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300 dams on the Ganga: A bane or a boon?

Apr 20, 2012 07:07 AM IST India India

Garhwal: The Ganga is India's most revered of rivers. Her waters sustain all forms of life. She is a life-giver for over 400 million people. But unknown to the faithful, the government has planned over 300 dams on its various tributaries to generate electricity for a power-hungry nation, and the move comes despite a government-commissioned green panel report that has recommended scrapping 34 of the dams citing environmental concerns.

The Dhari Devi temple in Srinagar Town, Garhwal, now faces an uneasy future. A 330 megawatt dam on the Alaknanda, one of Ganga's tributaries, may submerge the 17th century temple.

A bunch of women protest daily under a banyan tree close to the temple. Their unique protest, they hope, will stop the government from sinking their beloved temple.

"We don't want our goddess Dhari Devi's idol to be removed from here. That's why we are sitting on a dharna," says Bahar Dhari Devi, one of the protesting women.

It is a question of faith that has evolved over centuries. However, with just one stroke, the entire structure of the Dhari Devi temple may be demolished, bringing people and tradition in conflict with each other.

What is alarming is that the harm to the wildlife and the flora and fauna is rarely reported. For example, the Kotli-Bhel dam at Devprayag will submerge 1200 hectares of forest, wiping out the river otters and 'mahaseer' that are found here.

Sejal Worah, Wildlife Biologist WWF-India, warns that the wild animals will find it difficult to cope with the changed situation and that so many dams will ultimately kill the Ganga.

The paradox of the Ganga is that while the river is the most revered, it is also the most exploited.