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Uttarakhand dams: Protests force Govt of India to agree to "review" its stance

By Surender Arya et al
Following protests in Uttarakhand, especially in Pithoragar and Almora, against the proposed Pancheshwar and Rupaligad dams, and in Delhi in front of the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC), the Government of India is learnt to agreed to have a re-look into all the documents received by the Experts Appraisal Committee (EAC) of the MoEFCC for the clearance of the two dams.
Meeting activists protesting outside MoEFCC, joint-secretary Gyanesh Bharti said he would also look into other issues raised before him after he was told that if the government did not stop its move towards what they called "destruction of Uttarakhand", strong voices would be raised in villages and cities.
If in protests in Delhi were led by National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM) and Delhi Solidarity Group (DSG) and Mahakali Lok Sangathan (MLS), elsewhere they were led by Uttarakhand Parivartan Party, Uttarakhand Kranti Dal and Uttarakhand Ekta Manch, supported by MLS activists.
In Delhi, activists breached the gates of MoEFCC and entered in with banners and posters. With a little embarrassment, the security personnel took everyone outside the ministry building, but later, joint-secretary Bharti met a delegation consisting of Harendra Awasthi, Vimal Bhai and Shridhar.
If Vimal Bhai apprised the senior official of irregularities, procedural deficiencies, use of police force, political interference and pressure, and violation environmental laws during public hearings, Awasthi spoke about how, instead of gardens of guava fruit, there existed forests of the fruit. "Migration is the lowest in our area in comparison to whole of Uttarakhand", he said.
Shridhar said that the environmental figures were incorrect and studies were incomplete, insisting, all the studies should be completed in time, and till then, EAC should not recommend environmental clearance. Following official assurance, protests ended with the warning that if the ministry approves the dams without looking into the issues they had raised, it would have to face a strong reaction from the people.
In Almora, Uttarakhand Parivartan Party and supporting organisations held a protest in front of the office of the district magistrate, to whom they delivered a letter, insisting that EAC should not clear the dams. Party chief PC Tiwari said there were irregularities in the public hearing in the district. Rekha Dhasmana said the dams would adversely impact livelihood of people, while Govind Ram Verma said, "We will not tolerate displacement in the name of development."
In Pithoragarh, supported by members of MLS, Uttarakhand Kranti Dal sent a memorandum to the EAC. MLS' Sumit Mehar, who met a local official, said, there was lack of information among the 84 villages that were affected, especially in the interior ones, and the government was carrying out paperwork keeping the public in the dark. "This leads to deception in the name of development", he said.
Village chiefs Chaman Singh, Keshav Singh, Vazir Singh and Tara Singh handed over a separate memorandum on behalf of their villages on irregularities, sending it to MoEFCC through the sub-divisional magistrate.
There was also demonstration in Jhulaghat, a huge market in the Indo-Nepal border. Harivallabh Bhatt said that he did not want to leave his land, while Viplav Bhatt said that the government has proved to be hollow on big questions like displacement and environment. Rural traders swore they would stick to their traditional markets.

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