Uttarakhand is the home to four blessed temples which are located on the heads of four rivers—Badrinath on the head of Alaknanda, Kedarnath on the head of Mandakini, Gangotri on the head of Bhagirathi and Yamunotri on the head of Yamuna River. There is an inseparable connection between these temples and their rivers. The spiritual charges of the temples are absorbed by the water of these rivers and carried to the people of the plains. That is how the Ganga becomes the path to the salvation. The Government has undertaken a massive programme of building an all-weather road connecting these four temples. This ambitious project will make it possible for pilgrims and tourists to reach these temples easily and it is a welcome effort. We can see below the picture of river Alaknanda flowing below Badrinath temple.
Tourism|Employment| Night Bus Services|Small Merchants|Defence
Mr. Soban Singh, Gram Pradhan of village Dadua, Distict Tehri Garhwal is very happy with this project. He says that the Char Dham Yojna will lead to increase in tourism and employment for the local people. Former Chairman of Srinagar Municipality, Shri Bipin Maithani says that this project will make it possible for night buses to ply in the night and provide a huge relief to the local people. Ganesh Bhatt, who runs a computer education centre at Bagwan located on this Highway, says even though a number of shops are broken for this project, new shops and hotel will soon be built along the road and will provide income to the local people. We can see broken shops at Bagwan in the picture below.
Picture of a recently built hotel on Highway also near Bagwan is given below.
Mallika Bhanot is commited to the conservation of River Ganga. She is actively involved with the organisation named Ganga Aahvahan. She says that this Highway will reduce the migration of people to the plains by providing income opportunities in the hills. Shri Soban Singh also says that this Highway will make it possible for the Defence Forces to move from plains to the border areas and help in the defence of the country. We can see the picture of the military truck moving on the Highway below.
For all these reasons this project is good and should be welcome. We can see the newly made road in the photo below.
Environmental Clearence|Cutting of Trees|Muck Dumping|Land Sliding
However there are many shortcomings of this project which should be avoided. Mallika Bhanot says that this 719 kilometres long Highway will have large environmental impacts due to falling of the trees, increase in landslides, increased emissions from vehicles and land acquisition. It was necessary to assess these impacts and implement the required mitigation measures as required under the Environment Impact Notification which is applicable to such projects. However, in order to avoid the scrutiny, the Government has artificially broken up this project into smaller parts of 100 kilometres each, which does not require environmental clearance. In this way the Government is violating the rules that it has itself made. Shri Suresh Negi, Village Pradhan of Lakshmoli located on the Highway in District Tehri Garhwal says that the number of trees felled for the making of the Highway is much in excess of those that were required to be felled. He also says that the local people used to get certain benefits from these trees such as leaves, dead branches, fruits and shade. They have not been given compensation for the services that they were getting from these trees. Shri Bhupal Chaudhary, who is connected with Aam Aadmi Party and Anna Hazare, says that planting of trees as compensatory afforestation is not adequate. He says that the small trees will take to another 10 to 15 years to grow up and provide services that were being provided by the trees that have been felled. By that time a lot of negative environmental impact would have taken place. We can see below in the picture of some trees that have been felled for making of the Highway.
Shri Bipin Maithani says that trees should be planted along the road and not elsewhere. Mallika Bhanot also criticises the compensatory afforestation being taken in Rishikesh or Haridwar. She says that the negative environmental impact of felling of the trees will take place along the Highway. How wills this negative impact be compensated by the plantation of trees elsewhere. Shri Anil Swami says that muck is being dumped on hills stream called “Gadera” in local parlance and is disturbing the ecology of these streams.
Mallika Bhanot says the blasting that is being planned at some places will destabilise the mountains and lead to increasing landslide and insecurity for the people of Uttarakhand. How will improving access through the Highway be of help if one is made insecure in one’s own place. Bipin Maithani says that there will be an increase number of landslides which will be harmful. These negative environmental impacts are required to be taken cognizance of by the Government and suitable protection measures should be immediately implemented.
Rivers|Char Dham|Rivers in Plains|Spiritual Powers
The Char Dham Project is basically good. As said above, the main purpose is to improve access of the pilgrims to the four temples so that they can benefit from the spiritual powers of these temples. Now, the four rivers flowing below these temples are carrying the spiritual charges of these temples and bring them to the millions of people in the plains and to pilgrims who come to take a dip at Haridwar, Prayag, Varanasi and Gangasagar. The Government policy is on the one hand increasing the access of the pilgrims to the four temples but on the other hand the Government is destroying the capacity of the rivers to carry the same spiritual charges by building Hydropower Projects on the rivers. At present the Singoli Bhatwari project on Mandakini and Vishnugad Pipalkoti project on Alaknanda are under construction. These projects will harm the spiritual power of the Ganga as the spiritually charged power passes through turbines. The Government is not concerned with the negative impacts of the Hydropower Projects on the spiritual power of these rivers. The Government should nationalise these hydropower projects and release the spiritual powers of the Holy Rivers. This would take a paltry amount of Rs. 4000 crores. The basic contradiction that the Government is spending Rs. 50,000 crores to improve access of the pilgrims to the four temples and at the same time it is not willing to spend Rs 4,000 crores to conserve the spiritual charges of the same temples which are being brought by these rivers. The Government should immediately consider scraping these under construction hydropower projects and so that the spiritual charges of these temples are conserved and people in plains continue to benefit from the same.