In an open letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, as many as 64 prominent environmental activists and academicians, including two Rajya Sabha MPs, former RSS ideologue K N Govindacharya and historian Ram Guha, on Friday termed as a “profound error” and a “self-defeating exercise” the recommendation of going ahead with more hydro-electric projects (HEPs) in the upper reaches of the Ganga river in the Himalayas.
Terming Ganga and the Himalayas as “pivotal ecological systems and defining symbols of Indian culture”, the activists, academics, historians and Parliamentarians reminded the Prime Minister that six out of seven projects lie in the para-glacial zones or its buffers, which has been declared an inviolate area by environmental experts.
The Open Letter recalls the sacrifices by several saints to ensure ‘nirmalta’ and ‘aviralta’ (clean and continuous flowing) Ganga and said, “Our collective ‘conscience’ and ‘science’ both demand that the decision to restart these seven projects be reversed, keeping in mind many factors that have been ignored, in the best interests of our nation and the stated goal of the government to rejuvenate the Ganga.”
Those who have signed and endorsed the letter include Rajya Sabha member and coordinator for Indian Parliamentarians’ Forum for Ganga and Himalayas, Kunwar Rewati Raman Singh and another RS member, Pradip Tamta from Uttarakhand; retired Allahabad High Court judge and Chancellor Benaras Hindu University, Justice Giridhar Malviya; former RSS idealogue K N Govindacharya; historian Ram Guha; retired Kumaon University professor Padmashree Shekhar Pathak; environmentalist who chaired the Supreme Court appointed experts’ body on the ‘Impact of Hydropower Projects’ Dr Ravi Chopra; Stockholm Water Award winner and Tarun Bharat Sangh’s founder Rajendra Singh; NGO Ganga Ahvaan’s Mallika Bhanot; Yamuna Jiye Abhiyaan’s Manoj Mishra and former Secretary, Water Resources Ministry, Shashi Shekhar. Others include activists, academics and think tank members from Uttarakhand and from across India.
Eight years after the Supreme Court moratorium on dam construction in the Upper Ganga region, three Union Ministries and the Uttarakhand government had reached a “consensus” to allow construction of seven hydropower projects, including the one destroyed in the February 2021 flash floods in Chamoli district.
The seven projects are the 1,000 MW Tehri stage II project, 520 MW Tapovan Vishnugad project, 444 MW Vishnugad Pipalkote project, 99 MW Singholi Bhatwari project, 76 MW Phata Buyong project, 15 MW Madhmaheshwar project, and 4.5 MW Kaliganga II project.
Earlier last month, the Ministries of Environment, Forests and Climate Change, Jal Shakti, Power and the state had together reached a consensus on the seven projects to be implemented, according to an affidavit filed by Joint Secretary, Environment, Forests and Climate Change Sujit Kumar Bajpayee ten days ago in connection with an ongoing case regarding dam projects in Uttarakhand post the 2013 disaster which had witnessed over 5,000 deaths, damage to property and infrastructure projects.
Chalking out the disastrous chronology in the Uttarakhand Himalayas one example at a time and showcasing how it has been the hydropower projects that are at the root of these events, the letter sought to remind the Prime Minister of the PMO’s “welcome and judicious” decision in its meeting of February 25, 2019 that a) No new hydro-electric project shall be taken up on River Ganga and its tributaries in Uttarakhand and b) All projects in which the work has not started on the ground shall be dropped.
The same PMO meeting had also said that considering the revenue and opportunity lost to the state of Uttarakhand, it may be compensated for the projects, which are being dropped and on which work has already started.
Not just this, the activists also reminded the Prime Minister of the observation of the Jal Shakti ministry itself: “As may be seen from the views of experts and expert organizations indicated in the foregoing para, the HEPs will adversely affect the ecology of the Himalayas, leading to an irreversible loss to the Himalayan eco system and to the national river Ganga which is the nation’s identity and symbol of faith and heritage.”
The letter ended with saying that they “sincerely hope” that the Prime Minister will reconsider the recent MoEF&CC recommendation to restart the construction of the seven HEPs.