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This article has been translated from a first person account originally in Hindi in Amar Ujala http://www.amarujala.com/news/states/uttarakhand/dehradun/now-horror-staying-in-the-valley/ by Ved Vilas Uniyal and Surendra Puri

We reach Harshil around noon. Harshil-Dharali, famous for scenic natural beauty and apple orchards is a ghost village. Everyone is subdued by catastrophe and scenes of devastation lie in all directions.

Horror has spread

The Harshil valley that used to bustle with tourists is now in the grip of fear. Terrifying scenes begin to greet the eyes in villages five to ten kilometers before reaching there itself.

About three hundred people are visible in the relief camp at the Harshil helipad. Everyone wants to reach Uttarkashi in any way they can. There are two options. Either be evacuated by Army helicopters or walk about 70 km of treacherous roads and mountain slopes.

In Harshil, people tell us about the devastation wreaked on nearby areas. To see ground conditions with our own eyes, we proceed in the direction of Dharali.

Last village in the country

We walk a little ahead of Harshil. Suddenly our eyes fall on apple orchards. These orchards have silt from the Jalandhari river. A little ahead, the birdsong was overwhelmed by the thundering river.

Everywhere the mountain is broken. At last we reached Dharali. This is the last village in India before the border. People start narrating their ordeals immediately. No one has reached here yet, see how the flood has wreaked devastation here. The rampaging Ksheer Ganga has destroyed homes, the market is washed away.

What is left with us. Whom do we tell our suffering to, no one has come here. We see that the riverbed of Ksheer Ganga has debris up to ten feet.

Two hundred year old village

Jaibhagwan Pawar from this village tells us that the village is two hundred years old as is the Kalpkedar temple in it. At one time there were some two hundred and fifty temples like this here. Some say the Pandavas made them, others say Shankaracharya did. Ordeals and disasters leveled the temples one by one. Three temples had survived against the odds and two of them were gone in the last flood.

Now the remaining part of Kalpkedar temple is the symbol of hope here, but it has fifteen feet of debris in it now.

People are distressed that no one has come to them. They feel alone in this calamity. They only know of their own ravaged village. They ask us for news from beyond. All the villagers collect in one place. They are worried about provisions to run homes on. How long will it take for the road to Gangotri to be rebuilt? How long will their rations last?

What has passed has dealt grief. They are apprehensive of another mishap. Durgesh Pawar of the village points to the high glaciers above. "What you see up there is the Srikanth peak"

"Its Bugyals, (alpine high altitude grass meadows above timber line) are seeping water. Goatherds and trekkers have alerted them that there is a crack forming. If that section of the mountain collapses, we will not even be capable of narrating or ordeals." This anxiety doesn't let them sleep.

Ksheer Ganga has wreaked destruction

One of them tells that on the black night of 16th June, there was a blast. Torrents of rain, deodars about to get washed away in the river and the water had changed color. (Flooding rivers become dark with silt and debris). People are apprehensive of the color of the water.

Disturbed by a sudden tremendous noise, when we came out, Ksheer Ganga had wreaked more havoc already.


A guest post by Vijay Panjwani, Advocate Supreme Court of India from Gandhi Darshan, Delhi.

A beautiful cool sunny spring morning in the calm of Gandhi Ashram, Raj Ghat, Delhi can turn anyone into an environmentalist. It was 9.30 AM a full 30 minutes before start time. Taking the opportunity walked around in the vast open ground. In one corner is the Khadhi and Village Industries Commission [KVIC] North Zone Office with a compact Conference Hall. At another point is Indira Gandhi Open University [IGNOU] office and seminar rooms. The ground is surrounded by boards with poems from great poets and book extracts of well known authors. Faiz, Kedarnath Agrawal,Munshi Premchand are all over.

The seminar room was big and commodious for 200 Ganga activists, civil society leaders and swamis in all hues and shades of saffron clothing united in the goal of saving ganga river.

Most speakers emphasized that if ganga lives then only pollution issues would follow. The danger is to its very existence. There is widespread tunneling going on in the Himalayas coercing the river to change course. Seminarists want a stop to tinkering with the main current and the natural flow of the river to produce electricity. Electricity is necessary but other ways should be found to generate.
Interlinking of rivers came under critical discussion one speaker grand daughter of the Mahatma Gandhi Mrs Tara Bhattacharya questioned the wisdom of opposing a very sane project to reduce flood and drought conditions and demanded that someone should explain how it is harming the ecology. There was no response to a perfectly valid query.

The question of dangers to Ganga are connected with dangers to Himalayas. Some thought is needed on the efficacy of smaller dams and small dams. Why few large dams and not many smaller ones. These issues are to be explained anew through documentaries and short films and the internet by the I&B ministry. A small 50 seater permanent film theatre at Rajghat and Gandhi Darshan Complex would provide this information to tourists coming from all over India and abroad.

Like the Dandi March against salt tax the organizer Mrs Rama Rauta pitched for a similar agitation for clean air and water. It was on 12th March that the Mahatma launched the salt agitation for that reason each year at Gandhi Darshan the Save Ganga activists meet but with increasing frustration. The lament was that media ignores them, government is indifferent, public unaware, lack of funds, and local agencies only interested in starting treatment projects but deep into matters unrelated to regulating waste waters. A strong demand was made for declaring Uttarakhand a fragile eco-sensitive state. The ‘separation of river and sewer’ would help to reduce pollution load. It is also said that treated water to be put to other uses and not released in the river. Very laudable objects. Nothing new but definitely a reminder that alls not well in the Himalayas.

Admittedly PM is a busy man. In such a scenario it would be practical to appoint a vice-chairman in the Ganga Authority from amongst them. Businessman Rajneesh Mehra of A2Z group stressed on more sewage treatment plants but ignored the maintenance part. Most STPs on the Ganga banks are mal-functioning. There are many reasons and not just diversion and siphoning of funds.

‘Pay and pollute’ regime is promoted by an environmentalist like Padma Shree Miss Sunita Narain Director CSE an NGO registered by late Mr Anil Agarwal. Such a line is followed by CSE in permitting use of diesel combustion engine for passenger car/suv and other light vehicles. But such a policy overlooks the subsidized rates of diesel [for the rich] and the enormous amount of carbon emission into the atmosphere contributing to global warming and climate change. Such warming causes the Himalayan glaciers to melt more than acceptable summer standards.

The principle of ‘Pay & Pollute’ tilts in favour of the rich. It means if you have money you can pollute. This is what India is arguing against the developed west and Miss Sunita Narain supports it in international conferences in USA and other countries. Is there a contradiction when CSE says passenger car diesel engines should pay Rs 80,000 more as a one time carbon tax ? Those who cannot afford to pay that excess over normal price would be deprived of use of subsidized diesel. Diesel in India is subsidized to help the small and marginal farmer and also the goods transport sector. The subsidy was never meant for Sports Utility Vehicles [SUV]. SUV is usually a tall four-wheel drive heavy bodied luxury 8 seater with high ground clearance and costs around Rs 1.7 million [17 lakhs]. Followwing its success now two-wheel drive SUVs are also available and many more would be introduced this year. Respectable Tata group has surrendered to market forces. It is mass producing diesel cars for every pocket starting with 1.25 lac rupee Nano mini [wef july 2012].

Captains of industry have adopted corporate responsibility duties and one of them is to reduce and prevent future pollution load. Highly paid managers attend 5 star hotel [mid-day meal] luncheon meetings and discuss methodology of containing pollution levels. As a role model Sir Ratan Tata can simply stop manufacturing diesel car engines. The central government can issue a notification banning such manufacture and import. The Supreme Court would in all likelihood uphold the validity of such a notification.