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There Is A Need To Change Uttarakhand’s Economic Development Model

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Recent havoc in the Chamoli district of Uttarakhand, where a large part of the Nanda Devi Glacier fell into the Alaknanda stream near Joshimath, caused severe flooding. The rapid flow of water caused mountain slides that fell into deep ravines destroying all houses and structures that came in the way of these sliding mountains.

India: 26 dead as glacier bursts in Uttarakhand
A portion of the Nanda Devi glacier broke off in the Tapovan area of Uttarakhand on 7 February, 2021. (Photo by Stringer/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

This disaster destroyed the Hydropower projects of Rishi Ganga and NTPC Tapovan Vishnugad. The collapse of three dams near Raini village has completely cut off communication with several border posts.

A high alert is raised in several districts — Pauri, Rudraprayag, Tehri, Haridwar and Dehradun, where the fear of rising water levels in the rivers — Alaknanda, Dhauli Ganga and Rishi Ganga is still looming. The incident has wreaked havoc in the upper Himalayas. The death toll has risen to more than two dozens, while more than 200 workers are still missing.

Many workers were trapped in the water that filled in the tunnels constructed in the dam projects. The 250-meter long tunnel at Tapovan is blocked by debris, mud and silt, making rescue operations difficult. Only 80 meters of the tunnel has been cleared so far.

From the 250-meter long tunnel in the environmentally sensitive area, only an 80-meters stretch has been cleared. Workers are trapped in the remaining 170 meter stretch of the tunnel and there are fears they might have died of suffocation while earning their livelihood.

Is this development or the destruction of the environment and people?

The fragile climate of Uttarakhand

Giant Shiva statue in Rishikesh washed away by floods.

The incident had refreshed the traumatic memories of 16 June, 2013, when the Mandakini river killed more than 5000 people. Uttarakhand’s state has been picturesque and blessed with gorgeous natural and invaluable resources such as dense forests, rivers and high altitude mountains. However, it has a very fragile ecosystem. Hence, the state is prone to natural disasters.

A magnitude 6.8 earthquake hit the district of Uttarkashi in 1991, which killed hundreds of people and destroyed thousands of houses. Another earthquake hit Chamoli in 1999. The entire Malpa village of Pithoragarh was devastated by the landslide in 1999, taking the lives of about 250 people. A cloudburst in June 2013 killed thousands of people and left millions stranded in floodwater for days.

Climate activism in Uttrakhand

Earthquakes, cloudbursts, landslides and massive avalanches, and other natural disasters have been a part of natural processes. Still, the increase in their frequency and depth of intensity is due to human activities. The natives of Uttarakhand are knowledgeable of the fragility and eco-sensitivity of Uttarakhand’s environment. Thus, they have been trying to save it for a long time.

Mira Behn, an environmental activist of Garhwal, published an article in The Hindustan Times on 5 June, 1950, titled Something is wrong in the Himalaya, documenting that the flash floods in Uttarakhand are bound to wreak havoc as the sensitivity of the environment is being overlooked during the economic development process. Later, she also wrote to Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.

It is also pertinent to note that where the incident has taken place is the cradle of the Chipko Movement initiated in 1970 to save trees. Alas! Governments have neither listened to the cries of locals and environmental activists nor learned a lesson from the tragedy of 2013. Still, more than 50 hydroelectric projects are underway on the Alaknanda and Bhagirathi rivers, while a committee of experts warned that such projects are a threat to the state.

Regarding the incident, Uma Bharti, a senior BJP leader and former Water Resources Minister, in her time had requested not to build power projects on the Ganga river and its major tributaries since the Himalayas are a susceptible area. Following the catastrophe in Uttarakhand, the government needs to seriously reconsider its stance on building hydroelectric dams in the region. The government should no longer ignore the advice and warnings of experts.

Magsaysay award winner Chandi Prasad said that he had written a letter to the then Environment Minister in 2010 warning about a hydropower project’s adverse effects on Rishiganga. His fear was realised in 2021. He claimed that if his warning had been followed in 2010, then such a catastrophe would have been prevented.

Rising temperatures are melting glaciers rapidly. According to a report by the International Center for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), the glacier’s melting has doubled between 1980 and 2005. Suppose the Government of India cuts greenhouse gas emissions per the Paris Climate Agreement; in that case, one-third of the glaciers of the Himalayan and Hindu Kush mountain ranges will melt by the end of the 21st century.

It will be too late by then. Urgent action needs to be taken sooner. This study shows that natural disasters are likely to increase with temperature rise.

Char Dham Highway
More than 100 kilometres of the Char Dham road is passing through environmentally sensitive areas.

An increase in the incidents of natural disasters in India results from climate change, but an increase in their impact is due to overexploitation of natural resources. Center and State governments have been pursuing pro-corporate development by ignoring environmental norms. Uttarakhand is inviting climatic tragedies and destroying its beauty by cleverly flouting the Environmental Impact Assessment Laws to build the 900 kilometres long stretch of Char-Dham road, which passes through an environmentally sensitive area.

The construction of this stretch of 900 kilometres has been started by dividing it into 53 small sections. The Environmental Impact Assessment Department’s permission is to be sought to construct more than 100 kilometres of road that is passing through environmentally sensitive areas. This road’s width is being kept at 5.5 meters.

In the aftermath of the 7 February catastrophe, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that the country stood by Uttarakhand. He has also announced financial assistance to the families of the victims. But such promises and financial aids are in vain for the people of Uttarakhand due to continuous negligence towards environmental regulations, which led to devastating floods in 2013.

Meagre assistance won’t build people their houses and bring back their loved ones. To prevent such emotional and financial losses, the government should mend its pro-corporate economic development methods. The massive loss of life and property resulting from natural disasters gives the Central Government a warning signal to strictly abide by the environmental norms.

The Central Government is planning to relax the environmental standards of Mopa Airport (Goa), Iron Ore Mining(Goa), Sand Mining (Uttar Pradesh), Sterlite Copper, Thoothukudi (Tamil Nadu) and Construction Activities in and around Delhi, which have been blocked by the Supreme Court and the National Green Tribunal.

Meanwhile, the NITI AAYOG — the government’s apex think tank — has commissioned a study that seeks to examine the “Unintended Economic Consequences” of judicial decisions that have hindered and stalled big projects’ environmental pretexts.

If mountainous areas of the country, including Uttarakhand, and their people, are to be saved, it is incumbent on the Central Government to not carry out development work in these areas without seeking geologists’ and locals’ opinions. The government should immediately ban unsustainable development projects in hilly regions, be it Char-Dham road or hydropower projects.

If this does not happen, the people of these areas will be forced to endure disasters like sliding mountains and glaciers in the future. The people living in hilly regions, and the country at large, demand that the Central Government adopt a pro-people and pro-nature development model instead of a pro-corporate economic development model.

Prof Gurinder Kaur is the Professor, Department of Geography, Punjabi University, Patiala and Visiting Professor, IMPRI

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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