Power projects on Bhagirathi hang fire
The state government has put on hold two projects — Pala Maneri and Bhaironghati — on Bhagirathi river following an indefinite fast by noted environmentalist GD Agarwal in June 2008
SMA Kazmi
Tribune News Service

Dehradun, February 1
The approaching Lok Sabha elections and resumption of indefinite fast by noted environmentalist professor GD Agarwal has delayed the two hydro-electric projects on Bhagirathi river — Pala Maneri (480 MW) and Bhaironghati (380 MW).

The state has put on hold the two projects following an indefinite fast by Agarwal in June 2008. Agarwal was backed by various Hindu organisations, including Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP). He has been demanding that no hydro-electric project should be built on Bhagirathi river between Gangotri and Uttarkashi in order to protect the holy Ganga river.

However, on June 30, 2008, he had suspended his fast at Uttarkashi after an assurance by the state government to stop work on the two projects. The Union government had also agreed to set up a high- powered expert group to study the impact of the power projects on Bhagirathi river. The panel was asked to submit a report within three months. But the report is still awaited. In the meantime, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had announced Ganga as a national river.

On the other hand, work on Lohgarinagpala project by the National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC) was not stalled, which forced Agarwal to resume his fast from January 13 this year in New Delhi. While raising objections on the formation of the panel, Agarwal had alleged that no environment expert had been made a member of the group and it comprised only engineers.

The expert group had visited Uttarakhand last month for an on the spot assessment of the Ganga. Interestingly, state government officials had then sought revival of the two projects and were confident that the group would take a positive decision in this regard.

Yogendra Prasad, chairman of Uttarakhand Jal Vidyut Nigam Ltd (UJVNL), the state government agency that was to build these two projects, had also said the committee was likely to take a positive decision.

Meanwhile, work on NTPC’s 600 MW Lohari-Nagpala project on Bhagirathi is on and the corporation has so far invested Rs 300 crore in the project. Contracts for headrace tunnel, barrage and powerhouse have already been given to various companies. But the ensuing elections and resumption of the fast by Agarwal has cast a shadow on this project as well.

Even state government officials opined that any decision on these projects would have a bearing on the elections. They said if the committee gives a green signal to restart these projects, right wing Hindu parties would try to exploit the issue during polls.

Interestingly, despite stalling of the projects by the present Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) state government, under pressure from its Central leadership and other Hindu bodies, Chief Minister BC Khanduri has been keen on restarting them if the panel gives a green signal. Officials further said the contentious issue would be put on the back burner due to Hindu sentiments involved with the holy Ganga, and no political party would like to be portrayed in bad light over such a sensitive issue just before polls.

However, with a growing demand for power for domestic as well as industrial use, the state government wants to speed up its own power projects. The commissioning of phase II of the 300 MW Maneri Bhali project on river Bhagirathi in February 2007 has eased the situation.

The authorities here also want to exploit the tremendous hydro-electric potential existing in the state in the shape of a large number of rivers and rivulets flowing from the Himalayas.

The state has 20,000 MW of power potential that can be tapped through 190 projects. As of now, 14 projects worth 5,255 MW are being constructed, while 61 others are in various stages of planning.

A total of 750 kilometres of underground tunnels would be dug up for these projects making these rivers invisible at many places.

This has provoked environmentalists and other civil society groups who fear that such a development would ultimately harm the ecology of the state. A ‘Save the Rivers’ campaign has already been initiated in all river valleys of the state.

As of now, state government officials are keeping their fingers crossed on the fate of these projects as well as the outcome of the protest by Agarwal.



TB prevails as state lab awaits kick-off
Neena Sharma
Tribune News Service

Dehradun, February 1
The world’s most difficult form of TB to treat - multiple drug resistant TB (MDR) - which has been accounting for several cases in Uttarakhand, remains undetected by the state.

Despite setting up a laboratory to test the prevalence of MDR in the office of the Director General of Health here, the work has not yet started. Many cases sent to private laboratories and other institutes in New Delhi have tested positive for MDR.

The presence of the MDR strain has forced government doctors to impose a strict regimen of medicine on TB patients.

At the national level, around 3.4 per cent of new patients have MDR. According to an estimate, 20,000 infectious cases of MDR are witnessed every year in the country. The disease occurs when patients develop immunity to multiple drugs.

Uttarakhand is a high-risk state with 257 cases detected in every one lakh persons.

Socio-economic conditions prevalent in the hills, where families live in small huts and women inhale smoke from firewood used for cooking, leads to TB.

Uttarakhand along with Bihar, Assam, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka are the major thrust areas of the Central government’s ‘Millennium 2015 Health Programme’ to control Malaraia, TB and AIDS.

Due to the non-availability of state-specific data, the control of TB poses a huge challenge to the state medical authorities. Sampling is a problem as the tools specified for MDR and the medium to be tested is already exposed to several drugs. One has to do tedious tests to draw the conclusion about the presence of the MDR strain and the results can only be tabulated after three or four months.

“It is the result of poor management of tuberculosis. Despite the best efforts of the physicians, patients quit the treatment midway. Directly Observed Treatment (DOTS) is an efficient treatment against MDR,” said state TB officer Dr AP Mamgai.

MDR-TB can be spread by coughing, sneezing, laughing or singing. “It is a growing problem which mostly affects the young working age group, which is our economically productive population,” said Philp Nag, a social worker with Horizon for Prosperity and Education (HOPE), an NGO working with TB patients.

“Sometimes, physicians do not prescribe the proper treatment. It is the result of oversight both by the patient and the doctor as TB can be controlled if DOTS treatment is given. Usually, patients begin to feel better in the middle of the treatment so they stop taking medicines. The advent of new drugs and newer strategies can be of considerable help,” said Dr VS Tolia of the TB department, Doon Hospital.



Electronic money order to curb hawala transfers
Raju William
Tribune News Service

Dehradun, February 1
The electronic money order (eMO) is expected to take the sting out of the hawala transactions thriving on account of long delays caused by the manual system in post offices.

Though the postal authorities of the Uttarakhand Circle have no official data on the magnitude of the illegal hawala practice, it sure is eating into the revenue earned by the department in the form of commission charged on every money order.

“The introduction of electronic money order concept four months back in the state is sure to eliminate this practice. Result have shown that the delivery has become quicker,” claimed Vivek Kaul, chief post master general, Uttarakhand circle.

As many as 34 post offices in all district headquarters as well as important towns in the state are equipped with broadband and lease connectivity with other post offices across the country having this facility.

The department is introducing it in 40 more post offices within the next 3 months. There are around 384 departmental post offices besides 2,084 extra-departmental ones called Grameen Dak Sewak in the state. The total volume of MOs paid in the state in 2007-08 was around Rs 150 crore.

The scheme was started to ensure that money order are delivered quicker. Quicker deliveries will wean away customers from unscrupulous hawala operators who make larger cuts compared to the commission charged by the department.

It is believed that cuts made by these operators can be as high as 20 per cent of the total amount of the MO. But customers still prefer the hawala mode due to the delays in delivery.

The case in point is the 1,500 money orders lying pending for seven days in Almora, Chamoli, Dehradun, Nainital, Pauri, Pithoragarh and Tehri division of Dehradun region.

But the authorities hope that this can be brought down due to web-enabled monitoring. One person in all post offices having this facility is assigned the job of asking the concerned post office about the reason behind delay.

In case, the delivery is further delayed, field inspectors visit the post offices for a follow-up. “Earlier, this was not possible. We hope to make further improvement in the due course so that faster delivery is available to our customers, especially in rural areas,” said Kaul.



Miracle ‘shivling’ attracts devotees in Mussoorie
Anmol Jain
Tribune News Service

Mussoorie, February 1
A stone shaped exactly like a ‘shivling’, found here during construction work, has attracted the attention of hundreds of devotees. The stone was found by workers while digging rocks for construction of a building at the Lal Bahadur Shastri Academy of Administration in Mussoorie recently.

KR Mugan, the worker who found the stone, said: “First I did not think much of it, but on cleaning the stone I found that it was exactly like a carved ‘shivling’.” Later, after Mugan cleaned the stone with water and milk, hundreds of people gathered at the construction site to offer milk and flowers to the ‘shivling’.

Dinesh, another worker at the site, said it was indeed a miracle. “How can this stone appear from amongst huge boulders and rocks?” he wondered.

Meanwhile, devotees are demanding that a temple should be built at the site.



Good old days of snow
Sanjay Tamta

Snowfall in the “Queen of the Hills” has become a cherished memory of the past. Helpless January, the month of hope, has given way to February and spring has already started knocking on heaven’s door, yet there are no signs of snow in Mussoorie.
File photo of postmen amidst heavy snow in Mussoorie.
File photo of postmen amidst heavy snow in Mussoorie. Photo courtesy Gopal Bhardwaj

This is the second consecutive winter when Mussoorie has not witnessed snow, which is largely the result of deforestation and illegal construction.

But there used to heavy snowfall here only a few decades ago, which left the British spellbound to the extent that they made special ice-pits around important settlements that can be seen in the survey map of Mussoorie in 1920.

The snow was preserved in those ice to be used ‘on the rocks’ throughout spring, summer and monsoon. The ice-pits were made of 2.5 feet wide wall of limestone masonry mixed with molasses, wood powder and some chemicals to prevent leakage. The ice stuffed in the pits was layered with salt and hay thatches to retain the temperature.

Such pits were constructed at the Himalaya Club (where the viceroys used to visit), Kandi lodge (the residence of Sir John Mackinnon), Castle Hill Estate, the Happy Valley Club, Radha Bhawan, Tara Hall, The Rialto and near the Tati hotel at Inder Bhawan.

“The remains of some of the ice pits still exist, which are the last reminders of the snow-laden days of Mussoorie,” says historian Gopal Bhardwaj.

In 1945, nine feet of snow was recorded in Mussoorie, nine inches in Rajpur and four inches in Dehradun. A big part of the famous Hackman’s hotel was submerged under snow and electricity poles were tilted. The post office of the Savoy hotel was also damaged.

Although that was the time of the Second World War and there was recession all over, the municipal board of Mussoorie got over the situation in just three days and work was resumed in full swing.

Sadly, today when tourists see snow-covered photographs of Mussoorie from times of yore, they question their authenticity.

(The writer is a freelance journalist from Mussoorie) 



Wildlife Institute gets Earth Heroes Award
Jotirmay Thapliyal
Tribune News Service

Dehradun, February 1
Dehradun based Wild Life Institute of India’s Ranthambore-Sariska Tiger Relocation team has won the Earth Heroes Award 2008. The WII team that has got the award in Wild Life Service Award Category had undertaken one of the most scientific tiger relocation exercise of the world.

In another accolade to the Institute, WII scientists Dr YV Jhala and Qamar Qureshi have been chosen for Earth Heroes Award 2008.

Instituted by Royal Bank of Scotland and a Wild Life Magazine, a total of ten awards have been announced for the wildlife enthusiasts from the country, which apart from wildlife scientists prominently comprise government officers, lawyers, journalists and academicians.

Dr K Sankar has been the coordinator for tiger relocation programme of WII. The team had successfully trans-located two tigers from Ranthambore to Sariska. This was done to introduce tiger in Sariska, which had lost all its tigers due to poaching and other anti wildlife activities.

The duo of Dr YV Jhala and Qamar Qureshi had conducted the most scientific method of census, helping in revealing presence of 1,411 tigers in the country in 2005-06. The census helped shed the inflated figures of tiger population that came at the behest of forest departments across the country.

A tiger expert, Dr Yadvendradev V Jhala has been working for wild life institute since March 1993.

He did his Ph.D at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, United States in Wildlife Science in 1991.

He worked for the Wildlife Conservation and Management training programme conducted by the Smithsonian Institution Washington as Course Instructor.

Dr Jhala has conducted research on wolf ecology census methodology for large carnivores and ungulate grassland ecology.

Other recipient of the award, Qamar Qureshi did his M.Phil in Wildlife Biology from AMU, Aligarh.

He extensively worked on the conservation of fauna of Ganges and Brahamputra flood plains. In 1993, he joined the WII as faculty member. He took training in Geographical Information System and Remote Sensing from 
Colorado State University, Fort Collins (USA).



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