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Book reflects concern over rape of Gangotri’s environment

UNI – October 22, 1998

There is an increasing pressure on the environment of the ‘Gangotri Dham’ in the absence of guidelines to accommodate the growing pilgrim traffic in conformity with the Himalayan ecosystem.

This has been highlighted in Gangotri Dham Victimised, a book written by Vipin Kumar who runs the Self-Help Environment Programme, a Mussoorie-based non-government organisation which has been working to keep the famous hill resort free of garbage and reduce the use of polythene bags.

Management policies and urban planning techniques need to be completely changed in order to check the increasing contamination through indiscriminate discharge of sewage and non-degradable waste into the Ganga river, says the author while taking a strong stand against the present policies.

The ‘Save Gangotri’ campaign seems to have run out of ideas in the context of waste and its disposal. Gangotri today suffers from a multi-pronged invasion in the form of erosion, and degradable and non-degradable waste. The Gangotri conservation campaign used the idea of installing an incinerator to deal with the menace while incinerators are being gradually phased out even in developed countries, the book points out.

The waste from Gangotri must be brought down to the plains where it should be handled by rag-pickers. For this, it is imperative that all transporters responsible for operating tours should be asked to ensure the collection of empty bottles, cans and other non-degradable waste being carried by the passengers.

About the worsening water pollution in the Ganga, Kumar says that ironically, the water of the Ganga which was supposed to have magical powers has now itself become a part of the pathological cycle of bacteria and protozoans. Water pollution threatens the livelihood of millions who derive subsistence through fishing, he adds.

The gushing sewage water from the septic tank at Uttarkashi which is supposed to have been built as a solution to prevent Ganga waters from contamination, has itself become a major polluter. ”In the inhospitable conditions of the Himalayas, the use of traditional cascading technology for the treatment of waste waters would have proved far more effective than the short-cut solutions resorted to by the Jal Sansthan,” the author says.

With increasing population pressure and a substantial rise in the number of tourists visiting Garhwal every year, it is very important to have extremely strict rules against contamination of the Ganga. The ‘polluter pays’ principle should be adhered to strictly by the local self-governments, the book says.

Heightened human activity and construction has increased the incidence of active landslides, mudflows and erosion in general in the fragile Himalayas. The housing system in this region needs to be changed. Structures must be light with minimum possible use of concrete and stone dumping excavated soil into rivers should made a punitive offence and all construction activity must be regulated by the strictest of laws, the author recommends.