By: Satyakam Bharti
An occasional ripple in the rising waters of Tehri Dam still reminds people in the area about the old Tehri village that was finally given a jal-samadhi some time back, of course a forced one. The 9,290 families spread across 107 villages of which 27 villages were completely submerged and 80 partially may have turned silent spectators to their own fate, but the truth remains that Bhagirathi never wanted to be dammed. No river does, not the heavenly Ganga.
The three-decade-long movement against the Tehri power project, led by legendary environmentalist Sunder Lal Bahuguna, appears to have been rendered meaningless by the ‘power’ hungry establishment, but the dried-up river bed across the mighty river’s journey through the Himalayas has almost proved them right. A catastrophe awaits the country, but before that there is this one final warning call – a fast onto death by ‘saint scientist’ and environmentalist Dr GD Agarwal. A former head of the department of civil and environmental engineering at IIT Kanpur and also the first member-secretary of the Government of India’s Central Pollution Control Board, Dr Agarwal (76) has announced to be on fast from June 13 till the time the government stops all construction work to dam the Ganga for hydro-electric power projects, wherever it is being done.
The history of protests against big hydro power projects in India is strewn with numerous instances of environmentalists like Sunder Lal Bahuguna and Medha Patkar adopting this extreme form of Gandhian way of resistance. But the fact that the Tehri project and also the Narmada project are today reality does in no way convey that they failed in their endeavour. The complexities of the issues that had come to existence as work on these projects progressed had made it important that each issue be addressed separately and that is what they did once it became clear that the projects would be coming up.
This time the fight is not for or against a project but for a river considered the lifeline and spiritual inspiration of a country of billion people. First it was the Tehri dam, then the Maneri Bhali II at Uttarkashi and now a series of five dams being built between the Gangotri glacier and Uttarkashi for generation of hydropower. At all these sites water is stored, then released periodically, through tunnels at suitable locations where power houses are built, back into the stream channel. The same is repeated again (and again) further downstream. The result has been that in long stretches and over considerable period of time the Ganga has been laid ‘naked’. And that’s what agitates the devout Hindu in Dr Agarwal and also undoubtedly the most revered environmental scientist in the country. As a result, he has asked the government to at least not to interfere with the flow of the sacred river from its origin till Uttarkashi, if not beyond. It’s beyond doubt that not many people have the resolve and will power to be at the forefront of the fight for such a cause. Perhaps Dr Agarwal may be among the last from the tribe, therefore it may actually be one last chance to save the sacred Ganga and also our own spiritual and temporal existence.
The least we can do to support the cause is to sign an online petition at http://www.petitiononline.com/petition.html.