Ask policy planners in Uttarakhand the need for so many dams to be constructed in the State, and they will tell you the structures are necessary for power generation and prosperity. But the policy has backfired terribly
This March, I had the occasion to visit Srinagar, Garhwal. There I witnessed some of the immediate consequences of building cascades of dams for the pecuniary benefits of the State (read, local officials). When I argued, “Why were there so many dams? I was told that, if the Union Government does not go for dams and generate power, it would have to annually release Rs 10,000 crore to Rs 15,000 crore as Central assistance. The Union Government wants power and the State, hard cash; dams bring a win-win situation. But what about the rivers which, at some places, have started disappearing?
Projects currently underway were supposed to increase the hydro-power capacity of the State to 12,235MW. A total of 95 hydro-power projects were being built or planned on different rivers converging in the Alaknanda and Bhagirathi basin of Uttarakhand. Nobody really cared if environmentalists like former IIT professor GD Agrawal or before him Sunderlal Bahuguna were opposing the wild contagion of concrete infrastructures. They were labeled ‘anti-development’; ‘development’ being the new god of the Himalayas.
It is not that the officials were unaware that since 2005, when Tehri dam’s reservoir filled up, the flow of the Bhagirathi had reduced drastically. I then wrote a note: “When there will no more rivers to worship, no more jobs for the local population, people will have to migrate to the cities.” My friend Michel Danino’s book, The Lost River: On the Trail of the Sarasvati, is a mind-opener on the fate of the mythic Saraswati river. Taking into account the latest research in fields as different as satellite imagery, archeology, linguistics, paleontology or mythology, Danino has explained: “The Indian subcontinent was the scene of dramatic upheavals a few thousand years ago. The Northwest region entered an arid phase, and erosion coupled with tectonic events played havoc with river course. One of them (the Sarasvati) disappeared.” Now, humanity has progressed; it can build its own tectonic events!
After the June 16 torrential rains, we have not lost rivers (though the course of some have changed), but in several cases the wild construction of dams has triggered much more destruction, increasing the misery of the locals. A few days after the downpour, The Hindu reported: “The national highway between Dehradun and Srinagar [Garhwal] is currently broken at Byasi and Devprayag, with silt measuring upto 10 ft covering an enormous area, in Uttarakhand’s Pauri district. According to the residents of Shakti Vihar, an area in Srinagar, this disaster occurred on June 17 at around 3am when the Srinagar dam authorities lifted the dam gates.” A resident told the newspaper: “The rainfall on June 16 was so much that the water reached up to our knees, and to add to it, the dam authorities released water without a prior warning.” Did they panic? Enquiries, if any, will tell us. The water from upstream swept the debris lying around the dam construction site and deposited a huge amount of silt tens of kilometers downstream. The water level was three to four metres higher than any previous floods.
The question asked by each commentator was: Was it predictable? In 2009, after studying the hydro-electric projects in Uttarakhand, a State Audit of the Comptroller and Auditor-General explained: “With the creation of Uttarakhand in November 2000, its hydro-power potential was recognised as key to the development of the State. The Government chalked out an ambitious plan to harness its hydro-power potential through the concerted efforts of both the State and the private sector.” A State policy was formulated in October 2002; with the dams, the needs of the State but also those of the ‘starved northern grid’ could be taken care of. According to the CAG report, most of the projects faced problems associated with land acquisition, forest clearances and enhancement in project capacities. But did anybody read the report? Certainly not the planners and their contractors — they were too busy making money. Indeed, ‘dam is money’, whether in Uttarakhand, in Sikkim or in Arunachal Pradesh.
The CAG had warned: “The State’s policy on hydro-power projects was silent on the vital issue of maintaining downstream flow in the diversion reach, …physical verification of four out of five operational projects, showed that river-beds downstream had almost completely dried up.” A new Saraswati in the making! The Auditors also remarked: “Negligence of environmental concerns was obvious as the muck generated from excavation and construction activities, was being openly dumped into the rivers contributing to increase in the turbidity of water.” It has now happened on a large scale after the June 16 and 17 torrential rains.
ForThe Hindu article, a resident told the reporter: “Though residents were saved, cattle were killed under the silt. Quintals of fish that the river brought along are also rotting under the debris.” It appears that every person passing by the site could smell the rotten flesh. The CAG had concluded: “The individual and cumulative impact on the downstream river flow should be seriously considered to ensure that the projects do not result in disastrous impact on the environment.” Now, it is too late. Yet, it was supposed to be a win-win situation!
As information triggers through about the Himalayan devastation, news of the Vishnuprayag Hydro-electric Project was posted on the blog of two well-known environmentalists, Vimalbhai and Briharshraj Tadiyal. Remember, Vishnuprayag is one of the Panch Prayags (five confluences) of the Alaknanda river, and lies at the confluence of Alaknanda and Dhauliganga between Joshimath and Badrinath. It is located in Chamoli district of Uttarakhand. According to legend, Rishi Narada had a vision of Vishnu while meditating there. Of course, all this is not real, it is only mythology. Concrete alone is real nowadays. The environmentalists wrote: “When the waters rose, dam authorities failed to open all the gates of the dam. Due to this, a two km long reservoir was formed upstream of the dam. Pressure from the water broke the dam and went on to wipe out the Lambagad village market.” In 2012 already, some shops in Lambagad had been washed away when water was released inadvertently by the dam authorities. This time, the deluge from the upper reaches of Alaknanda buried the 400 MW Vishnupyrag HEP. Will the Government of Uttarakhand continue with its dam policy? Will politicians and ‘developers’ resist getting rich quickly?
Tragically, the same situation is bound to happen, probably on a larger scale, in Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh. And what about the string of dams being built by the Chinese on the Yarlung Tsangpo (Siang/Brahmaputra) in Tibet? And if China constructs its purported mega-dam, where will the debris go? Will the situation be different on the Roof of the World than in Uttarakhand? It is probably worse due to the higher seismicity.
Has Mr Shivshankar Menon, the National Security Adviser, discussed the issue with his Chinese counterpart during their recent meeting in Beijing?”
Gaurang G. Vaishnav
Swami Nigamanandji’s death due to fasting is a big shock. While politicians play one upmanship and try to find advantage even in death, what is disturbing is that practically no one knew about Swami Nigamanandji’s fast. Why the media did not pick up on this story for four long months is a question we need to ask. Why VHP did not highlight it? I do not know if they did but I have not seen any reports on it.
What is happening with our religious places which are also our cultural heritage sites is very troublesome. Whether it is the quarrying in the Ganga basin in Haridwar, building of a dam on Gangaji in earthquake prone area or illegal mining of Vrajbhumi, what is happening is the permanent loss of history and cultural heritage. This is no less than the menace of corruption and black money. The fight against corruption and black money would be won some day but by the time our nation wakes up to the disaster of ruins visited on our historical and cultural places, if it ever does, it would be too late. We can blame the Muslims invaders for vandalizing our shrines and centers of learning and rightly so, but who do we have to blame but our own Hindu people and politicians for the naked aggression on our heritage because of their insatiable greed?
I am grieved by the death of Swami Nigamanandji but I have come to a conclusion (and Dr. Subramanian Swamy said the same thing when Baba Ramdev broke his fast) that you can use fast as a weapon only against those who have a heart. In today’s aasuric and adharmic world, one has to use the appropriate weapons as were used by Shree Krishna and Pandavas. I am glad that Shree Krishna did not advice Yudhisthir to go on fast against Kauravas. Come to think of it, how many instances you can find in our scriptures where people went on fast to right a wrong?
Gandhiji made fasting fashionable but someone rightly said that Gandhiji was successful because his adversary were Britishers; had he tried to fast against Hitler, he would have been dead long time ago.
I do not care for what Digvijay Singh says because he is no better than a puppy dog of Madam Sonia. He has no credibility to pass judgment on what Hindus are doing after calling Ramdevji a thug and referring to bin Laden as Osamaji. The Uttarakhand government did move Swami Nigamanandji to a hospital, just as they did with Baba Ramdev. They should have paid serious attention to Swami Nigamanandji’s demands. It is a matter of great shame and pain that in free(?) and democratic (?), saints die because of total indifference of people in power to genuine grievances of people.
So far as the state government not stopping the quarrying is concerned, I would not pass a judgment without having all the information. When the central government is dragging its feet nay, putting all kind of road blocks in the path of having an effective Lokpal bill and bringing back the black money stashed abroad, why should we expect something different from any state government? They take their clue from their counterparts in New Delhi.
May Swamiji’s soul rest in peace and may his sacrifice not go in vain.
June 06, 2011 8:48:17 AM
Vikram Rautela/Sunil Kumar | Haridwar/Jolly Grant
Satyagrah shifts to Haridwar
Yoga guru Baba Ramdev has announced that he would continue with his fast at Patanjali Yogapeeth in Haridwar after being returned from UP-Uttarakhand border enroute to Delhi. He announced that he would visit Delhi after the 15-day externment was over. Equating the police raid with the action by the Communist Government at Tiananmen Square in China, Baba told the media here that even the British Government never handled Gandhian protests in the manner that the Manmohan Government had done. He claimed attempts were made to buy him over and he would reveal the details at opportune time.
Reaching Patanjali Yogapeeth at noon on Sunday after the midnight crackdown at his protest site in the national Capital, a visibly shaken yoga guru alleged that there was a conspiracy to kill him. Claiming that he fears for his life, Ramdev said, “If anything happens to me, Sonia and Congress will be responsible for it.”
Attacking Congress president Sonia Gandhi while narrating the Sunday morning’s incident, Ramdev said, “She is running the Government by remote-control. Though she is daughter-in-law of this country, she does not love the citizens of this country. This was proved by the barbarism and atrocities inflicted by the police on innocent people, including a large number of women and children in the early hours of Sunday.”
Ramdev rejected the Government’s charge that he misused the permission given to him for a yoga camp at the ground, saying his agitation was also part of yogic elements. Ramdev accused the Central Government of betraying him and trying to kill him. “They wanted to kidnap me and kill me or make me disappear,” a teary-eyed and sore-throated Ramdev said, while addressing a Press conference in Patanjali Yogapeeth, wearing the same white-coloured woman salwar kameez which he tried to use as a camouflage and escape from the excesses of the Delhi Police.
He also accused the Government and Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal of cheating him. “Kapil Sibal is a liar. He cheated and misled us,” Ramdev said, adding that Acharya Balkrishna was forced to sign the letter about ending the fast by June 6. “They went back on their word to start a physical and technical investigation into the amount of black money stashed abroad because their hands are not clean. In the past few years of Congress rule at the Centre, at least `40 lakh crore of ill-gotten money has been laundered through the Mauritius route,” said Baba.
Calling police action inhuman, Ramdev said, “The atrocities unleashed over one lakh people were inhuman and barbaric. They did not even spare women and children, who were dragged and beaten up right in front of my eyes.”
Ramdev accused the Government of not being serious about discussing issues of corruption and said when he stood his ground a “scheming and cunning” Kapil Sibal cheated him. “He told us that if Anna Hazare shared dais with us the talks with the Government will break down,” said Baba on the pressure which was brought on him by the Government.
Telling that how he tried to escape the “brutalities” at Ramlila Maidan by wearing a white women’s attire, Ramdev at times almost broke into tears as he alleged that he was nearly strangled with his scarf by the policemen. He even showed the swelling on his neck.
Calling June 4 the worst night of his life, Ramdev said, “I get goose bumps, when I think about the incident. The police action on more than one lakh innocent people is a blot on democracy and a black day will be observed across the country on Sunday and Monday against this.” Ramdev also alleged that there was a conspiracy to arrest him and eliminate him in an encounter. “The Government was planning to do another Jallianwala Bagh on Saturday,” he said.
The yoga guru claimed that they were pressurised to give the letter about ending the fast by June 6. “We were told the otherwise we will have to face dire consequences,” he said. Asked about allegations raised against him by Congress general secretary Digvijay Singh, he termed them as “baseless and irresponsible”. “I am serving the people for the past 20 years. The donations given to me by people is not black money, but the fruit of their labour and hard work. I have maintained account of all these donations,” he said.
On accusations of RSS remote-controlling his agitation, he said his campaign had got support from various quarters, including TDP chief Chandrababu Naidu. “What is the problem if someone supports us? They (Government) should rather answer why all these happened,” he said when persistently asked about Sangh Parivar backing.
Clad in white lady’s outfit, Ramdev was welcomed by his enthusiastic supporters at the Patanjali Yogapeeth with garlands and a shower of rose petals. Ramdev was driven to his ashram after being flown in a special flight from Delhi to the Jolly Grant Airport near Dehradun. Baba Ramdev was flown here on Sunday from Delhi by a special plane after police swooped down at Ramlila Maidan and tried to break his hunger strike at the Ramlila Maidan in a mid-night operation.
On his arrival at the Jolly Grant Airport near Dehradun, Ramdev, who was alone escorted by a DCP, an ACP and a Sub Inspector of the Delhi Police, was received by Dehradun SP (Rural) GC Dhyani around 11 am. To avoid media interaction, police had brought vehicle inside the airport to receive Baba from the Delhi Police on the tarmac itself.
As they received Baba from their Delhi Police counterpart, Dhyani asked “where should I take you?” To which Baba replied, “I want to go to Patanjali Yogapeeth.” SP Dhyani again asked that the media wanted to talk to him to which Baba said, “I will speak to them in Patanjali.” While coming out of the airport he waived to mediapersons present as his cavalcade of three vehicles sped away to Haridwar.