Monday, May 19, 2008

Appeal from Ravi Chopra, PSI

May 14, 2008

Dear All:

I am writing to inform you of a radical decision taken by Dr G.D. Agrawal, India's pre-eminent environmental quality scientist and a legendary Professor (and HoD) of Civil & Environmental Engineering at IIT-Kanpur (See attached biosketch).

Pained by the unrelenting destruction of the Ganga river, especially by a series of dams in its upper reaches, Dr Agrawal has decided to go on a fast-unto-death to oppose its continuing desecration. His conviction that we are staring at an unprecedented ecological and cultural catastrophe comes from his powerfully logical mind. (See also his critique of the proposed dams on the Bhagirathi river)

In a letter written to a few people close to him, Dr Agrawal explained his decision saying, "As you are aware, R. Bhagirathi Ganga has a very special place in Indian culture, thought and tradition. In the past few years, however, the continuity, quantity, quality and regime of flows are being disrupted for generation of hydro-electricity like all other rivers. Already in the reach downstream of Maneri, long stretches of Bhagirathi remain waterless for long periods. In the near future this may become the state of the entire river. As a serious student of environment sciences and as a faithful Hindu, this is hard for me to swallow. I strongly believe that at least Bhagirathi upstream of Uttarkashi should be spared of any works that disturb its natural flow-regime, ecology, purity or piety and, after brooding over it for several months, I have decided to oppose such works with all the might I have……. So after deep deliberation I have decided to "fast-unto-death" to oppose the destruction of this ecological marvel and the epitome of Hindu cultural faith."

Several scientists and activists whom he has mentored over the years have come together (See attached list) to try and mobilize public opinion to pressurize the governments of India and Uttarakhand to abandon the construction of all dams on the Bhagirathi river, upstream of Uttarkashi. We seek your support in this endeavour. Some ways in which you can do this are listed below:

(1) Help disseminate news of GD's fast and the underlying issues, as widely as possible. (I will be grateful if you can copy the mailing list to us.)

(2) Write articles for newspapers, including your local and vernacular media. (Please send us copies of the published material.)

(3) Write letters to the Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, Mrs Sonia Gandhi, Chairperson UPA, the Union Ministers for Water Resources (Prof. Saifuddin Soz) and Power (Shri Sushil Kumar Shinde) and the Chief Minister of Uttarakhand urging then to abandon the construction of all the new dams on the Bhagirathi upstream of Uttarkashi. Please release the letters to the media and send us copies.

(4) Mobilize local support groups – common people, women, students, scientists and other professionals, Ganga devotees, nature clubs, etc. Please let us know if you are interested in being part of a coordination group in your state.

(5) Mobilize political support for the demand raised by Dr Agrawal.

(6) Organize signature campaigns/online petitions.

(7) Demonstrate your support for the issues that Dr Agrawal is raising. Mobilize groups of people to sit on one-day fasts and ensure that the media covers them. (Please send us news reports.)

(8) Take delegations to meet high officials and decision-makers to lobby for the issues raised by Dr Agrawal and his basic demand.

These are just some initial ideas that have come to our minds. Please let us know what else needs to be done and can be done. We welcome your ideas. Also keep us informed of what all you are doing. If you need more information from us, please do not hesitate to contact us. I am attaching embedded Hindi fonts with this mail, as one of attachments is in Hindi. We may be able to provide you photographs of G.D. Agrawal and the dry stretches of the Ganga, sample leaflets/letters/petitions/posters in Hindi and English in a week or ten days.

Personally, I think that we have an uphill task before us, given the prevailing apathy and the obdurate governments at the centre and the state. Hence your active support is essential. I look forward to a positive and quick response from you.

Ravi Chopra
Peoples' Science Institute
252/I Vasant Vihar, Dehra Doon 248006
Uttarakhand. INDIA

phone: +91 135 2773849; 2763649
fax: +91 135 2760334

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Dr. G. D. Agrawal Scientist and Rishi

Dr. G. D. Agrawal Scientist and Rishi

Meeting Dr. G. D. Agrawal in his spartan, two room cottage in Chitrakoot, Madhya Pradesh, you would never guess what an accomplished and distinguished scientist he is – first Member-Secretary of the Government of India’s Central Pollution Control Board, former Head of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at IIT Kanpur and a PhD from the University of California, Berkeley. The list goes on and on.

Yet this eminent professional sweeps his own floors, washes his own clothes and cooks his own meals. He retains only a few possessions and dresses in homespun khadi. At the age of 76, his main mode of transport within Chitrakoot is a bicycle and when he travels further afield, he goes by ordinary bus and second-class train. These are the deliberate choices of a devout Hindu whose deepest values are for simplicity and reverence for nature. Dr G.D. Agrawal is the doyen of environmental engineering professionals in India. Well past retirement, he continues to teach and inspire students as an Honorary Professor of Environmental Sciences at the Mahatma Gandhi Chitrakoot Gramodaya Vishwavidyalaya, in Chitrakoot (M.P.).

Dr Agrawal is a much sought-after EIA (Environmental Impact Assessment) consultant and 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 senior professionals turn to for solutions to difficult technical problems. At CPCB he was instrumental in shaping India’s pollution control regulatory structure. He has been a member of various official committees for policy-making and administrative mechanisms to improve India’s environmental quality.

Dr Agrawal is a legendary and inspiring teacher whose students remember him with awe, admiration and affection. In 2002, his former students at IIT-Kanpur conferred on him the Best Teacher Award. He has guided scores of Masters and Doctoral students who are now leaders in the field of environmental engineering and science. Among his more prominent students was the late Anil Agrawal, the trail-blazing founder of the Centre for Science and Environment, New Delhi.

Dr Agrawal has been deeply committed to supporting rural development initiatives grounded in scientific methodology. Among others, he has helped mentor well-known development activists like Dunu Roy (IIT-Bombay,’67) of The Hazards Centre, New Delhi, Dr Ravi Chopra (IIT-Bombay,’68) of People’s Science Institute, Dehra Doon and Rajendra Singh, a Magsaysay awardee and founder of Tarun Bharat Sangh.

Born in a farming family in Kandhla (Muzaffarnagar district, U.P.) in 1932, he did his schooling locally and graduated in Civil Engineering from the University of Roorkee (now IIT-Roorkee).

He started his career as a Design Engineer in the Irrigation Department, Uttar Pradesh and later obtained a Ph.D. in Environmental Engineering from the University of California at Berkeley. He has dozens of scientific publications to his credit. Dr Agrawal is both deeply religious and rigorously scientific.

His passionate devotion to the River Ganga comes from his strong Hindu faith; his conviction that we are staring at an unprecedented ecological and cultural catastrophe comes from his powerfully logical mind. As a citizen and a patriot, he has made it his life’s mission to recall India to its glorious traditional reverence for nature and to share that wisdom with the “developed” world. His sense of his duty allows him to do no less.