Lessons from the Uttarakhand Disaster
by M Pramod Kumar on 10 Oct 2013 10 Comments

Even as the painful memories of the Uttarakhand disaster remain fresh in our minds, it is important that we understand and assimilate the eco-friendly spiritual principles which form the foundational principles of Sanatana Dharma.


Unlike religions whose theology has encouraged an attitude of aggression and exploitation, Hinduism has looked upon Nature as a sacred manifestation of the ultimate truth. Purusha and Prakriti are the two inseparable pillars of the Universe in Hindu philosophy.


Politics in the post-independence era divorced itself from its commitment to Dharma under the garb of secularism and adopted an often indifferent and sometimes hostile stance to India’s rich ecological heritage. The Uttarakhand disaster could perhaps have been averted or the loss of life and property minimized if the secular establishments had paid any heed to the warnings and protests of the local people and environmental activists like Swami Gyan Swaroop Sanand (Prof GD Agrawal). Swami Sanand has been on a 100+ day fast to protest the damming and the pollution of the Ganga.


A report commissioned by the Union Environment and Forests Ministry in 2012, warned the Centre against going ahead with 24 hydropower projects planned on the Alaknanda and Bhagirathi river systems in Uttarakhand. The report prepared by the Wildlife Institute of India (WII), Dehradun, cautioned that the projects would destroy 22 per cent of the State’s forestland and affect the unique Himalayan ecology along one-third of lengths of the two main tributaries of the Ganga. And yet, Vijay Bahuguna, Chief Minister of Uttarakhand, claims that there are only three dams on the Ganga and that the proposal for constructing 70 new hydro power projects was assessed and cleared by scientists and environmentalists.


Jawaharlal Nehru’s fascination with dams which he considered as the ‘temples of modern India’ has perhaps reached its acme in the Congress government’s obsession with destroying the Ganga with dams. It is scientifically established that dams can cause earthquakes. There are over 100 identified cases of earthquakes which occurred across the world that scientists believe were triggered by reservoirs. The most serious case is the 7.9-magnitude Sichuan earthquake in May 2008, which killed an estimated 80,000 people and has been linked to the construction of the Zipingpu dam in China.


Dams are neither eco-friendly nor people-friendly. The displacement of whole communities caused by dams and their rehabilitation is the cause of much controversy and unrest in many States in India. But, there are better alternatives to dams.


The waterman of India, Rajendra Singh, who won the Ramon Magsaysay award in 2001 for pioneering work in community-based efforts in water harvesting and water management, has demonstrated that the age-old Indian techniques of rain water harvesting and storage are still relevant and practical today. Through the use of rainwater storage tanks, check dams and other time-tested as well as path-breaking techniques, Rajendra Singh has brought water back to over 1,000 villages and revived five rivers in Rajasthan.


It is high time that our governments recognize and patronize such eco-friendly, cost effective and time-tested practical systems of rain water harvesting and water conservation practiced in India since the Indus-Saraswati Civilization. The wrongly titled ‘Great Bath of Mohenjodaro’ is perhaps the oldest temple tank of the world and an ancient symbol of the eco-friendly spirit of Hinduism.


No less pertinent is the secular establishment’s contempt for sacred symbols of our ecological heritage such as the Rama Setu near Rameswaram and the Dhari Devi temple in Uttarakhand. On June 16, the Dhari Devi murti was removed from its original location in the middle of the Alaknanda river where it stood undisturbed for 800 years and placed in a new structure on higher ground, as water from the Alaknanda Dam upstream was about to submerge it. Hours later, a devastating cloudburst washed away the holy pilgrim town of Kedarnath. It is said that a similar attempt in 1882 by a local king had resulted in a landslide that had flattened Kedarnath.


Sushma Swaraj, the leader of the opposition in the Lok Sabha, made a passionate appeal in her statement on the Uttarakhand disaster, demanding that the government reinstate the image of Dhari Devi in the original location and also scrap the new hydro power projects which are threatening the fragile ecosystem of the Himalayas. In her statement, Swaraj pointed out that the Home Ministry did not wake up to the seriousness of the situation even 90 hours after the disaster struck. No systematic collection of data of casualties from various States was commissioned and victims of the families complained that the cheques issued by the Government as ex gratia compensation bounced, rubbing salt into their wounds.


More than three months after the Uttarakhand disaster, the Congress-run State and Central Governments show no sign of repenting over their environmentally destructive policies. The symbolic and hurried reopening of the Kedarnath temple looked like a publicity stunt to claim that normalcy is being restored in the affected areas, but the reality is that large parts of the disaster affected areas including the Chardham, the four most sacred pilgrimage spots of the Hindus, remained inaccessible to pilgrims, weeks after the reopening.


Meanwhile, the Rama Setu case caught the attention of ‘Internet Hindus’ active on social media when the Solicitor General of India, Mohan Parasaran, declined to appear before the Supreme Court in the matter. He said that arguing for the Government conflicted with his sacred belief that Lord Rama is a historical figure who used the Rama Setu. The Centre rejected the conclusions and recommendations of the expert committee headed by Dr. Pachauri which suggested that the project be implemented as per Alignment No. 4A, the alternative route suggested by the court as against the original Alignment No. 6, which will cut through the Ram Setu.


Indiscriminate development, illegal mining, insensitive tourism and perverted secularism have become the dushta chatushtayam (evil four) responsible for the nation-wide ecocide of our natural heritage. Protecting India’s ecological heritage is the sacred duty of every Hindu and commitment to Dharma also implies a commitment to adopt and live an eco-friendly lifestyle.


(The author is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Cultural Education at Amrita University in Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu.)

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