Bhagirath Prayas Samman: Himdhara Collective: Relentless Questioning and Doing

When I talk with Manshi, a friend and co-traveler from Himdhara Collective about Bhagirathh Prayas Samman that the collective received during the India Rivers Week 2016, she is modest, even slightly hesitant. She simply says, “We love the mountains, we want to protect them and help mountain communities fight the unequal battle against unplanned hydropower. That is one motivation of our work. But the other is recognition of the fact that we are privileged… privileged to be able to speak English, to work on a computer, to understand the bureaucratic procedures that alienate a tribal or forest dweller from her land. That understanding also drives us.”

Citation of Bhagirath Prayas Samman given to Himdhara Collective states: Himdhara’s strength is its engagement with communities, movements and organisations. It has created an effective discourse around issues of resource distribution and their ownership and the resultant impacts on ecological spaces of mountain communities, especially vulnerable groups like indigenous people, dalits and women. It is an honor to recognize and celebrate Himdhara Environment Research and Action Collective’s extraordinary Bhagirath efforts in maintaining the integrity of rivers in Himachal Pradesh.”

In their own words, “Himdhara is an autnomous and informal non registered environment research and action collective, extending solidarity and support, in research and action, to people and organisations asserting their rights over their natural resources and agitating against corporatisation of these resources for destructive development in the state.”

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Face of Hydropower in Kinnaur Photo: Himdhara

A collective of young, passionate and questioning minds, Himdhara has been working with communities in far flung areas of Himachal Pradesh include Lahaul and Spiti and Kinnaur in their fight against the onslaught of ill-planned and bumper to bumper hydropower projects in Himachal, amongst other issues.Himdhara has combined research, campaigning, advocacy, media strategies as tools to raise voice against ill planned hydroelectric projects, create documentary evidence about the impacts, present evidences based on facts and figures before the communities and mobilize their support. They have also used legal recourse to challenge the clearances given to the projects.

Himdhara has been working with local communities and helping them in projects like Renuka[1] Dam, Bajoli Holi Project and Luhri HEP[2]. In Luhri project, they were involved in ensuring that local people are made aware of the impacts and were able to articulate their position during the Public Hearings  held for the project in May and August, 2011. Looking at mounting pressure World Bank dropped funding the project, which was a huge move in many respects. The struggle and pressures also resulted in reconfiguration of the project, though the struggle continues[3].

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Protest against Renuka Dam planned for supplying water to Delhi Photo: Himdhara

Himdhara helped local communities in filing a case against Kashang Hydro Electricity Project in high altitudes, which has myriad impacts on environment and people. The case led to NGT directing Kashang Project Forest Diversion Proposal to be placed before Gram Sabhas of affected villages and asking for compliance to provisions of Forest Rights Act 2006, which included getting NOCs from all the concerned gram sabhas[4]. This again is a landmark in itself.

They have similarly worked on Jispa and Hul SHP (Small Hydel Project) and have specifically documented impact of blasting and tunneling for SHPs and HEPs[5] on landslides, farms and people.

They have been involved in vigorous advocacy with the Chief Minister of Himachal Pradesh questioning the actions and indifference of the state government[6].

They have published a number of articles and reports such as  ‘Mapping environmental conflicts in Himachal Pradesh‘[7] and a report on Industrial Pollution in the BBN (Baddi barotiwala Nalagarh) Industrial Area with Action Collective[8].

Along with SANDRP, they published a report in May 2011 titled ‘In the Name of Clean Energy‘ which presents a critique of ADB’s investment in the Hydropower sector in the state. The report puts together field observations on the violations of norms and legislations that are supposed to protect livelihood interests and environmental rights of project affected communities.  It has pointed out the lack of proper EIAs conducted for ADB funded projects and the fact the projects are located in eco-sensitive zones. It also points out how Himachal Pradesh Power Corporation Limited and the state government have been very casual and ignorant about the effects of the projects and the public agitation against the projects[9].

They have published several articles in publications like Down to Earth[10],The Tribune[11] and Economic and Political Weekly[12], giving voice to this region of Himachal. Himdhara has assisted other campaigns such as Saal Ghaati Bachao Sangharsh Morcha[13] and regional public groups.

The group has dani1-413x290made innovative use of technology, working on interactive maps of hydropower development in Himachal, as well as putting together some stunning and eye-opening photo-reports on the impact of small hydro and tunneling for large hydro projects.

We wish the young group good luck, more camaraderie, laughter and further questioning as they help communities and save the Himalayas in one of the most hydropower ravaged state in the country. Bravo Himdhara, more power to you!

SANDRP

Himdhara’s Perspective in their own words:

The task of creating a discourse around protecting ecological spaces in the face of rapid economic development is an uphill one.. While the growth agenda is driven by corporate profit motive and backed by the State and its institutions, today the common people too are today in the grip of the market and the greed it perpetuates in human nature. In the most non-descript villages, even in the remotest corners of Himachal, the American dream has found its way into the youngest minds. Infact today we have a home-grown version of it called “Acche din”. And the idea of ‘achhe din’ has no place for free flowing rivers, wild forests or buckwheat fields. It aspires for the smarter phone, the bigger car and cemented houses with broken communities alienated from the natural world. The cash based economy has reached has come at the cost of not just the environment but also traditional subsistence lifestyles which were far more sustainable and suitable to mountain ecology and landscape a couple of years ago. Now, in a way people are living in a paradox. The landscape repeatedly reminds us of its limitations and changing nature – in the form of landslides, floods and earthquakes.

Those of us activists, academics, experts, who sit away from the frontlines of exploitation, the “middle class english speaking variety’ should not forget the privilege we hold. And we must not be proud of ourselves for what we do. Infact, we must constantly question ourselves and our approaches. For the fact is that our privilege comes at the cost of justice and equity – amongst fellow humans and between humans and nature. And the fact is that we, the middle class, privileged, are the beneficiaries (and also victims, but we dont realise that) of the very model of development that we critique. We musnt forget this, even as we readily draft the agenda for change. The agenda has to come from those who are on the frontlines. Their involvement is the key. We must question, constantly, our role and privilege even as we strive for change. To remain silent in situations of injustice and to be leading when we should actually be in the background – are both common to our class and we must be conscious of this.

On the ground, as we have seen in Himachal, despite a complex and difficult situation, there has been an effort by a series of nascent struggles, informal collectives, community organisations to set an agenda around community ownership of land, forests and rivers in Himachal. These efforts have put environment at the centre of the debate on ‘development’. One such example is of the Saal Ghaati Bachao Sangharsh Morcha (refer to the Chapter on Ravi River Basin) led by Comrade Ratan Chand and Mansingh who have fought to save a small sub valley of the Chamba district from being destroyed. Similarly, the Himachal Bachao Samiti led by Kulbhushan Upmanyu has raised a voice against monoculture plantations and in favour of forest biodiversity for which he has struggled relentlessly for the last 3 decades. In the Kinnaur Valley, the Him Lok Jagriti Manch led by R.S Negi has for almost a decade now, worked towards building local consciousness and awareness on the cumulative impacts of hydropower projects and the legal and constitutional rights of the tribal people. This has led to the build up of the local agitations in Upper Kinnaur, especially in Hangrang Valley.

In Lahaul, the struggle against the Jispa Dam led by many young people including Rigzen Hayrappa has helped build an understanding on the critical nature of the local environment and also led to the formation of a forum called Save Lahaul Spiti which is aiming to raise environmental issues in the District which is soon going to be thrown open to the market, once the Rohtang tunnel is constructed. In Beas valley, the Jan Jagran Vikas Samiti has been vocal against mega tourism projects as well as hydroprojects in Kullu. In Tirthan, the focus was clearly on preserving the fish fauna and the beauty of the Tirthan valley which led to the movement against hydroprojects there. In Pabbar valley too there have been sporadic local agitations against the Sawra Kuddu project. Similarly, there is a discourse against the Renuka and Kishau Dams. In the industrial areas and tourist centres too there have been several small, one off, local responses to river pollution but there are not many active citizen’s action groups in the urban centres of Himachal yet. In BBN Industrial area, a retired senior citizen’s group called Him Parivesh has been raising their voice for instance against pollution in the Sirsa river. Of the many struggles that have emerged in the last decade or so in Himachal, it was the Satluj Bachao Jan Sangharsh Samiti (that came up against the 750 MW Luhri Project) which put ‘saving the river’ at the centre.

Him Dhara is just a small group of motivated people who are passionate about the mountains, who decided in 2010 to form an autnomous and informal non registered collective, extending support in research and action, to people and organisations (some of them mentioned here). We have pooled the skills we have directing them towards research, documentation, evidence building and legal advocacy methods to access democratic spaces to raise issues. Though, increasingly we believe that the need of the hour is for a more pro-active and politicised local discourse challenging the idea of ‘neo-liberal development’ and moving towards a vision of ecologically sustainable living in a just society. Given that the situation is still one where people are connected and dependent on the land, there is a strong possibility of building such a dialogue which works towards a shift in mindset as well as the dominant narrative.

~ Himdhara

 

 

[1] Dispossessing Mountain Communities (http://www.himdhara.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/renuka_report_forweb.pdf) as viewed on 08/24/2016.

[2]Himdhara-  In the Name of Clean Energy( http://www.himdhara.org/2011/03/14/in-the-name-of-clean-energy/) as viewed on 08/24/2016.

[3] WordPress-SANDRP: ‘The World Bank drops funding USD 650 m for the LUHRI Hydro project! Victory for the Sutlej Bachao Jan Sangharsh Samiti’ dated April 11, 2014 (https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2014/04/11/the-world-bank-drops-funding-usd-650-m-for-the-luhri-hydro-project-victory-for-the-sutlej-bachao-jan-sangharsh-samiti/) as viewed on 08/24/2016

[4] Himdhara- Press note (http://www.himdhara.org/2016/05/05/press-note-ngt-directs-kashang-project-forest-diversion-proposal-to-be-placed-before-gram-sabhas-of-affected-villages-asks-for-compliance-to-provisions-of-forest-rights-act-2006/) as viewed on 08/24/2016.

[6] Himdhara- Open letter (http://www.himdhara.org/2013/07/01/an-open-letter-to-the-himachal-chief-minister-1st-july-2013/) as viewed on 08/24/2016.

[7]Himdhara- Mapping environmental conflicts in Himachal Pradesh(http://www.himdhara.org/2016/01/21/mapping-environmental-conflicts-in-himachal-pradesh/) as viewed on 08/24/2016.

[8]Himdhara- Report (http://www.himdhara.org/2014/06/05/report-on-status-of-industrial-polltuion-in-bbn-released-on-world-environment-day/) as viewed on 08/24/2016.

[9]Himdhara- In the Name of Clean Energy (http://www.himdhara.org/2011/03/14/in-the-name-of-clean-energy/) as viewed on 08/24/2016.

[10] Himdhara- ‘Himalayan Sell Out’: Down to Earth, dated February 28, 2015 (http://www.himdhara.org/2015/02/28/a-himalayan-sell-out-down-to-earth/) as viewed on 08/24/2016.

[11] Himdhara- ‘Himachal undoes a pro-people Central law’: The Tribune, dated August 8, 2015 (http://www.himdhara.org/2015/08/08/himachal-undoes-a-pro-people-central-law-the-tribune-op-ed/) as viewed on 08/24/2016.

[12]Himdhara- ‘Kinnaur’s Curse?’: Economic and Political Weekly, dated May 10, 2015 (http://www.himdhara.org/2015/05/10/kinnaurscurse/) as viewed on 08/24/2016.

[13] Himdhara- Objectives submitted to UNFCCC on CDM to 45 MW Hul Hydropower (http://www.himdhara.org/2012/09/07/objections-submitted-to-unfccc-on-cdm-to-4-5-mw-hul-hydropower-project/) as viewed on 08/24/2016.

One Comment on “Bhagirath Prayas Samman: Himdhara Collective: Relentless Questioning and Doing

  1. Congratulations to Himdhara Collective and Wish them all success in their efforts. ________________________________

    Like

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