Lessons from the Uttarakhand Disaster

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Even  as the painful memories of the Uttarakhand disaster remain fresh in  our minds, it is important that we understand and assimilate the  eco-friendly spiritual principles which form the foundational  principles of Sanatana Dharma.

Unlike  religions whose theology has encouraged an attitude of aggression and  exploitation, Hinduism has looked upon Nature as a sacred  manifestation of the ultimate truth. Purusha and Prakriti are the two inseparable pillars of the Universe in Hindu philosophy.

Politics  in the post-independence era divorced itself from its commitment to  Dharma under the garb of secularism and adopted an often indifferent  and sometimes hostile stance to India’s rich ecological heritage.  The Uttarakhand disaster could perhaps have been averted or the loss  of life and property minimized if the secular establishments had paid  any heed to the warnings and protests of the local people and  environmental activists like Swami Gyan Swaroop Sanand (Prof GD  Agrawal). Swami Sanand has been on a 100+ day fast to protest the  damming and the pollution of the Ganga.

A  report commissioned by the Union Environment and Forests Ministry in  2012, warned the Centre against going ahead with 24 hydropower  projects planned on the Alaknanda and Bhagirathi river systems in  Uttarakhand. The report prepared by the Wildlife Institute of India  (WII), Dehradun, cautioned that the projects would destroy 22 per  cent of the State’s forestland and affect the unique Himalayan  ecology along one-third of lengths of the two main tributaries of the  Ganga. And yet, Vijay Bahuguna, Chief Minister of Uttarakhand, claims  that there are only three dams on the Ganga and that the proposal for  constructing 70 new hydro power projects was assessed and cleared by  scientists and environmentalists.

Jawaharlal  Nehru’s fascination with dams which he considered as the ‘temples  of modern India’ has perhaps reached its acme in the Congress  government’s obsession with destroying the Ganga with dams. It is  scientifically established that dams can cause earthquakes. There are  over 100 identified cases of earthquakes which occurred across the  world that scientists believe were triggered by reservoirs. The most  serious case is the 7.9-magnitude Sichuan earthquake in May 2008,  which killed an estimated 80,000 people and has been linked to the  construction of the Zipingpu dam in China.

Dams  are neither eco-friendly nor people-friendly. The displacement of  whole communities caused by dams and their rehabilitation is the  cause of much controversy and unrest in many States in India. But,  there are better alternatives to dams.

The  waterman of India, Rajendra Singh, who won the Ramon Magsaysay award  in 2001 for pioneering work in community-based efforts in water  harvesting and water management, has demonstrated that the age-old  Indian techniques of rain water harvesting and storage are still  relevant and practical today. Through the use of rainwater storage  tanks, check dams and other time-tested as well as path-breaking  techniques, Rajendra Singh has brought water back to over 1,000  villages and revived five rivers in Rajasthan.

It  is high time that our governments recognize and patronize such  eco-friendly, cost effective and time-tested practical systems of  rain water harvesting and water conservation practiced in India since  the Indus-Saraswati Civilization. The wrongly titled ‘Great Bath of  Mohenjodaro’ is perhaps the oldest temple tank of the world and an  ancient symbol of the eco-friendly spirit of Hinduism.

No  less pertinent is the secular establishment’s contempt for sacred  symbols of our ecological heritage such as the Rama Setu near  Rameswaram and the Dhari Devi temple in Uttarakhand. On June 16, the  Dhari Devi murti was  removed from its original location in the middle of the Alaknanda  river where it stood undisturbed for 800 years and placed in a new  structure on higher ground, as water from the Alaknanda Dam upstream  was about to submerge it. Hours later, a devastating cloudburst  washed away the holy pilgrim town of Kedarnath. It is said that a  similar attempt in 1882 by a local king had resulted in a landslide  that had flattened Kedarnath.

Sushma  Swaraj, the leader of the opposition in the Lok Sabha, made a  passionate appeal in her statement on the Uttarakhand disaster,  demanding that the government reinstate the image of Dhari Devi in  the original location and also scrap the new hydro power projects  which are threatening the fragile ecosystem of the Himalayas. In her  statement, Swaraj pointed out that the Home Ministry did not wake up  to the seriousness of the situation even 90 hours after the disaster  struck. No systematic collection of data of casualties from various  States was commissioned and victims of the families complained that  the cheques issued by the Government as ex gratia compensation  bounced, rubbing salt into their wounds.

More  than three months after the Uttarakhand disaster, the Congress-run  State and Central Governments show no sign of repenting over their  environmentally destructive policies. The symbolic and hurried  reopening of the Kedarnath temple looked like a publicity stunt to  claim that normalcy is being restored in the affected areas, but the  reality is that large parts of the disaster affected areas including  the Chardham, the four most sacred pilgrimage spots of the Hindus,  remained inaccessible to pilgrims, weeks after the reopening.

Meanwhile,  the Rama Setu case caught the attention of ‘Internet Hindus’  active on social media when the Solicitor General of India, Mohan  Parasaran, declined to appear before the Supreme Court in the matter.  He said that arguing for the Government conflicted with his sacred  belief that Lord Rama is a historical figure who used the Rama Setu.  The Centre rejected the conclusions and recommendations of the expert  committee headed by Dr. Pachauri which suggested that the project be  implemented as per Alignment No. 4A, the alternative route suggested  by the court as against the original Alignment No. 6, which will cut  through the Ram Setu.

Indiscriminate  development, illegal mining, insensitive tourism and perverted  secularism have become the dushta  chatushtayam (evil four) responsible for the nation-wide ecocide of our natural  heritage. Protecting India’s ecological heritage is the sacred duty  of every Hindu and commitment to Dharma also implies a commitment to  adopt and live an eco-friendly lifestyle.

(The  author is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Cultural  Education at Amrita University in Coimbatore, Tamilnadu)

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Also  read
1.Uttarakhand: Hidden agendas don’t have people as priority
2. Himalayan Tragedy: Is Kalidasa Prophecy Coming True?
3. Report on Uttaranchal relief work and Appeal by RSS trust Dehradun
4. Flood relief work by the Ramakrishna Mission
5. Embrace the sacred, dump the secular
6. Rudra tandava of Ardhnarishwar
7. Don’t blame nature for the Uttaranchal flood disaster
8. Kedarnath - Wrath of the Devas
9. Divine Retribution in many ways