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GP (2005.2.20): Falenda River Privatization Struggle

“Govt is selling off state’s rivers”: Mahila Manch opposes Falenda River Project

Garhwal Post, February 20-26, 2005

DEHRADUN:The Mahila Manch and ‘Chetna Andolan’ expressed opposition on behalf of local villagers in Tehri district to the Falenda River Project on the Bhilangana river, at a press conference held at the Uttaranchal Press Club on Wednesday.

According to Kamala Pant of the Mahila Manch, the government had awarded the project to an Andhra Pradesh based company – Swati Power Engineering Limited. The work on the project on the Bhilangana river was a violation of the basic democratic rights of the people, with villagers being excluded from the process and being denied basic information. Opposing the privatisation of the natural resources of Uttaranchal, Pant said the company had shifted the responsibility of compensating villagers for damage caused to the government.

Trepan Singh Chauhan of the ‘Chetna Andolan’ said that in its environment assessment report, the company had claimed that the stretch of river from Gangotri to the village was owned by it and had not acknowledged the presence of the villages that have existed for ages on the river bank. The villagers also fear the loss of their traditional cremation ground on the river bank, besides the eventual destruction of their villages.

Chauhan questioned the validity of constructing a 4 meter wide canal on a river that was not more than 2 meters wide. He informed the media that in the past the villagers had laboured for 2 months to construct a 2 km long irrigation canal to meet their needs. This was more preferable than the Rs 110 crore project underway.

According to those opposing the dam, the local residents have the right to use the resources according to their needs and local situation, but by paying outside interests for projects in which the villagers have not been taken into confidence, the government was creating a contradictory situation. They alleged that the government has planned 71 such projects on the rivers of the state, which was nothing but misuse of the state�s natural resources for the benefit of a few people.

Dev Singh Ramola told the media that the opposition of the villagers to the dam project was such that even women and children had been staging protests in the cold and wet conditions. Acts like constructing tunnels in seismically active zones proved that the project was aimed more at profit than for public benefit.

The Mahila Manch is supporting the opposition to the dam, as the various projects being planned on the states rivers are damaging the precious resources of the state. They question the validity of development that involves the destruction of the villagers’ traditional holdings, sources of income and their life styles. [more]