Environmental protests in Satoli, Uttarakhand puts the spotlight on conservation of Himalayan ecology

Updated: September 26, 2021 9:45 AM

Granting borewell permissions in the mountains without due diligence will have disastrous consequences.

Kumaon, Himalayas, Water, Bore well, Satoli, Environment, Villages, CrisisConservation of our natural water resources is critical to our survival.

By Dr. Col. CS Pant

Recently, the residents of Satoli in Nainital, Uttarakhand and at least 10 neighbouring villages came together in large numbers to protest against the digging of an illegal borewell being misused for commercial purposes.

The Himalayan water systems are under increased threat. This needs the immediate attention of all stakeholders. Primary among them are the relevant government authorities and the community at large. Resource conservation is a must. Communities must understand the conditions of their water sources, determine appropriate use, and safeguard them against exploitation. Responsible NGO’s and citizen groups should set up monitoring mechanisms to guard against misuse.

Cutting down forests to accommodate the rapidly increasing population affects percolation of water underground, drying up the water channels (known as naullas and gadheras ) that feed the non-glacial rivers. The naullas (wells) are very important for groundwater recharge that keeps the springs alive.

Large scale construction activities demand ridiculous levels of water. The practice of digging bore wells to abstract water for construction purposes is unleashing a trail of destruction. The Himalayan region sits in an extremely sensitive environmental zone. There are no distinct water tables beneath the mountain surface.

Less than 1 percent of all water on Earth is available as groundwater and surface water suitable for humans to use for drinking and cooking. That 1% is not distributed across the globe in proportion to the human population. For example, India has just 4% of the world’s fresh water but 16% of the global population. And the growth of population is far outpacing the planet’s ability to sustain it.

Boring activities in the hills tap into every water source available which eventually leads to drying up of these channels. Various studies have revealed that unscientific boring causes irreparable damage to water channels.

Springs are the life line of village communities. Due to low rainfall and snowfall, the Himalayan springs are not being fed adequately. A report published by NITI Aayog in 2018, has been ringing alarm bells. It highlights that nearly 50 per cent of the springs in the Indian Himalayan Region (IHR) are drying up. In the town of Almora in the Kumaon region, 83% of springs had dried up over 150 years while it has grown five times in the last 50 years.

Tragically, over the years, the Himalayas which have given so much to the world are being mercilessly mutilated. We are witnessing the unfolding of an ecological crisis of an unimaginable magnitude. Unplanned and unregulated construction activities have resulted in deforestation and exploitation of the region’s precious resources. Regular landslides, drying up of the region’s water channels, loss of bird and animal species are a direct outcome of mankind’s insatiable greed.

Amongst planet Earth’s natural resources are air, minerals, plants, soil, water and wildlife. For these resources to exist in future, a holistic approach to conservation is absolutely critical.

Let’s talk specifically about water. WH Auden said, “Thousands have lived without love, not one without water”. In the Himalayas, water is the very architect of life-sustenance. Both glacial and non-glacial rivers as well as streams, rivulets and traditional springs moderate the hydrogeology of the region. They irrigate the life of the community.

The Himalayas which mean the ‘abode of snow’ have been home to the spiritual seekers for centuries. Mystical, spiritual, inscrutable, awe-inspiring, intense, overwhelming, enigmatic and more, the Himalayas tower over humanity!

This youngest mountain range in the world is astonishingly diverse and multi-faceted. Human history is inextricably entwined with its geography. To understand the biodiversity, topography, culture and heritage of the Himalayan region and articulate it in words is virtually impossible.

My relationship with the Himalayas and the Kumaon region in particular, goes back to six decades when I started visiting my grandparents who lived in Berinag as a young child. The mountains had carved an indelible impression on my young mind.

And then in 2002, my tryst with the quaint and picturesque hamlet of Satoli took roots when the then President of India, Dr. Abdul Kalam, inaugurated a Mobile Van carrying Xray and Ultrasound machines, a lab and pharmacy all in one for the village community. Subsequently, my engagement with AAROHI, an NGO working in the field of health, environment, education, livelihood and women empowerment has kept me deeply connected to this region.

People’s power can literally move mountains. Hope the movement against the unscrupulous exploitation of our natural resources gains ground.

(Dr. Col. CS Pant, Chairman, AAROHI, an NGO headquartered in Satoli, Nainital, Uttarakhand is a pioneer in the field of early breast cancer detection and an authority in the field of mammography. He has conceived, designed and developed Uttaranchal Mobile Clinic and Research Project, a unique state-of-that-art Health Care Model for poor needy people of far-flung areas of Uttarakhand.)

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