A note by Matu Jansangathan, an Uttarakhand-based people’s organization, on the visit of MoEFCC committee to assess dam projects on Ganga:
On 10th December, a committee consisting of 5 members reached Devpryag without prior information to the local people. Whereas local people were unaware about the arrival of the committee, local contractors were present there. People were waiting at Devpryag, where Bhagirathi and Alaknanda meet, becoming the National River Ganga. Committee members asked people about their grievances about dams.
Appearing before the committee, Rajendra Negi and Sudershan Sah of Matu Jansangthan strongly put forward their points. They argued why big dams should not be built and gave details of the impact of already constructed dams. A representation addressed to the secretary of Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC) was handed over to the committee. A group of Srinagar people also argued against big dams on Ganga. A group of local contractors, who were well informed about the companies involved in building dams, sided with the people, putting forward their objections.
The Matu Jansangathan petition narrated why big dam projects should not come up on the National River Ganga. It also handed over three books describing about religious places in and around Devpryag and about the disaster caused to them by dams. A member of the committee asked Matu Jansangathan representatives to introduce to it people who have signed the petition, but refused to take the books provided by them, saying, “We will not take these books, can keep them personally”.
Objections, doubts and suggestions in the petition
- People came to know that a committee of the MoEFCC was reaching Devprayag through a Hindi newspaper on 9th Other than this, no information to the local people about the committee’s subject and work area, or about the time period for which the committee was to assess the projects, or to whom it was going to meet, was available.
- Devprayag is known to be the origin of the National River Ganga, where Alaknanda Ganga and Bhagirathi Ganga confluence. The religious and cultural belief of Gangaji cannot be assessed by this kind of confusion.
- Uttarakhand is the maternal home of Gangaji, which was neglected by dam projects, and this became the reason behind the 2013 calamity. Due to dams over on the tributaries of Ganga, the disaster level in 2013 increased.
Because of Srinagar dam, residents of Bhaktiyana area have seen floods all over.
- Because of the broken Vishnuprayag Dam seven villages in the downstream have faced heavy calamity. It has caused damage to two bridges on River Alaknanda, one for the Badrinathji and second for the Hemkund Sahib.
- Because of the emerging dams in Mandakini valley, on Mahamaheshwar River and Kali River, the whole valley is facing problem of landslides, due to which local people will have to suffer.
- The same situation is true of Bhagirathi valley. The surrounding areas of the Bhagirathi valley face huge destruction.
- The condition of all the tributaries of river Ganga adversely impacts Devprayag. Here the question is not just of religious beliefs also of security to the people.
- In recent years many people have been forced to move out because of the unannounced water released from Tehri dam. The record of these people is also not available. In 2016, one Sadhu Gopal Maniji organized Gau-Ganga katha at Triveni Ghat in Rishikesh. The sudden release of dam water left them almost dead, somehow the local administration saved their life.
- People are living in an insecure region. There are frequent landslides adjacent to Kotli Bhel 1A, even NHPC’s office was damaged. Kotli Bhel Projects around Devprayag will destroy/ruin the existence, security, culture and belief of Devpryag.
It seems that MoEFCC is not taking the impact of dams on National River Ganga seriously, which is clear through the committee’s assessment efforts. It has to be reminded that Kotli Bhel 1A project was one of the 24 hydro-power projects stayed by the Supreme Court. The environment clearance of Kotli Bhel 1B project was cancelled by National Environment Appellate Authority. Kotli Bhel-1B and Kotli Bhel-2 did not get forest clearance from MoEFCC.
If the committee had come to assess the socio-cultural effect related to minimum water flow in Ganga and its tributaries, then how come they are examining things in a haphazard way, just in two days? How come only local contractors were well informed? Who all were in the committee was not clear to the people. Many people came to know about the committee and their members through newspapers on next day.
If any committee inquires from local people without prior information, it is a clear case of harassment. This kind of non-serious efforts of MoEFCC should not be accepted, and Matu Jansangathan will oppose its move to promote big dams on the National River Ganga.
Matu Jansangathan demands complete ban on all three Kotli Bhel projects and also cancellation of all 24 Hydro Power Projects, already stayed by the Supreme Court. These projects must be stopped, there is no need of rethinking over this issue.