Scientific management of the glacial rivers and lakes of the Himalayas is the only way to take care of the irrigation and drinking water needs of millions of people in the Gangetic plains. There is no traditional or spiritual method available to us to meet the 21st century demands for water and power. Pouring milk and dumping bodies would not bring purity to any river.
Some religious persons have expressed concern that the Gangotri glacier is receding, and Ma Ganga would disappear like the ancient river Saraswati. In the Harappan Age of the river Saraswati, geological faults were not known. Today, with the advancement in science, we are in a position to know about the natural changes likely to occur in the future. Geological and hydrological knowledge makes it possible to manage the sustainability of natural resources. We cannot control natural forces but we can plan and prepare for their better management. With the projects under construction, we can achieve 50,000 MW hydropower within the next five years. Such a futuristic developmental policy would certainly provide jobs to thousands of unemployed youth and encourage industry, and engineers, doctors and teachers to go to the rural areas. Completion of the dams and other development projects calls for the collective will and cooperation of all political parties and the citizens.
Today, “pollution” is a looming issue and only scientific methods would restore purity of the mighty Ganga. To believe that any water would wash away your sins is not consistent with science. Nowhere in the Vedas or the Upanishads or in the dharma-shastra texts has it been said that any river can undercut the Law of Karma. The Manusmriti says that “Not by blind faith, but only by application of logical reasoning (tarka) one can know what right action (dharma) is. (yastarken anusandhate sa dharmam ved netarah).
All those dharmacharyas who are agitating and fasting for the honour of Ma Ganga are requested to consider the imperative of utilising the great potential of Himalayan water and hydropower for the benefit of the future generations.
There is an estimated 200,000 MW energy stored in the frozen icy waters of the Himalayas. Geological, hydrological and seismological studies of the glaciers have enhanced our capability to take care of Ma Ganga and provide life-saving drinking water and essential civic facilities to ever-rising populations. Apart from the polar caps of the North and South Poles, the Himalaya is the largest ice water body on Planet Earth.
The Kailash-Manasarovar, for example, is the largest ice water ocean situated at a safe height of thousands of metres above the sea level. According to a recent study of the glaciers by Prof. Stephan Harrison of Exeter University, U.K., published in Nature Geoscience, the Himalayan glaciers gained 0.11 to 0.22 metres (0.36 to 0.72 feet) per year between 1999 and 2008. Scientific studies have concluded that the small ice mass increase is indicative that the Himalayan glaciers do not follow the global trend of warming like the North and South Poles.
Today, with advanced river water management we can bridge the gap between rural and urban living. Scientific knowledge gives us the confidence for corrections and construction of water storage facilities and hydropower generation, without damaging environment.
With the scientific and technical experience gathered from dam constructions and river water management in the mountain regions of Russia, Canada, the U.S. and the northernmost region of Finland — some 200 high constructions around the world — including the great Nile (Egypt), Volga (Russia), and Missouri, (U.S.), we are in a commanding position to build strong and safe dams with sustainable development strategies in the Himalayas. The Chinese have completed more than a hundred small and big hydropower facilities with irrigation and drinking water supply in the Tibetan autonomous region.
Uttarakhand is at the crossroads of development that cannot be achieved by washing our sins in the holy river. Our saints and dharmacharyas can help the nation by reforming the age-old belief systems. Why has no saint condemned the sacrifice of innocent animals in temples? Why have they not raised their voice against the killing of female foetus? I appeal to our dharmgurus and acharyas to resist the temptation to arouse emotions against scientific development projects.
We must bridge the rural-urban divides. Due to a lack of essential civic amenities in rural sectors, doctors, teachers and engineers are not willing to work away from the cities. When there is an acute shortage of qualified and trained professionals in the social-economic and industrial sectors, when thousands of our youth are jobless, and the villagers in higher regions are facing natural fury, without food and shelter, what is the meaning of our fasting in the name of saving rivers?
Today, we are in the Knowledge Age, exploring the Moon and the Mars, the cosmos and galaxies beyond. All socio-economic, industrial, educational and professional activities are dependent on uninterrupted supply of water and power.
If the high-rise houses in New York and Chicago enjoy uninterrupted water and power supply 365 days of the year, why cannot we provide clean drinking water to our citizens? In the 21st century, it is not necessary for our mothers and sisters to go miles to collect water.
(The writer belongs to the Centre for Science Policy/Concerned Scientists & Philosophers, Dehra Dun. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)
Keywords: river ganga