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   NATIONAL NETWORK
Monday, December 10, 2001


No tears, Tehri drones in anger before deluge

S.M.A. KAZMI

TEHRI, DECEMBER 9: The Countdown has begun for the death of Tehri town with the closure of work on two diversion tunnels of Tehri hydro project last week. And the people refusing to leave this historic town despite the threat of submergence from the waters of the Bhagirathi are an angry lot.

More than 5,000 people still remain in the town and are in no mood to vacate the town. They are angry and hurt over the prospect of losing their home and hearths and the apathy of the authorities in not finalising plans for their rehabilitation.

Hundreds of them staged a noisy demonstration today and went up to the bridge connecting the town with other areas which has been declared unsafe and closed to public due to the rising water levels.

Shouting anti-dam slogans, they threw an effigy of Chief Minister B.S. Koshiyari in the rising waters. Several landowners have started a dharna in a temple and every day residents are taking out protests and rallies.

‘‘Without giving adequate compensation, the authorities want to pressurise us to vacate the town. But we are determined not to leave,’’ said Shiv Lal, a house owner.

Meanwhile, environmentalist Sunder Lal Bahuguna, who has been consistently opposing the project for the past two decades, has shaved off his head and beard to mark his protest at the closing of the diversion tunnels. ‘‘I have shaven off my beard and head as I have lost my mother,’’ he asserted sitting atop a hill overlooking the closed tunnels and his old hut which has been submerged.

‘‘The stoppage of the Bhagirathi river means that the only ‘living water’ in the country has been lost and now only water stinking in the reservoirs would be available,’’ he said. He was of the view that apart from being a ecological, cultural and sociological disaster, the project would be a short-lived affair.

‘‘Many a scientist, including Director of the Bangalore-based Jawaharlal Nehri Institute of Advanced Studies Professor K.S. Waldhia, have predicted a life span of 30-40 years and for such a short-sighted aim, we are losing immensely,’’ he said. ‘‘With the trapping of our Ganga, we have lost our highlander spirit.’’

The Tehri Hydro Project Corporation authorities, however, clarified that the flow of the Bhagirathi river has not been stopped. ‘‘We have closed two tunnels — T3 and T4 — and diverted the flow of Bhagirathi and the discharge of both Bhagirathi and Bhilangana are now diverted through tunnel T2,’’ an official said. He admitted the water level had risen since the closed tunnels T3 and T4 were at a lower elevation than T2. ‘‘T3 and T4 tunnels were at 606 meter height while the level of T1 and T2 tunnels is 632 meters, therefore the submergence of some portions of Tehri town,’’ said project executive director M.B.L. Agarwal.

But the authorities said they wanted everybody out before the next monsoon. ‘‘We are trying to solve the rehabilitation problem of each and every individual to make sure that each resident shifts on his own,’’ Tehri Garhwal District Magistrate Radha Raturi said.

She said the claims of half of the populace of the town has been granted and the state government is working earnestly to work out a package for the entire displaced population within three months.

The first phase of the project would be completed in March 2003, much after the scheduled completion date. Most of the buildings are already damaged. Other buildings and shops acquired by the authorities have either been sealed or are in a run down condition.

The mood in the town is best articulated by a cassette recorded by Garhwali singer Pritam Bharatwan. His set of four songs on the submergence of Tehri town are an instant hit and can be heard all over the place. ‘‘I have sold more than hundred cassettes during the past one week,’’ said Pappu, a shopkeeper.

 
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