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April - June 2023

Editorial Simple Living – National Thinking

In our Editorial on Simple Living in the Oct Dec 2020 issue of DILIP, we had argued in detail as to why we should return to our time-tested ancient mores of Simple Living. It is a matter of great satisfaction that Times of India, a national newspaper, in its Editorial page article dated 28 Jan 2023 (reproduced below), has echoed similar views. The article has the topical reference to the natural disaster in Joshimutt, Uttarakhand of landslides, cracks in buildings, sinking and destruction of structures etc. It draws our attention to our loss of balance in the weighing of material development versus ecology and nature’s ways. We should welcome this kind of refreshingly bold expression of views in the overall longterm interests of our nation. One may agree or disagree with some of the analyses presented therein, but the thrust of the arguments and the conclusions drawn are unquestionably healthy. The writer has aptly drawn the right lessons from the Upanishads  –  Editor.


Question from the Homeless in Hills

By Priyadarshini Patel

Home is what one chooses it to be. Neighbourhood, country and even the planet itself evoke a sense of belonging to the right-minded. And yet there has been an unacceptable indifference to the systematic desecration of four fragile Himalayan valleys through the Chardhaam pariyojana (CDP) roadwidening project, the disappearance of the Ganga into tunnels through bumper to bumper hydro-projects, railway tunnels and reckless tourism. It has taken a Joshimath-scale calamity to get people’s attention but by now the ground is also slipping in several other places in Uttarakhand.

Successive governments have failed in their duties towards holistic development, but more worryingly the judiciary has also failed – on at least three separate occasions where timely action could have prevented the current Joshimath land-subsidence.

First, in 2013 after the horrors of Kedarnath flooding a Supreme Court bench headed by Justice Radhakrishnan took suo motu cognisance of the disaster and expressing “deep concern” directed that no further clearances be granted to any hydroelectric power project in Uttarakhand. It also constituted an expert body to “make a detailed study as to whether hydroelectric power projects existing and under construction have contributed to the environmental degradation, if so, to what extent and also whether it has contributed to the present tragedy”. The committee’s findings and recommendations:

  • under construction and existing projects had aggravated the 2013 disaster,
  • recommended cancellation of 23 out of 24 proposed HEPs in Uttarakhand,
  • “terrain above the MCT (Main Central Thrust) in general … should be kept free from hydropower intervention”.
  • Tapovan-Vishnugad HEP whose headrace tunnel runs at the base of Joshimath and is above the MCT, should thus have been halted.

But the Justice Radhakrishnan bench only stayed the 24 proposed projects before his retirement, resulting in a new Justice Dipak Mishra bench which ordered the reconsideration of six of the proposed 24 projects. And the MoEF granted clearances. Thus the goalpost swung from “deep concern” to permitting proposed HEPs in the disaster-ridden state of Uttarakhand.

Second, in 2018 local petitioners filed a PIL against the blanket widening of the Chardhaam route to a Double Lane (DL-PS) of 10 m width, arguing: “Any further cutting of the mountain base for widening or tree felling would cause unprecedented activation of landslides which could block even the existing highway, thus being counterproductive. ” Taking cognisance, Justice Nariman’s SC bench ordered in 2020 that a narrower Intermediate Width would be implemented, thereby saving lakhs of trees, forest cover and drastically reducing hill-cutting.

● But then, CDP metamorphosed from a tourism to a defence project.

  • The matter returned to court.
  • And, the officially reported 200 landslides notwithstanding, in 2021 a new SC bench headed by Justice Chandrachud ordered the DL-PS in these fragile Himalayan valleys.

Third, after the Rishiganga flooding in 2021, the impacted residents of Raini and Joshimath filed a PIL in the Uttarakhand high court, praying for cancellation of the Rishiganga and Tapovan-Vishnugad HEPs, along with rehabilitation of Raini village. The court rejected the petition, stating: “However, there is no piece of evidence produced by these petitioners to establish the fact that they are ‘social activists’ … Therefore, the petitioners are merely puppets at the hand of an unknown puppeteer . . . Hence, this petition is dismissed, while imposing costs of Rs 10,000 on each of the petitioner.”

Now we have the Joshimath disaster, which experts largely attribute to the HEP tunnel, despite denials by NTPC. It cannot be mere coincidence that each time an HEP is constructed there is land subsidence, loss of water sources and cracks in houses as seen in Chain (Chamoli), Bhatwadi (Uttarkashi), Khaat (Rudraprayag), Haat (Chamoli), Dobhal (Tehri) and villages around Tehri dam, to mention a few.

Our Upanishads carry a weighty parable. Virochana, ruler of the demons and Indra, lord of the gods, once went to Brahma and asked him about God. They were told to look in the mirror. Looking at his reflection the demon instantly concluded that he was God; the deva contemplated and realised that God was All. The Western way is to measure development by the amount one can consume; India teaches us to measure our worth by all that we can uplift and divinise: Isha vasyam idam sarvam. The difference is nothing less than that between an egocentric existence, engulfed in its own gains, unhesitant to exploit, and an expansive one that is creative in the highest sense of the word.

  • India’s great failure has been the inability to model development along the lines of her own civilisation, in keeping with her own dharma, and building on the incomparable foundations of her elevating culture, laid down in the forests of dawn, by the seer-poets, the rishis.
  • That vision teaches us that all development is a wondrous unfolding of one’s inner potential Contrarily, India apes the material driven West.
  • The unprecedented extinction of other species is the most damning proof of how conscienceless this frenzy has been.

One does not need to be an academic to understand matters of common sense: Honesty will do. The issues raised here are from one citizen to another, wherever you are, whoever you are. The future we build is our collective task, and it should not take a Kedarnath flood or a sinking Joshimath until the isolated struggle of a few becomes the voice of the many.

(The writer is head of Ganga Ahvaan, a citizen forum for conserving the Ganga and the Himalayas)