Activists Oppose Uttarakhand Hydropower Projects, Get Fined By High Court, Why?!
Activists feel punished and insulted by fine imposed by court for demanding justice for Uttarakhand flood victims
We felt like someone de-robed us in public, we felt so insulted. The court not only dismissed our petition, it also robbed us of our dignity.Atul Sati, Environment Acitivist & Petitioner
On July 14, the Uttarakhand High Court dismissed a public interest litigation plea seeking revocation of environmental clearances given to certain hydropower projects in Uttarakhand. The plea had argued that after the devastating floods in the region in February 2021, these environmental clearances had become redundant.
It is not just the dismissal of the petition that irked the environment activists who moved the petition, but also the manner in which it was 'thrown out' by the court. In addition to dismissing the petition, the court slapped a fine of Rs 10,000 on the petitioners just for approaching the court with their concerns.
Instead of giving a verdict on the merits of the case, the court dismissed the petition by simply questioning the credibility of the petitioners. In an order that just runs into 4 paragraphs, the court refused to acknowledge the petitioners as 'social activists', called their petition 'highly motivated' and an 'abuse of PIL jurisdiction'.
The high court's order had more fury than factual analysis. Atul Sati, one of the 5 petitioners, told The Quint that the court did not even bother to test the veracity of the claims raised by the petitioners, or accord them a patient hearing before reaching its conclusion.
This petition seems to be a highly motivated petition which has been filed at the behest of an unknown person or entity. The unknown person or entity is merely using the petitioners as a front. Therefore, the petitioners are merely puppets at the hand of an unknown puppeteer.Uttarakhand High Court
A Plea to Restore Uttarakhand's Ecology
The five petitioners - Sangram Singh, Sohan Singh, Bhawan Rana, Atul Sati, and Kamal Raturi - are residents of Raini and Joshimath villages in Chamoli district. The area has for long been affected by ecological imbalances, which the petitioners claim, are due to the hydropower projects being developed there.
In February 2007, the people of Raini and Joshimath faced the worst wrath of the flooding of Rishi-Ganga and Dhauli-Ganga basin. What is called by many as 'Chamoli disaster', the floods took lives of at least 200 people and displaced many more.
Since then, the displaced villagers and survivors of Chamoli district have been running from pillar to post seeking rehabilitation and compensation. But the government has not budged an inch in reconsidering the hydropower projects in Rishi-Ganga and Dhauli-Ganga basins.
Therefore, the petitioners moved the high court seeking judicial intervention in the matter. They asked for revocation of environmental clearances given to the Tapovan-Vishnugad and the Rishi Ganga Hydro Projects and adequate compensation for families who lost their loved ones in the floods.
Further, the petitioners also demanded a direction to the Uttarakhand government to ensure safe rehabilitation of the residents of Raini village along with ecological restoration of affected areas, a ban on blasting and river-bed mining in the flooded river basins.
The petitioners also stated in their plea that NTPC and Rishi Ganga Hydro Project Pvt Ltd should be blacklisted and held liable for criminal negligence for continuing their 'harmful and unscientific' construction.
NTPC and Rishi Ganga Hydro Project Pvt Ltd shall be blacklisted from hydropower sector for inflicting irreparable damage to the local ecology through wilful non-compliance and violation of various environmental norms and recommendations made by the Supreme Court expert body.The petition filed by the environment activists
Court 'Erased' Years of Struggle
The petitioners believe that the high court had a constitutional duty to pass judgment on the facts of the case and not the character of those who filed the case.
It doesn't matter whether the person who moved the petition is a social activist, political leader, or a common man, the court should base its judgment on the merits of the case.
This not the first time activists had moved court challenging hydropower projects in the State. While on previous occasions courts have gone to the extent of stopping development projects, in our case, the court chose to reject the very need of our petition, along with questioning our integrity.Atul Sati, Petitioner
The petitioners are particularly taken aback by the doubts cast by the court on their integrity and activism. The told The Quint that despite giving proof of their identity and work on affidavit, the court refused to them as activists or 'bonafide petitioners'.
3 of us (petitioners) are the residents of Raini village itself which was worst affected by the floods. The petition was moved as per the unanimous decision taken by the Gram Sabha of Raini village. One of us (Bhawan Singh) is the head of the Gram Sabha, and the other (Sangram Singh) is an ex-member of the panchayat who had earlier moved the same high court against the Rishi Ganga Hydro Project. Why didn't the court doubt his intentions then?Atul Sati, Petitioner
The petitioners believe that the court completely negated their decades of activism, which includes petitions before the same court. The court also called them 'puppets' being controlled by some mystery person, a very grave charge, without mentioning who this person may be.
For a common citizen of the world's largest democracy to believe, especially when he himself is a victim, that he can stand before the court and plead for justice, it is necessary that such discouraging decisions be reconsidered.Sangram Singh, Petitioner
We Will Continue To Fight
Although the petitioners say they feel insulted and betrayed, they remain committed to keep fight for the ecological restoration of Raini village. They told The Quint that they derive their strength from the resilience of the hundreds of villagers themselves.
When we told the villagers about the court's order, they were so traumatised, they started crying. They thought they had done 'something wrong' by approaching the court and now the government will never rehabilitate them. However, the women of the area pulled everyone together and encouraged everyone to fight again.Atul Sati, one of the 5 petitioners
Inspired by these women, who Mr Sati says 'stand like a wall of support', the petitioners have decided to take their fight to the next level.
The petitioners have decided to move the Supreme Court challenging the order of dismissal and fine imposed by the Uttarakhand High Court. To support their litigation costs, petitioners have also started a fundraiser and have been galvanising the community for support.
Mr Sati believes that a court's order can't make them stop years of struggle. There's so much more that needs to be done, and he told The Quint that he won't stop till justice is achieved.
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