People Vow to Oppose the Dam:
Let Pinder River Flow Free
Thousands gathered in Peoples' Public Hearing 3-4-11
"There is no place like our Pinder valley. What is Rs. 10- 20 lakhs to us? Have you ever thought about the lakhs worth of salt and grains that you have eaten from this land? I pray to all my friends, brothers and sisters to not join the company in turning this valley into a monstrosity!"These are the powerful words by Narmada Devi from Village Padmallah that marked the flavor of a peoples' public hearing on the Devsari HEP.
This public hearing on the 3 April 2011 saw a strength of 2000 people from all proposed Devsari HEP affected and surrounding villages of the pinder valley. The hearing was organized by Bhu Swami Sangharsh Samiti and Matu Jan Sangathan and took place at the Sangam Maidan of Block Deval, Tehsil Tharali, District Chomoli, Uttarakhand. Todays public hearing at Deval was a peoples' response to the project proponent hearing at Chepdu on 20 January 2011.
In Chepdu the project proponent SJVN declared the hearing successful even though the public was not allowed to enter, take stage or express their views, but were instead barricaded from the hearing area. To reclaim their right to a fair hearing, around 2000 people, mostly women from the different Gram Panchayats like Sunao, Suna, Dewalgwad, Tharali, Pthani, Silodi, Pengadh, Chepdu, Kail, Talor, Devsari, Purna, Sarkot, Garhkot, Cheranga talla, Lausri and many others attented the hearing with banners and slogans, demanding that the Pinder river flow free!] We want devlopment not distruction. Several groups marched in from various corners of the hearing ground, all shouting slogans and bearing banners, one group brought a black banner as a symbol of their opposition to the dam project. Women from Kail village brought two big traditional water pots filled with Pinder River water. Many villagers brought medicinal plants to show the biodivercity of the area. They emphasized that the Pinder is the only tributary of the Ganga that remains un-damed and they pledged to keep it so.
Mr. K. D. Mishra, founder member of Bhu Swami Sangharsh Samiti gave a warm welcome to all those at the hearing and began the proceedings!
Mr Dinesh Misra introduced the panel and explained the need for a peoples' public hearing. The esteemed panel consisted of Prof. Shekhar Pathak, Prof. Mehar Engineer, Prof. Sanjay Kumar, Prof. Sudha Vasan and Mr. Manoj Misra, and was welcomed by the local women who presented them with flowers and herbs from the Pindar valley. Prof. Mehar Engineer chaired the panel. People were invited to either speak to the panel or then hand in written submissions.
Madan Mishra compare the Peoples' "Public Heariing". First he invited Vimal Bhai of Matu Jansangathan to began the hearing. Who gave an outline of the Devsari HEP and history of all the public hearings held on the matter. He said, " The first public hearing at Tharali on 13 October 2010 was a sham. People were not informed of the process of the hearing, and sat in dharna and so it was suspended, while false charges of disruption were put on 10 people directly and anonymously on 60 people. Cases are still pending. The second hearing at Deval on 22 July 2010 had the police and administartion working together to do anything in their power to conduct a public hearing, even if it was false. Thus, people opposed the Public Hearing process, and their demands led to its' postponement. At the third public hearing at Chepdu on 22 January 2011, the project proponents paid people to speak in support of the dam, and others were barricaded away from the stage. On the 3rd of April, today. we are organising this peoples' public hearing so that those from affected areas can express their views on the project. We don't want the dam, so we don't want another public hearing, let Pinder River flow free!"
Mr Kundan Parihaar, from Sodhing village, spoke on the issue of employment in the region. He explained, "Since time immemorial whenever the policies of the government have tried to dispossess people of their livelihood, people have come together in strong protest. The protest against the British Forest Laws in 1917-18 and the Chipko Andolan are examples of this. Our forests will be affected and peoples' right over them will be affected. They will loose access to forest produce and will loose food security. The people engaged in collecting and selling sand, limestone used for whitewash, drift wood and catching fish from the river and the river bank will lose their source of livelihood. In actuality, dams don't provide sustainable employment, instead they snatch permanent sources of income."
Mr Dinesh Misra from Haat Kalyani spoke on Pinder Valley's cultural heritage. He said, "There are only two places according to Hindu mythology where the Bhramakapaal Shila stone can be found- Badrinath, and Deval. The Bhramakapaal Shila are sacred stones where people perform death rites. 'Pinder' means the pind, a place where death rites are performed. The sangam at Deval is the spot where pilgrims must bathe while on the Nanda Devi (goddess) Raajraat Yatra, also called the Maha Kumbh yatra (pilgrimage). This is the only north flowing tributary of the Ganga. We cannot allow this rich heritage to be destroyed."
Neema Behan from Phaldia declared that, "We need schools and teachers in schools, we need a bigger hospital, not a dam. We want development, not Destruction! People will be respected only when the dam is not built."
Ramchandra Uniyaal from Tharali said, "The SJVN has adopted the East India Company's tactics of divide and rule. They have created a divide! Amongst us there are families where elder brothers are against the dam, while the younger brothers are paid off by the company and they support the dam. The Government is promoting the 2013 Rajraar Yatra that takes place in the pinder valley, but it does nothing when asked why the project proponents are digging the mountains without any clearances. "
Rajendra Prasad Devradi from Soona said," The 17 km long proposed tunnel will pass 30 m below our villlage. In the event of an earthquake, since we are in Zone V, our houses will fall into this tunnel. Even our elected leaders in the state government are supporting the dam. When they come to your house for votes, kick them out!"
Bhairav Dutt from Village Poorna had an important point to make, he said "I have brought these local herbs to show you the rich herbal wealth of our region. These are expensive herbs used in a variety of medicines, and I picked them from the side of the road on my way here. Dam proponents claim that there are no medicinal plants in this area, this is completely untrue. The dam project will destroy all this and hence, I oppose it."
After an overwhelming response from the above mentioned, Nanda Devi; ex-block head of Deval, Ramchand Purohit, Pansingh Parihar, Mamata Shah, Heera Devi, Munni Devi, Mahipath Singh Kathaith, Maheshi Devi; block head of Tharali, Balwant Agri, Mahesh Trikoti, Bhopal Singh, Rakesh Devrani and Kedar Dutt Joshi, Pushpa Devi, Harish Panday, Balvant Singh form Silodi, Jashoda Devi, Mahvir Singh Bist, Surendra Parihar, Rajendra Singh from Pangarh, Hukam Singh, Kunwar Singh, Raghubir Singh and many others the panelists were asked to present their objective understanding of the testimonies.
Prof. Shekhar Pathak, Indian historian, writer and academician from Uttarakhand, spoke of the rich cultural heritage of the region, peoples' attachment to their homeland and the local sense of identity. He said that the preservation of their way of life and the conservation of the identity is the basis of this struggle. He added that while the government does not bring schools or hospitals for Pinder Valley's development, they are bringing a dam in the name of peoples' development.
Mr Manoj Misra, Ex-Chief Conservator of Forest, Chhatisgarh and now convenor of Yamuna Jiye Abhiyan, Delhi said that while enthusiasm and commitment to oppose the project were necessary, the awareness regarding the project must go hand in hand with it. Thus, the Pinder people should look to alternatives and the kind of future that they are demanding, in addition to their opposition to the dam.
Prof Sudha Vasan, Associate Professor of the Sociology Deparment, Delhi University, was greatly impressed by the quality of comments by women at the public hearing, which she said addressed the crux of the peoples' issues.
Prof Sanjay Kumar of St. Stephen's college, Delhi University, said that while people are given the right to vote in this country, money tends to influence our government, our policies, and our future. He thus said that this is a struggle of 20, 000 people against the might of money.
Prof Mehar Engineer, Ex-director, Basu Vigyan Mandir (Science College, Calcutta) and current Chairperson, Indian National Social Science Congress and Teachers and Scientists against Maldevelopment, spoke of similar struggles in Bengal. He explained that he was reminded of the small fishing village of Haripur, where people opposed the nuclear power plant proposed there.
The hearing ended in slogans of strength and unity, where people said that they will fight to keep the Pinder flowing freely and will not allow any dams on the river!
We will continue our struggle against the dam in the Pinder Valley!
Vimalbhai, Subhash Purohit, Surendra Singh, K.D. Mishra, Umesh Mishra, Madan Mishra, Dinesh Mishra
On behalf of
MATU JANSANGATHAN BHU- SWAMI SANGHARSH SAMITI