#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).

 

Press Release – On Earth Day Doon valley declareS Chipko Movement -Coca-Cola, Pepsi Cola ‘Quit India’ #CSR


DEhradun, April 23, 2013E

Forty hectares (about 85 acres) of land with more than 60,000 trees of different species such as Shisham, Kher, Bakkaiyan, and Sagwan, is in danger.  On the  17th of April 2013 the Chief Minister of Uttarakhand, Vijay Bahuguna, signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Hindustan Coca-Cola Beverages Private Limited, allowing them to establish a 600 crore bottling plant on this land, of which Coca-cola has already handed over a cheque of 1.6* crore.  In response the villagers of Charba and their pradhaan (village head) congregated at this forest to declare a chipko movement in protection of this green belt on the 21st of April 2013. The Navdanya team was present at this meeting to extend our support and distributed brochures which highlight the hazards of Coca-cola and such bottling units to the local environment and, consequently, the people.

On Mother Earth Day 2013 (April 22nd) in response to the village level protests against the Coca-cola bottling unit that is to be set up in Charba village, Vikasnagar, Uttarakhand, with agreement from the state government, the Navdanya team focused its energies towards this area with the intention to continue the resistance and remember why such a plant will not only effect Charba but the surrounding areas as well.  With the support of Mr. Shiv Singh Tomar, the principle of the Government Primary School in Usmanpur, Navdanya involved the youth and young minds from the area by planting trees at this government school.  The Navdanya team, including the director Dr. Vinod Bhatt, along with five students from Shivalik College of Engineering’s Ecoclub began by talking about Mother Earth Day (Prithvi Ma Divas), the meaning and importance of such an event and how the children can be involved. Then the children, school faculty, Shivalik college students and Navdanya team collectively planted five trees, which will from now on be cared for by the students.

The Navdanya team, accompanied by Mr. Tomar, proceeded to the Charba gram panchayat office in Charba village.  Here we planted an Ashoka tree in front of the office along with village members and elders as a symbol of our collective dedication and drive to continue working for Mother Earth.  To gather village voices together in a petition, the Navdanya team formulated a petition arguing against the establishing of a Coca-cola bottling unit in Charba village.  Mr. Pramod Kimothi presented this to the villagers in attendance, who signed their agreement and accepted the petition in order to collect further support by gathering signatures from other village members.

The day concluded with hope and resolve to take the issue of the Coca-cola bottling plant further.  In May 2013 Navdanya and the Charba village members will conduct an aazadi bachao aandolan (a movement to defend freedom) where a demonstration will take place at the Navdanya Biodiversity Conservation Farm, Ramgarh, Dehradun.

Doon Valley Declaration

Water is the basis of life; it is the gift of nature; it belongs to all living beings on earth.  Water is not private property, it is a common resource for the sustenance of all.  Water is a fundamental human right.  It has to be conserved, protected, and managed. It is our fundamental obligation to prevent water scarcity and pollution to preserve it for generations.  Water is not a commodity. We should resist all criminal attempts to marketize, privatize, and corporatize water. Only through these means we can ensure the fundamental and inalienable right to water for people all over the world. The Water Policy should be formulated on the basis of this outlook.  The right to conserve, use, and manage water is fully vested with the local community.  This is the very basis of water democracy.  Any attempt to reduce or deny this right is a crime. The production and marketing of the poisonous products of the Coca-Cola and Pepsi Cola corporations lead to total destruction and pollution and also endanger the very existence of local communities.  The resistance that has come up in Plachimada, Puducherry, and in various parts of the world is the symbol of our valiant struggle against the devilish corporate gangs who pirate our water.  We who are in the battlefields are in full solidarity and are putting up a resistance against the tortures of the commercial forces. We exhort people all over the world to join us as we boycott the products of Coca-Cola and Pepsi Cola.

Coca-Cola, Pepsi Cola ‘Quit India’

From the experiences of Plachimada in Kerala, Kaladere in Rajasthan and Mehandi Ganj in Uttar Pradesh, where similar bottling units have been set up in the past, we have learned and are aware of the situation.  The water table in Plachimada dropped from 40 feet to 125 feet, well and hand pumps went dry. While in Mehandi Ganj the water levels have dropped by 40 feet and the surrounding fields have been polluted.  To prevent such situations from taking place in our Doon Valley we must take steps now by uniting to defend our water sovereignty, land sovereignty.  The land allotted to the Coca-Cola plant in Charba was given to Doon University which has now been built elsewhere.  This land has now been given to Coca-Cola without our consent by the government.  This land should now be returned to the village. We do not agree to this land being handed over to Coca-Cola, we will not allow for this land grab and water theft to take place.  This is our declaration on Mother Earth Day 2013 and we vow to take up the methods of Sri Sundarlal Bahuguna by adopting our own ‘chipko movement’ to save our trees, our land and our water.

Village Panchayat Charba, Vikasnagar, Doon Valley

 

Uttarakhand govt prohibits women from working beyond 6 pm #WTFnews #Vaw #Womenrights


 

Agencies : Dehradun (Uttarakhand), Sat Jan 12 2013,

In a bizarre development, the Uttarakhand government has passed an order that prohibits women from working beyond 6 pm in private and government jobs.

The step is being seen as too extreme to curb crimes against women.

The state government is being severly criticised for this regressive approach, and the opposition is objecting to the directive.

The Chief Minister Vijay Bahuguna-led state government has reportedly taken the step in the wake of the gang rape and subsequent death of a 23-year-old woman in New Delhi late last month. The woman was repeatedly raped inside a dark tinted glass moving bus, and suffered gruesome injuries. She had to be eventually flown out to Singapore’s Mount Elizabeth Hospital, but succumbed after a battle for survival of 13 days.

In the wake of the December 16 gangrape incident, there has been a flurry of media revelations regarding incidents of rape across the country.

The reports have prompted several state governments and the central government to fine tune the laws of the country regarding rape and other sexual crimes against women. Several commissions, headed by retired judges, have also been set up to discuss the problem threadbare and to come out with recommendations for change. The police is also under pressure to improve its responses to the general public on issues of law and order as well as crimes.

Congress distances itself from Uttarakhand Govt. order on women, BJP criticises

Uttarakhand government’s bizarre decision has invited criticism both from the Congress and the BJP.

Reacting to the state government’s decision here on Saturday, Union Waters Resources Minister and Congress leader from Uttarakhand Harish Rawat said: “Issuing such guidelines that when should they (women) go out and till what time they should work is not a fair step. It is not going to work.”

“I think stricter laws should be made and enforcement agencies should be held accountable to ensure swift and harsh punishment for the culprits. We will have to change the mentality. We will have to come up with a broader social campaign to change the mentality of society to stop such crimes,” added Rawat.

Taking a jibe at the state government, BJP spokesperson Shahnawaz Hussain advised Chief Minister Bahuguna not to go out after 6 pm if he feels so scared.

“Instead of improving the law and order situation in the state, they are putting out a ‘Talibani’ diktat that women should not go out of their houses after six p.m. Congress chairperson Sonia Gandhi should take cognizance of this matter and she should ask the chief minister what he means by making such remarks,” said Hussain.

Another BJP spokesperson, Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, said that such dictatorship by governments or by the police will make the women feel more unsafe.

BJP leader Balbir Punj asked Bahuguna to resign as his government was not being able to provide better security for women in the state.

“By making such statements, the Chief Minister has admitted his inability to run the government and establish law and order in the state, and he actually feels that the government may not provide security to women, he must resign from the office,” said Punj.

Former Chief Minister of Uttarakhand and BJP leader Bhagat Singh Koshiyari said the Congress is not capable of running a government.

“It shows that the state government is incapable of providing security to women. Tomorrow, the government will stop them from going out of their homes. Instead of passing such laws, criminals should be scared of committing crimes. The government is prohibiting women,” claimed Koshiyari.

“If the authorities work properly, such incidents don’t take place. We will have to spread awareness and teach ethics and values to young people. People in authority should also be alert and work properly,” he added.

Meanwhile, Chief Minister Vijay Bahuguna has denied issuing such guidelines that restrict women from going out, and said: “ It is the responsibility of the management of the organisation where they work, to take care of the women employees and they should drop them at door steps if they get late.”

“There is no restriction on women and children, but the organization they are working at should drop them at their doorsteps if they get late while coming home. We will provide every possible security, but it is not our responsibility to drop them home,” said Bahuguna.

 

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