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    From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 9, Issue 26, Dated 30 June 2012

    Ganga Choked

    Under the guise of development, the floodplains and riverbed of the Ganga are being encroached upon rampantly. Only a strong political will can stop the river from getting choked, says Brijesh Pandey

      HARIDWAR Unchecked mining along the riverbed

      Photos: Shailendra Pandey

    NOT JUST dammed and polluted, the mighty Ganga is being mindlessly exploited for economic benefits. If construction of dams, barrages and tunnels is killing the river in its upper stretches, sand mining, illegal quarrying and ill-planned urbanisation are choking it downstream.

    Click to zoom

    Graphic: Sudeep Chaudhuri

    Most mining operations along the Ganga are unauthorised and companies often illegally mine deeper and beyond the permitted zones. The effects of rampant illegal mining are all too apparent. “Illegal mining has depleted groundwater levels, rendered farmlands barren and deepened the riverbed,” says Hemant Dhyani of Ganga Avhaan, an NGO working to save the river. “But there is nobody to check these companies because they have considerable political clout and are very well networked.”

    Uttarakhand has 141 stone crushers along the Ganga riverbed, all of which have a flourishing illegal sand and stone mining business in the state. Tractor trolleys and trucks haul sand and stone from the riverbed, turning it into a motorable road in the lean and dry seasons.

    Faced with powerful business interests and a state government unwilling to stop illegal sand mining and stone crushing operations, Swami Nigamananda from the Matri Sadan Ashram in Haridwar started a peaceful protest to save the river; Haridwar has nearly 40 stone crushing and sandmining operations along the riverbed. Nigamananda began an indefinite fast on 19 February 2011 against a stay order by the Uttarakhand High Court that allowed quarrying operations by the Himalaya Stone Crushers Private Limited to continue in Haridwar. Members of Matri Sadan allege that the company was operating a stone crusher in the Kumbh Mela notified area. As per law, the area should be free of any stone quarrying or crushing activity. After 68 days of fasting, Nigamananda died on 14 June 2011 in a government hospital, fighting for his cause. The government turned a blind eye to his demands.

    The Ganga is reeling under the stress of encroachment on its banks in Rishikesh. Several ashrams and temples have encroached upon the river banks. Unchecked encroachments have severely affected the flow of the Ganga

    Out of the 141 stone crushers along the Ganga river bed in Uttarakhand, 40 such units are in Haridwar. Due to illegal mining, the ancient Bal Kumari temple is under threat of being wiped out by the strong currents of the river any time

    Almost all the 21 ghats in Kanpur have been illegally encroached upon. Illegal construction can be seen in Jajmau Ghat, where there is large-scale human settlement, and Seeta Mau Nullah

    The Ganga View Apartments were being built on the banks of the Ganga by a reputed private builder. In 2011, the Allahabad High Court stalled the construction. The high court also stayed the construction of a cemented ghat on the banks of the river

    From Ramnagar Fort to Rajghat, a turtle sanctuary has been set up on the river banks . In 2011, the forest department got the land registered as its own. In Samney Ghat, besides residential colonies, a school has also been illegally constructed

    Patna has the longest river front of more than 20 km. Out of this, 14 km has been lost due to land encroachment. 400 to 500 unauthorised brick kilns along the river bed have also had an adverse effect on the Ganga

    1,407 KM
    The eight-lane Ganga Expressway project was launched by former chief minister Mayawati in 2007. The expressway, connecting Greater Noida to Balia, was to traverse along the banks of the Ganga. In May, 2009, the Allahabad High Court stayed the construction of the expressway. The matter is now with the MoEF.

    This was not the first time that Swami Nigamananda had undertaken a fast for the Ganga. In 1998, the seer, along with members of Matri Sadan, sat on a satyagraha during the Kumbh Mela in Haridwar. They were demanding a ban on stone crushing and sand mining activities in the notified mela area. At the time, five ghats were affected by mining activities. Under pressure from all quarters, the district administration ordered for a complete ban on mining and crushing activities in the area. Illegal mining stopped in the three ghats of Chandi, Dhobi and Jagatipur, but continued in the remaining two — Missaarpur and Ajeetpur. The government then started to harp on the technicalities of the case. “How the government handled the issue can be understood from the sequence of events,” says Dhyani. “It issued an order, and then the company approached the Uttarakhand High Court as an aggrieved party. The court asked for the government’s opinion, but the government did not respond. The company got a stay on the government order, and then they continued to play this game for a long time.”

    “Not only has illegal mining caused the government losses to the tune of hundreds of crores, it has also destroyed the environment,” says Swami Shivanand, Nigamananda’s guru at Matri Sadan. “Earlier, in the Ganga riverbed, if one were to dig deeper than three feet, one would have found stones. There were small islands and these miners cut down trees and removed all the stones, and now there are no islands left.”

    Nigamananda died an unsung and unheard hero. But his death got the attention of those in power and brought into focus the rampant illegal mining around the river. On 26 May 2011, a Uttarakhand High Court order castigated both the state government and Himalaya Stone Crushers. The court observed that blatant violations of environmental laws happened because of the influence of the crusher owners that stemmed from their contacts in the political and bureaucratic circles.

    The order stated:
    1. Consistent digging and mining by stone crushers had deepened the Ganga and depleted the water level in millions of acres around the river. Thus, irrigation activities were adversely affected
    2. Dust emanating from the running of the crushers had affected agricultural production, leaving farmers with no option but to sell their land. The buyers were crusher owners/builders
    3. Soil erosion caused by stone-crushing destroyed agricultural land and forests
    4. Illegal and unscientific mining posed great danger to a burial ground and the Bal Kumari temple, which holds an annual fair. These were under threat of being wiped out by the strong currents of the river any time.

    Mining is not the only concern in Haridwar. There are many ashrams that have mushroomed illegally along the banks of the river, from Haridwar to Rishikesh. Each one of them adds to the river’s encroachment by relentlessly expanding their domains. “In Rishikesh and Haridwar, several temples have extended their structures into the riverbed. The expanse of the Ganga has clearly been encroached upon and that is really very sad,” said Anil Gautam, scientist with the People’s Science Institute, Dehradun.

    Haridwar is not the only place where the government is completely callous towards the Ganga. The ambitious Rs 30,000 crore Ganga Expressway Project envisaged by former Uttar Pradesh chief minister Mayawati is another such example. The 1,047 km expressway from Noida to Balia was to traverse along the banks of the Ganga, crossing cities such as Kanpur, Allahabad and Varanasi. When this project was awarded to Jaypee Infratech, it led to a huge uproar. Activists warned that if the proposed expressway comes into existence, the Ganga ecosystem will be destroyed. They said that the project also posed a threat to a large area of the fertile basin. On 29 May 2009, the Allahabad High Court stayed the project.

    HARIDWAR Unchecked mining along the riverbed

    HARIDWAR Unchecked mining along the riverbed

    Photo: Shailendra Pandey

    “People are so dazzled by the glamour of development and lure of money, they don’t understand that once the Ganga dies because of such mindless encroachment, it can’t be revived,” says water conservationist Rajendra Singh.

    “Ever since the price of land increased, the land mafia has encroached upon the banks of the Ganga and has been involved in building new cities,” he says. While pointing to Omaxe’s riverfront residential complex in Allahabad, he says similar constructions are being carried out by other builders along the Ganga in Kanpur.

    Most mining operations along the Ganga are unauthorised and companies often mine deeper on the sly

    “Upstream, you are constructing dams, and downstream, there is encroachment. So where is the Ganga? From a river, it has turned into a nullah,” he laments.

    In Kanpur, almost all the 21 ghats have been encroached upon. “In the last 10 years, there has been unchecked encroachment on the ghats. Several houses have been built on the Jajmau Ghat,” says noted environmentalist Rakesh Jaiswal.

    In Allahabad, a PIL had to be filed to ensure that mindless construction on the banks of the Ganga is stopped. Environmentalists say that the violators were so brazen that a builder had announced a project on the river bank. If built, it would have severely impacted the natural flow of the river, besides affecting its ability to recharge.

    On 29 March 2011, the Allahabad High Court banned all kinds of construction along the Ganga and the Yamuna by any government or private agency.

    Meanwhile, in Patna, the riverbed is under severe assault because of altering land use in the name of development. “Patna had a 20-km riverfront along the Ganga. We have already lost almost 14 km of the riverfront. Unplanned land use has altered the course of the river. On the remaining 6-7 km of riverfront, municipal and solid waste is dumped and land grabbing is common,” says RK Sinha, member, National Ganga River Basin Authority (NGRBA).

    The thriving business of around 400- 500 unauthorised brick kilns along the riverbed has also had an adverse effect on the river. The law mandates that brick kilns should not be within 500 metres of the riverbank. NGOs and environmentalists say that in and around Patna, 35 km upstream to 25 km downstream, there may be hundreds of such brick kilns. The brick kiln waste, which is dumped into the river, diverts the flow and direction of the river. Another problem that has come to the fore is sand-mining along the riverbed to feed these kilns. Experts fear that the river’s embankments may face massive erosion leading to displacement of settlers living by the banks of the river.

    Rajendra Singh

    ‘IF YOU want the Ganga to survive and stop such encroachment, the first thing that should be done is to identify and demarcate the riverbed and floodplains’

    Rajendra Singh Water Conservationist

    Dr Anil Gautam

    ‘IN RISHIKESH and Haridwar, several temples have extended their structures into the river. The expanse of the Ganga has clearly been encroached upon and that is really very sad’

    Dr Anil Gautam Scientist, People’s Science Institute

    Hemant dhyani

    ‘THERE is nobody to check these private mining companies because they have considerable political clout and are very well networked’

    Hemant dhyani Ganga Avhaan, An Ngo Working to save the river

    Swami Shivanand

    ‘EARLIER, the Ganga riverbed had small islands. Miners cut down trees and removed stones, and now there are no islands left’

    Swami Shivanand Matri Sadan Ashram

    “The National Institute of Technology (NIT), Patna, dumped huge quantities of soil into the Ganga across the director’s bungalow to make a private park,” says Sinha. “I immediately approached the chief secretary, but nothing happened. Due to the dumping and the 2011 floods, the water was diverted and it eroded the other side of the bank. The Ganga got diverted further away from the city.”

    Patna is also a terminal for the Inland Waterways Authority of India for their cargo ships. The terminal was damaged because of dumping of soil by NIT. “I raised this issue with Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, and he was angry and asked the secretary to sort it out,” says Sinha. “Since it was the CM’s order, some soil was removed, but most of it is still lying there.” In fact, there are several contractors who regularly dump dozens of lorries of waste and sand into the Ganga.

    RAJENDRA SINGH believes that the Ganga can’t be saved by spending money on unplanned projects. “If you want the Ganga to survive and stop such encroachments, the first thing that should be done is to identify and demarcate the riverbed and floodplains,” he says. “One needs to know where the base flow or the drought flow is. Once the demarcation is done, then all encroachment should be removed.”

    While the Uttarakhand and Allahabad High Courts have made landmark decisions to protect Ganga’s territorial integrity, environmentalists believe that unless there is a strong political will, nothing much can be done to rid the river of either encroachment or pollution.

    Brijesh Pandey is a Special Correspondent with Tehelka.
    [email protected]

    A Six-Part Series

    1/6 Holy river Unholy mess

    2/6 Polluted: River Turned Into A Drain

    3/6 Choked: A River Encroached

    4/6 Burdened: Curse Of The Tributaries

    5/6 Gapped: Big Scheme, Small Result

    6/6 Awakened: Importance Of A Lifeline

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    From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 9, Issue 26, Dated 30 June 2012



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