Obituary: Manoj Misra will always be remembered for his work on the Yamuna

Manoj Misra, convenor of Yamuna Jiye Abhiyan, who was suffering from COVID-19, died on June 4, 2023, after a prolonged illness

By Vivek Mishra
Published: Sunday 04 June 2023


Manoj Misra, the convenor of Yamuna Jiye Abhiyan who fought tirelessly to preserve and protect the Yamuna river and its floodplains, passed away on June 4, 2023, in Bhopal after suffering from a bout of COVID-19. He was 70.

Misra died on the same day as a ‘Yamuna Sansad’ or Yamuna Parliament was convened in Delhi for the revival of the river. A long human chain was formed to remind the people of the city to save the river or else perish.

Misra died at 12.40 pm on June 4. He may not have been active on the ground for a few months, but his concern for the environment continued. His messages on social media reaffirmed his support for people raising their voice for the environment.

His family, while breaking the news of his death from his Twitter handle, wrote in Hindi: 

I may or may not be there. But I will continue to emit my fragrance.

I would often watch him in the premises of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) with a bundle of court papers in his hand, waiting for the “rejuvenation of Yamuna” case to come up.

His eyes would sometimes stare at affidavits and sometimes at judges’ chairs from behind the spectacles resting on his white haired head and bearded face. Media personnel would ask him, “Sir, what will happen today?”

Misra, who had served as an Indian Forest Service officer for 22 years in what are now the states of Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, was a quiet person. He replied only to what he was asked.

He had become so habituated to attending court proceedings that no matter how much industries violated environmental rules or tried to confuse matters, he stood firm, unbroken and unbending. All in the fight to save the Yamuna.

In 1994, the Supreme Court took suo motu cognisance of pollution in the Yamuna. However, despite several orders, in the end, disappointing remarks were coming from the courtroom.

In the meantime, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) was formed in 2010 to hear environmental cases.

Misra visited the Yamuna floodplains in Delhi and their associated waterbodies on November 11, 2011. He was surprised that the river downstream was completely littered with garbage and construction debris.

And then, a bench headed by the then NGT chairman Justice Swatanter Kumar held a lengthy hearing while looking into the complaints in Misra’s petition.

Meanwhile, Misra continued to fight as part of long hearings in the courts. The mission of reviving the Yamuna was ingrained in him. He devoted every moment of his life to make the campaign for resusticating the river a movement.

On December 9, 2014, the NGT reserved its verdict on a petition seeking to convert the dirty Yamuna into a clean one.

Misra was hopeful that a good decision would come from the court to make the dirty Yamuna a clean one, which would also be implemented on the ground. The NGT gave its verdict on January 13, 2015. The judgment talked about making the Nirmal Yamuna Rejuvenation Plan 2017 a successful one.

Misra welcomed the verdict, but his fight was probably not over yet.

A year later, the controversial Art of Living event on the Yamuna floodplains not only challenged the Yamuna revival decision but also undermined the decades-long struggle to save the Yamuna.

Misra once again fought a court battle. As a result, the NGT imposed an initial fine of Rs 5 crore on Art of Living. This money was to be used to improve the floodplain.

Misra continued to fight for the implementation of the NGT’s 2015 decision to revive the Yamuna. Unfortunately, Delhi’s section of the Yamuna remains the same even today.

Be it on the telephone or on the field, whenever I met Misra, he was always aware of environmental problems and their solutions and shared them willingly.

The destruction of rivers used to trouble him deeply. He used to participate in the India River Forum held every year. He was also vocal about river mining, sand mining and concerns about rivers.

It is shocking to lose Misra to COVID-19 even as the World Health Organization recently declared an end to the international health emergency put in place in 2020. It is equally true that Misra will always spread his fragrance like an aromatic flower.

The fight for the revival of the Yamuna will be a true tribute to him.

Read the articles Manoj Misra had written for Down To Earth here 

Subscribe to Daily Newsletter :

Comments are moderated and will be published only after the site moderator’s approval. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name. Selected comments may also be used in the ‘Letters’ section of the Down To Earth print edition.