Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Minutes of the Book Release Ceremony: ‘Ganga ke Mayke Mein’ (Ganges Amidst Her Own Family) and ‘Ganga Ki Bhrun Hatya’ (Killing The Foetus of Ganges)

Although the book release ceremony of the above mentioned books (mimeos) was a low profile affair, there is need to mention that the presence of the author Vimal Bhai (from Matu Sanghathan, Uttaranchal), Himanshu Upadhayay (my friend during my days in Jawaharlal Nehru University), and several others who were unknown to me previously, brought some warmth during the dull, wintry afternoon of 28, December 2008. First of all, one must know that 'matu' means soil (or mitti). The event took place in Room No. 311, Indian Social Institute (I.S.I.), Lodhi Road, New Delhi. Since I was the first person to have reached the venue before time, so I needed to catch a glimpse of the movie Raab ne Banaa di Jodi, which was being shown in another auditorium of I.S.I., simply to pass time.

There were various issues discussed during the book release ceremony, such as Ganga Action Plan (GAP), dumping of industrial wastages in Ganga, the pros and cons of constructing big dams and barrages et al. The importance of community participation in cleaning up and management of river Ganga was emphasized upon. The decision to declare Ganga as a national river was criticized since that would lead to a top down approach towards solving the problems related to the river. It was said that other rivers should be treated equally like Ganga. The discussion revealed that there are many tributaries of Ganga, which originate from several different glaciers. The problem of melting down of glaciers due to excessive presence of green house gases (GHGs) in the atmosphere and climate change too was discussed. The discussants wanted to know more about the basin approach and Central Government’s policy towards various rivers of India including Ganga. It was found that very often environmentalism is wrongly considered to be associated with right-wing politics. It was discussed that apart from the modern way of solving the problem associated with Ganga, there can be local, traditional and religious ways to understand and taking actions pertaining to the rivers. There are many seers in India who have taken voluntary actions in order to clean up rivers and oppose construction of dams, and tunnels in the name of Western type of development. However, it is increasingly becoming difficult to get support from the local people since there have been a change in their attitude and life-style. Local people nowadays want to lead the same kind of life as their urban counterparts. Although there is a role of religion in environmentalism, this should not become fundamentalist in nature so that it unfairly affect other minority religions. The people from the minority communities have often been blamed in the past as if they have degraded the Ganga. The controversies pertaining to Setu Samudram too was raised. The importance of minor irrigation, rain-water harvesting and watershed management was emphasized upon. It was mentioned that problems related to rivers are political, economic, technological and environmental in nature. The Central and State Pollution Control Boards were blamed for not taking actions against those industries, which are involved in polluting several rivers. It was found by the discussants that Central and State Pollution Control Boards are highly incompetent and corrupt authorities, and their roles in controlling pollution have reduced over the course of time. At the end, it was decided that there is a need for a broader forum and a strong team in promoting ecological movements. Finally, I would like to thank my friend Himanshu who informed me about this meet. His name has appeared in a recently released report titled ‘Mountains of Concrete: Dam Building in the Himalayas’ (NGO: International Rivers) by ex-IITian Shripad Dharmadhikary.

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