TERMING THE ambitious river linking scheme framed during the tenure of the NDA government as ‘unnatural and cruel’, noted environmentalist and ‘Chipko Andolan’ leader Sunderlal Bahuguna on Monday said the project was neither viable nor environment-friendly.
The noted environmentalist who has fought for the preservation of the Himalayas and is the controversial leader of the Chipko movement was delivering a lecture on ‘Our Environment: Facts and solutions’ at a function organised by the Centre for Environmental Protection, Research and Development (CEPRD) at the Jal Auditorium in the City on Monday.
“The river linking scheme is unnatural and cruel as these days there is hardly any water in the rivers. Even in river Ganga the amount of water is just half of what it was earlier. It should not be implemented,” Bahuguna said.
When asked whether the river linking scheme will not provide water in the water-starved areas or control the flooding of the rivers, he said, “flood is a blessing for the people. Better for those farmers who get a good yield from their lands after the floods as the soil gets changed.”
He said it was the fish that cleans the water of any flowing river even against the current and the river-linking scheme would affect this natural phenomenon.
Floods are caused by the barren mountains and the only solution to check the menace is encouraging people towards tree plantation in a big way, specially in the Himalayan region, Bahuguna said.
Asked if he is planning any agitation on the issue of big dams or river-linking scheme outside Tehri, Bahuguna said in Tehri itself, over one lakh people were displaced, while this scheme would uproot at least one crore people. “It is a cruel scheme”.
When asked about alternatives to big dams, Bahuguna said, “The dam is a temporary solution to the permanent problems. It is better if we turn the Himalayas into the natural dam by launching afforestation drive in the region”. “The solution to the permanent problems should be permanent in nature,” he said.
“What will happen to these dams if there is no water on earth,” the noted environmentalist asked and said the next world war will be fought on the issue of water only.
“Politicians are playing with the future of the young generations as both land and water are shrinking world over. This is not development but destruction,” he warned.
Instead of developing material capital, the people must take steps to develop natural capital by protecting the environment. The youth must revolt on the issue of depletion of land and water resources, Bahuguna said.
Without directly commenting on the Supreme Court order on the issue of Sardar Sarovar dam, he said, “stranded water in big dams is dead water and this is a temporary solution to the permanent problem. Development should be sustainable in nature”.
The biggest challenges before India is the shortage and crisis of water and population explosion, he said and added that temporary solutions are not an answer. “Small power plants are the sustainable solution to the problem of power crisis in the country and not the big dams,” he said.
Calling for a change in the present definition of ‘development’—which is based on the western concept of consumerism and materialism —Bahuguna said that only satisfaction and peace would give the much-needed new impetus to the definition of development.
“In contrast to the western values, our culture says ‘Santosham Paramam Sukham (satisfaction is permanent). The western concept of ‘more and more’ will lead us to destruction,” the environmentalist said.
The man who has been opposing the Tehri dam project for years spoke at length about the current issues in the fight to save environment. Bahuguna, who will turn 80 this January, also suggested two prominent ways for conservation of natural resources. “Firstly, adopt the Rajasthan model of rain water and roof water harvesting.
And secondly, focus on developing such latrines, which in turn would help turn human excreta into fertiliser. As it is, the present flush system wastes a lot of water.”
Standing straight during the entire duration of the speech, which he delivered in stentorian manner for his age, Bahuguna advocated looking back at our rich ancient tradition.
“Society is like a river, which does not look back and proceeds towards the ocean where it merges finally only to loose its identity. Similarly, if we do not look back at our own traditions, we would loose our identity. Environmental protection should be our new dharma.”
Air pollution and water pollution are two major problems in urban areas, he said. “Water has become the most costly commodity. We cannot produce water, we cannot export water, so the only option is to conserve it,” he advised. In his speech replete with references to mythology and history of the country, Bahuguna called ‘Chipko’ movement as a novel ‘tapasya’ in new age and said, “area under forest is fast decreasing. Trees breathe in carbon dioxide like Lord Shiva, who took poison to save others.”
He also spoke at length about the role of women in Indian society and said, “There would have been no fights, no wars if the society had matriarchal system as the females lead with the heart.”
Bahuguna also lauded Narmada Bachao Andolan leader Medha Patkar for her fight against big dams and called her a person who has ‘sympathy for the project-affected people and also for the river Narmada’.
Earlier, the programme started with garlanding a tulsi shrub, a known air purifier. Senior social worker of the City Shalinitai Moghe was also present on the occasion. S K Das gave the inaugural speech. Sanjay Patel conducted the programme and Mahendra Mahajan proposed the vote of thanks.