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Ganga Dammed & Polluted

Written By Gopal Krishna on Sunday, June 17, 2012 | 6:01 AM

Ganga will bless its saviours Bharat Jhunjhunwala on how free-flowing rivers bring benefits we must not forget SWAMI GYAN Swarup Sanand, former professor at IIT Kanpur and member-secretary of Central Pollution Control Board had gone on fast unto death demanding stoppage of underconstruction hydropower dams on the Ganga river. A meeting of the National Ganga River Basin Authority is to be held on 17 April to consider the issue. The government is committed to supplying electricity to the people. There is no gainsaying that electricity is necessary for raising the standard of living of our people. Also water has to be extracted from the river for irrigation in order to establish food security of the country. The government of Uttarakhand intends to tap every inch of every river and rivulet in the state to generate hydropower. The hydropower companies provide 12 percent of the generated electricity free to the host state. This is expected to become the main source of revenue for the state. The governments — both Centre and state — find it necessary to dam the rivers in order to secure the above objectives. On the flip side, Swami Gyan Swarup and other environmentalists argue that the purpose of economic growth and even provision of electricity is to secure welfare of the people. It is incorrect, they say, to reckon ‘welfare’ merely in physical terms of standards of living. We seek betterment of material standards of living only to make people happy. And, they say, happiness is as much secured by taking a bath in the pure unrestricted and free-flowing waters of the Ganga. Therefore, it is incorrect to look at only the material benefits for generation of electricity. We must also factor in the psychological or spiritual benefits from free flow of the river. These benefits, they contend, are so huge that dams should not be built on the Ganga and those under construction should be immediately stopped. The common denominator in both arguments is people’s welfare or happiness. Clearly, there is a need to define this. Psychologists tell us that there are two levels in our psyche—the conscious and the unconscious. These can be understood as the mind and heart respectively. Many desires or tendencies are placed in the heart during early childhood or the time that the foetus is in the mother’s womb. These desires are very strong but feeble. They are strong in the sense of being difficult to grasp or to remove. They are feeble because their voice is low decibel. A person is happy, they say, when the mind and heart are working in the same direction. Say a young man heart’s desire is to listen to classical music. However, he goes to a disco at the calling of his friends. In such a situation he will come out unhappy. It is my experience that people whose heart and mind are working in different directions are often inflicted with psychosomatic diseases like bp, asthma and skin diseases. This happens because the inner energy of the heart does not support the mind’s endeavours and the two pull the person in different directions. The argument of the environmentalists is that the Ganga helps strengthen and invigorate the heart. The feeble voice of the heart is strengthened and made somewhat louder. This helps the person change his life orientation in resonance with the heart. The energy of heart and mind begin to work in the same direction and the person is both happy and successful. I have undertaken a study of pilgrims who came to take a dip in the Ganga at Dev Prayag, Rishikesh and Haridwar. Seventy-seven percent of the pilgrims said that they got mental peace from taking the dip. This happens because the mind gets oriented towards the heart and the tension between the mind and heart is removed. Twenty-six percent said they got health benefits. This happens because the energies of the heart are unleashed. As many as 14 percent said they got benefits in business and 12 percent say they got benefits in service. This happens because they may redirect their efforts in direction that is amenable to the heart. Free flow of rivers adds to economic development in another way. It is clear that economic development requires effort and entrepreneurship. It is seen that many natural resources remain unutilised because people do not make the effort. This effort is increased by invigorating the heart. We often see people sitting and playing cards at the street corner and whiling away their whole day. They could use the day to do business or some other productive activity. This energy is obtained by taking a dip in the Ganga. The grand cities of Indian civilisation — Indraprastha, Agra, Kanpur, Varanasi, Patliputra, Nalanda and Kolkata — are all located on the banks of the Ganga or Yamuna. It may be that these rivers gave a certain psychological energy to the people residing on their banks which led them to build a vibrant trade and thereby grand cities. Therefore, preservation of the subtle psychological qualities of the Ganga will also add to material economic development. UTTARKASHI-BASED Ganga Aavahan organisation got a study of the subtle quality of water of Ganga river done at the Aqua Viva laboratory of Switzerland. They took water samples upstream and downstream of Tehri dam and sent them to the lab. The scientists took photographs of the water crystals of the samples. They found that upstream water crystals showed bright spots of energy while downstream crystals were bereft of energy. Similarly, Japanese scientist Masaru Emoto has studied the subtle qualities of water. He says the water molecules form six-cornered clusters similar to those of the benzene ring. They do not remain in a chaotic or disorganised state. These six-cornered clusters form beautiful images. Images of crystals of free-flowing rivers and natural springs are very beautiful and intricate while those of polluted and stagnant waters are disparate and ugly. It is possible that water of the Ganga acquires certain special characteristics as it flows by the holy shrines of Badrinath and Kedarnath. The pilgrims taking dip in the Ganga are affected by these subtle powers of water. These qualities get destroyed when the water dashes against the blades of the turbine during generation of hydropower. This can be understood by an example. Let us say a plate of food consisting of roti, dal, vegetables, salad and sweets is placed before you. Now put all these in a mixi and then place them back in the plate. Will it be tasty and sumptuous? The subtle quality of river water gets similarly destroyed as it passes through the turbines. Then there are other negative impacts on water quality by deprivation of beneficial metals like copper and chromium, removal of beneficial bacteria like coliphages and algae. The government should have a detailed study done of the impact of dams on the quality of water; and on the benefits to the people taking dip in the Ganga. Similar impacts are known from Narmada, Mahanadi and Krishna rivers. The ‘precautionary principle’ requires that all hydropower projects should be put on hold till this is transparently done. Bharat Jhunjhunwala is a former economics professor at IIM Bengaluru. http://www.tehelka.com/story_main52.asp?filename=Fw160412Ganga.asp Ganga Damned The government has planned 600 dams on the Ganga and its tributaries. So how can it be serious about saving the holy river, asks Brijesh Pandey ONCE REGARDED as amrit (nectar), a river that sustained all forms of life, the Ganga is now threated by the very civilisation it once nurtured. Not only is the river being subjected to overwhelming human and industrial pollution, it is now being threatened by the construction of massive dams. These ill-conceived projects in its upper reaches are effectively throttling the Ganga at its very source, the Gaumukh. In some places, the dams are slowing the mighty river’s flow to a trickle. Dammed, diverted and overtapped, the most revered of Indian rivers is under grave threat. While raising the issue in Parliament on 15 May, Samajwadi Party MP Rewati Raman Singh made an impassioned plea for saving the Ganga from dams. “Having commissioned the Tehri dam as the irrigation and environment minister of Uttar Pradesh, I have no qualms in saying that it was the biggest mistake of my life,” he said. “The then Union environment minister Maneka Gandhi was opposed to this project, but we were somehow led to believe that the Tehri dam would generate 2,400 MW of electricity and irrigate 1.67 lakh hectares in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. Nothing of this sort happened. Not even 400 MW of electricity is being generated. I’m reminded of the words of social reformer Madan Mohan Malviya, who had said that if we construct dams like this in the Himalayas, then the whole of north India will be destroyed. If nothing is done now by the government, we will soon start an agitation from Allahabad.” The Ganga is in serious danger from 600 dams that are either operational, under construction or proposed. These dams will not only obstruct the river’s natural flow and divert water into tunnels to power turbines, but will also have cascading effect on the livelihood of communities and the biodiversity and stability of the surrounding natural ecosystems. Downstream communities also face the danger of flash floods when water is released from the dams. Not only that, if all the ongoing and proposed hydroelectric projects in Uttarkashi are completed as proposed by the Centre and state governments, the Ganga will get diverted into tunnels just 14 km from its origin in Gangotri. The river will remain tunnelled continuously for 130 km up to Dharasu near Uttarkashi. Environmentalists say tunnelling of the river for such long stretches would result in loss of flora, fauna, fertile soil and minerals. They also feel that the government lacks the will to rid the Ganga of dams. River Under Siege 600 Dams of varying sizes are either operational, under construction or proposed in Uttarakhand 59% of Bhagirathi and 61 percent of Alaknanda will dry up if all the dams are built The 330 MW hydro project on the Alaknanda lies in the buffer zone of Nanda Devi Biosphere Reserve, which houses the Nanda Devi National Park and the Valley of Flowers. Both are inscribed as UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites 34 dams on Bhagirathi and Alaknanda should be scrapped in order to protect Uttarakhand’s biodiversity, says the Wildlife Institute of India 130 km of the river will remain tunnelled continuously if the proposed dams are constructed In 85 percent of the projects, alterations in capacity ranging from 22 percent to 329 percent were found, says CAG ACTING ON a Supreme Court directive in February 2009, the Ministry of environment and Forests (MoEF) commissioned two studies to IIT Roorkee and wildlife Institute of India (WII), Dehradun. The green brigade says the IIT Roorkee study is a recipe for disaster. Instead of assessing the danger to Ganga’s tributaries from existing hydropower projects, it bats for more. Himanshu Thakkar of South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People (SANDRP) accuses the report of having a pro-dam bias. Although in 2010 the Centre had decided that no hydropower projects will be built on the initial stretch of the Bhagirathi, the IIT Roorkee report lists hydropower projects on this stretch as under construction, and tries to build up a case for restarting work on these projects. “This is a fundamentally flawed study,” says Thakkar. He further stresses that the difference between the IIT Roorkee and WII reports is very stark. According to the WII report, which was made public on 16 April, a day before the third National Ganga River Basin Authority (NGRBA)meeting, 34 dams on the Bhagirathi and Alaknanda should be scrapped as they will cause irrevocable harm to the biodiversity in Uttarakhand. The hydroelectric projects are expected to generate 2,600 Mw of electricity. The big projects in the list include 530 MW Kotlibhel-2, 320 MW Kotlibhel-1B, 250 MW Tamak Lata, 381 MW Bhairon Ghati and 195 MW Kotlibhel-1A. In its interim report, the WII also said that out of the five projects they reviewed, three shouldn’t be allowed as they’d create a severe impact on the river’s biodiversity. One of the three projects is the 330 MW Srinagar hydroelectric project on the Alaknanda. “What is shocking is the MoEF’s approach,” says Thakkar. “The report says that the project should not be given clearance as it is located in the buffer zone of the Nanda Devi Biosphere Reserve, which houses the Nanda Devi National Park and the Valley of Flowers, both included in the list of UNESCO World Heritage sites. It also poses a serious threat to species like snow leopards and brown bears. The Forest Advisory Committee (FAC) rejected the Alaknanda project twice, once in May 2011 and again in October 2011, but surprisingly on 8 November 2011, the MoEF gave clearance to the project.” The report notes that stopping construction of dams is important to safeguard critically important habitats that support mammals such as wild goat, antelope and barking deer, and fish such as mahseer, snow trout and 16 other globally threatened fish species. In another damning report titled, ‘Performance Audit of Hydropower Development Through Private Sector Participation’, the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) said that the Uttarakhand government had overlooked environmental concerns and was pushing the state towards a major environmental catastrophe by following an aggressive hydropower policy. Union environment minister Jayanthi Natarajan in Allahabad Ganga calling Union environment minister Jayanthi Natarajan in Allahabad Calling the Uttarakhand government’s policy of pursuing hydropower projects as “indiscriminate”, the report stated that 48 projects, with a total planned generation capacity of 2,423 MW, had been undertaken by Independent Power Producers (IPP) in the state from 1993 to 2006. However, till March 2009, only 10 percent of the projects with a generation capacity of 418 MW were complete and operational. Another area of concern is the inadequate pre-feasibility studies of projects, deficient project execution and absence of monitoring and evaluation of the projects by the Uttarakhand Jal Vidyut Nigam Limited (UJVNL), which is the nodal agency. The report also pointed to the power generation capacity enhancement after a project was sanctioned. In 85 percent of the projects, alterations in capacity ranging from 22 percent to 329 percent were found. Another grey area pointed out by CAG is the Uttarakhand hydropower policy that allows a private player to divert up to 90 percent of the river water to power the turbines, leaving just 10 percent to flow in the natural course against the global average of 25 percent. The audit examined the case of the Alaknanda river valley to gain an insight into the problems arising out of river tunnelling. The report says that in Alaknanda valley, 60 hydel projects, entailing a diversion of 249.60 km, were either built or were in the pipeline. The report cautions that if appropriate measures to ensure adequate downstream flow are not taken, it may cause a devastating effect on the region falling under the river valley. The report also cautions that this Himalayan zone is the most fragile and tectonically active, falling in the seismic zone 4/5 — indicating high risk of earthquakes. Uttarakhand has overlooked environmental concerns by following an ambitious hydel policy, says the CAG report What is shocking is the fact that some of the projects have gone to developers who have no prior expertice in hydropower generation, leave alone building dams in a seismic zone. Therefore, pan masala firms, tourism firms, cycle manufacturers and general developers have been allowed to set up hydropower projects. The irregularities and environmental degradation pointed out by the CAG report are borne out by real-life experiences. For 46-year-old Buddhi Balak Chamoli, of Dhari village, dams are not a symbol of power but of deceit and destruction. Pointing to the 330 MW hydropower project in Srinagar, he says, “when this dam was approved, the allotted capacity was 200 MW and the dam height was 63 metres. Suddenly, they increased the height to 93 metres and the capacity to 330 MW. I wonder who approved this.” This increased capacity has not only stoked further fears of death and destruction but also the submergence of the 16th century Dhari Devi temple on the banks of the Alaknanda. “This temple should be saved from being submerged,” says Chamoli. “Even our houses have developed cracks due to constant rock blasting. It could collapse any day. Who will compensate us for that? Why can’t the government come clean on the project and explain why and how the parameters have changed, allegedly at the behest of the developer (Secunderabad-based Alaknanda Hydro Power Company).” DHARI VILLAGE has seen several flashpoints between locals and the authorities. Residents of Srinagar and Kalysaur area want the project to be redesigned so as to “maintain free flow of the river along its natural course”, and to reduce the damaging effects on forests and ecology. Several large dams were proposed between Gangotri and Uttarkashi, namely, Bhairon Ghati 1 and 2 and Loharinag Pala, a 600 MW dam being built by NTPC at Pala Maneri. Work had already begun at the now-abandoned Loharinag Pala along with peripheral work at Pala Maneri. Bhairon Ghati 1 and 2 are on the drawing board. ‘The Tehri dam has damaged the region’s rich biodiversity. It has already fragmented the migration of fish,’ says VB Mathur It took several fasts unto death by Prof GD Agarwal (Swami Sananda), a former dean of IIT Kanpur, to restore some of Ganga’s glory. Demanding free flow of the Ganga in its natural form from its origin in Gangotri to Uttarkashi, Dr Agarwal began a fast unto death on 13 June 2008. He suspended his fast 18 days later after Union Power Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde announced a High Level expert Group (HLEG) to look into the technical issues to ensure adequate water flow in all stretches of the Bhagirathi. Dissatisfied with the delays and the nature of discussions in the HLEG, Dr Agarwal resumed his fast in New Delhi on 14 January 2009, but withdrew on the assurance of the PMO. However, when nothing much happened, he again sat on a fast and this time, after 36 days, the government buckled under pressure, and accepted all his demands. The then environment minister, Jairam Ramesh, announced that the government will scrap all hydropower projects between Gangotri and Uttarkashi. On 1 November 2010, the government also declared the 135 km stretch from Gaumukh to Uttarkashi as an eco-sensitive zone, which ensures that no more dams can be built on this stretch. Locals too have complained, but who is listening? Ravi Chopra, director, People’s Science Institute, Dehradun, says, “First of all, accept the conditions of the world Commission of Dams. One of the most important points is that one should take the concurrence of the locals before going ahead with such projects. That doesn’t happen here. Public consultations are a real sham.” Tired of waiting for the NGRBA to meet and push the river cleaning programme, Chopra quit as the non-official member of the authority. Already, there are visible signs on the ground of the impending catastrophe. In several villages, houses have developed cracks due to blasting at construction sites. Landslides and floods are the other real threats coming true. “One of the main effects will be observed at Haridwar, where there will be surges in the daily flow,” says Chopra. “Whenever water is released from dams, especially Tehri, there is a huge release of water into the river. Now, this surge disturbs the river’s ecosystem. If you go along the banks of the Bhagirathi, you will hear stories of how people have been swept away by a sudden surge of water.” Rewati Raman Singh ‘BY commissioning the Tehri dam as the the irrigation and environment minister of Uttar Pradesh, I accept that I made the biggest mistake of my life. We were made to believe that the dam would generate 2,400 MW of electricity but that never happened. ’ Rewati Raman Singh, Samajwadi Party MP Rajendra Singh ‘THERE is no serious effort on the government’s part. There are experts in the NGRBA, but till now we have not been given any responsibility. In meetings, the agenda of cleaning up the Ganga is hardly mentioned. There is no planning.’ Rajendra Singh, Magsaysay Award Winner Himanshu Thakkar ‘WHAT is shocking about the Ministry of Environment and Forests is the fact that when the Forest Advisory Committee( FAC) rejected the 330 MW Alaknanda project twice, the ministry still went ahead and gave its clearance.’ Himanshu Thakkar, SANDRP Dr. Ravi Chopra ‘PUBLIC consultations are a real sham. One needs to accept the conditions of the World Commission of Dams, which is that one should take the concurrence of locals before going ahead with such projects. But that doesn’t happen here.’ Dr. Ravi Chopra, Director, People’s Science Institute Though Union Environment Minister Jayanthi Natarajan refused to give an interview, sources in the ministry indicate that the government is seriously contemplating banning all kinds of dams on the Ganga and its tributaries. But environmentalists are not ready to believe the government. “It took prof Agarwal to go on another fast unto death to force the government to convene the third meeting of the NGRBA,” says an environmentalist not wanting to be named. “The NGRBA, which was constituted in February 2009, has met only twice. The PM talks of everything but an effective strategy to restore the Ganga’s pristine glory. When the attitude of the government is such that we have to fight even for a meeting then you can very well imagine the situation.” MAGSAYSAY AWARD winner and former NNGRBA member Rajendra Singh says, “There is no serious effort on the government’s part. There are experts in the NGRBA, but till now they have not been given any responsibility. In meetings, the agenda of cleaning up the Ganga is hardly mentioned. There is no planning. They should at least meet every 3-6 months. If the government thinks just by declaring the Ganga a national river it has done its duty, then it’s mistaken. Like the tricolour, there should be a law for protecting the Ganga’s honour.” Like Chopra, Singh too quit the NGRBA. For Bimal Bhai, who has been fighting for the cause of the Ganga, there is also the question of inadequate rehabilitation measures. “The Tehri dam, which has submerged thousands of acres and hundreds of villages and displaced thousands of people, is threatening to flood 75 more villages as dam authorities have raised the water level in the reservoir to 830 m from the original 820 m,” he says. “Vast areas have been flooded and hundreds of families are facing eviction as their villages are on the verge of being submerged.” Aquatic life is also under threat. According to WII dean VB Mathur, “The Tehri dam has already done a lot of damage to the rich biodiversity. There is a decline in the population of mahseer in the upstream of the Bhagirathi due to the barrier posed by the dam. It has fragmented the migration of fish. If new dams come up, they will further add to the damage.” Mathur argues that the loss of power generation due to scrapping of the 34 hydropower projects can be recovered. “world over, the losses from power transmission is 15 percent. In our case, the power transmission loss is 30-40 percent, which is huge. So if you can reduce those losses, then every power unit saved is a unit generated. And that is why power management is very important,” he says. A lot more than just power management needs to be done if the government’s target of a clean and free-flowing Ganga by 2020 is ever to be achieved. The Ganga and its tributaries sustain around 400 million people. Yet, even after a quarter century of trying, the government is nowhere near reversing the alarming damage to this important lifeline. The ancient, holy Ganga seems to be trapped in the unholy mess of modernisation. http://www.tehelka.com/story_main52.asp?filename=Ne020612GANGA.asp Ganga Polluted The Ganga today is more polluted than when the Ganga Action Plan was launched in 1985. Dams, barrages, canals and extremely high pollution pose an ever-increasing threat to the health and life of the river, writes Brijesh Pandey IN THE upper reaches of the Ganga, numerous hydel projects threaten the river’s ecosystem. And in the plains, as the river flows through the states of Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand and West Bengal, a toxic mix of untreated sewage, discarded garbage, agricultural run-off and industrial waste flow unabated into it. Hindus regard the Ganga water as pure; but in reality it is pure toxic muck! So much so that one of India’s most treasured resources was also crowned one of the world’s top five most polluted rivers in 2007. A Uttarakhand Environment Protection and Pollution Control Board (UEPPCB) study in 2011 slotted the Ganga water into four categories: A being fit for drinking, B for bathing, C for agriculture and D for excessive pollution. The presence of coliform bacteria in water is highly dangerous for human health, and in the Ganga waters, coliform levels are well above what is considered safe for farming, let alone bathing or drinking. While the level of coliform present in water should be below 50 mpn/100 ml for it to be declared fit for drinking, less than 500 mpn/100 ml for bathing and below 5,000 mpn/100 ml for agricultural use, the present level of coliform in the Ganga at Haridwar has reached 5,500 mpn/100 ml. According to the study, the main cause for high levels of coliform is the disposal of human faeces, urine and sewage directly into the river from its origin in Gaumukh till it reaches Haridwar. Close to 89 million litres per day (mld) of sewage is released into the river from 12 municipal towns that fall along its route. During the Char Dham Yatra season, when nearly 15 lakh pilgrims visit the state, pollution levels increase even more. DD Basu, senior scientist, Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), says: “Further downstream from Haridwar, the water is not fit for drinking, bathing or any other use.” The river water turns toxic at Kanpur due to heavy influx of industrial waste and city sewage. The total sewage capacity of Kanpur is around 280 mld and the capacity to treat it is only 117 mld. Rakesh Jaiswal, an environmental activist, points out that the first common effluent treatment plant (CETP) commissioned in 1994 has a capacity to treat only 9 mld, whereas the tannery effluent discharge is 40 mld. Again, chrome liquor (a chemical used in tanning) that contains chromium, a known carcinogenic, also ends up untreated in the river. Though a common chrome treatment plant was installed in 2005, less than 900 litres are processed by the plant. “The reason being that many industrial units don’t send their waste water for treatment, whereas the plant can treat 70,000 litres daily,” says Jaiswal. In fact, on 1 October 2011, a two-judge Bench of the Allahabad High Court hearing a PIL on stopping pollution in the Ganga, directed that chromium-based tanneries in Kanpur be closed. Overall, there are 402 listed tanneries — besides many unlisted ones — in Kanpur. Of these, at least 100 use chromium-based systems to process leather. More than 80 percent of the waste water flows untreated and unchecked into the river. “In Kanpur, the responsibility to treat the waste water is shared between the government and industries, and that makes it easier for them to pass the buck. The government should only play the role of a regulator. Somebody who is polluting the Ganga should also clean it,” says Jaiswal. ON THE banks of the Ganga in Varanasi, where millions of Hindus visit to pray, meditate, bathe and cremate their dead, the situation is no better. The holy town generates 350 mld of sewage, but the three sewage treatment plants (STPs) can treat only around 122 mld. Also, two of the three plants have not been functional for seven to eight years. The one that is operational is unable to function because of frequent power cuts. This means that close to 225 mld of sewage is released into the Ganga. The level of coliform is a few lakh mpn per 100 ml of water. River Under Siege Rs 1,100 Cr Officially spent by the government of India to clean up the Ganga Rs 20,000 Cr Spent to clean up the river, According to the counsel for the Central Pollution Control Board 90-95% Amount of water diverted for irrigation purposes, leading to low flow of the river and exacerbating pollution 2.9 Billions Litres Daily Sewage discharged into the Ganga, according to government of India figures With the Ganga ferrying thousands of half-burnt corpses and animal carcasses, flesh-eating turtles were released to clean up the cesspool the river has become. But it didn’t work. According to BD Tripathi, member, National Ganga River Basin Authority (NGRBA), “A little more imagination was required. Here, turtles were released, but there was no effort to ensure that they survived. As a result, most of the turtles were poached by fishermen or killed.” In Kolkata, the Ganga (also known as Hooghly) appears as dirty as anywhere else. “In 2005, the Calcutta High Court had asked us to look into the quality of water flowing into the river,” says Kalyan Rudra, adviser to the West Bengal government on environmental affairs. “Coliform levels were around 2 lakh mpn per 100 ml. The water is most polluted in Dakshineswar Ghat. In Kalighat, it has turned into a sewer channel. Factories rampantly discharge industrial waste into the river.” Around 150 large industrial plants are lined up along the banks of the Hooghly around Kolkata. Together, these plants contribute 30 percent of the total industrial effluents reaching the Ganga. “As a result, the Gangetic river dolphin, which is the national aquatic animal, has almost become extinct. Even the Hilsa, Bengal’s favourite fish, is hardly found in the Hooghly anymore,” he laments. Barrages built near Bhagalpur are also endangering the lives of the Gangetic dolphins. According to Sunil Chaudhary, an environmentalist rallying public action to save the Ganga: “We are working on dolphin conservation, and one cannot do it without saving the Ganga. Every being requires a minimum flow of the river to stay alive.” In Bihar, the pollution in Ganga is acute near cities and places where industries have been set up. Apart from raw sewage and industrial waste, agricultural run-off is the single most important non-point or diffuse source of pollution, containing residues of chemical fertilisers, pesticides, insecticides and weedicides, which enter the river waters. Scientists and environmentalists complain that even today there is only a vague idea about the impact of agricultural run-off on river water quality and its ecology. “Agricultural run-offs flow into the river with the monsoon rains,” says Ravi Chopra, director, People’s Science Institute, and former member of the NGRBA. “There has been no quantification and since the problem has not been studied, there is no solution.” Adds Sunil Chaudhary: “These pesticides and chemical fertilisers spread through the aquatic ecosystem and into the human food chain.” However, what is most worrying is the low flow of the river during the lean season. NGRBA members and environmentalists have dubbed the reduced flow of the Ganga as “the biggest problem”. They feel since the scale of pollution also depends on the degree of dilution and velocity of the flow of water, it is necessary to maintain a minimum discharge in the river. In fact, the low flow of water during dry weather from Narora to Allahabad and Unnao in UP to Trighat in Bihar, makes these stretches the most polluted in the region. Also, with the intensity of irrigation in the Ganga basin being very high, scientists say that a large quantity of water is being diverted from the Bhimgoda barrage at Haridwar into the Upper Ganga Canal, to provide water for irrigation. At Bijnor, another barrage diverts the water into the Middle Ganga Canal. At Narora, there is further diversion of water into the Lower Ganga Canal. As a result, the Ganga does not receive water from any major tributary until the Ramganga joins it at Kannauj. Flood irrigation is another issue that affects the waters of the Ganga. “The requirement of water for irrigation has not been calculated,” explains RK Sinha, member, NGRBA and HoD, environment sciences, Central University of Bihar. “Our engineers are diverting water through canals and letting it flow through the crop field, leading to a loss of water. This water should have actually flowed into the river,” he adds. Sinha further clarifies: “I am not saying that water should not be diverted for irrigation; it should be, but then we should divert only the required quantity of water. For example, when the root of the wheat crop should be set one inch below ground level, then why do we need one foot of water?” Because of this diversion of the river water for irrigation and low flow, 70 percent of the Ganga between Narora and Allahabad is sewage. This stretch is also considered the most polluted stretch of the river. The absence of an organism called bacteriophages has further compounded the problem. “A major finding of the CPCB is that bacteriophages have disappeared from the Ganga waters. The presence of bacteriophages gives the river its anti-bacterial nature,” says DD Basu. While a lot of importance is being given to the treatment of sewage water and industrial effluents, a CPCB report stresses on an assessment of flow and wastewater load. The report suggests that unabated discharge of treated sewage, even after 100 percent treatment, cannot bring the water to the level of bathing quality. Vijay Panjwani, counsel for the CPCB for the past 17 years, talks of a scheme that has been adopted by many countries. “Wastewater should not be mixed with clean flowing river water,” he says. “It should be treated and then sent for agriculture or to industries. However much you may treat sewage water, it will never be clean.” Environmentalists say that so far, the government’s efforts to clean up the river have fallen woefully short. Twenty seven years and an investment of Rs 1,100 crore later, the Ganga Action Plan (GAP) that was supposed to improve the river’s health, has failed in its mission. In fact, the condition has only worsened. Launched by then prime minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1985, GAP-Iwas supposed clean up the river in five years. With an official expenditure of Rs 452 crore, GAP-I was declared closed in March 2000. Simultaneously, in 1993, GAP Phase II was launched, covering 59 towns located along the river in the five states of Uttarakhand, UP, Jharkhand, Bihar and West Bengal. As many as 319 schemes were taken up under GAP-II, of which 200 were completed. GAP-II was later merged with the National River Conservation Authority (NRCP), with an aim to cover polluted stretches of 36 rivers in 20 states. GAP was one of India’s most ambitious river cleaning projects and it turned out to be a colossal failure. Panjwani disputes the official figure of 1,100 crore and claims that close to 20,000 crore has been spent on cleaning the Ganga. “The GAP failed to clean the Ganga, but it made some bureaucrats, contractors and politicians very rich,” he says. A GOVERNMENT audit of the GAP for the period 1993-2000 says: “The GAP has met only 39 percent of its primary target of sewage treatment. There were heavy shortfalls in the achievement of the target set for creation of assets and facilities under the plan. Even the achievements made were poor indicators of the extent of the success of the GAP, as most of them had not functioned either fully or partially for varied reasons.” So where did the government go wrong? Rakesh Jaiswal ‘KANPUR’S first common effluent treatment plant, commissioned in 1994, can treat only 9 mld, whereas the tannery effluent discharge is 40 mld. Again, chrome liquor that contains the carcinogenic chromium, also ends up untreated in the river’ Rakesh Jaiswal Environmental Activist BD Tripathi ‘A LITTLE more imagination was required. Flesheating turtles were released in Varanasi, but there was no effort to ensure that they survived. As a result, most of the turtles were poached by fishermen or killed’ BD Tripathi Member, NGRBA Kalyan Rudra ‘TODAY, you may not find the Gangetic dolphin, which is the national aquatic animal, in the river anymore. Even Bengal’s favourite fish, the Hilsa, is hardly found in the Hooghly’ Kalyan Rudra Adviser to the West Bengal Government on Environmental Affairs RK Sinha ‘I AM not saying that water should not be diverted for irrigation, it should be, but then we should divert only the required quantity of water’ RK Sinha Member, NGRBA Experts believe that it is a classic case of official apathy and complete lack of vision and planning, which ensured that despite spending thousands of crores, the Ganga became more polluted. Calling the GAP a failure, Tripathi says that the government has frittered away crores of rupees on ill-designed and badly maintained wastewater treatment plants. “There was no proper planning,” he claims. “In 1998, when the matter came up in the Allahabad High Court, officers were asked if a quality analysis of the places where the STPs were installed, was done. The answer was a no.” Tripathi says the first phase of the GAP was implemented in a hurry due to political considerations. Sewage was identified as the root cause of all evil and STPs were set up at important places, as the officers thought that these STPs would clean the whole river. However, after the first survey, they were shocked to find out that the pollution had risen instead of going down. “The reason was because they failed to take the industrial waste into account,” says Tripathi. “There was absolutely no coordination between the Centre, state and local bodies.” Six months after setting up the STPs, there was no money to pay for electricity, maintenance and operations. “Funds were either less or not forthcoming,” says Panjwani. “Either the money was embezzled or diverted by state governments. Whatever the Centre sent was gobbled up by the states,” he adds. Sunil Chaudhary believes that the governments’ approach is flawed and till they rectify it, no amount of money can save the river. “If Bihar or any state thinks that it can clean the Ganga, it’s mistaken,” he says. “All states from the upper Himalayas to those downstream have to participate. There has to be a national policy and then specific state policies. Most important, one needs local involvement of communities to save the river.” Speaking on condition of anonymity, an NGRBA member says: “What is most surprising is that when you go for meetings, the first thing bureaucrats tell you is that they are ready with funds ranging from Rs 2,500 crore to Rs 3,000 crore. But they are clueless about the plan that will ensure that the money is spent judiciously.” Acharya Jeetendra of the Varanasi-based Ganga Mahasabha believes that nobody is serious about cleaning the Ganga. “It is diversion of funds in the name of Ganga,” he says. The seriousness of the government can be judged from the fact that even the River Conservation Authority, which oversees the plan and is headed by the PM, has not met since 1997. IN 2008, the Ganga was declared a national river and in 2009, the NGRBA was formed under the chairmanship of PM Manmohan Singh. The NGRBA consists of 24 members with nine experts and 15 bureaucrats from relevant ministries. So far, the authority has met only thrice and the third meeting was held only after the renowned environmental engineer, Professor GD Agarwal, went on a fast unto death and three NGRBA members resigned. Notwithstanding its past failures, the Centre has embarked on yet another ambitious river cleaning programme, Mission Clean Ganga by 2020. The budget for this programme is Rs 15,000 crore. Besides, on 14 June 2011, the government also signed a $1 billion deal with the World Bank to save the river. Will the government succeed this time in cleaning up the Ganga? As of now, the Ministry of Environment and Forests is unsure of meeting the 2020 deadline. Brijesh Pandey is a Special Correspondent with Tehelka. Will this Swami also Die in Vain? Like the late Swami Nigamananda, this former IIT professor is also fasting to save the Ganga. But is anyone listening? Manoj Rawat and Mahipal Kunwar report HERE’S A man of science on a spiritual mission. Once, under his tutelage, hundreds of IIT students went on to work on many hydel projects. Now, under the guidance of his spiritual guru Swami Avimukteswaranand, this 80-year-old former professor at IIT-Kanpur has been on an indefinite fast since 14 January to save the Ganga. As Professor GD Agrawal, he headed the department of civil and environmental engineering at IIT-Kanpur. As Swami Gyan Swaroop Sanand now, he is performing a penance to restore the sanctity of the Ganga and its tributaries. This is the fourth time Swami Sanand is sitting on a fast. His last three were successful in thwarting three major hydel projects in Uttarakhand. But he is not the first to pledge his life for the Ganges. Last year, Swami Nigamananda of the Matri Sadan ashram died after a 69-day fast to protest the rampant mining in the Ganga river bed (See: Hell in Holy Land, TEHELKA, 2 July 2011). The campaign, the first one outside the auspices of the Sangh Parivar, is spearp-headed by the Ganga Sewa Abhiyanam. Perhaps because of this, the only politician of some stature who came to pledge her support was Uma Bharti. The head of this campaign is the Jyotish Peeth and Dwarka Peeth Shankaracharya Swami Swaroopanand. The Ganga Sewa Abhiyanam has listed out three major grouses: 1) Damming of the Ganga at regular intervals, which leads to a tardy flow 2) Diverting more than 90 percent of the river water to canals 3) Towns on the banks of the river dumping their waste into the Ganga Following the earlier protests, the PM met Swami Swaroopanand on 16 October 2008 before announcing the formation of the National Ganga River Basin Authority (NGRBA) and also a Rs 15,000 crore package for various projects under the Authority. But the campaigners at Ganga Sewa allege that even three years after these grand proclamations, nothing has materialised on the ground. The Ganga Sewa Abhiyanam alleges that in spite of bestowing national river status to the Ganga, no laws have been formulated to make desecration of the river in any manner a punishable offence, as has been done with other national symbols such as the national flag. They also claim that since the Ganga flows through five states, and its tributaries through 11-12 states, Central laws are necessary. The Authority has also raised objections to the loan from the World Bank for the Ganga projects. Swami Avimukteswaranand says the river has enough resources which, if utilised properly, would not only take care of the river but also the 40 crore people who depend on it. On the first day of this campaign, 25 December 2011, an open letter was drafted to the PM. On 14 January, five people took a pledge at the Ganga Sagar in West Bengal to sit on an indefinite fast on a rotational basis. Avimukteshwaranand says, “It is our own people who desecrate the Ganga. That’s why this is not a campaign but a penance.” Q&A Swami Gyan Swaroop Sanand ‘After I die, others will work for the cause’ HIS EARLIER three fasts were successful in scrapping three major hydro-electric projects that had come up on the Bhagirathi river in Uttarkashi — NTPC's 480 MW Lohari Nagpala, the 381 MW Bhaironghati and 480 MW Pala Maneri plants. In 2008, he went without food for 18 days in Uttarkashi. The next fast, in the beginning of 2009, lasted 38 days at the Hindu Mahasabha in Delhi. In 2010, he went on his third fast at Haridwar with Swami Nigamananda, which lasted 39 days. This time, he has held out for almost two months. EXCERPTS FROM AN INTERVIEW: Earlier, you wanted to save the purity of the Bhagirathi. Now you are fasting for the Alaknanda and Mandakini also. In 2007, when I went beyond Uttarkashi after 35 years, and saw the dry beds of the Bhagirathi, I was shocked. At that time, I went on a fast so that no project could come up on the river beyond Maneri. In response, the Uttarakhand government jettisoned two projects — Bhairon Valley and Pala Maneri. Then, after two long fasts, the Centre gave up its hydel project Lohari Nagpala and on 24 August 2010, declared Uttarkashi an ecosensitive region, which would have saved the Bhagirathi. But then we realised that the Ganga is fed by three major tributaries: Bhagirathi, Alaknanda and Mandakini. So just saving the Bhagirathi would not effectively save the Ganga. It is alleged that you are associated with the Maneri Project as an engineer. That’s not true. In the beginning of the project, I had come with a team of IIT professors to give a lecture to its engineers. But I did not design the project. Are you an opponent of hydel power? No. If a project keeps environmental principles in mind, then I am not against it. I devoted the first seven years of my career to the Rihand dam — right from the survey to the completion of the project. It was not wrongly designed but near it, aluminium, chemical and coal mines came up and super thermal power stations were erected. That was when the degradation of the region started. Today the proportion of mercury in milk here is 150 nanogram per litre. It did not come from the Rihand power project. It came from the so-called development all around. But your protest has its detractors in the state. Ask those who are criticising me whether they revere the Ganga as the Mother or not. If they do, why are they allowing her to bleed? What will be your next step? Till now I had forsaken food. On 8 March, I will go to Kashi and give up water. It is considered auspicious to die there. After me, other people will make sacrifices to save the Ganga. But not everybody believes in the sincerity of this fast. Local party Uttarakhand Kranti Dal chief Trivedra Panwar argues that at the root of the campaign lies the aspiration to be part of the NGRBA and its Rs 15,000 crore booty. “All the lobbies in this country want their members to be inducted into this council,” he said. Avimukteswaranand has another tale to tell. He says he invited nine NGO members of the Ganga Authority to a meeting. Seven came. He says, “After the two-day meet was over, we realised that the formation of the Authority was a deception. The members revealed that Rs 2,600 crore had already been spent, but no one knows where or how.” Moreover, he contends, more than Rs 12,000 crore has already been spent on the Ganga Action Plan I and II. He feels the Rs 15,000 crore package announced by the PM will also disappear into some crevice and the Ganga will stay the same. It is this fear that has spurred the Ganga Sewa Abhiyanam to take up the fast. So far, the Central government has not shown any interest in coming to grips with the situation while Swami Sanand seems hell-bent on snuffing out his life. Will it take a fate like Nigamananda’s for the authorities to wake up? http://www.tehelka.com/story_main52.asp?filename=Ne170312Swami.asp Hell in holy land In the battle between the sadhus and the mining mafia over the Ganga, the BJP government in Uttarakhand has repeatedly and blatantly taken sides with the latter. Ashish Khetan & Manoj Rawat uncover the murky story that led to Swami Nigamananda’s death Swami Nigamananda rests in the lap of his guru Swami Shivananda The quiet fast Swami Nigamananda rests in the lap of his guru Swami Shivananda Photo Courtesy: Matra Sadan BABA RAMDEV knew how to catch attention. Infamously, he also knew how to run. Swami Nigamananda didn’t know how to do either. While Ramdev was hogging national attention with emotive issues like declaring all black money stashed abroad as “national wealth” and threatening to hang the corrupt, far away from media glare, Nigamananda, 38, had been fasting for a mind-boggling 68 days for something much more concrete — and of even greater national implication. Nigamananda was fighting to save the Ganga. Finally, Nigamananda died on 13 June, in the same hospital, in the same ward where Ramdev was being treated in the ICU, after just seven days of fasting. Briefly, the glaring ironies around the stories of the two men created a furore. But soon — in death as in life — the real and urgent cause Nigamananda had been fighting for was quickly forgotten. It would be a big mistake to leave it as forgotten. The amount of black money India has lost to offshore accounts is a speculative figure. Certainly it needs stringent action and needs to be brought back. But one could also as well start with all the black money floating about in the country (and a good place to begin might be among some of Ramdev’s devotees themselves.) The Ganga, on the other hand, is not of speculative value. Not only does it have a profound civilisational and spiritual value, it is an incalculable economical force: its water and ecology support millions of Indians, generate livelihoods, power and money. If the Ganga were to die, some of India’s most populous states would be completely impoverished. India would lose much more than all the money that Swiss Banks can hold. This then is the explosive and specific story of what the swami was fighting for. This war on corruption does not involve other nations or complex treaties. But its scale and brazenness is as staggering. Nigamananda (who had studied in Delhi and, poignantly, left a middle-class home in Bihar in 1995 in search of ‘truth’) and Matra Sadan, the ashram he belonged to, had been waging a humbling and heroic battle against Haridwar’s mining mafia. Their biggest adversary was one stone- crushing company called Himalaya Stone Crusher. But it would be a mistake to dismiss this story as a small local issue because it is a symptomatic story about massive political clout and such flagrant corruption that it makes one despair. It is also a story that lays bare the sheer hypocrisy of the BJP’s public positions. Here is a party that has not only been trying to position itself as a champion of the anticorruption movement in India, it has always presented itself as the self-appointed custodian of Hindu pride. Yet, in the battle over Ganga between the Babas and the mining mafia, the party clearly — and repeatedly — sided with the mafia. Himalaya Stone Crusher’s biggest safety net was its closeness to the BJP and the RSS. But that is a story one must come to a little later. To understand the full import of Nigamananda’s battle, one has to understand the background landscape first. ON THE morning of 30 March 2010, as lakhs of pilgrims were having a holy dip in the Ganga at Haridwar, barely 1 km from the bathing ghats, forest officials were carrying out a surprise inspection at a stone crushing plant located on the banks of the river. The name of the plant was AP Associates Stone Crusher, one of 41 such plants in Haridwar and 124 in Uttarakhand. Swami Nigamananda’s ashram Humble abode Swami Nigamananda’s ashram Photos: Rajiv Kala These plants fuel the rampant illegal sand and stone mining business in the state. The gravel and concrete manufactured by them are in huge demand by the booming construction industry and reap millions of rupees for the mining mafia. The raiding team that day found 45,000 tonnes of unaccounted stones at the plant site. The plant owner had no explanation or documents to prove its source. These 45,000 tonnes of stones are just the tip of a massive story. In Uttarakhand, only state-owned corporations can pick stones from riverside to be sold to private stone crushers. The units are required to pick the stones manually; excavation of riverbeds is strictly prohibited. There are also half-a-dozen state agencies to regulate the stone-picking and crushing industry: the Mining Department, the State Pollution Control Board, the Central Environment Assessment Committee, the Forest Department and a legion of officers whose job is to prevent illegal mining and protect the river ecology. Yet, brazenly, every day, the mining mafia in Haridwar plunders the stones deposited in the riverbed using advanced technology excavators. Uttarakhand is a poor state and sand, stone and soapstone are its key resources. Mining them illegally therefore is a double blow to the exchequer. But this is not all. The rampant mining has also depleted the groundwater level, deepened the riverbed, made thousands of acres of farmland uncultivable, destroyed the neighbouring forests, polluted the air and forced hundreds of farmers to migrate, having sold their lands to the same mafia for a pittance. Making molehills out of mountains Rampant illegal mining with the complicity of BJP ministers and MLAs threatens to destroy Uttarakhand’s ecology and river systems Bageshwar Dist VIOLATION Soapstone mining beyond permissible depth. No reforestation or refilling of mine pits ACTION PROPOSED Officials justify it saying since everyone does it, that’s the norm RESULT Reckless mining is turning large tracts into ugly deserts Haridwar Dist VIOLATION Stone quarrying on private lands beyond the permissible depth of 1.5 metres ACTION PROPOSED Divisional forest officer imposed a fine of 36 lakh in one case RESULT DM revoked the order saying DFO exceeded jurisdiction Rudraprayag Dist VIOLATION A stone-crusher on the banks of Madhumaheshwar Ganga ACTION PROPOSED Environment laws say crushers have to be at least 500 metres away from the river RESULT No action taken. The crusher is polluting the river and destroying the adjoining farmlands Haridwar Dist VIOLATION No sprinklers or high walls. No equipment to absorb respiratory suspended particle matter ACTION PROPOSED Cancellation of the crusher licence RESULT No action taken so far Haridwar Dist VIOLATION AP Associates crusher had a stock of 45,000 tonnes of illegally mined stones ACTION PROPOSED DFO slapped a fine of Rs 1.15 crore RESULT DM revoked the order saying DFO exceeded jurisdiction Haridwar Dist VIOLATION Himalaya Stone Crusher was operating in violation of environmental and mining laws ACTION PROPOSED Uttarakhand HC ordered its closure on 26 May RESULT Has been shut down since At AP Associates, it was evident the stones had been illegally excavated from the bed of the Ganga. This was the first time in many years that a stone crusher in Haridwar had been raided. There was a new officer in town, Divisional Forest Officer RD Pathak, who was trying to resuscitate the comatose Forest Department. But while the raiding team was still conducting its inspection, Pathak got a call. The caller was a Cabinet minister, incharge of five powerful portfolios. Anticipating the flurry of calls his raid would trigger, Pathak had handed his phone to his orderly and instructed him to tell the minister he was away in the forests and had left his phone behind. But the minister persisted, making incessant calls. Finally, a few hours later, Pathak took his call. “Pathak sahab, please call your officers back. You know that the crusher is run by my people. Your officers are unnecessarily harassing my people,” said the minister. By this time, Pathak’s team had finished their check and finalised the report. Later, using a time-honoured evasion tactic, when asked to produce documents justifying the mammoth stock of unaccounted stones at his crusher, the owner Jitendra Singh got himself admitted into hospital. Four days later, he submitted photocopies of bogus receipts that he claimed as proof for having bought these stones. Pathak rejected the receipts on the grounds that there were no corresponding records at the source from where Singh had claimed to have bought the stock. Pathak slapped a penalty of around Rs 1.15 crore — Rs 58 lakh for stealing the natural resource and Rs 57 lakh for causing damage to the environment — under Section 26 of the Indian Forest Act, 1927. Nigamananda and the Matra Sadan ashram had been waging a lonely battle against the mining mafia, especially Himalaya Stone Crusher Two months later, on 9 June, Haridwar District Magistrate R Meenakshi Sundaram revoked Pathak’s order and reversed the fine imposed by him. The same receipts that Pathak had found fake were amazingly held genuine by Sundaram. A month later, on 8 July, Pathak, only 11 months into this assignment, was transferred. Sundaram still continues to be Haridwar DM. The new Haridwar DFO, Gopalsingh Rana, who replaced Pathak, has not carried out even a single raid on the mining mafia since he took charge. Under the Indian Forest Act, a district magistrate whose primary job is to collect revenue does not have any powers to review or revoke an order passed by a DFO. The appellate authority is the Forest Conservator. But Sundaram not only heard the appeal, he also passed an order in favour of the stone crushing plant. “The Forest Department can conduct raids only on reserve forest land. It’s the Revenue Department, Industries Department, Pollution Control Board or the mining inspector who can check a stone crusher. Still, when the DFO’s report came, we did not ignore it,” Sundaram told TEHELKA. “We formed a committee involving Revenue, Mining and Industries Department people. But the report that we got from the joint committee suggested otherwise.” Pathak refused to comment on Sundaram’s assertion. “I did my job and that’s all I have to say,” he remarks. THE PROBLEM is, even if Sundaram was right, the series of departments that according to him are authorised to check illegal mining are doing precious nothing to check the menace. TEHELKA visited three stone crushers in Haridwar. Each of them was being run in violation of the most essential pollution control norms. Locals said that the suspended air particles released by these plants were causing tuberculosis and respiratory diseases among the locals and making their fields uncultivable. “The dust envelops our fields and causes damage to the crops,” says Kishansingh, 55, a farmer in Sajjanpur-Pilli village, who has 7 bighas on which he harvests rice and wheat. “Those whose fields are adjacent to the crusher cannot harvest at all. If there is an inspection, the crusher owner starts the water sprinklers. The moment the inspection is over, it’s back to square one.” His wife Bhagwati adds, “These crushers use JCB machines to excavate the Ganga. We heard some mahatma had died, so for the past one week, this has stopped.” The mine lords of Uttarakhand State politicians are involved in illegal mining along with local businessmen Jagdish Kalakoti ROLE Member of the BJP state executive committee, owns a soapstone mine in Bageshwar district Gyanesh Agarwal ROLE Owner of the Himalaya Stone Crusher, against which Swami Nigamananda went on an indefinite fast Madan Kaushik ROLE Urban Development Minister; was allegedly protecting the Himalaya Stone Crusher company Diwakar Bhatt ROLE Revenue Minister who owns a stone crusher in Haridwar district Dr Vijendra Singh, 54, who practices medicine in Jagjitpur, says trees in his village don’t bear fruits. “The noise and air pollution arising out of the two crushers operating here is unbearable. Asthma, respiratory diseases, TB and stomach ailments are common among the villagers,” he says. Yet, the Uttarakhand Environment Protection and Pollution Control Board — the statutory body mandated to enforce environmental norms — has given each of these crushers a no-objection certificate. When TEHELKA asked Pollution Control Board chief Dr Ajay Gairula for the list of crushers that have an NOC from his department and those that have been penalised for violating norms, all we drew was a blank. If the inaction of the Pollution Control Board is shocking enough, consider this: the whole of Haridwar and Pauri districts has just one mining inspector. The man presently posted at this job is Shailendra Singh. He says he has nobody else, not even a peon, to assist him. He admits he has not carried out a single inspection on crushers in the past two years of his tenure. He tells TEHELKA that, on 11 May, the last time he tried to stop a cavalcade of trucks ferrying illegally mined stones, he was arrested by the UP Police on charges of robbery and criminal assault and released only after the SDM and Additional SP of Roorkee reached the spot and intervened. The mining mafia, however, still managed to get an FIR registered against him at Biharigarh Police Station (Saharanpur). The case against him is still pending. Every way you turn, the system has become despairingly rotten. If you join the loot, there are rich dividends. If you enforce the law, the odds are heavily stacked against you. Haridwar SDM Hardev Singh says that on three occasions when his team raided the mining mafia and caught them red-handed, digging the riverbank with JCBs, they were assaulted. “We registered FIRs. In one case, an accused was arrested. But then nothing happened,” he says. A member of the raiding party who was assaulted says — on condition of anonymity as he feared reprisal from the mafia — that he was now under pressure to strike a compromise with the mining mafia and drop the case. “If we even catch so much as a pony carrying illegally mined stones, we immediately get a call from the powersthat- be to release the goods,” he says. Before his transfer, Pathak had prepared a report listing 18 crusher companies involved in illegal mining. To prove his case, he had annexed pictures of JCBs used by the owners to dig the Ganga. When TEHELKA asked Sundaram about this report, he said, “Yes there was one such report. Some of it was found to be true, some were not proven.” But he failed to enumerate any action that was taken. UNDER THE present BJP government, headed by Chief Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal ‘Nishank’, illegal mining in the state has reached catastrophic proportions. Every year, the mining mafia illegally excavates millions of cubic metres of stones from the riverbeds of the Ganga, Yamuna, Gaula and Sharda rivers, and soapstone from the hills. This mafia is actively supported by ministers. Such is their sense of impunity, in some cases, the mines and stone crushers are owned by BJP netas in their own name. Take Minister Diwakar Bhatt for instance. He is in-charge of three portfolios — revenue, food and civil supplies and soldiers’ welfare. His son Lalit owns a stone crusher named Om Sri Kailapeer in Sajjanpur- Pilli. When TEHELKA confronted Bhatt about allegations of illegal mining by his crusher, he tossed it aside. “I don’t deny there is illegal mining in the state. But why don’t people talk about those who illegally excavate thousands of tonnes of stones every day? I don’t do anything wrong,” he says. Jagdish Kalakoti, another BJP politician, owns a soapstone mine spread over 2.9 acres in Chatikhet village in Bageshwar. He is presently a member of the BJP’s state executive committee. He bagged the mining licence in 2002 when the BJP government was in power. Kalakoti told TEHELKA his mine contributes Rs 25- Rs 30 lakh to state revenues every year, while he himself makes a profit of around Rs 1 crore. Health and Education Minister Balwant Singh Bhauryal also owns a soapstone mine named Vaishnavi Soap Stone Pvt Ltd, in Visa village in Bageshwar district. (He admitted to the mine, but denied the illegal mining). District BJP leaders Thakur Singh Gadiya and Vikran Singh Shahi also own soapstone mines. There are 45 soapstone mines in Bageshwar and 15 in Pittoragarh. Nanda Vallabh Bhatt, the state vicepresident of People’s Union for Civil Liberties, alleges that illegal and reckless stone mining in the Pittoragarh and Bageshwar districts has turned scores of villages into desert. In most of these cases, the land is owned by local farmers but the mining licence has been procured by the BJP politicians after obtaining a no-objection certificate from the actual land owner. “It’s a misperception that soapstone mining is damaging the environment,” says Kalakoti. “It’s beneficial to the licenceholder, the government and the farmers who own the land.” This pattern of denial and paralysis dominates the land. As per the rules, excavation only up to an average of 7 to 8 feet is permissible, but the licencees dig up to 65 to 80 feet (See the pictures). Dinesh Kumar, District Mining Officer in charge of Bageshwar, Almora and Pittoragarh districts, admits that the licencees mine way beyond permissible limits and almost never act on the mandatory need to fill the pits and plant trees on the mined land. Despite this, by his own admission, he has not issued any notice or levied a fine of a single rupee in the past two years. Another BJP minister who has often been accused of sheltering the mining mafia is Madan Kaushik, presently in charge of five powerful portfolios — urban development, excise, tourism, sugarcane development and sugarcane industry. Kaushik is an MLA from Haridwar. Before he joined the BJP in 1998, he was district convener of the Bajrang Dal’s Haridwar unit. BJP insiders will tell you that he draws his clout from BJP stalwart Sushma Swaraj, whom he considers his political mentor. Himalaya Stone Crusher, the plant Nigamananda died fighting, was reportedly patronised by Kaushik. Kaushik told TEHELKA, “I have been elected from Haridwar and I’m friends with many local residents, including the owner of Himalaya. But that doesn’t mean I’m sheltering anyone. I don’t have a single stake in Himalaya or any other crusher in the area.” Clearly though, the owner has had a long history of such friendships. Though Himalaya Crusher was located close to human habitations and had been accused of blatant illegalities, it prospered for 14 years. It was finally shut down only after the Uttarakhand High Court ordered its closure on 26 May, 25 days after Swami Nigamananda had slipped into a coma and 16 days before he passed away. The order by the two-judge high court Bench headed by Uttarakhand Chief Justice Barin Ghosh is full of censure and tells its own strong story. The Bench wrote: “The crusher owners got their licence renewed from time to time by the executive authority concerned despite the resistance raised by several social activists… representatives of the surrounding villages. One of the most prominent resistances was manifested by the saints of Matra Sadan ashram whose location, as it appears, is not far from this crusher. But their voice proved to be a wild-goose chase against the influence of the crusher owners, gen was perhaps an outcome of this high profiteering calling.” It added, “Under the garb of lifting boulders, the crusher owners started to dig the floor and banks of national river Ganga, causing deleterious affect not only upon the entire surrounding society but also upon humanity at large.” An important indictment. Unfortunately, Swami Nigamananda was no longer there to hear it. THE STORY of the two Babas and their anticorruption drive — one a parody, the other purer; one full of hot noise, the other marked by stoic action — is told at a glance by the nature of their ashrams. If you visit Haridwar, a zig-zag road lined with giant hoardings of a beaming Ramdev and his key associate Acharya Balkrishna, leads you to Ramdev’s sprawling ashram — Patanjali Yogpeeth Phase 1. (Besides Patanjali Yogpeeth Phase 1, Ramdev has two more ashrams — Patanjali Yogpeeth Phase 2, a sprawl of 30 acres, and Yoga Gram, a naturopathy and Ayurvedic treatment centre, as expensive as any private hospital, spread over 125 acres in Aurangabad village, Haridwar.) This mafia is backed by ministers. Such is their sense of impunity, in some cases, the mines and stone crushers are owned by BJP leaders in their own name Ashram is a misnomer; business empire would be a more appropriate way to describe the scale of Ramdev’s operations. Patanjali Yogpeeth Phase 1, which sprawls behind a majestic iron gate, houses an Ayurveda medical college, an Ayurveda university, air-conditioned administration and residential blocks and a separate block where Ramdev himself lives. There are also three auditoriums (one of which is the largest in Asia), the office of Bharat Swabhiman, a trust formed by Ramdev to kickstart his supposedly anti-black money campaign, Sant Ravi Das langar, and a Maharishi Valmiki Dharamshala, which houses and feeds the poor free for the first three days, after which money is charged. (There has never been an independent verification of Ramdev’s claims of feeding and housing the poor free for the first three days. Like his other land and financial dealings, Ramdev’s charity too remains a mystery.) There is another road in Haridwar, narrow, broken and potholed, which leads to an ashram in Jagjitpur village, named Matra Sadan. Situated on the banks of the Ganga, the ashram was set up in 1997 by Swami Shivananda, an ascetic who is now 64 and weighs less than 50 kg. The objective of the ashram was to promote Vedic traditions and strive for preservation of nature, especially the holy Ganga. Shivananda purchased four acres for Rs 10 lakh to set up the ashram along with his seven disciples. One among them was Nigamananda, who was 24 at the time. Anyone can walk into this ashram. There is no boundary wall, only a broken fence of wild bushes; no ironed gate, just a makeshift barrier of bamboo. Unlike Patanjali Yogpeeth that charges 10 as entry fee per vehicle, entry to Matra Sadan is free. But then, there is nothing inside Matra Sadan that warrants an entry fee. Just a couple of shabbily constructed quarters, a cowshed and a yagashala (a small enclosure for performing yagas). If a visitor happens to be present during meal time, the swami and his disciples insist he stay and eat. (Of course, the hospitality at Matra Sadan is free; Ramdev’s restaurant is the most expensive in Haridwar). Like the ashrams, the nature of the two anti-corruption protests were radically different. Ramdev erected huge tents in Ramlila Maidan and floated astronomical figures to get people all roused up and indignant (how Rs 50,000 crore would be given to every district if the government was forced to bring back the black money.) Nigamananda’s protest was much more pragmatic. And rooted in reality. Meeting Ramdev’s demands might have meant legislating Byzantine laws, changing the basic framework of Constitution, perhaps even changing our status from being a constitutional and democratic republic to an autocracy of holy and righteous men. But to meet Matra Sadan’s demands, all the Uttarakhand government needed to do was to enforce the law. On a bitterly cold morning on 19 February, Shivananda’s disciple Nigamananda sat under a mango tree in the ashram compound and started an indefinite fast. He was protesting the stay order by the high court Bench that had allowed Himalaya Stone Crusher to continue its activities. Matra Sadan’s allegation was that the stone crusher was functioning in the Kumbh Mela area, which, according to state government regulations, should be free of any stone quarrying or crushing activity. This was Matra Sadan’s 30th satyagraha against illegal sand and stone mining over the past 14 years. Nigamananda had previously participated in five of them — fasting for extended periods, which on occasion stretched into a couple of months. Besides Matra Sadan, no other organisation or political outfit had resisted the rampant illegal mining along the Ganga. Over the past 10 years, the state government had sent Shivananda and his disciples to jail thrice for staging agitations. On all three occasions, the ruling party was the BJP. So much for protecting the river that is the fount of Hindu civilisation. Matra Sadan launched its first agitation on 3 March 1998, in the midst of the Kumbh Mela. (Haridwar hosts the Kumbh once every 12 years). Nigamananda, along with another swami, Gokulananda, sat on an indefinite fast, demanding a complete ban on stone and sand mining and crushing activities in the entire Mela area. At the time, there were five ghats in the area that were affected by this. The fast was broken after one week, when the officer-in-charge of the Kumbh gave a written assurance that their demands would be met. The mining and crushing was halted while the mela was on. But once the mela ended, it resumed. So did Matra Sadan’s agitation. Nigamananda, along with a swami named Gudanand Saraswati, resumed their fast on 27 May 1998. On the 12th day of the fast, the district administration gave a written assurance that mining and crushing within the Mela area would be completely stopped. The administration kept its promise in the case of three ghats — Chandi Ghat, Dhobhi Ghat and Jagjitpur Ghat. But illegal mining continued in the remaining two ghats — Misarpur and Ajitpur. The government kept issuing conflicting and scandalous notifications to keep these ghats outside the notified Mela area so that the illegal mining and crushing could continue operating there. The biggest beneficiary of the government’s deceit was Himalaya Stone Crusher. The story of the government’s blatant and dogged efforts to protect Himalaya Stone Crusher boggles the mind. Reportedly patronised by BJP minister Madan Kaushik, the crusher is owned by a Haridwar resident named Gyanesh Agarwal. The Agrawal family is closely linked to the RSS. In 2009, when the then RSS Sarsanghchalak KS Sudarshan came to Haridwar, of all the places, he chose to stay at Agarwal’s house — a massive mansion in the heart of the city. Agarwal’s father Hazari Lal Agarwal is a member of the Bharat Vikas Parishad, a saffron outfit with close links to the RSS and VHP. Gyanesh and his brother are often invited as chief guests at RSS and VHP organised functions in Haridwar. Agarwal admitted that not only Sudarshan but current RSS supremo Mohan Bhagwat have stayed many times at his house. “But that doesn’t mean we are RSS members. As a businessman I keep close relations with all kinds of outfits,” he says. Agarwal had set up a huge crushing plant in Ajitpur village in 1998. This fell under the Mela area. Matra Sadan had been agitating against this. When TEHELKA visited Ajitpur on 19 June, the villagers said the plant used to openly excavate stones from both sides of the river banks. On 20 January 2008, Matra Sadan again started its satyagraha. Through various notifications, the government had placed Ajitpur outside the demarcated Mela area. Swami Shivananda produced government maps prepared during the Kumbh Mela of 1998, which showed the boundary of the mela extended up to Ajitpur. Nigamananda fasted for 73 days. Finally, the BJP government announced the formation of a high-powered committee to streamline the notified Kumbh Mela area. The committee recommended the inclusion of Ajitpur village in the notified Kumbh Mela area. The government failed to implement its own committee report. On 6 February 2009, Matra Sadan resumed the agitation. This time another sadhu named Brahmachari Dayananda sat unamfor an indefinite fast. On 7 March, the government finally relented and the Garhwal Division Commissioner made the announcement that stone picking at two more ghats — Misarpur and Ajitpur — would be temporarily suspended. But there was no stay on Himalaya Stone Crusher. After a few weeks, the stone picking at these two ghats resumed again. Between 15 October 2009 and 25 March 2010, four more swamis of Matra Sadan sat on indefinite fasts. The agitation lasted for 173 days. On 29 December 2009, the Uttarakhand government issued a fresh notification demarcating the Kumbh Mela area for the impending 2010 fair. But the boundaries were again demarcated in a way that the area where Himalaya Stone Crusher was situated fell outside the notified area and could continue to operate. During the agitation, Union Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh visited the ashram and sent an inspection team to verify the Matra Sadan’s claims of illegal mining along the banks of the Ganga. The Centre’s team found evidence of rampant illegal mining and submitted a report validating Matra Sadan’s claims. In January 2010, Ramesh even wrote a letter to the Uttarakhand CM saying, “I would urge you to kindly have the matter looked into so that necessary instructions are issued to the officers concerned to take immediate action to stop illegal mining going on in your state, including at Missarpur and Ajitpur in Haridwar, before the situation takes an ugly turn.” An invitation card showing mining don Gyanesh Agarwal as chief guest at an RSS event Inviting proof An invitation card showing mining don Gyanesh Agarwal as chief guest at an RSS event Eventually the government stopped the stone-picking at Missarpur and Ajitpur ghats. But yet again, Himalaya Stone Crusher was exempt. Matra Sadan continued to protest. Shivananda himself sat on a fast from 20 January. On 5 February, for the first time in 12 years, the government finally issued a notification that extended the boundary of Kumbh Mela area to include the location of Himalaya Stone Crusher. On 6 February, Shivananda broke his fast. But little did he know that while the government had issued the notification, it had not framed the corresponding rules to execute the order. The crusher owner approached the high court and sought a stay on the government’s order. In April, the court struck down the order and ruled in favour of Himalaya Stone Crusher on the ground that no rules had been framed to regulate the stone-crushing activity. Shockingly, the government didn’t contest in court. It didn’t even file an affidavit. On 18 November 2010, Shivananda resumed his fast, demanding that the government should frame clear and unambiguous orders and rules. On 10 December, the government did issue a fresh unambiguous notification. It also framed the corresponding rules. The swami broke his fast on 11 December. On 14 December 2010, for the first time, Himalaya Crusher’s activity was stalled, but only briefly. On the very same day, it filed a writ petition in the high court. The court gave the government six weeks to reply. In the meantime, it stayed the government order. To fight this flagrant injustice, Swami Shivananda also filed an SLP opposing the stay on the government order. Simultaneously, another sadhu, Swami Yajnanda, sat on an indefinite fast against the high court’s order. He fasted till 19 February 2011. Fatefully, on that day, Nigamananda took Yajnanda’s position. Ramdev’s demands meant legislating Byzantine laws. But to meet Nigamananda’s demands, all that the state needed to do was to enforce the law BY 27 APRIL, 68 days into his heroic fast, Nigamanada’s health started slipping. The ashram sent an SMS to the chief secretary. The district administration landed up at the ashram and shifted Nigamananda to the Haridwar District Hospital. Until that day, neither any government official or minister had gone to see Nigamananda or persuade him to break his fast. “We did go a couple of times even before 27 April but made the mistake of not making any entry. So we don’t have any evidence to prove that,” claims Sundaram. Shivananda claims that on 30 April, a nurse came to the ward, injected Nigamananda and took the syringe away with her. On the same night, his health started deteriorating again. On 2 May, he slipped into a coma. Briefly, he was shifted around to several hospitals, eventually being sent to the Himalayan Super Speciality Hospital in Dehradun. From 2 May to 13 June — the day Nigamananda died — no minister or bureaucrat went to see him. Three days earlier, on 10 June, Ramdev was admitted to the same ward of the same hospital. The ICU was immediately converted into a VIP room for Ramdev. Chief Minister Nishank went to see him the very next day. Emerging from the hospital, the CM told the waiting media jamboree, “Ramdev’s life is important for the country and I am praying to God for his early recovery. The state government will do whatever it takes to save his life.” In the same breath, he lambasted the Central government for forcibly removing Ramdev from the Ramlila Maidan and called the UPA regime thoroughly corrupt. On 12 June, the CMwent to see Ramdev again. The same afternoon, Ramdev broke his fast in the midst of a full media spectacle, flanked by other super rich, jet-setting gurus — Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, Morari Bapu and Ramdev aide Balkrishna. As Ramdev sipped a glass of juice, TV channels broke the news: “Baba Ramdev ends his fast.” Just a few doors away, Nigamananda was breathing his last. IN 2007, a pungent satiric song by famous folk-song writer Narendra Singh Negi brought ND Tiwari’s government down. The BJP had used Negi’s song about Tiwari’s sexual misadventures with great relish then. Now — ominously for the BJP — Negi has written a song about Chief Minister Nishank. Skewering the CM for his corruptions, the lyrics of the song ask: “Ab kathagya kholo tu?” (How much more will you eat now?) — a euphemism for asking how much more money he wants to make before he hangs up his boots. The song lists all the alleged scams and scandals the CM has been involved with in his two year tenure. Sadhus of Matra Sadan ashram carry the body of Swami Nigamananda for burial Final journey Sadhus of Matra Sadan ashram carry the body of Swami Nigamananda for burial Photo Courtesy: Matra Sadan (Apart from illegal mining, Nishank has been embroiled in several high-profile controversies on corruption related to land and power projects. However, at the height of the furore around him, BJP President Nitin Gadkari flew down and gave him a clean chit.) The epic story of Nigamananda and Matra Sadan’s struggle against corruption puts all of this — and much of the current frenzied lip service against corruption — to shame. It is proof that, like in the film Peepli Live, we are all interested in the circus, not in the tragedy. For 14 years, as the swamis struggled relentlessly against a visible and flagrant corruption, forget the national media, even the local media gave them absolutely no attention. In a country that constantly and willingly genuflects before spiritual charlatans and tinsel men of god who drive Lexuses and travel in limousines and charge their devotees Rs 50,000 to sit in the first row and Rs 20,000 to sit in the back row, it is a searing blot on our conscience that no one paid any heed to the real Babas and their 14- year non-violent war against corruption. Therefore, perhaps, the only glimmer of hope in this cautionary tale is that while the blustering, low-on-facts, high-onemotion black money crusade lies shrouded in ambiguity, the Matra Sadan Babas’ struggle has finally yielded a real triumph. For 14 years, as the sadhus struggled against flagrant corruption, forget the national media, even the local media gave them no attention On 26 May, while Nigamananda lay in a coma in the hospital, Uttarakhand Chief Justice Barin Ghosh and his colleague Justice Sarvesh Kumar Gupta ordered the closure of Himalaya Stone Crusher. Everything the court said upheld the allegations Matra Sadan had levelled for more than a decade. This is what the order said: “Due to consistent digging and mining in the Ganga by Himalaya Stone Crusher and others, the river has become deepened and as a result the groundwater level has depleted in the thousands of acres of surrounding land. Even hand pumps in the villages in the area have been without drinking water in their borings. “Because of dust emanating from the crushers, the agricultural production in many villages has been reduced to nullity. So is the case in surrounding orchards, especially of mangoes, forcing the farmers to sell their lands to crusher owners. The illegal mining has also caused soil erosion in large swathes along the Ganga. “The Himalayan Stone Crusher was being run in violation of the Mining Policy 2001, which mandated that crushers should be at least 5 km from any human habitation. The suspended particles released by the crushers are causing diseases like tuberculosis, asthma and other respiratory diseases to local villagers. “The crusher, located in the agricultural green belt and also ecologically fragile zone, was never granted the NOC by Haridwar Development Authority.” Baba Nigamananda is dead. But Himalaya Stone Crusher is shut down. At least, for the moment. Ashish Khetan is Editor, Investigations with Tehelka. Manoj Rawat is a Principal Correspondent with Tehelka Hindi, Dehradun. http://www.tehelka.com/story_main50.asp?filename=Ne020711COVERSTORY.asp BJP defensive on Nigamanand’s death Claims it is a victim of Congress tactics Ranjana Adhikari New Delhi LEFT WITH few options, the BJP chose to go on the defensive on the matter of Swami Nigamanand’s death due to his fast against stone quarries on the banks of the river Ganga in Utarakhand. Swami Nigamanand had been on an indefinite fast against the stone crushing and the illegal mining activity that was being undertaken near the Ganga River. After 120 days of fasting, he breathed his last at the Himalayan Hospital in Jollygrant, Dehradun on Monday. “The Congress Party has no moral right to lecture us on these matters. It was the Congress government that gave licenses to the quarry owners. And now they preach to us on the environment,” said BJP spokesperson Nirmala Sitharaman on Wednesday. Her statements came after the Congress attacked the BJP government in place in Uttarakhand over the Swami’s death. The Congress alleged that the death was the result of negligence on the part of the government, and demanded a CBI enquiry into the matter. Sitharaman claimed that the Uttarakhand government had been in talks with Swami Nigamanand over a prolonged period of time, and despite all its efforts, he passed away on Monday. However, Sitharaman also went on to claim that the BJP was a victim of Congress’s tactics. “Uttarakhand needs development and it needs its roads, but Jairam Ramesh has threatened to invoke Article 5 of the Environment Act. This is the Congress’s hypocricy. The Congress is punishing the people of Uttarakhand for electing a BJP government, just like they did in Karnataka,” she said. “The Congress is trying to destabilise the state government. Its allegation against the Uttarakhand government is an attack on federalism,” she added. http://www.tehelka.com/story_main49.asp?filename=Ws150611BJP.asp Swami Nigamananda's death exposes government failure to stop mining on ganga banks On February 19, 'Clean Ganga' crusader Swami Nigamananda sat on a fast-unto-death in Haridwar to protest against illegal mining and quarrying on the river bed. The 34-year-old ascetic died on June 13, ironically, on the same day the Government joined hands with the World Bank for a comprehensive Rs.7,000 crore project to clean the river. The swami died at the same hospital, the Himalayan Institute in Dehradun, where Baba Ramdev was being treated for complications induced by his much publicised nine-day fast. This was not the first time Nigamananda had sat on a fast. He had undertaken one in December 2001 that lasted 68 days. In 1997, Nigamananda and Swami Shivananda founded Matri Sadan Ashram, a group of around 10 swamis, who have been running a 'Save the Ganga' campaign. The Supreme Court has banned quarrying and allows only collection of silt from river banks and river beds. On the basis of a pil filed in 2009, the Uttarakhand High Court also ordered a stay on quarrying. But despite protests and court bans, illegal quarrying continues to proliferate in the hill states. "The Government should be asked if it is monitoring who is quarrying and where, even after leases have been cancelled," says Vimal Bhai, convenor of the Matu People's Organisation, a group of environmental activists from Uttarakhand. The Centre's past attempts to rid the river of pollution have come a cropper. The latest scheme will be implemented under the National Ganga River Basin Project. The Centre's share will be Rs.5,100 crore and that of the five state governments-Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand and West Bengal-Rs.1,900 crore. World Bank will provide both technical and financial assistance-$801 million as loan and $199 million as credit. http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/swami-nigamananda-death-exposes-government-failure-to-stop-mining-on-ganga-banks/1/141855.html Eco-sensitive zone along upper Ganga announced No projects on the 135 km stretch BY Tuhin Dutta In its effort to save the Ganga, the government has given an in-principle approval to make a 135 km stretch from Gomukh to Uttarkashi an “eco-sensitive zone,” thus prohibiting the construction of any projects on this particular stretch. The decision was taken during a high-powered meeting of the National Ganga River Basin Authority (NGRBA) chaired by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The meeting was attended by Minister for Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh, Uttarakhand Chief Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal and others. “No other projects will be allowed in this zone. While certain activities will be permitted, many of them will be prohibited. An eco-management plan has to be there. A monitoring committee will be set up to look into the issues,” Ramesh said. The government has also decided to discontinue three hydroelectric projects in that particular stretch: the 381 MW Bhaironghati, the 480 MW Pala Maneri and NTPC Ltd’s 600 MW Loharinag Pala projects. A considerable amount of work has already been done for the last. This comes after Ramesh’s assurance to activists and religious leaders who have been raising their concern over the projects for some time now. In another decision, the government has decided that for five-year projects, operating and maintenance (O&M) costs will be shared by both central and state governments, with the latter bearing the smaller share. After three years, performance will be monitored and then a decision will be taken for the next two years. Posted on November 02, 2010 http://www.tehelka.com/story_main47.asp?filename=Ws021110ENVIRONMENT.asp The Ganga’s Last Roar Mega dams. Crumbling mountains. Collapsing villages. India’s mightiest river is being chained to kilometres of man-made tunnels. TUSHA MITTAL travels upto Gangotri, tracking a disaster in the making Free of Fetters: Ganga flows unrestrained at Gangotri. A major project is planned nine kilometres downstream Photos: Trilochan S. Kalra ALL NIGHT, damp unruly winds have been raking the Himalayan slopes, showering the Bhagirathi valley with torrents of rain. At night, the river flows with a vociferous thud, numbing everything else. At night, the outlines of dynamite are just a blur; it is easy to forget. But now, day is about to break. Soon the first slivers of sunlight will slant their way over tall timber trees, dive inside the Ganga as she cras - hes against the rocks, and warm the backs of the endangered Ganges dolphin and Hilsa fish migra t ing upstream to Gangotri for their hatching season. In ashrams all along the river bank, saffron priests brace themselves for a holy dip. Villages begin to buzz with routine. But morning sharpens other shapes and sounds. The high-pitched droning of drilling machines. Yellow helmets. Vacant fields of concrete. Winds howl inside grotesque, hollow tunnels. Sunlight is caught in the wedges of turbines, some churning, some still. Every mega watt of lost electricity costs the nation four to six crores. Meanwhile, children scurry goats across a bridge that will soon be under water. The warning — part of submergence area, can collapse anytime — has no meaning. The goats must be fed; the children must cross. India has 4,500 large dams. Until recently, the pristine stretch between Uttarkashi and Gangotri boasted of only one: Maneri Bhali Phase I. But a series of consecutive hydro-electric projects are now in different stages of construction on this 125-kilometre stretch. Five major ones threaten the normal existence of the Bhagirathi, as the majestic Ganga here is called. If they go through as planned, it is feared the Ganga may completely disappear from large stretches, leaving the riverbed limp and dry. What is happening in the Bhagirathi valley represents a dangerous mindset sweeping the country: the emphasis of national over local, the glorification of the word ‘development’ regardless of what it means on the ground, the shift of scarce resources from communities to corporations, the myth that money can compensate sacrifices made by those at the lowest end of the totem pole, one-dimensional definitions of cost. And the idea that benefits will last forever. What is happening in the Bhagirathi valley is not only an erosion of ways of living and local cultures, it is an erosion of nature itself. Of life source. It is a movement towards everything industrial, temporary, based on a contract. That is why Attar Singh Panwar fears being mistaken for a city man. That is why hundreds like him fear the world they have known will vanish forever. To understand the significance of what is really happening in the Bhagirathi valley, you have to begin your trail with the controversial Tehri Dam, operational since July 2006. The lake created by the dam stretches for an astounding 60 kilometers. The waters are blue, dazzling, dead. Not a wave, not even a ripple. The Ganga only seems alive again where the Tehri lake ends. But she will not be allowed to meander free through the spectacular cliffs and gorges for too long. At a place called Dharasu, several kilometers ahead, the Ganga is intercepted. Steel meshes. Iron beams. A colossal powerhouse. This is the tail end of Maneri Bhali Phase 2 Hydel-project that began operation in January 2008. If you are traveling upstream, stop and have a last look. From here on, you will witness an apocalypse in the making. The head of one project follows short on the tail of another. This means when the projects are done, the Ganga will be cascading from tunnel to tunnel, touching the riverbed for only a few kilometres in between. To generate the required 304 MWelectricity at Maneri Bhali II powerhouse, water needs to be dropped on the turbines from considerable height. To achieve this height, the river is made to pass through a 24-kilometre long tunnel that originates from the head dam of the hydel project in the city of Uttarkashi. It is another matter that Maneri Bhali Phase II is only generating 102 MW at present. Or that none of the three operational dams on this stretch — Tehri, Maneri Phase I and II — have ever generated electricity on optimum capacity. Or that all hydel projects are given clearance based on the claim that they will generate power to full capacity 90 percent of the times. Yet, data gathered by SANDRP, a Delhi-based NGO, shows that 89 percent of 208 large dams they studied are underperforming significantly, 49 percent generating less than half the projected output. “This shows that a large number of unviable projects are getting clearance. We need real assessments of real costs and real benefits. There is no credible mechanism to see only justified projects go through,” says Himanshu Thakkar, founder, SANDRP. But he knows, even if only justifiable projects went through, the apocalypse would still come. As you leave the Maneri Bhali Phase II power house and drive towards Uttarkashi, you could be fooled. It is tempting to think nothing earthly can tamper with the primordial grandeur of these rolling hills. An atheist might begin to believe in God, or at least in a power far superior than human capacity. But suddenly, the dense green cover of the mountains gives way to chalkwhite pyramids. Jarring heaps of muck and cement — malba extracted from the tunnels — are being tumbled into the river. Drive further and sandy fractures leave you perplexed: these are places where the land has slipped, succumbed, a sign that the mountains are not as strong as they look. There are frequent landslides here, and it is a high earthquake-prone zone. The river travels on with you to Uttarkashi. The monsoons have replenished the waters now, but in winter, this stretch would have been dry, the water tunnelled. Locals Unnatural seasons: The flow of Ganga downstream of Maneri Bhali during winter, when maximum water inside the tunnels say they have crossed it on foot. Jal Vidhut Nigam officials tell TEHELKA that they have a minimum discharge policy, that even during the lean seasons they let out a mere 5-6 cubic meters of water per second to maintain the river flow. Compare this to the 8,63,4000 million cubic meters of water that is estimated to flow from this Himalayan region annually. It is no surprise that environmentalists claim these projects are suicidal, that rocks will be carved no more, that the mighty Ganga will be reduced to a trickle and cease to exist for the 150 million people in this region. On reaching Uttarkashi, another colossal structure is waiting to greet you. This is the head of Maneri Bhali Phase II dam. Enter the villages of Joshiyada and Kansyan nearby and you will know why the apocalypse will come after all. To really understand the significance of what is happening in the Bhagirathi valley, you have to imagine the colossal scale of the river, its ecosystem, and the dependent human life that is being tampered with. The Ganga has been described by the World Wildlife Fund as one of the world’s top ten rivers at risk. It has over 140 fish species, 90 amphibian species, and five areas which support birds found nowhere else in the world. The flora and fauna found along its banks are vital to nutrient and water conservation, and control of soil erosion. 451 million people living in its basin are directly and indirectly dependent upon the Ganga. ENVIRONMENTALISTS SAY the Ganga’s waters have unique anti-bacterial properties, a kind of self-purifying quality that makes its waters possess oxygen levels 25 times higher than any other river in the world. This unique quality is destroyed when the river is forced to pass through tunnels, where there is no oxygen and sunlight. Hydro-electric projects also alter the basic composition of the riverbed, creating crucial hyrological and biological changes in the river. For example, water quality tested at the Maneri Bhali Phase 1 project inlet the water was classified as “clean”. At the end of the reservoir, the water was shown to be “heavily polluted.” According to a mercury analysis report released in May last year by the Central Pollution Control Board, the Bhagirathi is also being contaminated by increasing levels of mercury. But that is only the tip of the berg. The Nobel Prize winning report by the International Panel on Climate Change says the Gangotri glacier will recede by 80 percent by 2030, reducing the Ganga to a seasonal river. This means that in barely 20 years, there may not even be enough water for the turbines to churn. Yet the government persists with its mammoth projects. When TEHELKA asked AK Bajaj, Chairman, Central Water Commmision Chairman, for data from water availability and feasibility tests that is mandatory before projects are cleared, he said, “Data of Ganga waters is confidential.” Local groups have been protesting the damming and tunneling of the Bhagirathi for six years — ever since these projects were first given clearance. Yet, this apocalyptic project only got national attention a few weeks ago when Prof GD Agarwal, a noted environmentalist and former professor of IIT-Kanpur, declared a fastunto- death. With canny understanding, he referred to these projects as “matricide” — the killing of Mother Ganga, sacred to Hindus. Swamis from as far as Gangotri trekked down to Uttarkashi, 125 kilometres away, to support him. The result: Uttarakhand CM Major Gen Khanduri agreed to temporarily stall two projects. Moving base to Delhi, Agarwal then continued his fast opposing the 600 MW, centrallyfunded NTPC hydel-power project at Loharinag Pala. He only broke his fast last week when the Power Ministry sent him a note assuring him that a committee will be formed to ensure the free flow of the Ganga. But the real situation is far from clear. Speaking to TEHELKA, Union Power Minister SK Shinde said: “We have decided the water flow must be allowed, but the project also must happen. Technically, we have to find out how this can be done, so we’ve asked for three months time. A committee is being appointed. India’s sentiments are attached to this river Bhagirathi. I don’t want to play with people’s emotions. That is why we have agreed to find a way out.” The way out, predictably, will be tough to find. Shinde says the 600 MW project cannot be completely cancelled and construction will continue while the expert committee is formed. “An advance of Rs 2,000 crore has been sanctioned. Now you are asking us to stop. I wasn’t the minister six years back. when these projects were started. When the BJP laid the foundation, nobody opposed it.” What makes all of this more painfully ironic is that India’s push towards a new large dams comes at a time when big dams are being decommissioned the world over. In America alone, 654 dams have been removed so far; 58 more are slotted for removal, many to restore salmon habitat. In fact, the decline of salmon population has led to landmark judgements. Among the most impressive examples are the removal of the Elwha and Glines Canyon Dam, one of the country’s tallest dams, removed at an estimated cost of $100 million. “The removal of these big dams is an important change in how the nation views its rivers — a realisation that a healthy, free-flowing river can be one of a community’s most valuable assets,” says Amy Kober of American Rivers, an NGO. This is not something India’s Power Ministry is ready to understand. Ask Shinde why India continues to promote large dams despite an international movement against then, and he says, “India has a shortage of 30,000 MW. From where are we going to get that power? Look at China. Look at their Three Gorges dam. When China is doing it, why can’t we? For a 1,000 MW project in Tehri we got so much criticism. If you want electricity, you have to sacrifice something.” Tehri, in fact, is a good example of India’s myopic response to its energy needs. Not a single dam in India has been subjected to a post-project evaluation. Tehri is the world’s 8th tallest dam. Until March 2008, a sum of Rs 8,298 crore had been spent on the dam, far outweighing the initial planned costs. Its projected power generating capacity was 2,400 MW. Currently, it is generating only 1,000 MW, less than half its capacity. Just last week, siltation in the Sutlej river forced the temporaray closure of the 1,500 MW Nathpa Jhakri hydel project. Moulded water: The river at Maneri Bhali Phase 1 during the monsoon BUT TO understand the human tragedy of what is happening in the Bhagirathi valley, you need to watch Prem Dutt Juyal as he searches through heaps of faded paper. These are documents he has been collecting ever since the land below his house began to crumble. Juyal is a resident of Jalwal village, located a few kilometers from where Old Tehri once stood. Jalwal and neighbouring villages were not rehabilitated because they were higher than the 840 meter submergence level of Tehri lake. Yet, for the past year, their fields have been imploding, and they are dogged by frequent landslides as the waters of Tehri lake eat into the very foundations of their homes. Furthermore, New Tehri town is 250 kilometres from their villages. The markets where they sold their vegetables, the schools they sent their children to, are all under the waters of Tehri lake. The new ones are out of reach. They live in crushing isolation. But their demand for rehabilitation has no takers. According to a detailed study of 54 large dams done by the Indian Institute of Public Administration, the average number of people displaced by a large dam is 44,182. India has 4,500 large dams. Even if you assume a minimum of 10,000 people displaced by each dam, this means that 45 million people in India have been displaced due to large dams. In villages like Joshiyada and Kansyan near Uttarkashi, people are just beginning to feel the impact of that particular kind of apocalypse. It has been six months since Vinoda Devi of Kansyan village started sweeping the floors of a dam office. “They said we will discuss the payment, but I am still waiting.” Surbir Singh Bist, Kansyan village head, went on an indefinite hunger strike and had to be hospitalised. His demand: “Don’t give our left-over land to third parties, big companies, hotels. Give us permanent government employment.” In neighbouring Joshiyada village, Badri Semwal has a hardware store on a busy main road. He lives on the top floor. Stand on his terrace, and you can see the waters Waterfall, man-made: Excess water being released from the Maneri Bhali tunnel of Maneri Bhali lake creeping up to his home. It is black and dead. A few months from now, his terrace will be under it. “They realised only after they started churning the turbines that we also fall in the doob shetra. Now they are rehabilitating us somewhere in the hills, not to a similar commercial property. How will I survive?” Other families face the same predicament. Joshiyada market was closed for a week in February in protest, but no one was there to see. Driving away from Uttarkashi, towards the head of Maneri Bhali Phase 1, you might meet Attar Singh Panwar. You might mistake him for a city man. There is nothing in his faded denim jeans and T-shirt to suggest he has lived for 38 years in the Himalayan wilderness. He is walking back to his village with packets of KurKure and a bottle of Bisleri. He recently started working as contract labour for NTPC. There is nothing about him to suggest he would rather be grazing cattle, or planting potato and rajma in his lost fields. “I was happier when I had my own land. I had independence. I may have lakhs of rupees now (from the compensation) but it will soon go. Money comes and goes. Land is permanent,” he says. Panwar does not think of himself as a city man. He certainly does not aspire to be one. He has seen what happens when city needs encroached upon his turf. His sister and brotherin- law died in an earthquake in 1991. So did 72 others from his village, situated right above a 9- kilometre tunnel supplying water to Maneri Bhali Phase I. “I am certain the deaths were so high because of the blasting. It has made the land more fragile,” he says. Drive further towards Pala village and the apocalypse has already begun. The Pala Maneri tunnel is being drilled a kilometer away. Houses here have started cracking. Water sources are drying up. The debris from the tunnel has choked natural springs. Something out of his control is making Attar Singh Panwar into a city man. Like hundreds of others, he does not want to be one. He’d rather believe in the river his family has lived by for generations. But the Power Ministry would tell him the Northern Grid needs more electricity. So malls across the nation can blink through the night. From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 5, Issue 28, Dated July 19, 2008 http://www.tehelka.com/channels/crusader/crusade_main.asp
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