Save the Ganga – Dr Vandana Shiva

I am travelling with the Ganga yatra which is a pilgrimage to save the
river Ganga. The Ganga is India’s ecological, economic, cultural and
spiritual lifeline. That is why we are undertaking the Ganga yatra.
The threats to our Mother Ganga, or “Ganga Ma”, are many.
Deforestation was a major threat to the catchment of Ganga in the
1970s. The myth of the descent of Ganga is, in fact, an ecological

Ganga, whose waves in swarga flow,
Is daughter of the lord of snow.
Win Shiv, that his aid be lent,
To hold her in her mid-descent.
For earth alone will never bear
These torrents travelled from the upper air.

The story of the descent of the Ganga is an ecological story. The
above hymn is a tale of the hydrological problem associated with the
descent of a mighty river like the Ganga. H.C. Reiger, the eminent
Himalayan ecologist, described the material rationality of the hymn in
the following words: “In the scriptures a realisation is there that if
all the waters which descend upon the mountain were to beat down upon
the naked earth would never bear the torrents… In Shiv’s hair we have
a very well-known physical device which breaks the force of the water
coming down… the vegetation of the mountains”.
That is why the Chipko Movement, which was initiated to protect the
Himalayan forests, was important for India’s ecological security. I
started my ecological activism with Chipko. After nearly a decade of
Chipko actions, logging was banned in the high Himalaya in 1981.
The women had given the slogan: “What do the forests bear: soil, water
and pure air”, to replace the slogan of commercial forestry: “What do
the forest bear: timber, resin and revenue”.
After the 1978 flood in the Ganga, it became clear that water
conservation was the first gift of the Himalayan forests. The wisdom
of the peasant women of Garhwal is today called the economies of
The Ganga is threatened at its very source — the Gangotri glacier.
Climate change has led to the decline in snowfall and an increase in
the rate of melting of snow. From 1935 to 1956, the retreat of the
Gangotri glacier was 4.35 metres per year. In the period 1990-1996 it
is 28.33 m/yr. The average rate of retreat is 20-38 m/yr. If this
retreat continues, the Ganga would become a seasonal river, with major
ecological and economic consequences for the entire Ganga basin. This
is why we need climate justice for water justice.
The Ganga’s tributaries are threatened by dams and diversions in the
upper reaches. The 260.5-metre-high Tehri dam, built at Tehri on the
confluence of the Bhagirathi and Bhilangana, submerged the ancient
capital of Tehri Garhwal, destroyed the lush and fertile fields of the
valleys and displaced 1,00,000 people from 125 villages of which 33
were completely submerged. But the displacement due to the dam
At the shore of the reservoir, people were flooded from below and
above simultaneously. Fields and homes by the dam shore were submerged
as the water level rose from 820 to 835 metres. The authorities of the
Tehri Hydro power plant were not willing to release excess water from
the dam even though the water levels were affecting the surrounding
villages. From their point of view, release through the slush gates
was spillage. Mooni Devi, who lives at water level, says: “This used
to be such a great place with great farms. The dam builders have
turned us all into beggars”.
A chain of hydroelectric projects have stopped the “aviral” flow of
the Ganga and in many stretches the Ganga runs dry. The Government of
India has been proposing hydroelectric projects on Loharinag-Pala,
Pala-Maneri and Bhaironghati on Bhagirathi to tap their hydropower
potential. In addition to the already-built Tehri dam and Maneri
Bhali-2 dam, a series of dams were planned between Gangotri and
Uttarakashi on the river Bhagirathi. It took penance and fasting by
today’s “Bhagirath”, Prof. G.D. Agarwal, to stop the dams on the
In the plains a big threat to the Ganga and Yamuna is pollution — both
from industry and sewage. And even as billions are poured into
cleaning the Ganga and the Yamuna through the Ganga Action Plan and
the Yamuna Action Plan, the pollution of our sacred river increases
because of a combination of corruption and inappropriate technologies.
Industrialisation and urbanisation have turned our sacred rivers into
sinks for pollutants. The Yamuna is clean before entering Delhi. In 22
km of its journey through Delhi, it picks up 70 per cent of the
pollution of the river in its total length. Various action plans have
set up centralised sewage treatment plants that do not work and 70 per
cent of untreated sewage is dumped into the river. The river dies
because of pollution, the land dies because it is deprived of rich
nutrients. As Sunderlal Bahuguna reminded me, Mahatama Gandhi called
this “golden manure”. Intelligent zero-waste-sewage treatment systems
like those evolved in IIT-Kanpur by Dr Vinod Tare would clean the
Ganga and also fertilise the soil. We would not be wasting `130,000
crore on fertiliser subsidies and thousands of crores on river action
plans. Organic farming can be a major action for cleaning the Ganga.
The final threat to the Ganga is privatisation. Privatisation of water
reduces it to a commodity, makes giant corporations owners and sellers
of water and ordinary citizens, buyers and consumers. The role of
citizens and communities as conservers and caretakers is destroyed.
The human right to water, which was recognised by the United Nations
in April 2010, is undermined. That is why when the Ganges water which
has been brought to Delhi from Tehri was being privatised to Suez
through a World Bank project, we built a Citizens Alliance for Water
Democracy and told the World Bank and the Delhi government that our
“Mother Ganga is not for sale”. The World Bank project was withdrawn
and the privatisation stopped.
The movement to Save the Ganga and its “nirmal (clean)” and “aviral
(uninterrupted)” flow is not just a movement to save a river. It is a
movement to save India’s troubled soul that is polluted and stifled by
crass consumerism and greed, disconnected from its ecological and
cultural foundations.
If the Ganga lives, India lives. If the Ganga dies, India dies.

Dr Vandana Shiva is the executive director of the Navdanya Trust

Source : Asian Age
Date : 13/12/2010
Article URL :

Disclaimer: The above article is published in Asian Age daily
newspaper. I am not having any right in the above article.


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