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  Asia-Pacific
Overcoming State Suppression, Prof. Agarwal Continues Save-Ganga Fast in Delhi
By Bobby Ramakant
Asia Correspondent
Retired IIT Kanpur Professor (retired) Dr. GD Agarwal

Retired IIT Kanpur Professor (retired) Dr GD Agarwal, 76 years, is sitting on a fast-unto-death since 13 June 2008 to save the Ganga from the aggressive onslaught of strings of dams and hydel projects in Uttarakhand. On 21 June 2008, the Uttarakhand government had to forcibly disrupt the peaceful and non-violent agitation of Prof Agarwal, forcing the unflinching crusader to move to the nation's capital to continue his agitation.

The Chief Minister of Uttarakhand, BC Khanduri, had said on 17 June 2008, that he was ready to stop the construction of hydel projects on the Bhagirathi river if the power needs of the state were fulfilled by the Centre. Possibly it was this assurance of Chief Minister Khanduri that had instigated those with vested interest in hydel projects to lobby against the growing influence of Prof Agarwal's non-violent protest.

The Uttarakhand state government had earlier planned a series of hydel projects between Uttar kashi and Gangotri. Khanduri, however, made it clear that the decision on stopping the construction of the 600-MW Lohari Nagpala project would be taken by the Centre since it was being constructed by National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC), a central government undertaking and India's largest power generation company. Other major dams being built on the river include Pala Maneri (480 MW), Bhairon Ghati (381 MW) and Jad Ganga (200 MW).

"The contentious issue is 600 MW (4X150) Loharinag - Pala dam being built by National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC), a central government undertaking, the country's largest power generation company. Ganga will be put into 26 and 17 km long tunnels leading to its disappearance from its natural course through the stretch. The construction is going on in full steam. The resultant destruction of the fragile and unique ecosystem will have far reaching consequences. Not only this, all this is done in earthquake zone 5 and terrain full of sedimentary rocks. No imagination is required to realize what one earthquake would to the entire region. Siltation is another problem. Ganga and all other Himalayan rivers carry lots of silt along which will now settle in the reservoirs created by the dams reducing the electricity generation capacity. Repeated closing of Nathpa-Jhakri Dam on Satluj in Himachal Pradesh 4 years after its commission is a fine example" explained Environmental scientist Neeraj Doshi, who has moved back from USA recently to strengthen people's movements.

"In the name of 'development' and 'economic growth' in India, rural and urban poor have been the worst hit, facing displacement and dispossession at an unprecedented scale" said Dr Sandeep Pandey, Ramon Magsaysay Awardee (2002) and convener of National Alliance of People's Movements (NAPM). "Not only the state has overlooked the environmental cost of such hydel projects, but also the issues of livelihood and quality of life of those living in areas adjoining the Ganga and those who will be displaced by these projects has been appallingly ignored by the state" added Dr Pandey while strongly endorsing the fast of Dr Agarwal.

The privatization of water, use of agriculture lands as special economic zone for rapid industrialization, heavy displacement of poor people with 'development projects' which put them at grave risk of infectious diseases, are certainly not going to help India in its development goals.

With the fast-unto-death entering 11th day on Monday, 23 June 2008, 76 years old Dr GD Agarwal's commitment to save the Ganga, the environment and the rights of the most under-represented people in the development discourses, hopefully will be able to influence the Indian government to listen to the people, for a change.



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Bobby Ramakant, who serves as The Seoul Times' Asia correspondent, is a member of NATT, Network for Accountability of Tobacco Transnationals, and edits Weekly MONiTOR series, reporting violations of tobacco control policies as a senior public health and development journalist. He writes for newspapers in 11 countries. He is the recepient of World Health Organization (WHO)'s Award for the year 2008. He can be reached at bobbyramakant@yahoo.com)

 

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