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Disaster in Uttarakhand: Hindutva project? Religious tourism, dams, development

By Vidya Bhushan Rawat* 

In December last year, I visited Uttarakhand -- Rudra Prayag, Ukhimath and Agatsymuni -- and returned via the Devprayag-Rishikesh route to Delhi. The scene was painful, to say the least. Mountains were being grilled and drilled. It was completely devastating. Everyone wants safer roads, but we have to also respect the environmental issues of the region.
Every 5-10 kilometre, we saw dumping of the muck in the beautiful rivers which are so fascinating and beautiful. Why do we allow this muck to be flown into the rivers? Nobody would justify the mindless 'development' which is imposed by some 'experts' in Delhi or Dehradun.
Uttarakhand's mountains are definitely beautiful, though fragile. This land has been spiritual, too, but the last five-six years have seen the growth of lousy-loudly religious tourism with scant respect for environment as well as local traditions. Religious tourism being encouraged by the current regime is for its 'grand Hindutva' project.
Uttarakhand was not so well known as a hill-state, though it has a very vibrant and open food culture. People are religious, but their religion is confined to their faith. They do not bear hatred towards others. They are accustomed to their own traditional lifestyle, with a proud feeling of being Uttarakhandi.
Indeed, rivers and mountains of Uttarakhand offer a spiritual look. They are so beautiful that one wishes to just sit and feel the power of their 'energy'. Do we need luxurious cottages and roads to enjoy the tranquility of the hills? I am not suggesting that people traveling to the state should face difficulties. But beautiful places cannot be 'picnic' spots where you come, throw the garbage and return to your home.
Religious tourism has not helped the tourism sector in the hills, as most of those who come here in groups have least respect for the environment. In fact, they don't want to enjoy the local delicacies offered by the state’s environment even for a day; they just want to have 'homelike' stuff. This has resulted in construction of unplanned many 'dharmshalas' owned by people from outside the state, and mushrooming of Vaishnavite and Punjabi dhabas.
Religious tourists rarely ask questions about environmental degradation. Ecological disasters are set aside as God's wrath, and the focus is more on the need for better, brave rescue operations. After some time, everything is forgotten. Only claims continue to be made about 'capable' handling of a crisis. The question is: Why should we allow such a crisis to happen?
They don't want to enjoy local delicacies offered by the state’s environment even for a day; they just want to have 'homelike' stuff
Numerous dams that are coming up on various rivers of Uttarakhand, particularly Alaknanda and Mandikini, are just destroying the ecosystem. The dams are meant to “control” the natural flow of supremely pristine rivers. One should be fortunate to have seen and felt the beauty of these rivers, which are a spiritual strength. The civilisation in the Himalayan valley is dependent on these rivers.
Uttarakhand is spiritual. However, here religiosity is not as visible to the public as one witnesses in UP, Bihar, Rajasthan, Gujarat etc. Even a place like Rishikesh is different from Varanasi, where people throng to wipe off their 'sins'. The crowd in various ashrams in Muni Ki Reti in Uttarakhand used to be more interested in spiritual discourse rather than noisy Bollywood bhajans played in other parts of North India.
But all that is slowly changing, because of the project Hindutva has reached the upper part of Uttarakhand, and through this, the greedy contractors, who want to profiteer from the rich civilisational source, want to use local 'resources', whether they be water or minerals.
If the roads were being widened, where was the need for a train project? Traveling from Rudra Prayag to Agastyamuni-Ukhimath, which is basically the valley of river Mandakini, it was an absolute disaster. The beautiful river is being killed. I remembered those fought against this mindless and insensitive development, but they were sought be turned into villains. Despite the 2013 disaster no lessons were learned. Mushrooming of hotels and restaurants, rafting etc. continued to increase, while the biggest threat came from the numerous dams being built in the state.
What is the message from Reni village? It is a historic village where Gaura Devi founded the Chipko movement. She fought the battle to protect the forests here from going into the hands of petty contractors in 1974. Gaura Devi died as an isolated woman in 1991, but people are now realising how true she was. In 2019, the villagers of Reni filed a petition against the Rishi Ganga Power Project, but it was rejected by the Uttarakhand High Court.
Reports are coming in about how merciless these power projects are. Contractors have been drilling mountains and killing the river. The Supreme Court too allowed these mindless projects to continue even when various expert committees have indicated that it is highly risky to have big dam projects in Uttarakhand. What is the use of scientific opinion if the government is bent upon rejecting it?
When I saw the highway from Rishikesh to Dev Prayag, it deeply saddened me. Ganga looks stunning at various locations here. The mountains are being killed, and the muck is being dumped in the beautiful river. This way, the whole civilisation is being destroyed. Indeed, without these beautiful rivers and mountains, Uttarakhand means nothing. It is these mountains that fascinate. They make us proud to be called Pahadi.
But I don't think our rulers will ever learn a lesson, because to them rivers, mountains, gods and goddesses -- everything has turned into a money minting machine. It is time for the government to seriously think over. There is an urgent need to protect mountains and rivers of Uttarakhand, as they are our biggest identity and asset. They are our civilisation. There is a need to stop mindless 'construction' in the name of 'development'.
---
*Human rights defender

Comments

Dr A K Biswas said…
I read the article which actually convinces me to have flown from the depth of heart of the writer who deserves appreciation a lot for ably portraying the all relevant issues involved in the disaster which struck theHimalaya.

The tragedy under the umbrella of developmet might have been inspired by instinct of making money by powerful lobby of contractors and builders. The price being made to pay is very high and deplorable.
This tragedy must be a lesson to all concerned. The balance of nature must not be disturbed.

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