Nainital, 19 Sept.
Amidst the loud thunderstorms, there is a strong people’s storm that has been gathering momentum in the Himalayan region of Kumaon in Uttarakhand.
In the small village of Satoli in Nainital district, near Mukteshwar, a big battle is being fought by its residents over the past months. A fight to safeguard the environment and resources of the ecologically sensitive Himalayan region. Ultimately, it is a fight for the planet and its survival.
On September 19, 2021, villagers of Satoli, Peora, Diyari, Chatola, Satkhol, Sitla and neighboring areas, as well as youth leaders, environmentalists, and NGOs staged a peaceful dharna against a bore well that has been dug for commercial misuse under the garb of residential use at gram Satoli (Patti Malli Kutoli, District Nainital). All established laws, norms, and guidelines have been flouted, unleashing a trail of destruction with regards to our water resources.
Background:10 years back, the permission for a bore well in gram Satoli was granted for personal use to one Vipin Chandra Pant who does not live Satoli but in Bhowali town, which is 45 km away. Earlier this year, a big builder of the area operationalised the bore well to extract and provide water for their large luxury villas development coming up at gram Satoli. What may have been a small-bore well for personal use has now become a massive commercial project as the builder has accordingly done the digging to divert the water for commercial use for the construction of the large luxury villas. Regulations regarding the digging, which requires the presence of a geologist and representative government functionary is mandatory, have been flouted.
Gallons and gallons of water are being abstracted daily by the builder. Several households are being impacted by this illegal act. Villages of Satoli, Diyari, Peora, and others, in addition to the present scarcity of water, will face even more acute water shortages if this rampant misuse is not stopped immediately.
Further, various important programs in the area of health, education, livelihood, and women empowerment being run by AAROHI, a prominent and reputed NGO in gram Satoli will also be negatively impacted.
It is relevant to point out that the very same builders have been in the eye of the storm for encroaching on government land in the nearby village of ‘Chatola’. A PIL, against the encroachment in ‘Chatola’, has been filed against the builders in the Nainital High Court and the Court has sent a notice to them, making it incumbent upon them to respond to the charges leveled against them.
Irreversible damage by digging bore wells: Digging bore wells in the ecologically sensitive hill areas is a recipe for disaster. Since hilly areas do not have a water table under the surface, bore wells draw on all available water channels. The most disturbing aspect of a boring activity in the hills is that it taps into or cuts through the water channels and sucks out the water from the capillaries, ultimately leading to drying up of the water source of villages at lower altitudes.
Legal perspective: Needless to say, groundwater abstraction is highly regulated by law, given the devastating impact, it has on the environment. Misuse of groundwater is a punishable offense.
A plethora of judgments of the Hon’ble Supreme Court, National Green Tribunal and High Courts have held that it is the legal obligation of the state to act against those who violate the law and misuse natural resources of the country.
Pertaining to this bore well in gram Satoli, around 150 residents are signatories to letters highlighting this wrong-doing and demanding action from the authorities. Letters have been sent to:
- State of Uttarakhand Government through the Secretary, Department of Drinking Water & Sanitation, of Uttarakhand, Civil Secretariat, Dehradun- 248001
- Central Ground Water Board (Uttaranchal Region) through Regional Director, 41A, Kanwali
Road, Baluwala, Near Uria Bhawan Dehradun-248001.
- District Magistrate, Nainital-263002.
- Sub-Divisional Officer/Pargana Magistrate, Nainital-263002.
- State of Uttarakhand, through Secretary, Irrigation Department, Dehradun- 248001.
The residents feel it is the legal obligation of the State to act against those who violate the law and exploit the country’s natural resources. They are demanding justice against this flagrant violation of the laws of the country and have pledged that they will stay united and continue their fight to the end.
- Immediate action to stop the commercial misuse of the water by the builder in gram Satoli, Patti Malli Kutoli, District Nainital, Uttarakhand
- Immediate orders for sealing of this bore well to ensure that it is not misused in the future
- Stopping operation of other bore wells in the Kumaon and larger Himalayan region for which permissions have been granted and that is liable for misuse
- Invalidating permissions for bore wells already granted as they are prone to misuse
Prominent speakers and attendees at the peaceful dharna were:
- Col CS Pant: Chairman AAROHI, a reputed NGO headquartered in Satoli and a renowned radiologist in the country was present at the Dharna and he made an impassioned plea against the digging of a borewell in Satoli, According to him, “ This poses a huge threat to water supply in Satoli and surrounding villages. The future of children who study in the school run by Aarohi, the hospital which provides much-needed medical aid to villagers, livelihood programs that empower people here, all of it stands to be negatively impacted. It is totally against the interest of our people and must be stopped.”
- Shri P.C. Tewari: a social, political and climate activist was present at the protest. He has been working extensively in Uttarakhand for more than four decades on issues concerning human rights, deforestation, land rights, labour rights, climate change, rights of indigenous persons, corruption etc. He was one of the prominent leaders of the Chipko Van Bachao Movement alongside Sundar Lal Bahuguna and Chandi Prasad Bhatt. He is also the founder and President of the “Uttarakhand Parivartan Party”, which is the first registered Green Political Party and a signatory to the Global Greens Charter.
- Rakesh Kapil:the Zila Panchayat Sadasya, Gehna Shetra, which represents 50 villages including Satoli, Chatola, Peora, Kwarab, Diyari, Mona, Gerari, Chapad,etc.). He highlighted the need for the villagers to wake up. “If we do not raise our voices against actions which are damaging our natural resources, the future generations will face a very bleak scenario”
- Bhim Bisht from Chatola, representing the hope and aspirations of people said that, “We the people have to come together and not turn a blind eye to the devastation around us. If we choose to remain quiet against the destruction of mother nature, we will be equally complicit of wrong-doing. I am here despite my family’s reservations about my coming here. I will stand against every such act which is an assault on our natural resources.”
- Krishan Bhandari: a local villager/farmer from gram Kafura thanked everyone present at the Dharna and said, “If not us residents, then who will stand up against the destruction of our beloved Kumaon. It is tragic to see that an illegal borewell has been dug here in complete disregard of its impact on villagers.”