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Friday, June 27, 2008

Professor goes on fast unto death to save the Ganga

Seventy-six-year-old retired professor G D Aggarwal, who has been sitting on a fast unto death in Uttarkashi since June 13, 2008, to save the Ganga from the aggressive onslaught of a string of dams and projects, fears the construction of six hydroelectric projects on the upper Ganges, between the Gangotri glacier and Uttarkashi, will cause a 50 km stretch of the river to dry up.
Aggarwal, an environmental scientist who has been a dean at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Kanpur, and was the first member secretary of the Central Pollution Central Board, believes water levels in the Bhagirathi and Bhilangana rivers have dropped drastically and that the numerous streams that feed these rivers are drying up.

Already this year Google pictures showed that eight kilometres of the Bhagirathi have dried up at Chham, 12 km downstream of the Dhirasu dam. The prime culprit for this is the Maneri Bhali Phase 2 project which became operational in January 2008.

Aggarwal also points a finger at the Maneri Bhali Phase 1 project, the Bhairon Ghati Phase 1 and 2 projects, the Loharinag Pala Hydroelectric Power project and the Pali Maneri Power project. Although the Maneri Bhali Phase 1 project became operational in 1988, it is still unable to generate electricity to its full capacity because of repeated damage to the turbine blades by quartz mineral particles that flow in the water.

Commander Surinder Sinha, who runs the NGO Save the Ganges, claims that over 85% of the lean season flow of both the Bhagirathi and the Bhilangana seep into the ground, leading to the rapid emptying of the Tehri dam reservoir to below the minimum level required for power generation. Old Tehri town is already visible, and, despite protestations to the contrary by the concerned authorities, Sinha says the Tehri project is failing to meet any of its objectives due to lack of water.

Engineers at the Tehri Hydro Development Corporation (THDC) dispute this claim. Vijay Goel, engineer and additional general manager, THDC, points out that the Tehri dam is a “reservoir scheme in which water is sent back to be used again”; therefore, levels have not gone low as is being claimed by activist groups.

“The highest level the dam has reached is 816 metres, and glacial melting has only served to increase our water levels. While the dam contains 3,540 million cubic metres of water, we have 2,615 million cubic metres of live storage outflow. This year we have exceeded our electricity generation by 2,649 million units,” Goel pointed out. He refused to comment on other projects being executed, claiming they were being carried out either by the state government or private parties. “Work on all projects is done after we receive clearance from the Survey of India, Geological Survey of India, and soil conservation and forest conservation departments.”

Meanwhile, an online petition signed by leading environmentalists from across the country has been sent to the prime minister in support of Aggarwal. The petition warns that while the Ganga has been converted into a sewage drain in central India, the onslaught on the river has now reached the Himalayas. This will destroy the river completely, says the petition.


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