Involve people to conserve Himalayas, stop big dams: Environmentalists

September 13th, 2010 - 11:39 am ICT by IANS  

By Anjali Ojha
New Delhi, Sep 13 (IANS) Condemning the massive dams being built across the length and breadth of the Himalayas, prominent environmentalists say involving the mountain people in development efforts, large-scale tree plantation and small dams could provide answers to many a problem.

“It is unfortunate that large-scale dams are being constructed. They devastate the environment and uproot people for short-term benefits,” said Anil Joshi, who was here with fellow environmentalist Sunderlal Bahuguna to observe Himalaya Day last week.

Joshi, winner of the Padma Shri, one of India’s highest civilian honours, is the founder of the Himalayan Environmental Studies and Conservation Organization, which is working for the development of rural villagers in the Himalayas.

“Ecologically sensitive programmes should be taken up in the name of development. The fact is that it has become more difficult for the residents of the Himalayas to survive and sustain in the wake of regular commercial exploitation of forests, mines and dams,” Joshi told IANS.

Bahuguna, 73, leader of the famous Chipko movement of the 1970s against deforestation, is actively leading a campaign to save the Himalayas by mobilizing local communities.

He also spearheaded the movement against the Tehri dam in Uttarakhand. Despite large-scale protests, the dam was completed in 2006. It is a rockfill dam on the Bhagirathi river, the source stream of the Ganga river. The dam submerged the historic Tehri city.

“A dam can keep the water for a while and then it will be filled with silt. The problem of water is permanent; the solution should also be permanent,” Bahuguna said.

“Dams stop the natural flow of the river, destroying the river’s ecology. They hold the sediments which result in the rivers eroding heavily downstream. It also adversely affects the geological balance by putting high pressure on the sensitive geological area of the Himalayas,” Bahuguna added.

India currently has 74 hydro-power projects in the Himalayas with an installed capacity of 15,208 mega watts. Thirty-seven more projects are under construction while over 300 more have been planned.

However, Joshi believes a solution to big dams is not possible until alternatives are provided to the government.

“The government will continue constructing them (dams) until we provide an alternative. Construction of small hydrological dams is one alternative. This way water does not stagnate,” he suggests.

Joshi, who has been working for providing livelihood to the rural communities of the Himalayas, stresses that locals should be involved in finding a solution for sustainable development in the Himalayas.

“Local intelligence and local community involvement is most important. The bigger the project, the more alienated are the local communities,” he said.

“The Himalayas are a huge carbon sink, they provide water and many other resources to the whole of India. The people from the plains should also be included in the conservation of the ranges,” he added.

On the other hand, Bahuguna suggests large-scale plantation of trees along the ranges as a solution. “Make the Himalayas a continuous dam by planting trees. Trees will attract more rains and give more water,” he said.

“Planting a variety of species is also important so that there is more resistance to factors like climate change and pests,” he added.

A manifesto for the Himalayas released Sep 9 by environmentalists includes demands like paying attention to melting glaciers, the falling graph of the ecological balance, restriction on commercialisation of natural wealth and restriction on heavy industries in the region.

However, the main focus is on inclusion of local communities and ensuring a sustainable life for them.

“The Himalayas are not just soil, water and glacier, they should be seen along with the people who live there. The conservation of Himalayas must be inclusive of its people,” Joshi said.

(Anjali Ojha can be contacted at anjali.o@ians.in)

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