Chharba, a sleepy village in the Vikas Nagar area, about 32 km from Dehra Dun, is emerging as the scene of conflict between development and community rights.

The residents of Chharba and surrounding gram panchayats are agitated over the Uttarakhand government’s recent decision to hand over 60 acres of prime community forest land to the Hindustan Coca-Cola Beverages Pvt. Ltd (HCCBPL) to set up a beverage plant with an investment of Rs. 600 crore. More so, the government has agreed to supply the plant’s huge water demand from the nearby Yamuna River.

“We have raised the plantation through intensive efforts for over three decades and the community forest has now recharged the local streams and other water bodies resulting in plenty of water for domestic and farming purposes in the region; we will not allow anyone to cut these trees for the factory as that would mean reverting to the drought era all over again,” said Rumi Ram Jaswal, gram pradhan of Chharba.

Chief Minister Vijay Bahuguna, who had invited HCCBPL to the State, has assured the agitators that the company would be allowed to set up the plant only after a high level committee gave environmental clearance.

The tree cover issue apart, Mr. Jaswal also rubbished the government’s claim that water to the plant would be drawn from the Yamuna. “This is an eye-wash. How can one bring water from the river that flows about 32 km away? The government would silently allow HCCBPL to use groundwater resulting in the criminal destruction of the aquifers.”

Villagers recall how 20 years ago no one wanted to marry their daughters into families living in drought-hit Chharba and surrounding villages as the womenfolk had to walk several kilometres every day to get a few buckets of water for daily use.

“The Chharba Bachao, Coke Bhagao movement has evoked a massive response from residents of different villages of Pachwa Doon (Western Doon) as the Coca Cola plant, if established, would not only eliminate the community green belt on which the locals depend for fodder, it will also poison the aquifers by discharging huge amounts of heavy metal contaminated effluents,” said Sureshbhai, president of Uttarakhand Sarvodaya Mandal.

Vandana Shiva of Navdanya pointed out how the people of Garhwal had effectively stopped logging of trees in the Ganga- Yamuna catchment about four decades ago by hugging trees in what came to be known worldwide as the Chipko Movement.

“Chharba is heading towards another Chipko movement against HCCBPL and the State government,” said Ms. Shiva, who participated in the massive Chharba Bachao demonstration on May 29 where hundreds of villagers from 15 gram panchayats held a meeting in Chharba and tied rakhis to the trees that would be felled for the project. They also marched about 20 km to the Dakpathar Barrage from where the plant will draw water. The villagers are planning to stage a demonstration at the Jantar Mantar in the Capital.

The locals are also opposing the plan to draw millions of litres of water from the Yamuna which is already suffering from water deficit and unable to feed the existing power turbines. These turbines already produce much less power than their capacities.

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