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Environmental campaign to save hill region’s water resources

By R P Nailwal, Times of India News Service, May 25, 2000

DEHRA DUN: After the famous Chipko Movement, which called upon people to save trees, another environmental campaign is gaining momentum in the hills of western Uttar Pradesh. This time, seeking the protection of fast-depleting water resources in the region.

Debates, workshops, seminars and padyatras (marches) are being organised by the exponents of this movement to, as the leader of the movement Dr Anil Joshi says, ”sensitise” the hillfolk about the existing ”water crisis”.

”Our movement seeks a separate water policy for the Himalayas, technological upgradation of traditional water mills, locally known as gharat, and renovation of stalled hydro-electric projects of the entire Uttarakand region,” says Joshi, adding, ”The blinkered attitude of policy-makers has prevented hill regions from flourishing even after 50 years of independence.”

According to Joshi, the people of the region have been compelled to speak up about the water movement, given the condition of water resources in the region. He say some 8,800 of the 11,642 villages in the 12 hill districts are suffering from driniking water crisis due to drying up of natural springs and faulty potable water schemes.

The activists feel that there is not only a perennial shortage of water but also of eletricity which could easily be tapped from the large water bodies available in the region in plenty .

”A mere 200 mw hydro power production was sufficient to meet the power demands of the zero-industry disticts, inhabited by about 60 lakh people,” says Joshi.

Two non-governmental organisations, based here, the Uttrakhand Gharat Owners Association and Himalayan Environmental Studies and Conservation Organisation (HESCO) are at the forefront of the movment. According to exponents of the movement, the efforts made by both the successive state governemnts and and the Centre to ease the water crisis in the hilly region have at best been slip-shod.

Ironically, the situation has come to such as pass that even though this sub-Himlayan region is the the fountainhead of great rivers such as Ganga and Yamuna and several other large and small water bodies.

”Even today, rural womenfolk have to trudge miles and miles of mountainous terrain to fetch water for daily use,” says Kiran Rawat of the movement. ”Of the affected villages, some 2398 are in district Almora and 563 in district Dehra Dun.” She further says that only seven per cent of the total land area in Uttarakhand has been irrigated despite scores of ambitious irrigation and potable water schemes.

Ironically, some of the leaders of the movement say, there was no such problem in the hills earlier and villagers used to draw water for their requirement from the natural springs, but after the introduction of the Water Act for Kumaon and Garhwal, the ownership rights of the village samitis were taken away. These rights were protected under Kumaon-Uttarakahnd Act, 1950. ”The problems was made worse by faulty water-supply schemes through the installation of pipes and drying up of natural resources,” says Sudha Kaptiyal, another officer-bearer of movement.