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Riding upstream

The 76-year-old environmentalist has been on a stoical fast since June 13 in Uttarkashi to oppose the hydroelectric projects planned on the Himalayan stretch of the Ganges. Shalini Singh reports.

india Updated: Jun 22, 2008 02:55 IST
Shalini Singh

The septuagenarian may have lost five kgs till the sixth day of his fast on Wednesday, but the iron will still gleams in Dr Gurudas Agrawal’s eyes, as he readies to carry his protest to Delhi in the coming week. Though the state government has suspended work on two of the six major power projects in the Bhagirathi valley, Dr Agrawal — a former member secretary of Central Pollution Control Board, who’s played a key role in formulating India pollution control regulation — now wants the Centre to intervene.

The 76-year-old environmentalist has been on a stoical fast since June 13 in Uttarkashi to oppose the hydroelectric projects planned on the Himalayan stretch of the Ganges. He and some others believe if these are allowed to be completed, they would wreak ecological havoc.

Despite requests from visiting government officials to end his hunger strike, Chitrakoot-based Dr Agrawal has maintained his demand for an unaffected river flow between Gangotri and Uttarkashi. The former dean of IIT Kanpur and a professor of environmental engineering, Agrawal is joined by Magsaysay awardee Rajendra ‘Waterman’ Singh who adds that further efforts are needed to ensure a free-flowing Bhagirathi in its 125 km stretch between Gangotri and Dharasu.

In a public meeting held early this month in Delhi, Singh, Ravi Chopra, (director, People’s Science Institute, Dehradun) and other activists spoke of the impending perils. “The proposed dams will destroy the self-cleaning properties of the Ganges. The coliform bacteria (indicator of water quality) in it become less than one per cent in one day as opposed to the rivers in the US that take four days,” explained Chopra.

“Ganges is central to our history and also sustains fishermen. If it runs dry due to the dams, wouldn’t that affect our microclimates? Creating tunnels in the Himalayas for these projects is dangerous. Himalayas are full of fissures, and drilling tunnels — which are now being done in the cheapest possible way by blasting these regions — will lead to further landslides and earthquakes,” added Singh.