Recently, Chamoli, Uttarakhand witnessed one of the greatest disasters in recent years, as a glacier burst and the avalanche led to severe flash flooding. As of date, as many as 150 people are feared dead, and the Rishi Ganga power project has been completely destroyed.
Despite prompt action by the government and ITBP’s commendable rescue operations, the fact of the matter remains, this is yet another example of how human-induced operations exacerbated climate change, forcing nature to strike back at the encroachment of resources.
Brave #Himveers of ITBP rescuing trapped persons from the tunnel near Tapovan, #Dhauliganga, #Uttarakhand this evening after 4 hrs of efforts. Total 12 persons were rescued from the tunnel out of which 3 were found unconscious. After first aid, carried on stretchers to road head. pic.twitter.com/iHsrFXjhDd— ITBP (@ITBP_official) February 7, 2021
Because these developments (specifically, hydropower projects) might shout ‘modernity’, but actually spell ‘doom’ – a comparison provided by Naseeruddin Shah in the documentary SuryaGanga, currently streaming on Netflix.
Directed by Valli Bindana, SuryaGanga begins as an exploration of missing rivers for Valli’s daughter, who’d grown up listening about the rivers her mother visited as a kid but could not see them as an adult. As she remarks, “why are we reading about the rivers if we can’t see them?”
Valli, along with her brother, embarks on a journey to find an answer to the seemingly innocuous question. But the answers she finds hold a mirror to the far-reaching effects of climate change and man-made developments.
As the documentary showcases, hydropower may be a cleaner source of energy in comparison, but its ecological impact is far too great for it to continue developing at its current pace in India.
Especially because, due diligence processes, like Environmental Impact Assessment and Public Hearings with local villagers about the pros and cons of dam construction are rarely if ever, carried out authentically by the construction companies appointed by the government.
Lands turned barren, cultures and traditions (like taking a dip in water) wiped out, and nature (rivers and mountains) ruined – man-made construction that fails to take into account its impact on nature has a multifold effect.
Today, the very villagers who gave their lands for the dam construction, have to request companies to release water so that they may carry out the last rites for a deceased person. More often than not, that request is not met, and a family bears the pain of cremating their loved ones, without completing the last rites as per their tradition.
But the villagers still voice their concerns. It’s nature’s silent fury at being destroyed for man’s greed that ultimately wracks havoc.
Dwindling species of fishes, mountains rendered unstable due to continuous blasting, and rivers dried up or overflowing because of forcibly controlled water flow are just some of the most common and harmful effects on nature.
To add to the misery, the very villagers whose lands have turned barren at the hands of major corporations, are the ones who first suffer when such disasters strike.
Like it happened in Kedarnath in 2013. As discussed in the documentary, cloud bursts were natural occurrences in the area, but the intense developmental activities left the area far more vulnerable to natural disasters.
Like it happened in Chamoli. Like it will continue to happen till the time companies and governments look at developments in a more holistic way.
SuryaGanga is a much-needed reminder of why we can not continue to develop hydropower in India at the same pace or with the same unconcerned attitude towards nature. And why it’s necessary for us to make the move to more renewable and cleaner sources of energy.
All images are screenshots from the film, unless specified otherwise. The documentary is currently streaming on Netflix.