Uttarakhand tragedy: 'Natural disaster' or 'willful negligence'? NGOs question

Shimla: At least 13 civil rights organisations, environmental groups and NGOs have asked for putting on hold, and also scrapping of the hydro-power projects and large dams coming-up in the fragile Himalayan region and taking a lesson from Uttarakhand tragedy as such projects are an open invitation to disasters and native population.

"We express our collective rage at the inaction by the government at multiple levels. No amount of monetary compensation can placate the anguish of those who have suffered irreparable losses. No amount of trying to hide behind words like 'natural disaster' and 'act of god' can deceive the people" said all the organisations in a collective stand and asked for accountability of all the institutions, agencies and political representatives involved in allowing the projects. The environmental groups asserted that the climatic changes, be it erratic rainfall or deglaciation due to increased warming are not 'natural phenomena'.

Raising valid points, the organisations reminded that the government of India set up the National Climate Change Action Plan in 2008. During the last couple of years close to 140 Billion dollars have been spent on various missions under this plan. Thousands of crores have been spent on setting up state climate cells for climate change research in the Himalayas.

Apart from this several independent studies have been published over the last two decades on the vulnerabilities of the Himalayan region. It is a matter of shame and sheer negligence that the findings of these studies have not converted to policy.

In Himachal, where projects worth 10,000 MW have already been built have changed land use - gobbled forests & farms, caused landslides. Soil erosion and impacted the riverine ecosystems at an enormous scale. The State Disaster Management Authority, most of Himachal's hydropower projects in operation or under construction fall in areas highly vulnerable to various hazards like landslides and floods.

The Avay Shukla Committee report presented to the Shimla High Court in 2011 had recommended a moratorium on new hydropower projects in the state for this reason. But the state government dissed the report completely.

Most of the planned projects that are yet to come up in Himachal are in the climate-vulnerable and ecologically fragile greater and trans Himalayan regions of Kinnaur and Spiti, located in the Upper Satluj valley and Lahaul in the Chandrabhaga also known as Chenab, where tribal communities are resisting them tooth and nail.

These are also geologically unstable terrains prone to earthquakes and avalanches. Signatories to the statement include Himalayan Students Ensemble; Himdhara Environment Research and Action Collective; Himalaya Bachao Samiti, Chamba; Himalaya Niti Abhiyan; Him Lok Jagriti Manch, Kinnaur; Nagrik Adhikar Manch, Kangra; People's campaign for socio-economic equity in the Himalaya; Save Lahaul Spiti, Lahaul; Spiti Civil Society, Spiti; Sutra, Himachal Pradesh; Towerline Shoshit Jagrukta Manch; Zilla Van Adhikar Samiti and Sirmaur Van Adhikar Manch

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