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Mainstream, VOL LIX No 47, New Delhi, November 6, 2021

Letter to the Prime Minister - Concern over decision to restart seven under-construction hydroelectric projects on the Ganga in the Himalayan basin

Friday 5 November 2021

To

The Prime Minister,

On 10/8/21 over 60 citizens of our nation wrote to you expressing utmost concern over the recent decision of the Government of India to restart seven under-construction hydroelectric projects (HEPs) on the Ganga, in the Himalayan basin. The signatories representing a wide spectrum of our public, are prominent scientists, politicians, lawyers, social activists, field experts, villagers and members of reputed environmental organizations, all with a long experience and ground knowledge of the issues we have raised.

The planet is now being devastated by extreme weather events, which are only set to increase with the rapid onset of climate change. One of the major impacts will be on glaciers, that are melting and retreating across the globe. This phenomenon will have a tremendous impact on rivers and water bodies. For example, the glacial lake outbursts, floods, and avalanches like the recent ones in Chamoli district are expected to increase significantly. Similarly, it is anticipated that the frequencies and magnitude of extreme weather events such as high precipitation (cloudbursts) and draughts would adversely impact the Himalayan ecosystem particularly the rivers and waterways. The human suffering this will entail is also a matter of dread. In such a scenario, large scale reservoir dams like Lakhwar HEP on the Yamuna, that are yet awaiting cabinet approval, will only aggravate the crisis.

HEPs that lie right in the path of rivers, are bound to be destroyed or extensively damaged, as we witnessed all too clearly in 2013 during Kedarnath and the 2021 Chamoli floods. Thousands of crores of public funds were literally washed away overnight. Adding to that the aggravation of the natural disasters which these HEPs caused, resulting in traumatic deaths and immeasurable human suffering, makes the decision to invest in such projects inexplicable and unjustifiable.

The disappearance of the Ganga into tunnels through bumper-to-bumper projects is a cultural and civilizational loss, for which the future generations will hold us to account. Destroying rivers, our primary water source, will also prove disastrous in a world where water scarcity is predicted to be severe enough to threaten life itself. We have learnt the costly lesson that HEPs ultimately do not contribute to progress or development for the ‘pahadi’ mountain villager; nor for the nation. On the contrary, we cannot even begin to calculate or quantify the irreversible loss to our ecology and natural resources.

There is an avalanche of data and scientific research on which we touched upon briefly in our first letter, supporting our view that these 7 HEPs should be cancelled immediately. We had hoped to present the same to you, in detail, in the best interest of our nation. The MoEF&CC, Ministry of Jal Shakti, and your office too, has in fact expressed similar views of cancelling HEPs in the past. Hence the complete silence from your government, the unwillingness to engage in meaningful public dialogue and ignoring genuine concerns raised by leading scientists, has come as a huge disappointment.

Our intentions stem from a genuine and profound concern with the crisis humanity is facing today. The Ganga-Himalaya is a collapsing ecology, overburdened beyond its carrying capacity. Development for the people must focus most importantly on what the people themselves consider to be in their best interest. Recently, speaking in the United Nations, you accurately pointed out that India is the ‘Mother of democracy.’ It is in keeping with this spirit of our civilization, that we expect our government to listen carefully and incorporate the public view, especially when it has been abundantly proven, time and again, by both experience and science. Hence, we are baffled by the wall of silence from the government.

The unexpected floods in Kumaon just last week, in the winter months, with 500 mm rainfall in just 24 hours, caused extensive landslides and the deaths of over 60 people; Nainital was devastated with the loss of electricity, water, internet and road connectivity. The continued occurrence of floods, forest fires, heatwaves, cloud bursts and storms, in and out of season, are all indicators of escalating climate change. The increasing propensity for such recurring disasters requires immediate measures to ensure that the environment is stable enough to withstand and reduce the impact of destruction. Slope cutting, blasting, tunnelling, tree felling, muck dumping and such anthropogenic activities undoubtedly increase the vulnerability of the terrain and the threat to life. The east, with its accumulated wisdom, must provide a spiritual, harmonious and balanced alternative to the western model of wasteful and unsustainable consumption.

Hence, we reiterate our request to cancel the seven projects. Once again, we gravely caution against building HEPs on our pristine Himalayan rivers. And finally, once again, we request for a meeting with the government (through Sri Kunwar Rewati Raman Singhji, MP Rajya Sabha) to present all the scientific data and facts, so that such an important decision may be taken in an informed manner, and with an unblinkered view of the long-term consequences.

Sincerely,

Name Signature
1. Kunwar Rewati Raman Singh
MP, Rajya Sabha
Coordinator – Indian Parliamentarians forum for Ganga and Himalayas
2. Justice Giridhar Malviya
(Retd Judge – Allahabad High Court)
Chancellor – Benaras Hindu University
3. Padma Shri Prof. Shekhar Pathak
Retd. Professor
Kumaun University, Nainital
4. Pradip Tamta
MP, Raya Sabha,
Uttarakhand
5. Dr. Ravi Chopra
Chairman, Supreme Court appointed Expert Body (2013) on ‘Impacts of Hydro Projects’ and Former Member- National Ganga River Basin Authority (NGRBA)
6. Rajendra Singh
Tarun Bharat Sangh, Former Member- National Ganga River Basin Authority (NGRBA)
7. Mallika Bhanot
Ganga Ahvaan,
Uttarkashi, Uttarakhand
8. Sushila Bhandari
Kedarghati Bachao Sangarsh Samiti
Rudraprayag
9. Keshar Singh Panwar
Environmental Activist,
Bhagirathi Eco Sensitive Zone,
Uttarkashi, Uttarkhand
10. Swami Avimuktesharanand Saraswati
Coordinator, Ganga Sewa Abhiyanam,
Varanasi
11. Manoj Mishra
Yamuna Jiye Abhiyan
India Rivers Forum
12. Dr. Navin Juyal
Retd. Scientist, Physical Research Laboratory, Member- Supreme Court appointed Expert Body (2013) on ‘Impacts of Hydro Projects’.
13. Shashi Shekhar
Ex-Secretary – MoWR & GR, New Delhi
14. Ramchandra Guha
Indian Historian, Bengaluru
Endorsed
15. K.N. Govindacharya
Founder-Bharat Vikas Sangam, Rashtriya Swabhiman Andolan, New Delhi Endorsed
16. Kishore Upadhyaya
Himalaya Bachao Andolan & Van-adhikaar Andolan, Dehradun Endorsed
17. CP Rajendran
Adjunct Professor,
NIAS Bengaluru
18. Medha Patkar,
Founder- Narmada Bachao Andolan, Endorsed
19. Malika Virdhi
Uttarakhand Mahila Manch
Munsiyari, Uttarakhand Endorsed
20. Reena Gupta
Environment policy Advisor,
Delhi govt. Endorsed
21. K.J.Joy
Forum for Policy Dialogue on Water Conflicts in India Endorsed
22. Himanshu Thakker
South Asian Network on Dams, Rivers and People (SANDRP), Delhi Endorsed
23. Rajiv Lochan Shah
Editor, Nainital Samachar
Nainital Endorsed
24. S.P.Sati
Head, Department of Basic and Social Sciences, College of Forestry,
Tehri Garhwal
25. E.Theophilus
Ecologist,
Munsiyari, Uttarakhand Endorsed
26. Smt. Rama Rauta
Founder, Save Ganga Movement
Former member – NGRBA Endorsed
27. Neha Bhadbhade
Forum for Policy Dialogue on Water Conflicts in India
Pune Endorsed
28. S.P.Ravi,
River Research Centre,
Thrissur, Kerala Endorsed
29. Shripad Dharmadhikary,
Manthan Adhyayan Kendra. Endorsed
30. Kavita Upadhyay
Independent environmental journalist/researcher
Nainital, Uttarakhand
31. Siddharth Agarwal
Researcher, Activist, Filmmaker
Veditum India Foundation
India Rivers Forum
32. Gorky Chakraborty
Institute of Development Studies (IDSK) Kolkota Endorsed
33. Dunu Roy
Director- Hazards Centre, New Delhi Endorsed
34. Shankar Sharma
Power & Climate Policy Analyst
Anugraha, Sagara, Karnataka Endorsed
35. Kshama Metre
National Director CORD
Office of the National Director
Sidhbari, Distt. Kangra (H.P. Endorsed
36. Y.N.Yellappa Reddy
Ex IFS, Chairman
Bangalore Environment Trust
37. Dipak Dholakia
Convener, Indian Community Activists Network (ICAN)
Endorsed
38. Lokesh Ohri,
Convenor, Uttarakhand, INTACH (Indian National Trust for Art & Cultural Heritage)
39. Abhayraj Naik, Azim Premji University, Bangalore, India Endorsed
40. Ashish Kothari,
Kalpavriksh, Pune. Endorsed
41. S Janakarajan
Former Professor
Madras Institute of Development Studies
Chennai
Endorsed
42. Arundhati Dhuru,
National Alliance of People’s Movement (NAPM) Endorsed
43. Partha J Das,
Head, ’Water, Climate & Hazard Division’
Organising Secretary
Aaranyak, Guwahati
Endorsed
44. Hariballabh Bhatt & Sumit Mahar
Mahakali Lok Sangathan
Pithoragarh, Uttarakhand Endorsed
45. Brig. Kapil Chand, Veteran Endorsed
46. Abhay Mishra
Journalist, Author, Riverine Culture scholar,
New Delhi Endorsed
47. Dr. Meeta Khilnani
Earth Scientist (Geophysist), Consultant
Functional Area Expert (Hydrogeology), NABET
48. Sandeep Pandey
Social Activist, Founder Member- Asha for Education Endorsed
49. Prakash Bhandari & Himshi Singh
Himdhara Collective,
Himachal Pradesh Endorsed
50. J.P.Maithani
Founder- Alaknanda Ghati Shilpi Federation (AGAAS), Chamoli, Uttarakhand
51. Raghuram RP
Purnapramati, A center for Integrated learning, Banglore
52. Neha Khandekar
Doctoral Researcher, Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment (ATREE), Bangalore Endorsed
53. Yash Marwah,
Writer, Climate Change Campaigner,
Let India Breathe – Mumbai
54. Cara Tejpal,
Director Conservation,
Sanctuary Nature Foundation Endorsed
55. Atul Sati,
Coordinator, Joshimath Bachao Sangharsh Samiti, Chamoli, Uttarakhand
56. Sangram Singh, former member, block development council (BDC), Reni village, Chamoli, Uttarakhand
57. Kamal Raturi,
Secretary, Joshimath Bachao Sangharsh Samiti, Chamoli, Uttarakhand
58. Indresh Maikhuri,
Social Activist, Columnist,
Uttarakhand
59. P C Tewari
Chipko Movement Activist
Almora, Uttarakhand Endorsed
60. Snigdha Tiwari
Advocate
High Court of Uttarakhand Endorsed
61. Ayush Joshi
Environmental Engineer
Dehradun, Uttarakhand
62. Dr. Soumya Prasad,
Ecologist and Research Scientist
Nature Science Initiative, Dehradun Endorsed
63. Swami Samvidanand
Chief Coordinator- Greenvein, Kerala
64. Geeta Gairola
Environmental Activist
Uttarkashi, Uttarakhand Endorsed
65. Deepak Ramola
Environmental activist
Uttarkashi, Uttarakhand Endorsed

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