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Mainstream, Vol XLVII, No 30, July 11, 2009

Appeal and Open Letter to the Prime Minister

Protect the Ganga in Her Maternal Home

Saturday 11 July 2009, by Bharat Dogra, Reshma Bharti


Respected Prime Minister,

As Ganga and her numerous tributaries originate in the Uttarakhand Himalayas, this can rightly be called the maternal home of Ganga. We are two journalists who travelled in this region extensively for two weeks in June and were shocked to see the alarming extent to which the Ganga and its numerous tributaries/sub-tributaries are being ravaged and threatened by the indiscriminate, hasty, ill-planned, ruthless and in several cases illegal execution of hydel projects on these rivers. According to various official documents, between 343 to 540 such projects have been identified on various rivers in Uttarakhand.

Apart from displacement of people, destruction of forests/pastures and submergence of fertile fields, this is also leading to social disruption as various construction companies in their bid to enlist support for projects create divisions among village communities. Most serious is the problem of ecological disruption including long-term hazards. We saw people in project affected villages suffering from many diseases and ailments in the midst of dust, pollution and explosions of project work. Huge cracks have appeared in many houses. These are earthquake prone areas and now there is the additional risk of reservoir-induced seismicity. During the last earthquake mortality was highest in villages like Jamakh which had been weakened earlier by project-related blasts.

Hazards continue many years after the project work is completed. For example, many villages located above, the Tehri reservoir rim are experiencing landslides due to the impact of the reservoir and face the serious risk of their houses tumbling into the reservoir as rubble. The risk of flash floods caused in this and other ways can spread far and wide in plains areas. Lakhs of trees continue to be threatened years later by transmission lines.

People all over India and beyond cherish the beautifully flowing hill rivers both for aesthetic and religious reasons. Villagers, particularly women, in river-bank villages told us again and again that these rivers are the centre of their social-cultural and economic existence. But as a result of these projects diverting water to tunnels, rivers simply cease to exist for several kms. at a stretch. As one project leads to another, for very long stretches these rivers will simply not be visible as these will be forced from one tunnel towards another tunnel. This process has already started. Livelihoods of farmers, pastorals, sand-loaders, boatmen, fisherfolk etc. are being destroyed in the process. Several sacred confluences of rivers and pilgrimage sites are threatened.

This is why we say that the Ganga and her sister rivers are threatened today right in their maternal home. This would be a matter of serious concern at any time; it is much more so in the present context of global warming and recession of glaciers.


The present mindset of ruthless and hasty exploitation of these rivers needs to be replaced by a nature-respecting worldview which understands the extremely important ecological and life-sustaining role of free-flowing natural river systems. These protect a wide diversity of life, meet the many-sided needs of river-bank communities and contribute to land-formation in the plains below. The protective view towards rivers emphasises the protection of free-flowing hill rivers including massive afforestation of catchment areas using indigenous species of trees which provide soil and water conservation, food, fibre, leaf-manure, fodder and fuel to villagers.

Once the many-sided usefulness of this free-flowing river system as well as the deep attachment of countless people to this river-system on aesthetic, emotional and religious grounds is understood, it follows that anything that disrupts the crucial roles of the free-flowing natural river system should be avoided.

Further all river-related policies which impact river-bank communities should be decided in partnership with them, so that their interests are protected and it is possible to get the full benefit of their knowledge of local conditions.

At present, however, there is such an enormous and ruthless onslaught on rivers in the name of maximising hydel power that this ecologically crucial, sacred and in some ways unique river-system is seriously threatened. Numerous projects are being speeded up without any comprehensive evaluation of their overall impact on the region and its rivers.

Our heartfelt appeal to you is to act with a sense of urgency to protect these rivers in their maternal home before it is too late. This is important not just for this Himalayan region but also for the river plains upto the Bay of Bengal as damaging results of disrupting this natural river system will also be transferred far and wide to the plains, including particularly the ecologically sensitive coastal areas.

Apart from a complete reconsideration of the existing planning and execution of dams and hydel projects, action is also needed to prevent pollution of rivers and to greatly improve the tree-cover.

(C-27, Raksha Kunj, Paschim Vihar, New Delhi-110063
Ph.: 25255303 Bharat Dogra and Reshma Bharti)

[This appeal has been endorsed and supported by Vimla Bahuguna and Sundarlal Bahuguna.]

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