Indian environmental scientist holds “fast-unto-death” against damming Ganges River, India, 2008-10


To stop all hydroelectric dam projects on the Ganges River for 125 kilometers upstream of Uttarkashi.

Time period

April 14, 2008 to August, 2010



Location City/State/Province

Jump to case narrative


Professor G.D. Agarwal


Local inhabitants and supporters around the country. Other scientists and activists also fasted with him.

External allies

National Committee for Protection of Natural Resources (India)

Involvement of social elites

Not Known


Local Uttarakhand government and national government of India

Nonviolent responses of opponent

Not Known

Campaigner violence

Not Known

Repressive Violence

Not Known


National-Ethnic Identity



Group characterization

Professor GD Agarwal an environmental scientist. He was supported by local inhabitants and other scientists and activists

Groups in 1st Segment

G.D. Agarwal
Some fellow scientists and activists
Local and national supporters who did a day long fast
National Committee for Protection of Natural Resources

Groups in 3rd Segment

Nainital High Court

Additional notes on joining/exiting order

Approximately 5 months

Segment Length

Approximately 5 months

Success in achieving specific demands/goals

3 out of 6 points


1 out of 1 points


2 out of 3 points

Total points

6 out of 10 points

Notes on outcomes

The government stopped work on at least one dam and seemed to have stopped work on at least 2 others. Time will tell if the Ganges is left to flow freely.

It is not clear how many people have joined as supporters of Agarwal, but he was able to get a high court decision in his favor, and was visited and supported by many others.

Database Narrative

The Ganges River is a sacred river in Hinduism and an important aspect of India’s cultural history and current society. Most of this river is already polluted or dammed for electricity. There is a 125-km stretch at the beginning of the river, part of the Baghirathi tributary, which was mostly untouched. In 2008 the Indian and regional Uttarakhand governments had plans for 6 hydroelectric dams in this stretch of the river, some of which were already in construction.

The dams were designed to provide energy for economic development in the area, but would disrupt the natural flow of the river, which would have negative environmental and cultural effects by destroying habitats and religious history. The dams would also be built in an earthquake zone, endangering local inhabitants if an earthquake were to destroy the dams.

Professor G.D. Agarwal, a seventy-six year old environmental scientist, had been fighting the construction of these dams since early in the planning process. Agarwal was a civil engineer and environmental science professor and understood the effects of such hydroelectric dams. Also a devout Hindu, his arguments against the dams were both religious and environmental.

On April 14, 2008, Agarwal sent a letter to the government announcing his plan to “fast-unto-death” unless all works that disturb the natural flow of the Ganges River upstream of the town of Uttarkashi were stopped. The hunger strike, as well as a vow of silence, would begin on June 13, the “birthday” celebration of the Ganges River.

Agarwal began on the stated day from the banks of the Ganges, joined by groups of supporters who also held a day-long fast in support. Thousands throughout India also participated in this show of support. Several other activists and scientists fasted with Agarwal for a longer period of time. He also had the support of the National Committee for the Protection of Natural Resources, which urged the Indian Prime Minister to stop the hydroelectric projects on the Ganges River.

The Chief Minister of the Uttarakhand government said that he would stop the six hydroelectric projects if the state’s energy needs could be met by other means. On June 19, the Chief Minister announced that he would stop the building two dams already in construction. Professor Agarwal said he would continue his hunger strike until the Ganges could flow freely and the water above the Tehri Dam was released.

Two days later the Uttarakhand government forced Agarwal from the region so that he had to continue his strike from Delhi.

On June 30, the 18th day of the fast, Agarwal called off his strike after receiving a written promise from the government stating that they would stop work on two of the six dams and had created a committee to investigate the effects of the proposed dams.

After six months, the government had not followed through on their promise and Agarwal found the committee’s investigation to be insufficient. On January 15, 2009, Agarwal resumed his “fast-unto-death.” As a result of this second fast the local government agreed to stop work on a third dam and the national government promised to increase inquiry into the dams’ environmental effects. Professor Agarwal ended this strike on the 38th day.

Despite the Nainital High Court’s decision against the construction of this third dam and the government’s written promise to Agarwal, work continued on the dam through the summer. Agarwal, therefore, announced he would take up his fast for a third time. He planned to begin on August 5, 2009, but agreed to urgings of local inhabitants to delay the strike for one month.

It was not until mid-July 2010 that Agarwal began his third hunger strike. Agarwal held this strike for 31 days and ended it when the government finally reversed its decision to continue building the third dam.

As of March 2011, Professor Agarwal and many other water experts, environmentalists, and citizens were in the midst of drafting a National River Policy to protect the free flowing of rivers in India. Time will tell the effectiveness of this new policy and if the government continues to refrain from building more dams at the Baghirathi at the beginning of the Ganges River.


Gandhi’s Independence Movement (1)


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"India Scraps Controversial Dam On River Bhagirithi In The Himalayas." TendersInfo (Mumbai, India). 23 Aug 2010. Accessed through NewsBank on 23 Jun 2011.

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Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy

Max Rennebohm, 23/06/2011