When did Swami Gyan Swaroop Sanand start his fast?
He started his tapasya on 13 June 2013 on the death anniversary of Swami Nigmanand, who had died after a 115-day fast to save the river and the region from damage. Earlier, he had fasted from 14 January 2012 to 17 April 2012 and had been admitted to AIIMS in a critical condition. The fast had been called off when the Prime Minister, who is also the President of the National Ganga River Basin Authority (NGRBA), had said in an NGRBA meeting that he would speak to the professor, but till now nothing has happened. Sanandji fasted earlier also, but no one in the government cares for the issue he is fasting for.
What are your demands?
The demand is to immediately halt the construction of dams and other projects on the Ganga which are causing environmental damage to the river and disturbing the ecological equilibrium of the region. Till now, there has been no response to last year’s fast or to the several letters we have written to state and central authorities.
What projects are these?
There are 70 projects in the pipeline on the river and its three tributaries – Mandakini, Alaknanda and Bhagirathi. There are 14 dams under construction – bumper-to-bumper hydel power projects – on the river. With such projects, soon the river won’t even be visible. It will be channelled through tunnels and diverted. Apart from these there are 17 operational projects and 39 more are proposed projects on which construction is yet to begin. The work on these must be immediately stopped and the projects cancelled.
But what about the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) carried out on these projects?
The EIA on these projects are an eyewash. The very proponents of these projects conduct them, so how can you trust the EIA reports? Since it is their own project, they hide the flaws and the impact of the projects.
So what is the actual environmental toll?
At least 350 villages are in the critical zone right now due to environmental damage. People have started migrating and we have repeated man-made disasters each year. There are frequent cloudbursts resulting in flash floods, floods, earthquakes and this year, everyone saw the massive tragedy in Joshimath, Kedarnath and Badrinath that was also triggered by rampant construction and other such human activities. The number of landslides and landslide zones has increased proportionately to the increase in the number of power and other dam projects. Wherever there is a flowing river, some new dam is put up. Even the smaller streams are drying up. This affects people’s livelihood and even the availability of drinking water and food.
What is the state’s role in the projects?
The politicians of Uttarakhand, whether they are of the Congress or the BJP, have no interest in saving the state from this kind of environmental degradation in the name of development. Whichever party is in power does not bother to frame a policy for the projects on the river. The state has a fragile environment and the river water is supplied to at least 50 crore people. The Supreme Court also asked for an investigation into the projects but the state hasn’t set one up. The state government is selling the state by inviting corporate entities and investors without respecting the socio-cultural and environmental issues here.
Are more projects being planned?
The state has identified more than 500 sites for power generation. The state generates 4,400 MW at present and the plan is to expand this to 44,000 MW, 10 times the present capacity. The Tehri hydel power project generates around 2,000 MW. Imagine the impact of 22 such projects in Uttarakhand! The region is hardly able to bear the weight of the present projects. Do you think it can deal with the impact of more major projects?