Waking up to the tragic news of the loss of one of India’s most devoted environmentalists on World Environment Day was a cruel turn of fate. Manoj Misra, convener of Yamuna Jiye Abhiyan and a lifelong crusader for the cause of rivers in the country, passed away on June 4th after a protracted illness.
A former officer in the Indian Forest Service, Manoj has been known most prominently for his unrelenting fight against pollution in the Yamuna river and the human-driven degradation of the floodplains. Environmental reporters and activists familiar with him recall the many times he would be seen in Court premises, spending endless hours poring over legal papers, waiting patiently for the next hearing to begin.
At Oorvani Foundation, our first brush with Manoj was in 2014, when we reached out to him with a request for republishing his blog on India Together — a sharp, incisive analysis of what the interest shown by various international players, including but not limited to the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), could mean for the future of the Yamuna Action Plan III. Thereafter, whenever we reached out to him for a quote for an article, or for insights, or even just an update — for example, during his court battle against the Art of Living Foundation for its controversial event on the Yamuna floodplains — Manoj never parried, nor delayed. It was as if he was only too willing to engage and share, as long as it was for the cause of the environment.
Not just the Yamuna, Manoj was also strongly vocal about the general management of waste and drainage management in the capital. In October 2021, shortly after Delhi had experienced one of its wettest monsoons and seen heavy urban floods, he was scathing in his criticism of the way authorities had historically managed drainage in the cities. ” “No one is bothered over who should take responsibility for the drains,” he told our reporter, “Each organisation passes the buck to others like PWD, DDA, DJB and this goes on till the next rainy season with the same recurring flood-related problems. No single authority has accountability.”
People like Manoj Misra hold a mirror to the ecological reality in our cities. They try diligently to act as our conscience keepers. His loss will create a void in the relatively small world of environmental changemaking. Continuing to shine the light on the causes he believed in is the best tribute we can perhaps pay him.
Satarupa Sen Bhattacharya is Managing Editor, Citizen Matters.