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Uttarkashi/Haridwar: On the completion of a massive road show in Haridwar district on Sunday night, Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi stopped on the banks of the Ganga at Har Ki Pauri to perform the Ganga puja. Prime Minister Narendra Modi too, in his election speech in Haridwar, mentioned the Ganga as a symbol of “purity”.

For the Congress and the BJP, the Ganga remained constricted to a poll gimmick, while the issue of it flowing as an aviral (unhindered) and nirmal (pure) stream, which the Modi government’s flagship programme Namami Gange aims to achieve, remained unaddressed.

With untreated sewage from several ashrams, hotels, houses and untreated factory waste getting drained into the Ganga, its purity is under question.

During a recent election speech, Mr. Modi had blamed Chief Minister Harish Rawat for “delaying the preparation of a project report” for the “Namami Gange” programme. Hence, for the cleaning of the 450-km stretch of the Ganga in Uttarakhand, a lot remains to be achieved.

Climate change unaddressed

Climate change, which affects Uttarakhand, a Himalayan State, directly, featured neither in the poll campaigns nor the manifestos of the Congress and BJP.

Uttarakhand has 1,266 glacial lakes with sizes varying from 500 sq m to 2,44,742 sq m. There is enough evidence to prove that a glacial lake outburst above the Kedarnath shrine had caused the 2013 Kedarnath deluge which killed at least 4,000 people. However, currently, none of the glacial lakes are being monitored.

“There is lack of political will in the parties and the candidates to look at climate change as an issue that needs to be addressed,” said P.P. Dhyani, director of the Almora-based G.B. Pant National Institute of Himalayan Environment and Sustainable Development.

“The political parties talk of providing water for drinking, irrigation and hydroelectricity generation, but they have no plan to keep the rivers perennial. They think the rivers will keep flowing with the same pace, forever. With climate change the glaciers are melting faster, but no political party seems to pay attention to science and technology based development that would take climate change into consideration,” Dr Dhyani said.

Congress, BJP promoting hydro-power generation

While issues related to cleaning the Ganga and maintaining its flow and purity remain unresolved, its various streams are trapped in reservoirs for hydro-power generation. Campaigns of both the BJP and the Congress promoted hydro-power generation, which is a contentious issue in the state.

“Water in Uttarakhand has immense power and potential,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi said while addressing an election rally in Pithoragarh on Sunday.

Standing at Pithoragarh, about 90 kilometres from where the Pancheshwar multi-purpose project is under construction, he said, “The work on the 6,000 MW Pancheshwar dam was left unattended [for over two decades]. However, we have restarted the R. 35,000-crore project and it will bring lots of jobs for the people of Pithoragarh.”

Mr. Modi blamed the Harish Rawat government for having “neither the required vision, nor understanding” to use Uttarakhand’s water potential for electricity generation.

Chief Minister Rawat, on the other hand, has been calling the Centre “anti-development and anti-Uttarakhand” for “rejecting” his government’s recommendations to set up hydro-power projects of up to 25 MW capacity in the ecosensitive zone in Uttarkashi.

Virendra Panwar pointed to the Bhagirathi that flows through Uttarkashi. “Does it even look like a river to you? It looks more like a stream”, he said.

In Uttarkashi, about 118 km from Gaumukh – the source of the Bhagirathi river, which is one of the headstreams of the Ganga – the Bhagirathi is reduced to a trickle.

And while the blame game continues between the Centre and Mr. Rawat, in Uttarkashi, the locals are bearing the brunt of two hydropower projects: 90 MW Maneri Bhali-I and 304 MW Maneri Bhali-II.