These saints put their lives at stake for Ganga and more are lined up

A list of activists who gave up food and water to ensure the river is clean

By Banjot Kaur
Last Updated: Tuesday 23 April 2019
Ganga warriors
Swami Atmabodhanand, GD Agarwal and Gopal Das Swami Atmabodhanand, GD Agarwal and Gopal Das

Ganga, the river which speaks volumes on flawed government plan, has had several activists fast for its cleanliness and flow. While seer of Haridwar’s Matri Sadan Swami Atmabodhanand is at it right now, several others have even lost their lives in the process.

Here’s a list of those who have put or are putting their lives at stake to demand preservation of the river:

Swami Atmabodhanand

After fasting for more than 180 days, he has decided to give up water from April 27, 2019 as his umpteen letters to Prime Minister Narendra Modi have failed to fetch a reply. He had last written to the PM on April 19, 2019 and has been on the fast since October 24, 2018, said Swami Dayanand from the Sadan.

Continuing with the legacy of the Sadan, this 27-year-old seer is demanding cancellation of all existing and proposed dams on the Ganga and its tributaries, prohibition of mining and forest cutting in its highest floodplains and constitution of autonomous Ganga Council and a special Ganga protection law.

“While we do understand that the last two long-term demands can’t be fulfilled as elections are underway, the first two can easily be done,” Swami Dayanand told Down To Earth.

The letter claimed that bleaching powder is being strewn in the river to decrease the level of faecal coliform bacteria and prove that Ganga is clean. This, in turn, is killing fishes, the letter said while alleging that the Rs 22,000 crore allocated to the ambitious Namami Gange programme was literally going down the drain.

“Construction of sewage treatment plants and cleaning ghats is doing no good to the river. Instead, what was required was to ensure uninterrupted flow of the river and nothing was done in that direction,” read the letter addressed to PM and copy-marked to UN Secretary General, the President, and Chief Justice of India.

Neither the government nor the local district administration has got in touch with him yet.

GD Agarwal

The renowned environmentalist, also known as Swami Gyan Swaroop  Sanand, died after 111-day fast in October 2018. He had also made similar demands.

In his letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on June 13, 2018, the 86-year old had demanded that all hydroelectric projects along the Alaknanda, Dhauli Ganga, Mandakini and Pindar rivers (the streams and rivers which lead to the making of the Ganga in Uttarakhand) be stopped to ensure natural flow of the river.

He had also demanded that mining be completely stopped here, especially in the Haridwar-Kumbh region.

Mera pranaant ho jaane se mujhe koi afsos nahi hoga. Par mere prano ka ant Ganga ko bachane ke prayaso ka ant nahi hoga (I will have no regrets even if I die in the course of saving the Ganga. The end of my life would not mean the end of efforts being undertaken to save the river),” said Agarwal, in an interview to Down To Earth the month before he died.

Also, it is not that these fasts have never moved governments. Jairam Ramesh, the then Union environment minister, heeded to demands of GD Agarwal in 2010. He did not let two hydel power projects — Bharon Ghati and Pala Maneri — start on the Bhagirathi and Loharinag Pala was stopped.

Gopal Das

The 40-year-old activist was on a fast from June 24, 2018 with a similar set of demands. After the death of Agarwal, Das had announced to shift the location of his fast to Matri Sadan, where Agarwal had been fasting.

But, before that he was shifted by authorities to AIIMS-Delhi on December 6, 2018 as his health deteoriated. “He disappeared after that. We don’t have any clue of his whereabouts. Even his family does not. They have also protested in Delhi pleading at least it should be known where he is. But we don’t know till date. We suspect he might have been killed,” Swami Dayanand said.


In 2014, Baba Nagnath Yogeshwar died in Varanasi after more than three months of fasting for a clean Ganga.

One of the first few saints to have died after days of fasting for aviral (uninterrupted) and nirmal (clean) Ganga was Swami Nigamanand. This 35-year-old saint had fasted for more than 100 days. His main demand was to stop mining in the floodplains of the river. A Bihar native, Swami Nigamananda died in Dehradun with the government hardly paying heed to his demands.

“It is true that the fasts are the most non-violent and effective ways to move the governments. But now we are also not sure as to how to deal with the present government. It has made up its mind that it won’t listen to seers fasting for the cause of the Ganga. And we lost a scientist like GD Agarwal. Now I fear about the fate of Swami Atmabodhanand,” Rajendra Singh, an environmentalist and Magsaysay Award winner, told Down To Earth.

 “I wonder if we can continue with such a strategy for a government that simply does not listen to us, unlike some of the previous ones. We might have to, at one time, evaluate if the loss of these lives means anything at all to this dispensation,” he added.

Swami Dayanand said two more seers are lined up to fast if Swami Atmabodhanand meets the same fate as Agarwal.

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