will go on fast-unto-death if sanctity of river Ganga is not preserved. 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. There were half-hearted attempts by the government to break the ice, but it did not yield any results and ultimately he died of starvation on 111th day of his fast.
This was not the first time that he had raised his voice against degradation of river Ganga 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.
Prof Agrawal had executed a will donating his body after his death to the Department of Anatomy, All India Institute of Medical Sciences, Rishikesh (AIIMS, Rishikesh) for teaching and research purposes. His followers wanted to have the body for ‘antim darshan’, which was allowed by the High Court of Uttarakhand for three days. This was contested by the AIIMS, Rishikesh on the ground that the body could start decomposing in the process, but on a Sunday when no teaching activity is undertaken 10 followers subject to a maximum limit of 50 followers may be allowed to have ‘darshan’ within the hospital for nearly an hour. This setup would be in place for 10 consecutive Sundays.
By – Anubhav Bijalwan