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Vital Importonce of Water Resources

The destruction of the processes of.renewability of water resources has. in the past, led to the collapse of human societies and civilisations. For instance, There is a sfrong link between the fall of Rome and the devastation of the Mediterranean forests and grasslands by the suppliers of Rome's sustenance. There is every indication that unless the processes of destruction of water re

sources are reversed, large parts of India, which are proud of their ancient civilizations will face serious water problems well before the turn of this century, and Chaturvedi" believes that by the beginning of the twenty-first century water demand might exceed the ultimate usable resources in different states of India.

These assessments have been borne out by the water famine faced by Tamil Nadu, particularly Madras city, while Uttar Pradesh, for which the water crisis was projected start in the eighties, is already facing severe and absolute water shortages which cannot he overcome by engineering solutions. In such a situation the creation of drought in water rich regions, like the Doon Valley can only aggravate the problem.

In tropical regions, water resources are widely maintained through a very delicate balance with the local ecosystems, such that even small disturbances can completely destabilise water supplies because of the climate, the heavy seasonal raiman and the high mountain ranges which are the catchments of many of the major rivers. Hydrological destabilisation through deforestation or other ineffective land management in these catchments often increases instant run-off leading to floods in the monsoons and drought in the lean season. This degree of destruction of water resources would not, however. be caused by a similar land use abuse in ecobiomes where the rainfall distribution and the slopes of c catchment areas are not 50 extreme. Yet, the rapid destruction of water resources, which is especially problematical in tropical countries, inreatens the healthy biological survival of human communities and forecloses opportunities for their economic development.

The local situation

The decrease in water supply, coupled with ever increasing demands from industry and a rapidly growing urban population, has created scarcity of the most viral resource for human survival and development. This scarcity in turn leads to social costs by diverting human resources from productive work to the drudgery of water collection or attempts to ensure supplies.

Nearly 70 per cent of the Doon Valley population is dependent on public water supply. Water shortages mean longer queues, longer waiting hours, and less water collection for those families. On the average, those dependent on the public supply spend 2 hours a day on water collection, while in certain localities the waiting time is nearly 4 hours. Besides this wastage of human work potential, water scarcity is becoming a source of serious social conflicts among those who are the victims of such water resource destruction.47

The impact of this crisis in water resources is unequally divided between different groups of human society, such that 70 per cent of the population which cannot afford private water connections is increasingly deprived of water. Of the 30 per cent which has a piped supply in their homes, about 5 per cent can overcome natural shortages by capital-intensive technological solutions to which they alone have access. Underground storage wells and pumps can provide twenty-four hours daily supply of running water in homes which can afford an initial capital investment of Rs. 5,000 to Rs. 6,000. The ecological crisis clearly affects the poor more drastically than the rich, despite the prevalent myth that concern for a 'stable ecology' is a luxury which only the latter can afford!

In the villages in the hills, the impact of destruction of water resources is even more drastic than in the towns. The drying up of springs or a decrease in spring discharge means the destruction of the only alternative available to most villagers. While nature treats all humans equally, development plans do not. Only 20 per cent of the total population of India is supplied safe drinking water, and scarcely 50 per cent of the total rural population is provided this vital resource. Most water development is for urban areas. Such villages as those in the Doon Valley, which were provided safe drinking water by nature in the form of springs, will join the 1.52 lakh 'no-source' villages once their springs run dry. For the government this will mean an insignificant increase in the statistics, but for the women in those villages it will mean longer distances over tough terrain and longer hours to collect an essential resource for their families. For the families of these women, especially the children, it will mean increasing disease and morbidity.

While the water resources which are provided by the Mussoorie Hills have been treated as valueless in the controversy over limestone quarrying; they have an undeniable value for the well-being and very survival of the people of the Valley. The destruction of an economic value which degrades the quality of life and threatens the survival of the citizens. The natural endowment of these mountain ranges is an essential part of the resource base for the survival and economic activity of the people in the region.

The economic value of nature has been completely ignored by conventional economics and conventional models of progress and prosperity. The deepening ecological crisis is, however, making it imperative that nature's values and functions be taken into account through proper ecological audits. Such ecological audits of economic activities should assign a value to natural functions on the basis of the cost of technological alternatives to deliver the same set of goods and services. Thus the value of water resource potential of the Mussoorie Hills is the cost of the technical installations that would provide the people with the same quantity and quality of water. Quite obviously, the damage involved is equivalent to the destruction of a gigantic waterworks which pumps more than 500 cusecs (500 x 28.32dm3 per second) of water from the Yamuna river and distributes it to all the villages that are currently served by nature. The natural water installation that is being destroyed will in theory cost the public many thousands of millions of rupees to replace.

Hidden Externalities of Limestone Quarrying

Limestone quarrying in the doon valley has come into direct conflict with other important economic activities on which the majority of the residents of the Valley depend for their livelihood. Traditionally, four main sectors of economic activity have flourished in the Doon Valley. The unique material endowment of the region has given it a unique comparative advantage for agri-horticulture, tourism, education such as schools and research institutions, and knowledge-intensive manufacturing based on a favourable climate and a clean environment. These diverse economic activities are ecologically consistent with one another' as they are all based on the stability of land and water resources. Agriculture and horticulture are directly dependent on them as central inputs, while tourism and knowledge based industry are supported by the environmental capital of a stable ecobiome. However, limestone quarrying and the processing units which have been established to support it, have destroyed the resource base on which other activities survive and prosper. The 'growth' recorded by the limestone industry has, thus, to be seen against the background of the decay of other economic activities and not independently of it.

Undermining of Food Production

Agricuelture is the oldest economic activity of the doon valley, and the villagers tapped the abundant and perennial streams to irrigate their fields. The plateau was ably served by the ancient Rajpur Canal, at the head of the Rispana torrent coming from the adjacent foothill. This tapping of water before its disappearance into the boulder bed was a successful indigenous technology of water management. Due to the geological character of the Doon Valley, the profitable and successful construction of wells has been impossible except in villages near Rishikesh or near the sources of the Suswa and Asan rivers. This has made canal irrigation vital for agriculture. as well irrigation is next to impossible.

The British recognized central role of canals in the agricultural economy of the Doon Valley, and started expanding the canal network to serve the newly colonised areas of the Valley after their takeover. In 1837 Captain Cautley was deputed to inaugurate a canal from the Tons river below the village of Bijapur, to irrigate the triangular tract between the Tons, the Asan and the Bindal, and in October 1839 the Bijapur Canal was completed. In 1841, work on the restoration of the old Rajpur Canal was undertaken, and in the same year the Katapathar Canal, fed by waters of the Yamuna, started functioning in the most westerly Dun. The Kalanga Canal, drawn from the Song river above Rajpur, and the Jakhan Canal, drawn from a stream of the same name in the eastern Dun, were completed a few years later. The 9th Settlement Report acknowledged that:

These canals, insignificant though they appear at first, are the greatest blessing to the district. In fact the people depend almost entirely on them for water for drinking and domestic purposes, and for the cultivation of all the more valuable crops

This traditional agriculture provided the economic basis for a decent quality of life in the Valley. The stability of-the economic base was, in turn, linked with the stability of the water resources. According to the description in the local Gazetteer, Dehradun enjoyed '... an unusually copious rainfall, and owing to the physical configuration it is seldom that the monsoon is an entire disappointment. In addition to this climatic advantage, hitherto unknown, considerable tracts of the Doon are ensured against crop failure by the canals.

Earlier, in the 8th Settlement Report, it had been pithily recorded that:

There have been no famine or droughts to ruin the people and kill off their cattle.... The Doon is what is commonly called a backward district, but so far as the comfort and well-being of all classes is concerned, it is a matter for regret, rather than otherwise, that more districts are not in the same state of back wardness.

The impact of quarrying on agriculture is most appropriately assessed within the ecological units formed by the catchments of different streams draining the Mussoorie Hills, and the command areas of canals fed by them. The Katapathar command area provides an example of an agricultural economy within the Valley which is not affected by quarrying, as this canal draws its water from the Yamuna.

As already discussed, the central ecological impact of quarrying is the destruction of land and water resources, both of which are vital inputs for food production. Also, as explained earlier, abundant rainfall combined with stable catchments provided by the Mussoorie Hills had earlier formed the most important base for a stable agricultural economy in the Valley.

The destabilisation of the resource base has destabilised food production. In most of the villages that lie below quarries, the irrigation channels have been destroyed by the flow of silt and other debris from mines or from mining roads. Village Bhitarli in the Tons catchment was self-sufficient in foodgrains and had surplus food and milk production before the quarrying operations destroyed the food and fodder base of hte village. But the submersion of the irrigation channels led to a drastic reduction in food production, and the loss of grazing land has decreased the cattle population of eight households (randomly surveyed) from 194 to 37.

The entire area below the limestone belt can no longer be used for grazing, and large areas have practically no vegetation as they are covered by debris from the mines. The few pockets of shrubs and forest that remain are of no use for cattle, because of the perpetual danger of boulders rolling down the slopes as a result of blasting. An important economic activity based on animal husbandry is therefore being eroded, and the decline in cattle population in areas affected by mining is as much as 40 per cent. The decline in livestock population affects the production of milk, the production of energy for farm operations, and the production of animal dung that provides soil fertility for sustainable agriculture-the last function being the most important one in hill agriculture. The overall result is a collapse of the food production system, which is quantified in Tables 10.2 and 10.3.

As a consequence of these problems, villagers living near the quarries are becoming increasingly dependent on non-agricultural incomes. The quarries provide employment to many of these villagers who had been rendered unemployed indirectly by the

Table 10.2 Comparative Changes in Agropastoral Economy of Areas Affected and Not Affected Quarrying

Indicator Affected Areas Unaffected Areas
Tons Catchment Kataputiuir
Foodgrain production at present 1,995 Otls. N.A.* 9,193 Otls
Foodgrain production twenty years ago 2,763 Otls N.A. 5,875 Qtls
Livestock population at present 1,060 423 748
Livestock population twenty years ago 1.626 919 655

•1 Qtl = Quintal = 100 kg = 220.5 Ibs.
•• N.A. = not applicable.

The above data were collected for 191 households of 18 villages in the Tons catchment area and for 250 households of 19 villages in the Kalapathar command area. quarrying operations. Those who cannot withstand the hard labour in the quarries. have, reportedly, turned to brewing illicit liquor and smuggling firewood as a means of survival. Both items have a ready market in the nearby human settlements.

Quarrying affects agricultural activity not only in the villages in the vicinity of the quarries but also in the villages in the other parts of the Valley served by the canal network. As indicated earlier, destruction of the hydrological stability of the region means that there is less water than was previously available for irrigation when it is most needed. The increasing difficulty in the distribution of water interferes with the timely availability of irrigation water, and this leads to increased crop failure. The growing of Basmati rice, famous for its flavour, is on the decline in the Valley, thus reflecting the failure of the Valley to utilise its relative advantages of climate and water resources. In an early Settlement Report it was stated that 'the canals are, without doubt, the making of the Doon. The destruction of the irrigation potential through the canal system may soon prove to be the unmaking of the Doon. The lime rush which has been profitable for the quarry operators could be the only factor behind the ecological, and hence economical, collapse of the Valley.

Table 10.3 Decline of Agriculture in Baldi Valley

Major Crops Productivity in Qtis/Acre
30 Years 20 Years 10 Years Now
  Ago Ago Ago  
Paddy 4 3 2 2
Wheat 6 5 4 3
Toor 2 2 1 1
Mandua 7 6 5 4

Official Response to the Signs of Disaster

The heavy negative externalities of limestone quarrying in the doon valley have long aroused popular protests. This contradiction came to a climax when a large number of leases were due for renewal at the end of 1982. In 1981 the Department of Industries of Uttar Pradesh had appointed a committee to decide the policy for renewal of the leases. According to the recommendations of this committee, quarrying was to be discontinued in the Sahastradhara area because of its impact on the Baldi Nadi (river) and the consequent ill-effects on tourism. In the Arnigad Valley, quarrying was to be selectively continued while avoiding violation of mining rules or leased rights. It was further recommended that all quarrying on the main highway linking Dehradun and Mussoorie was to be discontinued. In the Bhitarli Valley, leases were to be renewed on merit'.

Continuation of quarrying was recommended in the Nun Valley. In Banog, block quarrying was recommended on the condition that the Kempty Falls and the water pumping station for the township of Mussoorie was not damaged. In the Song Valley, total ban was recommended because of the practice of dip slope mining, as the stability of the entire mountain was in danger. On these grounds, nine out of eighteen leases that were due for renewal were recommended to be allowed to continue. Others, however, were not recommended to be allowed to continue apparently on the basis of ecological considerations as well as for safety reasons.

Contrary to the recommendation of selective renewal, the Government of Uttar Pradesh decided to impose a blanket ban on the renewal of these quarrying leases. The decision was, however, challenged in the High Court by the quarry operators, who obtained 'stay' orders allowing them to continue quarrying even in those quarries which had been recommended for closure. The stay order led to confusion among the local monitoring agencies for the quarries. The quarry operators reportedly interpreted any control and monitoring by the official agencies as interference in their activity which had been approved of by the Court. The result was severe and reckless quarrying, as the operators tried to maximise their production in a period of uncertainty about future possibilities.

In the perspective of this lack of control by official agencies' public interest litigation at the Supreme Court of India was the only alternative available for the protection of the citizens' rights to vital resources, as well as for the assertion of social control on activities related to the utilisation of common natural resources owned by the community or government for public use.

The People's Response

The resistance to the extraction of limestone from this vulnerable ecosystem was in three phases. In the first phase, the local village organisations politically resisted the mining activities. The resistance was quickly interpreted as a block to national progress, and, the organisations of villagers were subverted by converting them into cooperatives and providing them with small leases. Without the support of science or the state,.the villagers lost their campaign.

The second phase was characterized as a conflict between the state and the lessees. The Uttar Pradesh government tried to withdraw a lease in 1977 on the grounds that it would affect the 'natural beauty and ecology' of the region. The Court called on technical experts to inform its decisions. The technical experts were partisan scientists, who perceived minerals as isolated from soil and water and vegetation and who perceived the economic value of minerals only in extraction and mining. The experts informed the Court that quarrying in the lease areas 'does not necessarily affect the environmental and ecological balance in regard to water, soil and other related factors'. Without counter arguments from ecology as public interest science, even the state could not control mining in the Doon Valley.

In the third phase, citizens" groups in Dehradun and Mussoorie fought a similar case in the Supreme Court, this time informed by public interest science. The balance shifted, and the same expert who in 1977 had stated that quarrying was ecologically safe now said of the same quarry that 'the lease area is situated right in the immediate catchment area of a nullah and is thus subjected to conspicuous denudation by flow of water. Rectification of the situation calls for a permanent closure of this mine'. The emergence of public interest science supporting public interest litigation in the Doon Valley created a new countervailing force favouring public interest. The ecological knowledge was generated with people's participation in an ecosystems study of the Doon Valley undertaken by the authors for the Department of Environment. The study was completed in May 1983 and in June 1983 it was used to file a public interest litigation against limestone quarrying. The study showed that in the partisan, reduction) viewpoint of an economy based on the exchange value of resources, these resources are seen as isolated from one another. In this fragmented perspective, the most efficient use of limestone is its extraction for meeting the commercial/industrial demands. From the ecological viewpoint, limestone in its fractured form provides the best and the largest aquifer that can sustain the supply of water resources to the Valley. The most efficient and economic use of the mineral in this perspective which views limestone in its relationship with other resources, is its conservation for the sustained supply of water on which all economic activities in the Valley depend. Scientific' mining and 'scientific' geology in the reductionist framework is based on partial and incomplete knowledge of the diverse properties and functions of mineral resources. It is based only on specific and particular properties which provide maximum exchange value to the mineral. But minerals have properties and functions beyond those that are commercially exploitable, some of which are only realisable in situ. Mineral extraction in the reductionist framework is blind to the other functions, treats them as non-existent, and thus destroys them by maximising benefits from the commercial exploitation of individual resources.

The Court acted as a public interest science laboratory where scientific ideas were tested, verified and developed into a countervailing force challenging the power of partisan expertise. Public interest litigation backed by public interest science was successful in controlling mining.

On 12 March 1985 a Supreme Court bench consisting of Justice P.N. Bhagwati, Justice A.N. Sen and Justice R. Misra, who had been hearing the public interest litigation against limestone quarrying in the Doon Valley, passed an order closing permanently or temporarily, fifty-three limestone quarries out of sixty within the geographical limits of the Doon Valley or the Dehradun Tehsil. The honourable bench, introduced the order in the follow ing words:

This is the first case of its kind in the country involving issues related to environment and ecological balance and the questions arising for considerations are of grave moment and of significance not only to the people residing in the Mussoorie hill range forming part of the Himalayas but also in the implications to the welfare of the generality of the people living in the country. It brings into sharp focus the conflict between development and conservation and serves to emphasise the need for reconciling the two in the larger interest of the country.

The bench justified the closure of mining operations on the grounds that 'it is a price that has to be paid for protecting and safeguarding the right of the people to live in a healthy environment with minimum disturbance of ecological balance and without avoidable hazards to them and to their cattle, homes and agricultural land and undue affection of air, water and environment'. With this order the Supreme Court of India has set a precedence in accepting a stable and healthy environment as a human right and has intervened on behalf of citizens for just and sustainable development.

One of the mines that was allowed to continue operations by the interim order of the Supreme Court was the Nahi-Barkot mine operated by C.G. Gujral. The lease of the mine had expired in 1982, and for four years, the quarry had been operated on the basis of an interim injunction from the local court in Dehradun. activists launched a non-violent resistance against the ecological havoc being caused by the mine. The ecological impact of limestone quarrying in the Nahi-Kala region is more acute since the area had rich resources of forests and water and since the mine is located at the origin of water resources and on a steep slope on the hill top. In a report to the Supreme Court of India the local divisional forest officer wrote that the vegetation is undergoing serious damage by the mining activity. The trees on the nala banks have been badly damaged. At some places the trees are four to five feet under debris. The land instability generated by quarrying, road construction and the related landslips also obstruct and deplete the natural flow of water in the streams, seriously affecting the local irrigation system.

The waterfall at the source of Sinsyaru is now dry. The increase in the level of the beds of Sinsyaru Khala, Bidhalna and Jakhan rivers has led to enhanced cutting and erosion of the banks, destroying some of the best farm lands. This report also mentions that 'the nala is continuously widening, causing great damage to the agricultural fields of the village Barkot. According to a study conducted by Kalpavriksha, as part of a UNU study, the quarry is also a serious threat to the lives of villagers and their cattle. Irresponsible blasting at the quarry site has reportedly killed a number of cattle while grazing. As a result, five of the seven families living near the quarry site have been forced to abandon their lands and houses and have moved away. Kalam Singh who heads one of the two families who have decided to stay on, had to face the wrath of the quarry mafia when his young daughter was kidnapped by some labourers working in the quarries.

The record of functioning of the limestone quarry at Nahi-Kala is a record of irregular and unscientific quarrying that has violated several rules. The Uttar Pradesh Directorate of Geology and Mines had reported that the concerned limestone quarry was served a notice by the Directorate of Mine Safety on the grounds of excess vertical height of the steps, quarrying on faces steeper than a 60 slope and the rolling down of the mineral extracted.

On 15 March 1987, the movement celebrated six months of struggle. The struggle has not been easy. For six cold months, the volunteers had to spend nights under a tent near Sinsyaru Khala to make sure that their natural wealth is not turned into profits but is available for their children as a source of sustenance. Local courts have served the peaceful satyagrahis with notices of arrest while C.G. Gujral and his men have made many attempts to attack the people. On 30 November 1986 four truck loads of fifty men armed with sticks attacked the satyagraha camp. Chamandai ran down from the village and told the men that the quarry would be operated only over her dead body. They dragged her for a few hundred feet but finally had to turn back overcome by the power of her peaceful protest.

On the morning of 20 March 1987, four truckloads of goondas armed with revolvers, spears, knives, iron rods and sticks attacked the volunteers in the Sinsyaru Khala camp of the Chipko movement; there was another attack in the evening on the non-violent but determined volunteers. This left a large number of men, women and children wounded.

Itwari Devi and Chamandai who were leading the movement were stoned and Ramesh Kukreti and his colleagues received serious injuries and had to be rushed to the Doon Hospital 20 km away. While the spirit of satyagraha has remained alive in Chipko, the movement has transcended beyond its original association of hugging trees in the Garhwal Himalayas. The Chipko movement in the Doon Valley shows that the movement is not merely an issue of hugging trees, but of embracing the living resources of nature in all its diversity, including the living mountains and living waters. On 25 December. 1986, the 100th day of the struggle, Ghanshyam 'Shailani', the folk poet who gave the movement its name in a song he wrote in 1971, spent the whole day singing new songs about the Chipko against quarrying in the Doon Valley. With his songs, the strength of the Doon Valley Chipko is renewed to fight an extended battle for the protection of nature:

A fight for truth has begun at Sinsyaru Khala
A fight for rights has begun in Mulkot Thano
Sister, it is a fight to protect our mountains and forests
They give us life
Hug the life of the living trees and streams to your hearts
Resist the digging of mountains which kills our forests and our streams
A fight for life has begun at Sinsyuru Khala

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