#Gujarat- 15000 Gujarati pilgrims rescued ? #Uttarakhand


 Tales of survivors magnify the absurd claim

By Vishal Dutta, ET Bureau | The Economic Times, 30 June 2013

Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi meets flood-affected peopl Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi meets flood-affected people at a relief camp in Haridwar on June 22, 2013

It’s raining heavily, its zero degrees, I am freezing and rain water is gushing down from the hills. Five of us have managed to reach the terrace, the other four died on the spot on the ground floor due to water and debris… I can hear three women half-buried in the debris screaming for help.

I need to help them or else they will die. But my legs are swollen… The entire town is pitch-dark… my mobile has last point charging… You don’t speak, just hear me and try to get help from the Gujarat or Uttrakhand government or get in touch with Central government….”

That’s a chilling mobile phone recording of a five-minute desperate plea for help at close to midnight on June 16 from Hiren Dave, stuck in the hills of Kedarnath, to his friend Javal Patel in Ahmedabad. Javal hasn’t heard from his 36-year-old friend since then. It’s almost two weeks now that Hiren and 12 others of a group of 40 pilgrims that went to Kedarnath are missing. Hiren’s SOS to Javal was just one of the many he made as the clouds burst over Kedarnath on that fateful Sunday. Through that night he and his family members ­ as well as Javal in Ahmedabad ­ made frantic calls to different help agencies in Uttarakhand, Delhi and in Gujarat.

No One Listened

“The government hardly has any presence during crises and like a fool my friend was asking me to get the government’s help,” says a broken Javal. “That night I was so near to him, but still helpless to do anything. Hiren was begging for help and the government was nowhere near.” Along with Hiren, four of his relatives are also missing, even as his wife and younger brother back home are scurrying around for help and information. Manshuk Patel is one of the 40 from the group who has been brought back from Uttarakhand. But eight of his family members are still missing.

Hospitalised for depression, Patel is inconsolable and has lost his will to live. No government official visited him; neither has the government been able to provide any information about his missing family members. Ashok Barot, 52, a head constable with a local CID crime branch in Gujarat, was lucky to survive. A high blood pressure and diabetic patient, he decided to stay back in a bus, 17 km off the Kedarnath shrine. The next morning when he saw a huge tsunami hurtling towards him, he and other passengers ran toward a hill.

“Halfway up, when I turned back to take a look at the parking, nearly 80 parked vehicles had got swept away at one go,” says Barot in disbelief. Against this backdrop of devastation, the mysterious and atrocious claim that Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi rescued 15,000 from the state is black humour at its worst. “He was able to rescue only 150 Gujaratis via air,” Arjun Modhwadia, Gujarat Congress president, told a local daily. For their part, Modi and the BJP have distanced themselves from the ‘Rambo’ act. “Such claims reflect the sick mind of the politicians and the real anti-people vote politics of politicians. This is nothing but exploitation of people’s pain for their narrow vote politics even in such a manmade disaster situation” says Rohit Prajapati, an RTI activist and founder of Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti, an NGO.

Politically motivated claims also undermine the stellar efforts of the armed forces that had deployed over 8,000 troops to rescue over 2,000 stranded people (till the time of writing). The Rambo feat appears even more absurd when juxtaposed with Gujarat’s own disaster management set-up, suggests Prajapati. “Looking at the numerical strength and skills of the present staff of the GSDMA [Gujarat State Disaster Management Authority], it appears that the department is in coma,” he points out. The GSDMA was formed by the state government a week after January 26, 2001 earthquake hit Gujarat.

Nearly 17,000 people had died. To substantiate his argument, Prajapati points to a report of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) released on April 23 this year, where it has clearly said that between 2007 and 2012 GSDMA held only two meetings. And the state’s draft State Disaster Management Plan was approved only in July 2012.

The report further points out that emergency operation groups to address the immediate impact of a particular incident were not created. Interestingly, it’s the same CAG report which had warned that an Uttarakhanddisaster plan did not exist. A detailed email questionnaire sent to the office of GSDMA CEO Ranjit Banerjee inGandhinagar remained unanswered. When contacted, an official at the office informed this reporter that Banerjee would not be replying.

Prajapati is fighting for setting up a chemical disaster emergency plan in Gujarat, as the state has large chunk of chemical industry ­ it accounts for more than 62% of the nation’s output of petrochemicals and 51% of chemicals. He says the GSDMA may have got some awards but does not have chemical emergency and nuclear emergency plans. For the moment, however, all eyes are on Uttarakhand, and how many more of the missing can be found. Says Palavi Patel, elder sister of Hiren: “The real test of any government’s potency is during catastrophes and not during good times with food security bills and employment schemes.”

#India – Why Narendra Modi behaves like larger-than-life Rambo


This Pic is by Amir Rizvi

This Pic is by Amir Rizvi

Economic Times, Kigshuk Nag, 28 Jun, 2013
Narendra Modi hasn’t formally studied economics or sociology, but he sure has intimate knowledge about the theory of expectations.

In essence, the theory suggests that a person will decide to act in a way that will lead to the fulfilment of what he expects to happen.

So, Modi knows that if electors can be convinced to believe that he will win in 2014, they will actually vote for him. Thus, his whole effort now is to convince theelector that he alone will be the victor.

Though given to talking big for a long time – lately earning him the epithet of feku – this is the real reason for Modi for projecting himself as a Rambo who rescued 15,000 Gujarati pilgrims from Uttarakhand in a day.

The logic works like this: if a particular elector believes that electors in general are convinced that Modi is a Rambo, he will expect them to vote for the Gujarat chief minister and make him the winner.

This, in turn, will induce this particular voter to be in tune with the general mood and plump for Modi (unless he has specific reservations).

Expand this particular voter to the universe of all voters and it is easy to figure out how a general expectation that Modi will win can lead to his actual victory.

Of course, the reverse is also true. A general belief that he cannot win will induce non-committed voters to cast their franchise for someone else. Modi is also using the expectation theory when he warns CBI officers that the government could change in the near future. Read this as, proceed gingerly in the Ishrat Jahan case and do not cross me because tomorrow I willbe your boss.

As a matter of strategy, Modi is also using the theory of expectations along with the public mood in the country that is for “change”. The mood for change first became clear from the massive support garnered by Anna Hazare in 2010-11. Hazare’s enormous popularity was because people saw him as the change agent. But this was short-lived because people soon realised that Hazare could not deliver on the change that they wanted. Actually, the people also do not know the “change” that they seek.

Modi is cognisant of this and is offering himself as the change agent.

The task of Modi’s spin doctors will be to build more attributes for the man, so that they tend to align with the change that the people want. Some changes that people want are fairly clear: they want an honest, transparent regime.

That such a revolution cannot take place in India through our defective electoral system – where loads of moolah is needed – may be known to analysts but not to the common man.

Thus, Modi’s men will project him as clear-as-a-crystal leader who delivers on his promises without fear and prejudice. At the same time, they will de-emphasise some of the attributes that have stuck to Modi.

The most obvious of them is his being anti-minority. To counter this, BJP proposes to produce a vision document for minorities.

Slowly, Modi is also being seen as a handmaiden of big business. As evidence of this, last week, a huge crowd of farmers rode into Ahmedabad in trucks, tractors and trailers protesting the Modi government move to forcibly acquire 50,887 hectares of farm land for a special investment region. Expect Modi nowto become pro-farmer.

Modi’s biggest apprehension, however, is that the 2014 elections becoming a referendum on him. This is in spite of Modi revelling in being perpetually in public gaze and nothing can be a bigger ego-booster than a national election exclusively focused on him. A poll where Modi is pitted against Rahul Gandhi or Manmohan Singh is less difficult for him to manage considering the Congress’ two-term anti-incumbency effect.

But a battle that becomes a choice, want Modi or don’t want him, can become an almost insurmountable obstacle for Modi to cross.

This is because many who prefer Modi to Rahul will pause and evaluate carefully whether they want Modi at all. Many who will give the thumbs down to Rahul will not approve of Modi in isolation because they know he is a feku, projecting a larger-than-life image of himself.

The writer is resident editor, Hyderabad, The Times of India

 

Press Release- #Uttarakhand- We cannot ignore the climate crisis anymore!


INDIA CLIMATE JUSTICE

 

STATEMENT ON THE UTTARAKHAND CATASTROPHE

We cannot ignore the climate crisis anymore!

 

 

25 June 2013

 

The India Climate Justice collective notes with deep anguish the devastating loss of life, livelihoods, and homes in Uttarakhand and beyond. The death toll is likely in the thousands, way beyond current official figures. We extend our deep condolences to the families and friends of those killed, and our support to those still fighting for survival, and to local populations whose livelihoods will take years to rebuild.

 

This tragedy was triggered by extreme unseasonal rains in North India, 2-3 weeks in advance of what is normal for this region. The Director of the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD), Dehradun, said that 340 mm fell in a single day at Dehradun, a record not seen for five decades. Such extreme and unseasonal rainfall seems to us to indicate a global warming induced climate change phenomenon. Warmer air due to global warming has the capacity to hold more moisture, leading to more intense bursts of rainfall. The natural monsoon cycle in India has already been badly disrupted, and a new cycle of extreme rainfall events and prolonged droughts have been reported from all over the country in the recent past. Thus, contrary to statements by senior politicians, the Uttarakhand disaster is not natural: it is no less man-made than the other contributors to the tragedy. And if it is indeed induced by global warming, similar catastrophes could recur with increasing frequency and intensity anywhere in the country in the coming years.

 

In Uttarakhand, a chaotic process of ‘development’ that goes back many years exacerbated the effects of this extreme rain. Extensive deforestation of mountain tracts, by the state and more recently due to ‘development’ projects, led to soil erosion and water run-off, thus destabilizing mountain slopes and contributing to more intense and frequent landslides and floods. Unchecked hill tourism has resulted in the huge growth of vehicular traffic, spread of roads not suitable to this mountainous terrain, and the construction of poorly designed and unregulated hotels and structures, many near rivers. Sand mining along river banks has intensified water flows into rivers.

 

Most of all, the construction and planning of hundreds of small, medium and large dams across the Himalayan states from Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand in the northern Himalayas to Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh in the east, have destabilized an already fragile ecosystem and threatened biodiversity. A staggering 680 dams are in various stages of planning, or construction in Uttarakhand alone! These dams have a direct connection with the extent of the damage that can be caused in such flooding events, in that the tunnelling and excavation in the so-called run-of-the-river projects cause huge and unregulated dumping of excavated debris into river basins, leading to increased siltation, and in turn aggravating the flood situation. The electrical power generated by these dams will be consumed by urban elites elsewhere. It is ironic that these dam projects, while adversely impacting people’s access to their river commons, claim to be climate change solutions in the guise of renewable and green energy, and have already made huge profits by fraudulently claiming CDM (clean development mechanism) status. In 2009, the CAG had warned the government of Uttarakhand that the “potential cumulative effect of multiple run-of-the-river projects can turn out to be environmentally damaging”. Like many other warnings by environmentalists and local community groups in the past, this was also ignored. And now we are facing one of the biggest disasters that the country has seen in decades.

 

The central government of India and various state governments, including the govt of Uttarakhand, have prepared action plans for combating climate change. Any such plan ought to include the establishment of a disaster-prediction and warning mechanism. The Uttarakhand government has taken no measures to prepare for this kind of eventuality, though it has paid lip service to climate action plans over the last three years.  In the present case, the IMD issued inadequate warning, which was disregarded by the state government. An urgent prior warning could have ensured that pilgrims don’t move forward and retreat to relative safety, that locals reduce their exposure to risk to the extent possible. Thousands of pilgrims from different states, locals, workers in hotels and dharamshalas, and transport animals have been killed. Cars with people inside them were washed away. Those who have survived had to go without food for several days. Thousands are still stranded at different points, or in forests, and we are still counting the dead.

 

There has also been extensive devastation of local lives and the regional economy. Serious devastation has been reported from over 200 villages, so far. Innumerable locals, including agricultural workers, drowned in the raging waters or were submerged under mud and debris. Houses have collapsed or been washed away. Tourism and the local employment it generates have been hit indefinitely at the peak of the tourist season. Floods, landslides and debris have devastated agriculture along the rivers. Irrespective of whether these extreme rains are due to climate change or not, this is what a climate change world in the Himalayas looks like. This devastation is a glimpse into a climate uncertain future.

 

We see this tragedy as a result of cumulative and widespread injustice and wrongdoing: not only against the Himalayan environment, but also against mountain communities whose survival depends on that environment. This tragedy is also a crime, because our policy makers and administrators are also part of the larger climate injustice at a global scale that threatens, displaces and kills the marginal and the poor everywhere. On another plane, they simply let it happen. We believe that adaptation to disasters does not just mean desperate rescue work during and after the event, but also reducing vulnerability and risk before. Effective adaptation involves a series of measures that need to be adopted on a war footing. The sustainable development of a hill economy, and equity – not profit for a few – should be at its core.

 

India Climate Justice demands:

 

·         That the governments at the central and state level retreat to a low carbon pathway of development that has equity, decent employment, and sustainability at its core.

 

·         That the planning and construction of dams in the entire Indian Himalayas be reviewed, and all construction be halted until such a review is carried out.

 

·         That the use of explosives in all such infrastructure development works is completely stopped.

 

·         That, given the likelihood of extreme rainfall events and other climate extremes in the future, extensive and sub-regional warning systems are put in place urgently across all the Himalayan states, the coastal areas and beyond.

 

·         That a proper assessment of the carrying capacity of specific ecosystems is carried out.

 

·         That the eco-sensitive zone measures be implemented from Gaumukh to Uttarkashi and eco-sensitive zones be established in other river valleys.

 

·         That a river regulation zone be enforced such that no permanent structures are allowed to be constructed within 100 metres of any river.

 

·         That the residents and their organizations are thoroughly consulted in a democratic plan on climate change, in the revival of the local hill economy, and the generation of decent employment.

 

·         That all working people be compensated for the loss of life and livelihood, and that urgent plans are put in place for the revival of local livelihoods and agriculture.

 

·         That the central government learn from the Uttarakhand catastrophe to put in place prior adaptation measures not just for the mountainous regions but beyond, for coastal and the drought-prone interiors as well.

 

 

 

(INDIA CLIMATE JUSTICE)

 

 

Endorsing Organizations

All India Forum of Forest Movements; Pairvi; Beyond Copenhagen; South Asia Network of Dams, Rivers and People; National Alliance of People’s Movements; Himalaya Niti Abhiyan; New Trade Union Initiative; All-India Union of Forest Working People; Chintan; Bharat Jan Vigyan Jatha; Toxics Watch Alliance; Nadi Ghati Morcha, Chhattisgarh; Rural Volunteers Centre, Assam; Vettiver Collective, Chennai; Himal Prakriti, Uttarakhand; Maati, Uttarakhand; Bharat Gyan Vigyan Samiti; River Basin Friends (NE); India Youth Climate Network; Intercultural Resources; Kabani, Kerala; Human Rights Forum, Andhra Pradesh; National Cyclists Union, India; Equations; Posco Pratirodh Solidarity, Delhi; Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives; Science for Society, Bihar; Nagarik Mancha; SADED; JJBA, Jharkhand; BIRSA; Jharkhand Mines Area Coordination Committee; Adivasi Mulvasi Astitva Raksha Manch; National Adivasi Alliance; Bank Information Centre; Focus on the Global South; Jatiyo Sramik Jote, Dhaka; Jharkhand Jungle Bachao Andolan; People’s Union for Democratic Rights; All India Students Association; All India Progressive Women’s Association

 

Individuals

Badri Raina, Kamal Mahendroo, Benny Kuruvilla, Subrat Sahu, Arun Bidani, Saurav Shome, Amitava Guha

 

India Climate Justice is a collective comprising social movements, trade unions, other organizations and individuals. It was formed in 2009 to respond to the growing climate crisis, from a perspective of justice and equity.

Emailindiaclimatejustice@gmail.com

Tel:  09434761915, 09717771255, 09910476553

 

#India – #Uttarakhand Undone by rampant mining, illegal buildings


Author(s):
Issue Date:
2013-6-24

Uttarakhand government has made no attempt to enforce mining and building regulations in the state, which exacerbated flood’s impacts

imagePhotograph: Sowmik Mukherjee

In the decade that followed grant of statehood to Uttarakhand in 2000, the state’s development priorities changed. Infrastructure and real estate development, triggered by the cash flow from tourism, have led to indiscriminate mining of river beds for construction material, altering the fragile Himalayan environment. This human activity has exacerbated the effects of the flash floods that have badly affected the state.

The number of tourists visiting Uttarakhand since 2000 has increased by 155 per cent, according to data with the Uttarakhand tourism department. When floods struck on June 17, close to 28 million people were visiting the state; the state’s population is half this number.

Tourism stress

While the Association of Hotels and Restaurants of Uttarakhand, a private body of hospitality entrepreneurs, estimate that over 100 small hotels, mostly on the banks of rivers, have been swept away in the recent floods, accommodation for tourists remains a concern. A working paper of the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations published in 2008 on the economy of the state in 2006 illustrates this shortage. A survey conducted by the authors of the paper on development strategy for the hill districts of Uttarakhand stated that annually the state has only 8.4 tourist rent houses per million tourists, 102.5 hotels and guest houses per million tourists, and 337 beds available for every million tourists. The shortage of dwelling units to meet the ever-increasing numbers of tourists visiting the state led to the mushrooming of illegal structures, some of which were constructed right on the river banks at the risk of being swept away by seasonal flash floods.

Land in Uttarakhand currently being diverted for mining
Name of the district Area in hectares Name of the river Area in hectares
Uttarkashi 141.84 Bhagirathi 104.17
Yamuna 25.22
Kamal Nadi 12.45
Chamoli 115.81 Alaknanda 59.95 + 1.3(Tehri) + 18 (Pauri Garhwal)
Pindar 26.65
Birhi 19.71
Dhauli Ganga 9.5
Rudraprayag 51.38 Mandakini 31.58
Madhu Ganga 19.8
Dehradun 63.51 Tons 9.42
Aamlava 54.09
Tehri 29.56 Dayagad 3.44
Chandrabhaga 9.82
Song 10
Bal Ganga and Dharam Ganga 5
Pauri Garhwal 67.91 Kolhu Nadi 4.02
Mandal Nadi 30
Silgarh Nadi 10.89
Ganga 5
Champawat 182.8 Sharda 100.31
Saryu Ramganga 6.21
Ram Ganga 2.5 + 14.778 (Almora) + 1.255 (Pithoragarh)
Ladhya 73.78
Almora 59.62 Swal 2.64
Binsar 3.41
Nanha Kosi 3.55
    Kosi 4.97
    Panar 7.35
    Saryu 4.9 + 3.57 (Pithoragarh) + 8.825 (Bagheswar)
    Gagas 5.01
    Binod 7.76
    Devta 5.25
Pithoragarh 34.08 Gori Ganga 1.28
    Kali Ganga 21.84
    Gori 5.61
    Dholi Ganga 0.52
Udham Singh Nagar 724.69 Bour 100.02
    Feeka 42.99
    Bahela 6
    Dhaila 30
    Koshi 304.2 + 26.085 (Nainital)
    Gaini 10
    Dabka 15
    Kailash 198.8
    Goula 12.68
    Huddi 5
Bageshwar 13.87 Dhandhali 1.19
    Gomati 3.85
Nainital 123.83 Gola 89.75
    Khaima 6.60
    Nihal 1.39
Total 1,608.9    

A public interest litigation filed in the Uttarakhand High Court by Roorkee resident, Dinesh Bhardwaj, shows there was scant regard for a notification passed by the state government in 2000, prohibiting any construction within 200 metre of a riverbank. Bhardwaj could not provide a count of the number of structures in his petition, but in February 2013 the bench comprising of chief justice Barin Ghose and justice Alok Singh ordered the state government to demolish all structures along the banks of rivers. Several structures were identified along the banks of the rivers Ganga, Song, Bhagirathi, Alaknanda and Mandakini. No action was taken; only notices were issued, says a disgruntled Bhardwaj. “Had the state government taken an action against these illegal encroachments, people dealing with these structures would not have to face such a loss,” he adds.

River bed mined, forestland diverted

Experts say the main indicator of the thriving real estate business in Uttarakhand is the way river beds are mined for boulders, pebbles, sand and gravel. On June 13, 2011, Swami Nigamanand who had been fasting for 68 days in protest against the indiscriminate and illegal mininghttp://www.downtoearth.org.in/content/swami-and-sand-mafia [2] on the Ganga river bed by a local quarrying and sand mining company, died. Subsequently, former Union environment minister Jairam Ramesh wrote to the then chief minister, Ramesh Pokhriyal, to end indiscriminate mining of the river bed. Data accessed from the state forest department show that from 2000 till 2010, 3,903.24 hectares (ha) of forestland in the state have been diverted for different mining projects.

In 2011 the state formulated a new policy on mining. It proposed auctioning of various sites identified by the mining department. Forest officials at the meeting said that the state government would be able to realise a profit of Rs 300 -350 crore if these sites could be auctioned and favoured the passage of the new policy. Tenders were floated for mining sites at the end of 2012, which proposed an additional diversion of 1,608 ha of land for mining across all the districts (see table). The policy states that the first right of quarrying up to 5 ha of land would rest with the owner. Incidentally, most of the mining happens on river banks or on unmeasured land known as be naap zameen, which used to be under the gram panchayats. Until last year, about 400,000 hectare of be naap zameen was under forest department. However, with the new mining policy in place, these land parcels were transferred to the revenue department. Locals opposing mining fear that the state might divert these land parcels for commercial purposes. Mining department officials, however, have been arguing that the transfer was undertaken to prevent indiscriminate and illegal mining.

But officials of the state mining department fail to explain why mining was stopped at Tailihat village of Garur Block in Bageshwar district of the Kumaon region weeks ahead of last year’s elections, only to be resumed after a few weeks, when the election results were declared. As Tailihat’s case was documented by Charkha Trust, a non-profit working with youth in the region, it turns out most of local youth were involved in the illegal mining on the Gomati river bed. This caused deep resentment among residents who were struggling to continue their farming activities amidst hundreds of trucks and dumpers taking out sand from pits 25 feet deep. A 40 kilogram of sand bag was sold for Rs 20 in the area.

Professor R Shankar of IIT-Roorkee’s environment engineering and planning division warns that unscientific mining of sand, boulders and gravel from the river bed will cause more devastation if it is not checked. “Himalayan rivers carry not only silt but large boulders and pebbles. Sometimes during the monsoon the river spills over or spreads because of the presence of large amounts of silt. Therefore, it (the silt) needs to be removed. However, one needs to understand the course of each and every river to its specifics; only then can such an activity be undertaken,” adds Shankar.

 

source- down to earth

 

#India – 80-year-old former IIT professor- G D Agarwal on indefinite hunger strike again


 

Author(s): Soma Basu  , down to earth
Date:Jun 14, 2013

‘Despite repeated assurances of government, 18 proposed hydel projects on the Ganga and its tributaries have not been scrapped’

G D Agarwal has been on fast thrice earlierG D Agarwal has been on fast thrice earlierEnvironment engineer G D Agarwal has resumed his indefinite hunger strike in Matri Sadan Ashram in Haridwar to press his demand of scrapping all hydro projects on the Bhagirathi, Alaknanda and Mandakini river basins. He has gone on hunger strike thrice earlier to protest against the Loharinag Pala hydroelectric project in Uttatrakhand which was eventually scrapped by the government under public pressure.

The 80-year-old former IIT professor, who is now known as Swami Gyan Swarup Sanand, started his fast on Thursday to commemorate the death anniversary of Swami Nigamanand  on 13 June, 2011. The 32-year-old ascetic had fasted for four months to protest illegal sand mining and stone crushing along the Ganga near Haridwar; his associates alleged he was poisoned at the behest of powerful stone crusher lobby.

Swami Dayanand of Matri Sadan ashram said Agarwal resumed his fast because despite repeated assurances of the government, 18 proposed mini and major hydropower projects on the Ganga and its tributaries have not been scrapped.

“It is imperative to maintain the ecological flow of Ganga and its tributaries. Construction of so many hydropower projects is threatening the existence of Ganga that is a symbol of India’s faith and culture. At several places, debris from construction site of projects is dumped into the river,” he said.

Earlier in 2010, Agarwal had fasted for over a month protesting the construction of the 600 MW Loharinag Pala hydroelectric project in Uttarkashi. The project would have left a stretch of 125 km of Ganga between Gangotri and Uttarkashi dry. The project work was stalled in 2010. However, Uttarakhand chief minister, Vijay Bahuguna, have been supporting two major projects—Loharinag Pala and the 480 MW Pala Maneri on the stretch of Bhagirathi between Uttarkashi and Gangotri.

 

#India – Politics of ecology , Bhagirathi river in Uttarakhand


Frontline

 

The Centre’s notification of a 100-km stretch along the  as an eco-sensitive zone evokes a strong reaction from the Congress government in the State as well as from the BJP, besides sparking protest demonstrations. By PURNIMA S. TRIPATHI

THE Congress government in Uttarakhand is caught in a political cleft stick over the eco-sensitive zone (ESZ) along the river Bhagirathi. The Centre declared the 100-kilometre stretch along the river, from Gaumukh to Uttarkashi, an ESZ last year and the final gazette notification was published recently. The Uttarakhand government is doomed if it supports the notification and doomed if it does not, because the local people, with the support of the main opposition party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), have risen in revolt against the decision. Dharnas and demonstrations are being held in Uttarkashi, and the State Congress is worried that if it does not speak out against the decision of the Congress-led government at the Centre, it will have to face the people’s ire. Hence, the government has been forced to take the politically untenable position of demanding that the notification issued by the Centre be rescinded.

Following protests by environmentalists, including an indefinite fast by Professor G.D. Agrawal, on the pitiable condition of the Ganga as a result of widespread damming and tunnelling for various hydropower projects (which was extensively covered by Frontline), the Centre decided to constitute the National Ganga River Basin Authority and declared the 100-km from Gaumukh to Uttarkashi an ESZ, in what was then a landmark decision considering the massive damage that was being inflicted on the fragile ecology of the area .

The decision meant that certain strict do’s and don’ts had to be followed. For example, activities that are strictly prohibited include hydro-electricity projects other than micro and mini ones (100kV to 2 MW), extraction of river water for industrial projects, commercial mining of minerals and stone quarrying, commercial felling of trees, commercial use of firewood, setting up polluting industries and discharging untreated sewage and industrial effluents into the river. Plastic carry bags and hazardous waste processing units are also banned inside the zone.

Activities that are to be regulated with checks and balances include defence installations and other infrastructure relating to national security, pine plantations, introduction of exotic species, establishment of hotels and resorts, erection of electric cables, tree felling, water extraction for sale, and signboards and hoardings. The guidelines apply to an area of 4,179.59 sq km, including the 100-km watershed stretch from Gaumukh to Uttarkashi, covering 88 villages. All development activities in the area will be according to the zonal master plan, to be prepared by the State within two years, and compliance to this master plan will be ensured by a monitoring committee which will have a person of known integrity and administrative capability as its head and 10 other members, including a representative of the Ministry of Environment and Forests, besides representatives from non-governmental organisations, the town planning department, the Pollution Control Board and Forest and Irrigation Department and environment and ecology experts.

The draft notification was placed in the public domain in July 2011, but the final gazette notification was published only now. The State government has protested against the notification, saying that its objections to certain provisions in the draft have been overlooked by the Centre. Chief Minister Vijay Bahuguna met the Prime Minister on May 6, along with the Member of Parliament from Haridwar and Union Minister Harish Rawat, the MPs Satpal Maharaj and Pradeep Tamta, Uttarakhand Tourism Minister Amrita Rawat, the MLA from Gangotri Vijaypal Singh Sajwan, and Chief Secretary Subhash Kumar. Bahuguna also met the Minister of State for Environment and Forests, Jayanthi Natarajan, and requested her to take positive action.

The Chief Minister, who presented a strongly worded, three-page letter to the Prime Minister, told him that despite his having written to the Minister of State for Environment and Forests in December last year, the Centre had gone ahead and issued the notification without following due procedure and without consulting the State government. He pointed out that while in the draft only an area of 40 sq km was to have been affected by the notification, the final notification increased this to 4,179.59 sq km, which was unfortunate. Besides, he said, the draft had put a ban on hydropower projects of 25 MW and above, but the final notification banned all hydel projects, which would rob the State of significant sources of revenue in the future. “… projects with a capacity of 1,743 MW, which are in various stages of development, cannot be executed anymore, apart from the already incurred expenditure of Rs.1,061 crore going waste…. Such a sensitive decision has been taken by the MoEF without consultations at the field level,” he wrote.

 

 

The Chief Minister also pointed out that the strict guidelines for tourism-related activities, the restriction on the number of pilgrims to char dham yatra, and the ban on the construction of roads would anger the local people and pilgrims and compromise national security in the strategically located border State. He told the Prime Minister that the State already had a plethora of regulatory mechanisms to deal with the issues, so there was no need for additional administrative hurdles in the way of development. He also said that besides causing unrest among the people, the final notification had legal loopholes as statutory provisions had not been followed while enhancing the area affected by 100 times. “Keeping the huge public resentment and also the legal lacunae, I request you to kindly rescind the notification of the eco-sensitive zone in its present form with immediate effect,” he wrote in the letter to the Prime Minister.

The Prime Minister reportedly told the delegation that an inter-ministerial committee would go into the points raised by it. But a senior State government official told Frontlinethat it was highly unlikely that the Centre would heed the State’s demand to rescind the notification. “May be minor adjustments could be made as a face-saving device, but cancellation, as demanded by the Chief Minister, is ruled out,” said the official, admitting that the fears raised were mostly hypothetical in nature. A senior MoEF official also ruled out the possibility of rescinding the notification, saying that at best some “corrections” could be carried out.

Political compulsions

Environmental activists, including members of Ganga Ahavaan, an NGO, who have been at the forefront of demanding such a measure to save the Ganga from unscrupulous building and mining, including mining by the sand mafia, say the Chief Minister has been politically compelled to act since the BJP had made it an issue. “They are afraid that they will have to face the people’s anger if they don’t protest,” says Hemant Dhyani, a Ganga Ahavaan activist from Uttarkashi. Significantly, the contractors’ and builders’ lobby, which has also been demanding the cancellation of the notification, is alleged to have masterminded a number of attacks on Ganga Ahavaan activists.

 

 

According to Nitin Pandey, an environmental activist from Dehradun, the claims of those opposed to the notification are nothing but a pile of falsehoods and lies. “The truth is that if anyone is harmed by this 41-page document, then it is the construction lobby, the mining mafia, the timber mafia and the rich people who want to build big hotels in the area. There is absolutely nothing in the notification which harms the common man in any way. On the contrary, the notification strengthens the hands of the common citizen, much to the chagrin of the moneyed exploiters of Uttarakhand, whose exploitation of Uttarakhand’s natural resources will now be curtailed,” he writes in his blog. According to him, there has been a sustained, motivated and totally baseless campaign against the notification, carried out with the intent of scaring the common people and leading them to believe that their lives will be ruined by this notification. “On the contrary, the truth is that the lives of the residents of all the villages and towns in the area will be made more secure, safe and immune from exploitation by moneyed people. It contains nothing other than common sense issues which our State government should have implemented on its own, without waiting for the notification. Why our leaders give out factually incorrect statements is anyone’s guess,” he writes.

Mallika Bhanot and Gita Khillani of Ganga Ahavaan agree. “The objection [to ESZ] is totally baseless, politically motivated and instigated by the contractors’ lobby. We are trying to make people see better sense but we are facing a lot of hostility in this. We are trying to convince the people that development should be in sync with the particular flavour of the area, and the ESZ, in that sense, was for their larger good,” they say.

The BJP, meanwhile, has declared, predictably, that it will continue its agitation on the issue. In fact, former BJP Chief Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank also wrote to the Prime Minister, when the draft notification was issued, raising serious objections. He had told this correspondent then that being a border State which had over 60 per cent of its area under forest cover, it needed a different set of guidelines for development. “We need to keep our peculiar characteristics in mind because we too have to undertake development projects and provide employment to people. The guidelines for us should be different from other States which are in the plains,” he had said. Nishank, in fact, has been advocating that the Himalyan States should be formed as a separate group, with separate guidelines for developmental activities. The Assembly elections saw the exit of the BJP and the arrival of a Congress government, which too is hamstrung by the same political compulsions and hence finds itself speaking in the same language as the erstwhile BJP government.

The discomfiture of the Chief Minister was evident in the fact that he avoided giving an interview to Frontline on the issue. His office said his letter to the Prime Minister, being self-explanatory, should suffice.

Politics indeed makes strange bedfellows, in this case, the two sworn enemies, the BJP and the Congress. Politics has also forced the Congress-led State government to confront a Congress-led Centre.

 

No Coca Cola Plant Clearing Forests – Villagers in Uttarakhand


murder

Another Chipko movement to save the forest may well be on the horizon. Uttarakhand government has promised Coca Cola 60 acres of forest land to set up a Rs. 600 crore plant in Charba after getting environmental clearance from a committee. Thousands of villagers from 15 Panchayats gathered in Charba to protest the plan to clear the forests. The community forests, according to the villagers, have been planted and nurtured by them for three decades. These forests have boosted the water sources of the region, and once the forests are gone, the water sources will dry up, Charba gram pradhan Rumiram Jaswal has said. The farmer population of the village are hence against the project which will create drought-like conditions. The protesters plan to launch a tree hugging movement, taking a cue from the famous Chipko movement.

BJP national secretary Trivendra Singh Rawat and State general secretary Prakash Pant and other party workers came to the village to support the villagers against the project in getting which the Congress chief minister Vijay Bahuguna played a key role, but the protesting villagers did not allow them on the dais, saying that they would not allow political parties to hijack their movement.

Allegations of environmental abuse is not news for Coca Cola. Many areas near Coca Cola bottling plants experience severe water shortage. With the forests gone and the plant in, the water crisis fears among the villagers are absolutely legitimate. Coca Cola plant’s drawing up of groundwater without concern for the ecosystem has caused drying up of wells and no water in water pumps. The plant activities cause groundwater pollution. The waste from the plant causes pollution where it is dumped and where it washes to, including rivers like the Ganges. In Plachimada and Mehdiganj, Coca Colawas found selling its plant waste as ‘fertilizer’ in which toxic substances like lead and cadmium were found. The drinks are also high on pesticides, due to which they are banned in the Parliament of India cafeteria.

In a society where a large number of people are dependent on agriculture, and the extensive use of chemical pesticides, fertilizers and GMO seeds which require high water input has been promoted through the Green Revolution and other government and private efforts, water shortage in a region can spark a low agricultural output crisis which can trigger other kinds of crises including that of employment and over-migration. And of course, there is the pollution and all that comes with it. In short, a Coca Cola plant can bring nightmarish conditions to an area. The list of resistance against CocaCola plants is pretty long. Some of the well known ones are Kala Dera(Rajasthan), Plachimada(Kerala), Mehdiganj (Uttar Pradesh).

 

UIDAI Lucknow office under Supreme Court panel lens for ‘casteism’ #Aadhaar


Arunav Sinha , TNN | May 12, 2013, 03.48 AM
LUCKNOW: Taking cognizance of complaints of ‘ casteism’ practised allegedly within the precincts of the Lucknow regional office of Unique Identification Authority of India, the National Commission for Scheduled Castes has asked UIDAI’s regional office, Lucknow to submit a probe report and action it intends to take by May 21.
The May 7 letter issued by the NCSC state office for UP and Uttarakhand seeks the response of the UIDAI Lucknow office by May 21, 2013. TOI has a copy of the letter issued by the NCSC.
The letter’s footnote reads further, “National Commission for Scheduled Castes is a constitutional authority. You are expected to respond within stipulated time, failing which the commission will be constrained to invoke constitutional powers to deal with the matter.”
In his 13-point complaint (a copy of which is with TOI) submitted before the NCSC, a former quality control operator at UIDAI, Vijay Kumar, has alleged he was “harassed” as he is a dalit. In one of the 13 points, he states, “Abhishek Mishra, Assistant, had on a number of occasions prevented me from drinking water before others as I am a dalit. Once when I told Abhishek Mishra about the water cooler not functioning properly, he snubbed me saying if the water cooler is not working properly, I should not complain and instead find some other source for drinking water.”
When contacted, ADG CS Mishra confirmed having received a letter from NCSC, and said, “A probe would be conducted and stringent action would be taken against anyone who is found guilty.”
Vijay also claims that nepotism is rampant in UIDAI. “The blue-eyed boys of assistant director generals (ADGs) CS Mishra and Ashutosh Ojha enjoy a comfortable position in office.” He adds, “The two ADGs and Abhishek Mishra call the shots in this office and routinely harass the staffers. It was precisely the reason I did not dare to open my mouth against them, as I was in an extremely defenceless position.”
Expressing his fear, Vijay says, “I fear threat to life from these senior officials at UIDAI’s Lucknow regional office and they may frame false charges against me. Sadly, my tormentor has been asked to investigate and take action. I hope I get justice.”
Adding weight to the claims of Vijay, four other former staffers of UIDAI Lucknow, who were “sacked”, have lodged a complaint before the National Human Rights Commission alleging harassment by the two ADGs and the assistant. TOI has a copy of the NHRC complaint as well. All the complaints are currently under consideration of the NHRC.
Debashish Gargory, one of the five complainants, says, “We have been made to suffer as we did not follow the diktats of these officials, especially Abhishek Mishra, who works at the behest of the two ADGs.” Gargory adds, “We even tried to raise our concerns before the senior officials of UIDAI Headquarter but we did not get any response to our emails. Finally, on April 13, we decided to move the National Human Rights Commission.” He also alleged manipulating of attendance in the office, and ADGs turning blind eye to it.
As if the complaints of alleged harassment were not enough to highlight a seemingly sad facet of the UIDAI, a number of RTIs addressed to the UID headquarters Delhi and Lucknow regional office also indicate that all is certainly not well.
In one of the RTI applications, the applicant has sought information regarding the justification of providing high-end mobile phones and staff cars to officers who are not eligible for the same. Several other questions in the RTI applications (copy with TOI) hint at rules being possibly tweaked in the name of running a “project”.

 

 

National Urban Health Mission (NUHM) as a sub-mission under the National Health Mission (NHM)


PIB PRESS RELEASE

The Union Cabinet gave its approval to launch a National Urban Health Mission (NUHM) as a new sub-mission under the over-arching National Health Mission (NHM). Under the Scheme the following proposals have been approved :

1.        One Urban Primary Health Centre (U-PHC) for every fifty to sixty thousand population.

2.        One Urban Community Health Centre (U-CHC) for five to six U-PHCs in big cities.

3.        One Auxiliary Nursing Midwives (ANM) for 10,000 population.

4.        One Accredited Social Health Activist ASHA (community link worker) for 200 to 500 households.

The estimated cost of NUHM for 5 years period is Rs.22,507 crore with the Central Government share of Rs.16,955 crore. Centre-State funding pattern will be 75:25 except for North Eastern states and other special category states of Jammu and  Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand for whom the funding pattern will be 90:10.

The scheme will focus on primary health care needs of the urban poor. This Mission will be implemented in 779 cities and towns with more than 50,000 population and cover about 7.75 crore people.

The interventions under the sub-mission will result in

·         Reduction in Infant Mortality Rate (IMR)

·         Reduction in Maternal Mortality Ratio (MMR)

·          Universal access to reproductive health care

·         Convergence of all health related interventions.

The existing institutional mechanism and management systems created and functioning under NRHM will be strengthened to meet the needs of NUHM. Citywise implementation plans will be prepared based on baseline survey and felt need. Urban local bodies will be fully involved in implementation of the scheme.

NUHM aims to improve the health status of the urban population in general, particularly the poor and other disadvantaged sections by facilitating equitable access to quality health care, through a revamped primary public health care system, targeted outreach services and involvement of the community and urban local bodies.

Background

The Union Cabinet in its meeting held in April 2012 has already approved the continuation of the National Rural Health Mission (NRHM) and the other sub-mission under NHM till 31.3.2017.

 

PRESS RELEASE-International Anti Big Dam day- People oppose Vishnugad-Peepalkoti HEP in Ganga valley


A pic of the Tehri dam taken from a moving bus...

 

  • Today on 14th march in Alaknandaganga valley, on the occasion of international Anti Big Dam day demonstration held .on one hand , across the country, there has been no rehabilitation of the people displaced by big dams ,the environmental norms have been grossly violated ,on the other side the proposed power generation has not happened .In Uttrakhand itself the situation of the Dams constructed so far , is very dismal .the dams pose a danger not only for the river but also spell doom for the state. For seeking their rights , Tehri Dam displaced people had to go up to the supreme court only then some semblance of rehabilitation has happened. For the last 21 years litigation has been going on in the case between N.D. Juyal and shekhar singh V/s GoI. The struggle for rehabilitation has been spearheaded by the anti dam campaigners .

    In uttrakhand on Alaknandaganga under construction Vishnugad–Peepalkoti HEP area ,under the banner of Matu Jansangthan, men and women of the affected villages of kaudiya ,Durgapur ,Harsari ,Naurakh ,Tagari etc. protested .In Harsari village people gathered at the Dam site where the construction of tunnel is under way ,the work was stalled and THDC officials were gheroed .After this the procession proceeded to the THDC office at Siyasedh ,shouting slogans like Ganga ko aviral Bahene do ,Badhe bandh Dhoka hai ,and vowed to continued their struggle .

    In the meeting Naurakha Vansarpanch Brihashraj Tadial said that destruction of our future would not be tolerated, we do not want Dams .We have fought till today and the struggle would continue.
    Narinder Pokhariyal said that for the last 9 years our village peopel are facing the consequences of this proposed Dam but the company has not shown any concern . Even Hatt village people are hanging on to mere assurances only.

    Ramlal said that the company has not been able to compensate for the damages done during the survey so the people can well gauge the future .Geeta devi said that due to site blasting at night while the people have lost their sleep the government is sound asleep . Women at various villages Masuri Devi ,Nandi Devi ,Bhadi Devi all protested daming of the river.

    Impact of even samll Hydro Electric Project are in bad in Uttrakhand. For example on July 24 and 3rd aug 2012 ,in Assi ganga river valley due to cloud burst under construction Kaldigahat and Assi ganga Phase-I and II Hydro electric project caused disaster and Bhagirathi ganaga in Maneri Chal phase II caused lots of destruction. There is no account or record of the deaths of the workers . The villages along Assiganga have been badly affected. The pathways have been eroded . But no action, no enquary has been setup on the dam builder.

    Under this situation our struggle is on against dams to save our rivers and our rights over on natural resouces.

    Narendra Pokhriyal, Bindadevi, Ramlal, Keshridevi, Vimalbhai

 

 

 

 

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