This is a note on the proposed Renuka Dam in Himachal Pradesh and its impact on the area released by distinguished activists Ramu Ramdas and Lalita Ramdas. Admiral Ramdas, former Chief of Naval Staff, and Smt Lalita Ramdas, Chairperson, Greenpeace International, have been involved in numerous initiatives related to justice, peace, environment, education, gender etc.
Malhaan is a 3 hour walk from Dadahu, a small town in the Sirmaur District of Southern Himachal Pradesh. No roads go to Malhaan and the nearest bus stop is a 1.5 hour walk. Despite the distance from a road, this neatly tucked away village is a thriving alternative to large scale economic development.
Farmers in Malhan are earning neat sums of money from cash crops like ginger and tomatoes, while maintaining a healthy diet that depends on traditionally organic and home grown vegetables, grains, and dals. I don’t intend to romanticize peoples’ lives in Malhaan because that is not an “objective” point of view, according to some academics, but Malhaan’s share of troubles don’t include Dengue epidemics, or contaminated water.
Does this ring a bell at all, Delhi?
Malhaan also has a variety of fruit trees in bloom every season, from mango to guava and jamun to pomegranate. Fields in Malhaan are ancestrally irrigated with water channelled from natural mountain sources. Further, as is the case in several other parts of India, Malhaan maintains traditional water powered mills (chakkis of a different kind) that grind all kinds of grain without using any electricity, depending instead on the energy of flowing water. These are only some of the wonderfully sustainable features of Malhaan.
As a Dilliwala who has visited Malhaan twice I will stress this: don’t be surprised that we walked 3 hours to get to Malhaan, but the family I stayed with has a refrigerator for cold water as well as a DVD player.
Though, I have heard very few complaints about life from the people of Malhaan, one in particular shocks me. Roads and government dispensaries are what Kanta Devi and others in Malhaan demand, but instead they stand outraged because their survival is threatened by a dam reservoir that will submerge them along with 33 similar villages in the Sirmaur district of Himachal Pradesh.
I am outraged; I think we should all be. The Renukaji Dam project has been threatening to become a dam just outside Dadahu in Himachal Pradesh. It will create a reservoir of water in the Giri river to send 23 cubic meters per second of water to Delhi for 9 months of the year, once it is build. Construction of the dam has not begun but land acquisition has, and several villages remain under article 17(4) of the Land Acquisition act, the Urgency Clause.
The Renuka dam was going to be 148m in height, but according to local Sirmauri activist Puran Chand HPPCL (dam builders) recently reduced the planned height of the dam. This reduction in height may sound like good news for those being displaced, but local activist Puran Chand explains that by bringing down the height of the dam, the Himachal Pradesh Power Corporation is only trying to get previously rejected environmental clearances passed.
How? Well a shorter dam means fewer trees will be submerged, which is great if you want environmental clearance. This will not change the kind of loss that submergence will cause, the families that will be displaced or ecology destroyed. The Himalayas are an ecologically sensitive and valuable region, blasting the mountains to make tunnels for the dam- injures mountains, water sources, everyone’s lives, India and the world.
Are you still wondering why we as Dilliwalas or anyone else should care about this dam, or why should we oppose this ‘development’, especially if people in Delhi need this water? In an open letter to Delhi’s Chief Minister Sheila Dixit, prominent social activists, experts, and intellectuals in Delhi opposed the Renuka Dam on several grounds.
Water losses in Delhi amount to approx. 40% of the supply, and the letter recommends that this be reduced to the technically feasible 10%, instead of building the Renuka dam. Delhi doesn’t need to depend on out of state sources for water, especially in light of the recent incident at Muradnagar where local farmers took control of the water supply by refusing to send it to Delhi from the Ganga Canal. Such incidents will happen again if Delhi continues to behave like a parasite.
Dependable alternatives to augment Delhi’s water supply exist in the form of reducing water consumption, reducing concretization, increasing tree cover, reviving old baolis and collecting rainwater or putting it back into the ground. There is a tremendous unexplored potential for groundwater recharge in the city of Delhi.
When we decide that it is ok to destroy a valley (1600 ha in this case), we’re not just displacing local villages like Malhaan or drowning lots of trees, but we’re also losing a whole culture of sustainability that we could be learning from. Everything is ecologically connected. Ecology is a fine balance of different elements.
The more we build dams and stop the flow of rivers and dry them up, the more we kill biodiversity and let nature and thus peoples’ lives fall prey to BJP vs. Congress and local politics, prey to the greed for money or a name that is eminent.
Even those of us who claim to care are chopping off the very branch that we are sitting on when we admit defeat or see no success in struggle and thus refuse to fight for people or the environment.
If we want to threaten food security and water quality, then let’s build a dam that will never be as efficient as a gharat! You may not believe me, but our lives depend more on the existence of river fish (they die when we build a dam), than they do on washing cars, making a good name for ourselves or even just fighting the sexy fights.
A few days ago, local thekedars from within Sirmaur installed yellow and white cement markers (bhurjis) amongst the fertile fields and mountains of Malhaan to mark the NEW AND REDUCED water level indicators for the Renuka dam reservoir. According to Kanta Devi, local thekedars came to install these markers in secret. Some markers remained yet to be installed.
The 27thof August 2010 was a different story. According to Kanta Devi and Vikramji, almost the entire village of Malhaan, men, women and children came together to oppose thekedars putting in reservoir level markers for the dam!
This is a small victory for the people of Sirmaur who are struggling to take a stand on this parasitic project. Malhaan will not let Delhi’s unjustified greed kill their 300 year old mango trees or destroy their lives. What a pleasant thought!
Ramu and Lalita Ramdas
`Lara’ – Ramu Farm
Raigad Dist, Maharashtra, INDIA
Admiral Ramdas Lalita Ramdas
Cell: 0 9860170969 Cell: 0 9422495315
Article sourced by arrangement with Bargad Banyan Tree blog