By Pratishtha Dobhal
“In a very dark and unbecoming world,
where fake news populates your newsfeed,
death tolls are on the rise,
and hope is assaulted daily by the morality of our times,
In ‘deliberate living’ should you find all your immortal ties.”
Something MAJOR happened in March that populated the wordplay above.
It bore the stamp of hope and evolution found to be rare and missing in leaderships across the world.
New Zealand became the first nation in the world on 15th March’ 2017 to recognize Whanganui River as a legal person.
The decision also marked the end of the longest-running court case (dating back to the mid-1850s) and includes $56 million financial redress payment and another $30 million from the Crown to promote health and well-being of the river.
India witnessed a first that mirrored the same sentiment in the north.
It has now become the ‘second’ nation in the world to recognize nature’s bounty as a living being.
In a landmark ruling the Uttarakhand high court declared Gangotri and Yamunotri glaciers as living entities. The order came soon after the court had granted the same status to Ganga and Yamuna rivers. It also said, “Rivers, streams, rivulets, lakes, air, meadows, dales, jungles, forest wetlands, grasslands, springs and waterfalls in Uttarakhand must be given corresponding rights, duties and liablities of a living person, in order to preserve and conserve them.”
Even though there is immense promise in nature being given a legal status, the plan of action on protecting this new born will decide its fate.
The newly appointed chief minister of the state needs to attest the landmark order while meeting the growth and economic target for the 17 year old state. In honoring this commitment, Trivendra Singh Rawat must dextrously find a way for industry and infrastructure to stay within the court order as he opens up the state to FDI .
The stress on environment has been rampant and indiscriminate with hydropower projects mushrooming year after year.
Despite Sunderlal Bahuguna’s longstanding battle with the state against the construction of the Tehri Dam, the controversial yet mammoth project paved the way for a slew of environmentally challenged decisions since 1961, when a preliminary investigation of the Tehri Dam project was completed.
I was 11 years old when I first met Sunderlal Bahuguna at the Tehri Dam project site.
Enroute to my father’s native village in Tehri Garhwal in 1996, my parents wanted to stop by at the Tehri Dam protest site. We stayed only for a day and while I remained fascinated with ‘solar cooked’ bhaat* [*bhaat = rice] – The backstory for fascination is – As part of our summer vacation homework we were to bring solar cookers made at home after the break. And here, at the protest site, I was getting to see the practical application of a school project), what stayed with me long after our visit was the dreamy silhouette of a frail looking man.
Sitting peacefully, surrounded by a sea of people, with the majestic Himalayas standing tall and proud around him, the sun illuminated the resolute twinkle in his eyes. As dusk smothered our surroundings, the last rays of the setting sun shone brightly on him.
Sadly, the romanticism of the time and the magnificent tug of the light accentuating his plight has settled to a mere memory.
Even though my 11-year-old self imagined the man behind the Chipko movement to be a silent saviour whose cause was greater than the outcome it finally met, today, the Tehri dam is lauded as an engineering feat by the government.
The fact that one of the highest dams in Asia is constructed in a highly seismic zone goes unregistered, as neighboring and far-flung states power-up thanks to the steady supply of hydro Megawatts.
Environment be dam(ned)…
Locals be dam(ned).
Who needs electricity and water in homes which have now become ghost villages?
Migration isn’t a new problem in Uttarakhand, it’s been there before the tough north broke up with Uttar Pradesh. With increasingly diminished focus on civic necessities like electricity and water and un-inspiring GaonWapsi program which is yet to be fully implemented, it’s not surprising why palayan/migration is a huge concern. Afterall, abandoned and empty nests along the northern districts are a small price you pay for being short-sighted.
And just when you thought things couldn’t spiral more out of control, the living satire and plight is lost on the government when it submits a ‘Plan-of-action’ report to the Planning Commission.
The annual plan for 2013-2014 sent to the Planning Commission, titled ‘Finalisation Meeting between Hon’ble Deputy Chairman, Planning Commission and Hon’ble Chief Minister, Uttarakhand‘, the ‘Burden of Forest‘ on the slide below is failure on the part of the government to understand the difference between ‘Burden’ and ‘Blessing’.
Okay, then. This is rich.
And there maybe some measure of truth here – Forests are a burden when all they have done all these centuries is just sit there. Shame them for their untapped potential. They are the reason why landslides, flash-floods, cloudbursts, and death tolls are on the rise. A terrible natural disaster. Tsk, tsk… be done with them already.
A book extract from Hridayesh Joshi’s book, ‘Rage Of The River: The Untold Story Of The Kedarnath Disaster‘ remains the most comprehensive insight/reportage of the events and mishaps that led upto the Kedarnath tragedy in the month of June, circa 2013. It provides an honest retelling forcing you to question whether this natural disaster could have been mitigated.
4 years hence, when the PM paid a visit to the Kedarnath temple to open the holy floodgates of the ‘Chaar Dhaam Yatra’ earlier this month (3rd May, 2017), and flew out like the omnipresent, free-floating bird he is to keep date with Patanjali’s plush research institute in Haridwar, locals were still waiting for the promised work to make ‘real’ inroads around all the disaster affected sites. From the site itself, HT reported Kedarnath was ill-equipped to handle the pressure of pilgrims making it all the way up north of north.
By 8th May 2017 it was reported that the Uttarakhand Government imposed partial restrictions on the pilgrims.
And therefore, where pop cultural references can fire up the courage in this age of voyeurism, here’s some food for thought for the newly appointed CM.
P.S: Promise to follow it up with some more honest deep diving across the state.
Someone who deeply cares
- Ready For Devi Bhoomi?
“Dev Bhoomi Main Aapka Swaagat Hai.”And what about the Devi?
For anyone who has travelled to Uttarakhand, it’s commonplace to see women naturally slipping into their role as hunter and gatherer, rising at the crack of dawn to gather fire wood, raise a family, and ultimately be the workforce. Why then are the Devi’s who helm the ship and drop the anchor not given their well deserved place in the state cabinet?
2. Work With The Environment, Not Against It
Even though World Bank officials visited the state to explore business potential, the stress on sustainable environment should be considered as decisive before locking in any immediate plan of action. Tourism Minister, Satpal Maharaj had earlier spoken of attracting foreign investment and focusing on the many spiritual and mystic aspects of the state, however, the merit in promoting ‘sustainable tourism‘ would include more than just mere economics.
The premise of community based sustainable tourism is quite simple. Its most salient feature is that it allows participation of locals at a management level and provides a more centered understanding of the environment.
According to a report published in The Hindu, the Gangotri glacier (also called Gaumukh) has retreated by over 3 kms since 1817. An excerpt from the article below builds a strong case for naysayers of climate change and the monumental impact it has.
“Small lakes have formed on top of the glacier, as you go beyond Gaumukh towards Tapovan,” eminent conservationist, and mountaineer Harshwanti Bisht, who won the Edmund Hillary Mountain Legacy Medal in 2013, told The Hindu. “It was the blast of one such glacial lake in Chorabari that led to the June 2013 flood disaster in Kedarnath,” she said worriedly, adding, “If such fast pace of melting continued here as well, such disasters cannot be ruled out.”
The only way to limit the impact of a disaster and start re-building is through cohesive coming together of all stakeholders so that the government immediately introduces effective Disaster Risk Reduction practices (Recent case in point: Wildfires from 15th February to 7th May have destroyed 3,466 hectares of forests across Uttarakhand + Dopplar radars (highly specialized weather forecasting system) have yet to be installed by the state).
3. Education + Healthcare + Civic Necessities + Employment = Gaon Wapasi
If it was this simple…
But then why shouldn’t it be?
Semvaaljee of village Nakot, Tehri-Garhwal district says, “It’s been a while since I have heard a school bell ring like it used to earlier. What was once a school is now in ruins today. Even though migration can be largely blamed for it, the quality of education started deteriorating as unqualified teachers who didn’t know fundamentals started to teach only because it was a ‘well-paid’ job. Naturally, the students suffered as there were no checks and balances on the quality of education imparted to the kids.”
The ghost villages of Uttarakhand mirror the abject inability of the state to provide… eschewing culture, tradition, and agriculture along the way.
They are our collective shame, sitting quietly, waiting to be rescued.
For the North,
I wish you less human sloth.
Until my next tryst with you,