#India – Everest Conquerors ,Mountaineers quietly rescuing people in Uttarakhand #mustead


A group of ace climbers, which includes Mt Everest conquerors Bachendri Pal and Premlata Agarwal, have quietly arrived in Uttarkashi from across India ” trekking up to villages where even the Army jawans haven’t reached, providing essential supplies to marooned villagers who have no food, water or power

June 30, 2013
MUMBAI
Dhiman Chattopadhyay, Mid Day

 

They have conquered the highest peaks in the world and maneuvered dangerous gorges, endured heavy snowfall and lack of oxygen. But all that pales in comparison to what they are doing now — helping thousands of stranded, starved and ill villagers of Uttarkashi with food and essential supplies in areas so remote that even the army jawans have failed to make their way to these places.


Mountaineers Bachendri Pal, Premlata Agarwal and their group  managed to reach stranded villagers at Bidsari, Pilang, Jadau and some other places in Uttarakhand. Pics Courtesy/Anusha Subramanian and  Guneet Puri

A small group of ace climbers, led by two women who have conquered Mt Everest, arrived in Uttarkashi last week from all over India to help rescue operations in the flood-ravaged state. Till Saturday evening they had managed to climb up to six ‘unreachable’ villages around Maneri, where over 400 people are without home, food, water and medicine since June 16. On the way, they have also rescued, and guided dozens of dehydrated tourists, ordered to trek over 50 kilometres by jawans who were told to rescue women, children and the elderly first.

Mountaineers Bachendri Pal, Premlata Agarwal
Mountaineers Bachendri Pal, Premlata Agarwal

The group has now sought help from the Tata Relief Trust and several other NGOs to airdrop life-saving materials such as food, medicines, candles, matchboxes, blankets and tents, to these villagers. They are being led by the legendary Bachendri Pal, the first Indian woman to conquer Mt Everest and Premlata Agarwal the first Indian woman to conquer the highest peaks of all seven continents. Others in the team include journalist and mountaineer Anusha Subramanian, and a team of climbers including Guneet Puri, Yashwant Panwar and Jay Panwar, who were all part of the Mt Thelu expedition.


People wait to be airlifted at Harsil on June 21. Pic Courtesy/Guneet Puri

Hanging on to life
“We have managed to reach stranded villagers at Didsari, Pilang, Jadau and a couple of other places. Most people here are without power, water or a roof over their head. The government has just airdropped packets of biscuits for them to eat. Many of them are suffering from diarrhoea since they are not used to such food. We are trying to help them with food, medicines and some form of shelter,” says Anusha Subramanian, a Mumbai-based journalist and a trained mountaineer who rushed to Uttarkashi after receiving a call from her friends. Subramanian who trained at the Nehru Institute of Mountaineering reached Uttarkashi soon.


Many locals in the region are without food, water and their homes. Pic Courtesy/Anusha Subramanian

While Everest conquerer Bachendri Pal, who heads the Tata Adventure Foundation, arrived in Uttarkashi as part of the Tata Relief Trust (TRF) team to spearhead relief operations, she was joined by her friend Premlata Agarwal who holds the twin distinction of being the oldest Indian woman to climb Everest and the first Indian woman to scale the tallest peaks in all seven continents. Subramanian who has several high-altitude treks to her credit, also flew down from Mumbai while mountaineers Puri, Panwar and Tanwar arrived from snow-capped peaks in the upper Himalayas.

Dharali town
A mudslide that ravaged parts of Dharali town. Pic Courtesy/Guneet Puri

Trekking every day for relief operations
According to Subramanian who spoke to SUNDAY MiD Day whenever she and her team were in a zone with mobile connectivity, they have been trekking to different villages every day, taking small supplies of food and medication, as they await choppers from the TRF to arrive with tents, foodgrain, candles and other supplies.


(L-R) Premlata Agarwal, Bachendri Pal, Guneet Puri and Anusha Subramanian along with other members of the group.

“Uttarkashi seems like a ghost town, so different from what I have experienced in the past. The tragedy has many ramifications for locals, the most important being loss of livelihood. Yesterday, we, along with some employees of the NGO Sri Bhuvaneshwari Mahila Ashram (SBMA) and the TRF team, went to assess the situation in the upper reaches of Maneri. These villages have lost their homes and their land,” she said.

A rapid assessment by SBMA shows that Uttarkashi has 120 villages, which have been completely destroyed. There are no roads to connect them to mainland, no electricity and above all no ration to cook food. “This is the third monsoon disaster since 2010 in this region. After the first two disasters, the government identified 250 villages as dangerous but did not take action and relocate villagers,” said a member of the SBMA.

The ace mountaineers are now helping adopt six such villages of New Didsari, Didsari, Pilang, Jadaou, Bayana and Shyaba and provide relief to approximately 400 families. “Bachendri Pal is originally from Uttarakhand. She has personally surveyed some of these villages and along with all of us she is ensuring that relief reaches each and every villager,” says Subramanian.

Ground reality
The team recalled how they were shocked to see the condition at New Didsari, one of the villages they reached. “It has 55 families who have been displaced from their homes and lost everything they had. No medical aid has reached these villages yet. The villagers are sad, disappointed and angry. The bridge that connects their village with the world, has been washed away,” recalled Guneet Puri, who reached Uttarkashi on June 20 after a month in the upper Himalayas attempting to scale a 20,000 feet peak. The other villages, explains Pal, are even more remote. The only way to get to these villagers is through treacherous mountainous routes. Even a helicopter cannot land here and airdropping is the only option after all roads were destroyed. But these bravehearts are not giving up. They are staying put, till the villagers are back on their feet. At a time, when politicians are busy gaining political mileage from this human tragedy, heroes like these men and women are keeping the nation’s flag flying proudly.

‘We met people on the verge of death’
Guneet Puri is yet to come to terms with what has been the biggest mountaineering challenge of her life. The ace mountaineer and her teammates were on their way back from Mt Thelu when they encountered the disaster.
Her account:
We reached Harsil village on June 21. Over 4, 000 people were stranded there. They had all been forced to walk over 50 km since the Army was rescuing children, women and the disabled first. We met people on the verge of exhaustion or death. All of us were carrying between 23 to 30 kilos of equipment with us since we were returning from an expedition. But when we saw the plight of these tourists, we happily carried their luggage with us. In the end, we almost carried some of them, too. By the time we reached Gangani, all our toes has blisters. We could hardly walk. But things were about to get worse. From here to Uttarkashi, entire roads had vanished. We helped hundreds of tourists who had no energy to walk, let alone climb the huge boulders. We rushed a woman to the hospital in Maneri after she fainted. These are my people and we have to take care of them. We are doing what we can. But when I look at the magnitude of the disaster, our efforts seem to insignificant. Still, every drop counts.

 

#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.

 

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