New Delhi: G.D. Agarwal, who died on October 11 after a 112 day fast to ‘save the Ganga’, had written three letters to Prime Minister Narendra Modi. He urged that ‘Ganga putra’ Modi act to stall hydroelectric projects along the river to ensure it was restored to its free-flowing status.
According to information received through a Right to Information (RTI) application, the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) chose not to respond to Agarwal after even two months as the engineer-turned-activist remained on a fast unto death.
Nonetheless, Modi had been quick to offer condolences on Twitter after Agarwal’s passing – within hours, in fact. “Saddened by the demise of Shri GD Agarwal Ji. His passion towards learning, education, saving the environment, particularly Ganga cleaning will always be remembered. My condolences.”
Saddened by the demise of Shri GD Agarwal Ji. His passion towards learning, education, saving the environment, particularly Ganga cleaning will always be remembered. My condolences.
— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) October 11, 2018
In its RTI response to Ujjawal Krishnam, an activist with the NGO Citizens for Justice and Peace, the PMO acknowledged it received two of Agarwal’s letters addressed to the PM dated June 13 and June 23.
On August 20, the PMO forwarded the letter to the Ministry of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation (MoWR) and closed the complaint. The following note was attached with the letter: “A letter/gist of oral representation dated 23/6/2018 received in this office from Shri Swami Gyanswarup Sanand is forwarded herewith for action as appropriate. Reply may be sent to petitioner and a copy of the same may be uploaded on the portal.” (The name in the letter was an alias of Agarwal.)
According to Swami Shivanand Saraswati, Agarwal’s spiritual guru and the founder president of Matri Sadan, the ashram that was Agarwal’s home, no reply has been received from the MoWR so far.
‘Needed PM to respond’
In Agarwal’s letter dated June 13, he addressed Modi as ‘his younger brother’ and accused him of not acting or responding to any of his previous letters. He had sent his first letter in February. Agarwal also said that the Modi government was responsible for causing ‘harm’ to the Ganga.
He had demanded that a draft 2012 Bill that he had helped create for the Ganga’s conservation be enacted. He also asked that all proposed hydroelectric projects in the upper streams of the river be suspended. Third, he wanted all tree cutting and mining along the Ganga to be stopped as well.
“The letters were very clearly addressed to the Prime Minister,” Saraswati told The Wire. “They demanded that he take action, instead he just washed his hands off it and left Swamiji to die.”
Further, according to Saraswati, Gadkari had spoken to Agarwal over the phone in July after Uma Bharti, the Union minister for drinking water and sanitation, had paid him a visit. “Gadkari was very rude to Swamiji. He did not want to listen to what he had to say,” Saraswati said.
‘No authority to act’
Despite the PMO’s letter asking the ministry to “take action as appropriate”, the MoWR had said it couldn’t because it didn’t have the power. This emerged in a meeting that had been arranged in September with Agarwal’s representatives and other NGOs working to protect the Ganga.
The Wire spoke to three people who were present at the meeting. All confirmed that Gadkari had said that he did not have the power to act vis-à-vis fulfilling Agarwal’s chief demand: stalling the hydroelectric projects along the Ganga.
“The minister of water resources informed us that he doesn’t have authority to decide upon the cancellation of under-construction hydropower projects,” said Mallika Bhanot of Ganga Ahvaan, an Uttarakhand-based forum working on conserving the river.
Paritosh Tyagi, ex-chairman of the Central Pollution Control Board and co-drafter of the 2012 Bill, was also present at the meeting. “The minister said that he could only act on certain things and does not have the power to act on some demands like stopping the projects,” he told The Wire.
According to Bharat Jhunjhunwala, former professor of economics at IIT Bangalore, Gadkari had said that he could simply “try and redesign” the projects to minimise damage to the river. “And he said that he can’t do anything to stop the power projects,” Jhunjhunwala said. “But the ministry has done nothing on even redesigning the projects.”
Gadkari had also apparently remained non-committal on the two other demands that Agarwal had raised – end mining in the Ganga basin, and enact the 2012 Bill.
According to Tyagi, “He did say that they will stop sand mining in the Haridwar kumbh area. Even that notification has not been issued till today.”