In 12 years Uttarakhand could not put a system to prevent dumping of debris in river beds

Dehra Dun : Chief minister Vijay Bahuguna in a recent interview said that mining of silt has been prohibited, which causes a rise in the silt level on the river bed, which leads to flooding.

Environmentalists are not ready to take it even with a pinch of salt, and only wish that he was bit more pragmatic, if not practical while dealing with burning issues of Uttarakhand.

They said that the biggest bane of this small mountain state is the reckless undertaking of various developmental and hydel power projects in Uttarakhand, without making any provision to ensure that the debris from these projects are dumped at proper dumping sites and not into the river beds.

This dumping of debris in the river beds, is the actual reason for the rise in the river bed levels and consequent floods.

Environmentalists without mincing words asked the chief minister what his government had done in the about 15 months that it has been in office to ensure that the debris from the projects being undertaken in various parts of the state are not dumped into the rivers.

“Was there an body constituted to ensure that dumping sites are earmarked and the debris dumped there alone, which also helps reclaim land that can be used by the government later.”

To press home their point they pointed out that in the neighbouring hill state, Himachal Pradesh the State Pollution Control Board has not only earmarked dumping sites for various projects that are being undertaken, but the regional offices also monitor that it is actually being done on a regular basis.

The debris dug out is literally measured and compared with how much debris has been put in the dumping sites, to ensure that there is no violation and dumping done in the rivers”, they claimed.

On the contrary, they pointed out that the Uttarakhand State Pollution Control Board does not even have regional officers in the upper districts of the state, where the various hydel power projects are on the anvil or in the pipeline and a number of other developmental projects are being undertaken.

With the eyes of the law closed, there is bound to be violation and to save costs the debris is conveniently dumped into the rivers, which is the actual cause of the river beds rising and the floods that are threatening a number of villages of this small mountain state.

The chief minister admitted that there are 70 hydel projects, not dams, (he specifically mentioned) which are proposed in the state, besides the many that are already under various stages, but there is no authority that has been put in place to monitor the dumping of debris, and neither have any dumping sites been earmarked.

And probably what Mr Bahuguna forgot is the fact that the run of the river hydel power projects, which he meant by specifying not dams, also did huge tunnels, which may run into kilometers to divert the flow of water.

Thousands of tons of debris are dug out while constructing these tunnels, and with not marked dumping sites, they are and in future with no one to keep check, they will be conveniently dumped into rivers, raising the river beds.

Under the circumstances, floods will always be a danger in this small mountain state.

In contrast take the case of Himachal. Despite having a proactive State Pollution Control Board, which monitors the dumping of debris, but to further tighten the vigil over erring power projects, it has decided to constitute a special committee to illegal and unscientific dumping of muck into the Sutlej, Ravi, Beas and Pabbar, as this could cause havoc should there be a flood.

A senior officer of the State Pollution Control Board when asked how sitting at Dehra Dun, they could monitor the dumping of debris into the rivers of the state, conveniently clarified that this was not their problem.

The monitoring of dumping of debris is done by the Delhi-based union ministry of environment and forests, meaning whereby that officers will come from Delhi to do the monitoring of an issue which hits Uttarakhand in its soft underbelly.

In fact the special committee which has been constituted in Himachal Pradesh has been directed to visit the dumping sites of the power projects and the other sites where developmental activity is taking place and submit its report within seven days and also make necessary recommendations, as it is felt that this is the only way to ensure that there is no damage to the fragile hill ecology.

Though Himachal Pradesh has had its share of floods during the rains, particularly in the Sutlej and Beas rivers, but proper warning systems and check on irregular dumping have prevented major loss of lives and property.

In Uttarakhand in contrast, there have been a number of floods and a number of lives have been lost and property damaged, but no government has woken up to the issue in the last 12 years and put some system in place.

A journalist with over 40 years of experience, Jagdish Bhatt is Editor Hill Post (Uttarakhand). Jagdish has worked with India's leading English dailies, which include Times of India, Indian Express, Pioneer and several other reputed publications. A highly acclaimed journalist, Jagdish is a recipient of many awards, latest being the 2011 Development Journalism Award. He lives in Dehra Dun.

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