Protecting Himalayan Communities and the Ganges

November 2010

India’s sacred Ganges River begins in the glaciers of Uttarakhand State.  This spectacular region ranges from high Himalayan peaks to subtropical forests and is home to snow leopards, tigers, Himalayan blue sheep, and many rare plants and herbs.

Big dams jeopardize communities and the fragile ecosystems of this region.  Communities threatened by the proposed dams in Uttarakhand have called on ELAW partners for help.

Attorney Ritwick Duta, based in Delhi, worked closely with ELAW Staff Scientist Mark Chernaik to critique the environmental impact assessments (EIAs) for hydroelectric plants proposed for the confluence of the Bhagirathi and Alaknanda Rivers, tributaries of the Ganges.  Ritwick’s organization, the Legal Initiative for Forest and Environment, is working with the Matu People’s Organisation to protect the upper reaches of the Ganges for future generations.

Mark found flaws in the EIAs: “They do not assess the true impact of the proposed dams on local wildlife or biodiversity.” Ritwick shared Mark’s findings with the National Environmental Appellate Authority, which canceled permission for a proposed hydroelectric plant.

The order from NEAA states:

River Ganga occupies a unique place in the hearts of millions of Indians whose faith is intimately connected with her.  ...  Tying the river through dams at interval that restricts it natural flow would amount to playing with the sentiments of millions.  It is therefore, necessary that river Ganga is allowed to maintain its natural flow specially in stretches that are in close proximity of the habitation enabling them to perform rituals and to hear its sound which is being heard for generations.

The Matu People’s Organisation celebrated the victory, writing: “We are very thankful to our lawyers who have persistently and tirelessly fought this case… we are thankful to friends, activists and villagers who have invested their efforts, expertise and energy in this case and
helped us to come this far.”