In December we visited Uttarakhand state: Rudraprayag, Ukhimath, Agatstymuni and returned via Devprayag, Rishikesh route to Delhi. The scene was painful to say the least. Mountains were being grilled and drilled. It was completely devastating. Everyone wants safer roads but we have to also respect the environmental issues of the region.
Every 5-10 kilometres, we saw dumping of the muck in the beautiful rivers. Why do we allow this muck to be flown into our rivers there? Nobody would justify the mindless ‘development’ there which is imposed due to the advice from some ‘experts’ in Delhi or Dehradun. Uttarakhand’s mountains are definitely beautiful though fragile.
This land was spiritual too but the last five six years have seen the growth of religious tourism with scant respect for the environment as well as local traditions. The religious tourism being encouraged by the current regime is for their ‘grand Hindutva’ project. These were not known in the hill state which has a very vibrant and open food culture. People are religious but it is their faith and not hatred towards any one. They are simple and mostly accustomed to their own traditional lifestyle, with definitely a proud feeling of being an Uttarakhandi. Rivers, mountains give a spiritual look. They are so beautiful that one wish to just sit and feel the power of their ‘energy’. Do we need luxurious cottages and roads to enjoy the tranquillity of the hills? I am not suggesting that people should face difficulties but that is also true when you go to such places. The beautiful places can not be ‘picnic’ spots where you come, throw the garbage and return to your home.
Religious tourism has not really helped the tourism sector in the hills as most of them come in groups, have least respect for the environment and still look for their ‘country food’. It means that they don’t want to enjoy the local delicacies of our environment but even for one day they want to have ‘homelike’ stuff. This has resulted in various states and communities creating their own ‘dharmshalas’ as well as mushrooming of ‘vaishnavite’ and Punjabi Dhabas. If you promote tourism which respects the environment and ecology, I can definitely say, there are thousands of such people who would love to visit here. But religious tourists rarely ask questions about environmental degradation and everything is blamed on God’s wrath, and focus is more on rescue operations and their bravery. After some time, we forget and will claim that we are ‘capable’ of handling such a crisis. Question is why should we allow such a crisis?
The numerous dams that are coming up on various rivers of Uttarakhand particularly Alakananda, Mandikini and others are just destroying them. It is controlling them. Why should we control the natural flow of such supremely pristine rivers? We are fortunate to have seen and felt the beauty of these rivers which are our spiritual strength. That built the civilization in the Himalayan region which we can safely call Uttarakhand’s river valley civilization. Without mountains and rivers, Uttarakhand is nothing. It is our culture and our life and if any one wants to visit these places, he or she needs to face some hardships, otherwise what is the use?
To give the religious people luxury so that they come in large numbers is pure commercialisation of the place. Uttarakhand land is more spiritual and hence religiosity here was not that visible in public as you can witness in UP, Bihar, Rajasthan, Gujarat etc. Even a place like Rishikesh is different from Varanasi where people throng to wash away their ‘sins’. The crowd in various ashrams in Muni ki reti used to be more interested in spiritual discourse than noisy Bollywood bhajans being played in other parts of North India. But that is slowly changing because of ‘project’ Hindutva reaching the upper part of Uttarakhand and through this the contractors who want to profiteer from the rich civilisation source, they term it ‘resource’ like water and minerals.
If the roads were being widened, where was the need for a train project? From RudraPrayag to Agastyamuni-Ukhimath, which is basically the valley of river Mandakini, it was an absolute disaster. The beautiful river was being killed. I remember many of those who fought against this mindless and insensitive development were made villains. Despite the 2013 disaster no lessons were learnt as mushrooming of hotels and restaurants, rafting etc increased while the biggest threat came from the numerous dams being built.
What is the message from Reni village? It is a historic village where Gaura Devi founded the Chipko movement. She fought the battle to protect the forest here from going in the hands of petty contractors in 1974. Gaura Devi died as an isolated woman in 1991 but people are now realising how true she was.
In 2019, the villagers of Reni filed a petition against the Rishi Ganga Power Project but it was rejected by the Uttarakhand High Court. Reports are coming in about how mercilessly these power projects, contractors have been drilling mountains and killing the river. The Supreme Court too allowed these mindless projects to continue even when various expert committees have indicated that it is high risk to have big dam projects in Uttarakhand. Scientists are suggesting what is the use of their opinion if the government continues to ignore them?
When I saw the highway from Rishikesh to DevPrayag, it deeply saddened me. Ganga looks stunning at various locations here. The curves you will find nowhere but when you kill the mountains and dump the dirt in the beautiful river, you are not merely destroying the mountains or river but a whole civilization. I say it with conviction, that without these beautiful rivers and mountains, Uttarakhand means nothing. It is these mountains that fascinated us and made us proud to be called a Pahadi.
I don’t think our rulers will ever learn a lesson because rivers, mountains, gods and goddesses, everything has become a money minting machine. I have said numerous times how fascinating it is to be in the areas where these beautiful rivers flow. They look youthful, joyous and energetic. Why are we killing them for profit? It is time for the government to seriously think over these issues. Protect the mountains and rivers of Uttarakhand as they are our biggest identity and asset. They are our civilization. Stop mindless ‘construction’ in the name of ‘development’. I am sure, people will realise they are better without ‘it’.
We laud the effective action of the state government and round the clock rescue operation done by the ITBP, NDRF, SDRF and other agencies. They deserve our appreciation but for the rulers, I just want to request please don’t impose a ‘developmental’ module from Delhi or Dehradun. Stop this destruction immediately and protect Uttarakhand from this crude and vulgar assault in the name of ‘development.
*Views expressed are the author’s own.
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