Parties try to keep afloat as politics over Ganga gets murky

Ahead of the forthcoming Lok Sabha polls,the sanctity of Ganga and the construction of hydel projects on the river are gradually snowballing into a major political issue in Uttarakhand.....

Written by Rajeev Khanna | Dehradun | Published:February 28, 2009 11:58 pm

Ahead of the forthcoming Lok Sabha polls,the sanctity of Ganga and the construction of hydel projects on the river are gradually snowballing into a major political issue in Uttarakhand. The flow of rivers in the state has come down from 995 litres per second in 1993 to 85 litres per second in 2003. Now,both the Congress and the BJP are trying to outdo each other in their quest for garnering support with the issue becoming more and more complex and even the social activists pitching in.

Over the last few months,the matter has come to the fore several times. The latest is the suspension of an indefinite fast in New Delhi by noted environmentalist and former teacher of IIT-Kanpur G D Aggarwal,following an assurance by the Union Power Ministry regarding the halting of work on the Lohari Nagpala hydroelectric project. The fast was suspended last Friday after 38 days. The project in question was being executed by the National Thermal Power Corporation on the Bhagirathi river at Uttarkashi.

Aggarwal and his associates have been campaigning for the last several months for maintaining the unhindered flow of the Ganga. They had previously succeeded in getting the B C Khanduri Government to suspend the work on the Pala Maneri and Bhairon Ghati projects.

However,the BJP has attacked the UPA for halting the Lohari Nagpala project. “Changes can be made in the guidelines for executing the project,but it should not be halted,” said BJP state president Bachi Singh Rawat.

The Congress,on the other hand,has accused Aggarwal of being a Sangh Parivar man,an allegation the BJP denies. “The work on Pala Maneri and Bhairon Ghati projects was suspended by Khanduri on the insistence of the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate L K Advani who did not wish to draw the ire of the Sangh Parivar leaders who were openly supporting Aggarwal,” said senior Congress leader Suryakant Dhasmana.

VHP leaders Ashok Singhal and Pravin Togadia,along with former BJP ideologue G N Govindacharya,have also expressed their solidarity with Aggarwal. And yoga guru Baba Ramdev had even announced the setting up of a Margdarshak Mandal to coordinate the activities of Ganga Raksha Manch,an organisation with headquarters at his Patanjali Yog Peeth in Hardwar.

However,the UPA took the wind out of the BJP’s sails with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh declaring the Ganga a national heritage river. In the poll season,the Congress is now peddling this point. “We do not want to hurt anyone’s sentiments,but at the same time we are against use of religion in politics,” said Dhasmana. “During the course of events several religious leaders have displayed their political colours and ambitions. They should first ensure that Ganga does not get polluted by the sewerage from their ashrams in Rishikesh and Hardwar,” he added.

Amidst all this politicking,Dehradun recently saw 47 teams of social activists demanding transparency in the state Government’s policy regarding the development of hydel power projects and the rehabilitation of displaced people. These teams,comprising mainly of women,under the banner of Nadi Bachao Abhiyan have been travelling across the state’s river basins interacting with the locals about conserving rivers. “We are not against building of power projects. But people should be told what will be the impact of these projects on their lives,” said Radha Behn,convener of the movement and a senior functionary of the Gandhi Peace

Foundation.

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