About Maletha Placed in middle Himalaya, Maletha is a prosperous village of about 450 households in Tehri district of Uttarakhand. The village is settled next to National Highway 58, on right bank of Alaknanda River at a vertical distance of 400 meters in Kirti Nagar block. It is about 25 km upstream from Devprayag where Alaknanda from left and Bhagirathi from right side, unite to form the Ganga River.
|1- Maletha Village||5-Tunnel part of irrigation channel*||9- 2013 flood affected farm *||13- Stone Crusher|
|2-Maletha Farmland||6-Alaknanda River||10-Stone Crusher||14- Stone Crusher|
|3- Maletha Temple||7-Chandrabhaga River||11- Stone Crusher||15-Proposed Railway line|
|4- Maletha Irrigation Channel||8-National Highway-58||12- Stone Crusher||16-Proposed Railway Station|
5* Villagers have built Madho Singh Bhandari’s memorial there 9* June 2013 flood has deposited about 25feet high sand on river banks and submersed around 10 acres of agricultural land turning them unproductive.
Maletha, owns nearly 500 acres of fertile farmland mainly sprawled next to Alaknanda River. Once barren, nearly 70% of the total agrarian land is under highly reliable irrigational facility which was created in 16th century by Shri Madho Singh Bhandari. The painstaking efforts then by the man who has become a legend for the people here has enabled Maletha to achieve and sustain food self-sufficiency till today. The irrigated farms have become staple supply source to most of the villagers. As a result, Maletha has lowest migration rate of 1 % in comparison with thousands of Uttarakhand villages severely affected by out-migration.
About Veer Madho Singh Bhandari
Born in 1585, Madho Singh Bhandari also known as Bhad of Maletha (Brave of Maletha) was son of warrior Sonban Kalo Bhandari who migrated to Tehri from Lakhan Puri of Kumaon region. Impressed by his bravery, Garhwal king gifted a big estate to Sonban Kalo Bhadhari. Like his father, Madho Singh Bhandari joined the royal court in Srinagar at a young age. He soon rose to the rank of general and served as commander-in-chief of Mahipat Shah, the king of Garhwal (1629-1646).
During a visit to his village, Madho Singh observed that lack of water had turned Maletha field dry and less productive. He decided to construct a water channel from Chandrbhaga River that flows across the village hill. His soldiers and villagers worked tirelessly to construct three and half kilometres long water channel from Takoli Gad to Maletha. Excavation of the 110 meters tunnel through hard rock was the toughest part of the endeavour. Stones and iron nails were used to make it sturdier to withstand jolts of natural disasters. Even after 400 years, channel and tunnel is efficiently supplying water to Maletha fields. Thus villagers till today whole heartedly cherish conviction in Madho Singh Bhandari’s centuries old legacy.
Maletha Defying Centralised Development Model
In recent times, installation of five stone crusher units in Maletha’s periphery and a preliminary survey for railway line through the village farmlands have endangered the foundation of peace and stability in the village. At the same time, this adversity has presented villagers an opportunity to democratically fight the dual external developmental intrusions. Having no option left, villagers decided to fight back have been raising their voices against undemocratic intrusions for the past eight months.
Maletha’s Movement against Stone Crushers
The prosperity and peace of Maletha was breached in February 2014, with setting up of two stone crushers on village land. The villagers were in the middle of discussion of possible side effects and thinking of remedial measures when they were taken aback in August 2014, with arrival of three more crusher units in village vicinity. In total two functional and three under installation crusher units turned the picturesque village look-like a ravaged area.
Fearing for the worst, on 13 August 2014, villagers launched a movement under the banner of Maletha Sanghrash Samiti (MSS) demanding removal of all stone crushers from the village. It gained momentum when on 23 August 2014, accompanied by renowned environmentalist Dr. Anil P Joshi, thousands of villagers including women in large numbers protested outside SDM Office at Kirti Nagar. For about next one month villagers efforts of peaceful dialogues and correspondence with district administration went fruitless. Villagers then resorted to dharna and gherao outside Sub-Divisional Magistrate (SDM) office that built up tremendous pressure on local administration which in third week of September 2014 on 42nd day of movement ordered closer of the operational stone crushers darkening the future prospectus of remaining three.
In reaction, owner of the crushers unit approached Nainital High Court (NHC) in the first week of December 2014. NHC dismissed the closer order stating that these units were granted permission from State Govt. hence it is out of District Magistrate (DM) jurisdiction to restrict their function. Relieved crusher units begun ferrying and piling up stones inside their premises.
Enraged villagers intensified the agitation from 21st December 2014. On 20th January 2015, tension prevailed in Maletha gram sabha when Smt. Sita Devi, a village lady, sat on a fast unto death. On 11th day of her fast, she was forcefully evacuated and administered fluids in Srinagar hospital. The news of the incident & the movement spread like wild fire across hilly terrain. The same day, Sameer Raturi an activist and convener of Himalaya Bachao Andolan (HBA) started indefinite hunger strike generating wider support base and sympathy from masses.
The stir pushed the State Govt. on back foot and compelled it to consider the villagers’ demand seriously. State Govt. in a damage control mode formed an internal inquiry committee to look into the matter. The four member committee inspected the site on 3rd of February 2015. In following days, district administration prohibited public gathering in the area and deployed about 100 armed police jawans to control the situation.
On 7th February, 2015 the health of Sameer Raturi deteriorated and 72 women courted arrest while marching towards stone crusher units sparking off shock tremors across political establishment. The Uttarakhand Chief Minister Sri Harish Rawat intervened and assured villagers of suspension of three crusher units with immediate effect. As a result, on 14th day the villagers withdrew the hunger strike on 12th February 2015. Conveying CM’s message to the protesters Kishor Uapadyaya, Uttarakhand State Congress President visited the venue and announced closure of the fourth unit and promised that the fifth crusher unit in all likelihood will meet the same fate. Cautious villagers unanimously decided to continue the movement until the fifth the stone crushers is removed from the Maletha gram sabha area.
Meanwhile one unit managed to obtain stay from NHC against government’s closer decision and continues operation till today. The remaining four units are in closed but they have not packed up, nor dismantled their structures. Based on public interest litigation (PIL) filed by HBA, NHC has asked stone crusher owners to present their side on 18th May 2015.)
Why Maletha is Opposing Stone Crushers?
- Villagers reported that they were not anti to development but they expected concerned authorities to provide prior information and seek villagers’ consent before setting up any industries in their area. Since Maletha was rich in agricultural land that have greatly checked migration, villagers fear polluting industries would impact their farming, also leading to migration.
- Stone crushers create unbearable noise and generate massive amount of dust during operation. Villagers shared that Maletha being located in open valley is prone to frequent speedy wind spell and all the crusher units were sitting above the village. As a result, the cloud of stone crusher dust will envelope entire village including forestland, grassland, habitat and farmland impacting the health, production of biota, fodder and farm produces.
- Villagers were worried that unintentional and unavoidable exposure to stone dust will subject them to series of respiratory ailments like tuberculosis and silicosis.
- Villagers revealed that as per rules maximum 10 stone crushers can be set up in a district and there were already more than 8 crusher units in Kirti Nagar block out of which five were in Maletha alone. They criticized the government for approving resource and livelihood destroying industries in their village. They suggested that govt. better promote agriculture in Maletha rather than installing stone crushers which will ruin farming and induce migration.
- Sameer Raturi of HBA doubted that any of stone crushing units had obtained the required No Objection Certificate (NOC) from competent authorities. He further said that none of the units were complying with the prescribed measures such as 15 feet high enclosure around the crusher unit, maintenance of green strips and fixation of sprinklers among others.
- Every villager was asking the very simple question that what urgency govt. has that it has approved five crusher units in an agriculturally prosperous and historically famous Maletha village.
- Surveer Singh Chouhan, Maletha Pradhan, holds local administration including Patwari, SDM, Tehsildar responsible for this which he believes, does not report ground realities to seniors. He said that low lying lands in valley surrounded by woods are best suited for stone crusher units where least noise and dust escape in open and not in villages like Maletha.
Women’s Role in the Maletha’s Movement
As we all know that rural women living in mountain have 24*7 hectic work schedules. Young or old, they are first to wake up even before chirping of birds and last to tire in between performing uncountable indoors and out-door tasks essential for survival like cooking, cleaning, taking care of children, farms and livestock and what not. They are left even with no time to take care of their health thus devoting their entire life for family and livelihood. It seems they inherent such an astonishing tolerance and strength from Himalaya itself. At the same time they are tremendous store house of traditional wisdom, knowledge and share undefined but amiable bond of understanding with immediate nature. We lack words to acknowledge Gora Devi’s contribution in conservation of forest though ‘Chipko Movement’. Today Uttarakhand has become a perennial mine of several thousand Gora Devi like women.
Here, in Maletha also, women despite their awful workload are leading from the front. Since the beginning of movement till today Maletha’s women without failure have untiringly been taking part in each and every activities be it sitting at Dharna venue or foot march and gherao of block office. It was primarily because of Smt. Sita Devi 10 days hunger strike that brought the district administration to its kneel. Then there are Vimla Devi, Rameshwari, Anita Rana, Laxmi Rana, Sushila Devi, Anita Mahar, Nanda Devi, Rukmani Devi, Rampyari, Devashwari, Naurati Devi, Seema, Pauri, Vijay Laxmi many more who despite ordeal have contributed immensely in standing up and strengthening the movement. It would be not wrong if it is termed as women movement. Below mentioned comments from few women protesters tell a lot about their unending anguish and undying spirit.
“Our village and fields mean everything to us, because of ongoing agitation, it’s very difficult to strike balance between family, farming and protest activities, nevertheless we are managing all and will not allow anyone to destroy our village and fields” said Vimla Devi.
“Govt. has deceived us many a time and turned deaf and dumb now, but we will not give up until we breathe our last” said Rameshwari Devi
“The noise pollution and health hazards associated with crushers are ruining our peaceful lives; we will fight to oust them from our village” said Anita Devi.
Maletha Mahasammelan; Discussion on Mountain Development Model (02-03 May 2015)
In first week of May 2015, Maletha villagers in association with HBA organized a two days meet (02-03 May 2015) to discuss sustainable mountain development model, it was at this meeting that I learnt about the Maletha struggle. A strong gathering of about 150 concerned persons particularly women and men from Maletha attended the programme. Many well-known academicians, experts, social reformers, retired army officials, environmentalists, activists, politicians working at grass root level and supporting organization from Kotdwar, Dehradun, Rishikesh, Nainital, Chamoli, Srinagar, Tehri, Haridwar, Uttarakashi as well as from Gujarat, Chandigarh, Delhi, Gaziabad, Meerut shared their experiences and opinions on issues pertaining to meaningful and healthy mountain development model.
Participants raised concerns over privatization of state horticulture department, pathetic condition of agriculture and farmers in state, depletion of human resources, arbitrary sand mining and stone crusher policies, land encroachment by outsiders, defunctness Panchayati Raj system, increasing population burden, growing liquor consumption and solid waste pollution as key challenges in development of Pahar. The participants also described implementation of article 73 and 74 of Indian constitution, introduction of article 371 in State about prohibition of land sale to outsiders, linking of agriculture with Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee (MNREG) scheme, promotion of horticulture and rural industries, devising of alternate political system, RTI awareness, and afforestation as roadmap for mountain progress and prosperity.
Maletha villagers especially women were applauded by the participants for their outstanding contribution in movement against stone crushers. The list of speakers includes Vijay Singh Rawat an RTI activist, Rajiv Lochan Shah editor Shah Times, PC Tiwari of Uttarakhand Parivartan Party, Pradeep Kothari academician, Jagat Singh ‘Janglee’ environmentalist, Dr. Trilok Chandar Soni environmentalist, Sunil Negi journalist, Brahmchari Dayanand from Matri Sadan, Anil Swami social reformer, Premdutt Nautiyal of Srinagar Bachao Sanghrash Samiti, Smt. Seeta Devi from Maletha, Surveer Chauhan Maletha Pradhan, Sameer Raturi convenor Himalaya Bachao Andolan, Purushotam Sharma, Chandrika Tiwari, Kunwar Singh Sajwan, Dashrath Pankhi, Vinod Nautiyal, Vinod Juglan, Dhirender Adhikari, Subhash Trehan, Chandar Bisht and many others.
A draft note on Mountain Development Model will be prepared and circulated by the organizers on the basis of the meeting. There is also a plan to undertake a 40 days long foot walk covering 600 km distance from Maletha to Nepal by Himalaya Bachao Andolan to have wider perspective for mountain area development. The walk will begin from 9th September 2015 which is annually celebrated as Himalaya Divas.
The Proposed Rishikesh- Karan Prayag Rail Link: a New Threat to Maletha’s Agriculture?
Maletha movement has earned it broader recognition as it has been listed among few successful public movements in contemporary times. Having succeeded in halting the operation of four stone crusher units, villagers are infused with courage and conviction to protect their village. However, in October 2014, a preliminary survey was conducted for Rishikesh-Karan Prayag rail link. There is a plan to construct a railway station primarily on Maletha’s irrigated farmland. The villagers have objected strongly to the proposal and asked the concerned agency to explore alternatives and spare the irrigated farmland. Villagers are ready to offer unirrigated land for the railway line and the station. They say that they are not against the railway line provided it should not destroy their farmland, livelihood and heritage.
Sustainable Mountain Development Model which Respect Himalaya’s Fragility and Enhance Community’s Self-reliance :-The Villagers do not always oppose developmental plans but when they do, they oppose tooth and nail those projects that risk their lives and livelihoods. Several developmental plans in the past and present have entailed destruction of natural resources and displacement of self-reliant local communities. The latest report of Consortium for Investigative Journalism (CfIJ) has revealed that World Bank’s developmental projects alone since 2004, have displaced to 3.4 million poor people worldwide. So the valid questions like ‘Whose Development at Whose Cost, for Whose benefit’ will be repeatedly raised by the concerned lot, indicating towards decentralized and community led development plans and decision making processes. That’s exactly what the Maletha’s villagers are asking for, to let them have a say in the decisions about projects affecting their life support system. I asked the people if there has been any environmental and social impact assessment, options assessment or public hearing regarding the proposed railway line and I was shocked to learn that there were none. Same with respect to Stone crushers.
We of course need development and associated facilities to improve our living conditions. But the model and pattern of development can’t be centralised and uniform in naturally diversified regions with distinctive social, ecological, geo-physical and climatic conditions. We can’t stretch our demands beyond the availability of natural resources. Hence, any model of development has to be fine tuned with natural and cultural heritage and ought to aim at attaining sustainability and self-sufficiency.
Developmental plans must be democratic and participatory. At the same, we need to limit our demands. The proposed 128 km long Rishikesh-Karan Prayag railway link which is to come up in fragile Himalayan mountain area that is already disaster prone and will cost more than Rs 4000 crore and involves construction of 81 tunnels (half of the railway line will be inside tunnel) through fragile and landslide prone Himalaya hills at the end reducing the road distance only by 25 km. The wounds and marks of devastating June 2013 floods are still alive and evident all along the Alaknanda valley to remind us of how unexpectedly Himalaya can react. It’s also surprising how development agencies pretend to pose unaware of role played by giant infrastructural intervention in amplifying the destruction and damage right from Uttarakhand floods of June 2013, Kashmir floods of Sept 2014 and March 2015 to the Nepal Earthquakes of April-May 2015.
Kindly explore SANDRRP blog link to read second part of Maletha struggle
Bhim Singh Rawat, SANDRP, email@example.com