local people have no say in policy-formulation, with their ancestral homes and land being acquired by developers and pilgrimages destroyed with the complicity of policy makers. That really is Uttarakhand's story of disaster
Does metaphysics underlie the devastation of UttarakhandIJ locals ascribe the disaster to the removal of the presiding Mother Kali image, prior to submergence of the revered Dhari Devi shrine by the Srinagar hydro-electric dam on Alakananda, on June 15. This was a day before the cloud burst and flash flood devastated the Kedar valley and lower reaches. The shrine, built upon a sacred mound in the river, is listed among the 108 Shaktipeeths in Srimad Devi Bhagwat. The upper half of the image was housed in the shrine while the remnant, in the form of Sri Yantra, is worshipped at Kalimath.
The Congress regime in Uttarakhand, disregarding Hindu sentiments as much as environmental concerns, allowed the Alaknanda Hydro Power Co ltd — a subsidiary of GVK, the Hyderabad-based company executing numerous hydro-power projects, to raise the height of the dam to 90 metres by relocating the shrine on a platform above the original site. Its power capacity was boosted to 330MW. This entailed raising its height and drowning the shrine. Work on the dam, conceived in 1982 by the Uttar Pradesh State Electricity Board, began in 2007 after the Congress-headed State Government in 2006 sealed the agreement. last July, senior BJP leaders had extracted an assurance from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh that the shrine would not be submerged. Mr Singh, true to character, later backtracked.
The project’s opponents observe that enhanced capacity meant richer pickings both for the builder and his network of beneficiaries. Strangely, despite a petition against the environment clearance granted to the project, filed by conservationists Anuj Joshi and Bharat Jhunjhunwala, pending in the Supreme Court, the apex court in May quashed the Ministry of Environment and Forests’ order not to submerge the shrine until the case ended. Another case, filed in 1992 in the Nainital High Court, pleading against the shrine’s shifting on the basis of the Central proviso of Places of Worship Act, that the religious and cultural character of places of worship be retained as in August 1947, was dismissed.
The dam is meant to become operational from this December. But if climate change experts’ warnings materialise, Uttarakhand and the rest of the Himalayan zone are headed for turbulent times. Indiscriminate development over the past two decades especially, spurred by the unmonitored influx of black money under the guise of foreign direct investment, has led to Himalayan rivers, the lifeline of the plains, being dammed and diverted through tunnels; deforestation; large-scale displacement of people; destruction of wildlife and heritage; and general mayhem by a ravenous cabal of politicos, bureaucrats, promoters, contractors, engineers, lending agencies and their lackeys.
Neo-liberal utilitarianism, foisted by the economic reforms brigade, has eroded the tradition of venerating nature. Tragically, under pressure from high-growth proponents, acting on behalf of global financial agencies and think-tanks, the most hallowed areas of the legendary Dev Bhoomi are being reduced to soulless rubble by mammoth dams as well as into a pleasure ground for foreign and domestic tourists. Sacred rivers such as the Ganga and the Yamuna and their tributaries, all worshipped as divinities, are viewed by planners, financiers and corporates as ordinary rivers, meant to be deployed for money-spinning ventures. Activist Vimal Bhai observes that Pindar Valley alone has no dams as yet. As their flow is forcibly changed and choked, rivers are shown by satellite images to have disappeared over long stretches. Mountains and forests too have lost sanctity as they are mercilessly assailed. lack of tree cover on mountain slopes heightened the disaster by precipitating landslides that swept away hundreds of people and buildings. Central to Hinduism is the belief that envisages creation as deriving from the eternal union of Shiv and Shakti. The former is the undifferentiated Absolute and the latter, the generative power, also called Prakriti, nature. Assailed, She decimates. Venerated, She blesses.
The grim reality is that local people have no say in policy-formulation, with their ancestral homes and land being acquired by developers, and pilgrimages destroyed with the complicity of policy-makers.
Meanwhile, Dwarka Shankaracharya Swaroopanand Saraswati and Kedarnath temple chief priest Vageeshling Swami views the devastation as divine retribution for trivialising pilgrimage by turning Dev Bhoomi into a place for fun, frolic and sexual pleasure.
Indeed, the episode has an uncanny resemblance to the Roopkund disaster — documented by National Geographic in a film, Riddles of the Dead: The Skeleton lake — dating back to the ninth century AD, when the pilgrimage of a local king and his entourage, including dancing girls, was cut short by a massive hailstorm. Hundreds of bejewelled skeletons now remain on the lake bed.