Activists claim idol deliberately removed to favour infrastructure firm GVK and help expansion of Shrinagar hydel project
While rains pound Uttarakhand, causing floods and widespread devastation, the idol of the deity at the Dhari Devi temple in Shrinagar has gone missing. The temple is being relocated by raising it on a platform to make way for the expansion of the Shrinagar hydro-electric project; the move had triggered a major controversy with various religious and local groups vehemently opposing the project.
Officials of Alaknanda Hydro Power Co Ltd (AHPCL), developers of the Shrinagar hydropower project, had shifted the idol on Sunday at 7.30 pm. Three priests and two local residents lifted the idol after it was cut off from its base on a rocky hill, by AHPCL employees. The idol was taken to an elevated platform that was constructed by the AHPCL as the deity's new seat. But after two pillars of the structure gave way, the idol was hurriedly taken to an undisclosed location.
Move to shift idol advanced
AHPCL, a subsidiary of infrastructure major GVK, had been trying to relocate the Dhari Devi temple from its original site near Shrinagar town. This would prevent the temple from being submerged by the project, and would facilitate the enhancing of the hydro-electric project’s capacity from 200 MW to 330 MW. GVK was given the task of completing the project in 2006 after its construction remained suspended for nearly 20 years due to financial crunch and other factors.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), too, has been opposing the temple relocation. In July 2012, senior BJP leaders, including L K Advani, Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley, submitted a memorandum to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, requesting him not to relocate the temple, and demanding Uttarakhand be given 2,000 MW of free power instead. A petition was filed in the Uttarakhand High Court in Nainital, and later in the Supreme Court in 2011 and 2012 respectively by activist Anuj Joshi and retired IIM professor Bharat Jhunjhunwala.
The Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) on May 7, this year issued orders to stop the work to raise the level of the Dhari Devi temple. The work is 98 per cent complete. The move followed close on the heels of the ministry’s submission to the Supreme Court that the temple should not be shifted at all because of the religious sentiments attached to it. However, the MoEF on May 16 revoked its ‘stop-work order’ to relocate the temple after the apex court criticised it and reserved order on relocation. The final judgement would be pronounced after the court reopens.
AHPCL had submitted in the court that it would relocate the idol on July 13, 2013. AHPCL officials say the idol was relocated in a hurry as the temple was in danger of being submerged due to heavy floods in the region.
If the Supreme Court in its final order directs AHPCL to bring back the deity at its original position, AHPCL would have to do it, says an aide of Bharat Jhunjhunwala, the petitioner in the case, who was unable to speak due to ill health.
“We have submitted everything in the Supreme Court. The court knew that the date for relocating the idol was July 13. We have nothing to worry. The court had asked MoEF to revoke the stop work notice and it is unlikely that the court would go back on its word in its final judgement,” says Mannava Sodekar, law manager of GVK.
Suman Nautiyal, one of the members of Dhari Sewa Samity (DSS), alleges the priests of Dhari Devi Pujari Nyas were bribed by AHPCL to shift the idol. DSS, formed by local women, had been staging a dharna at Srikoti, a kilometer away from the temple, for the past three years against relocation of the idol. “The AHPCL employees filled water in the tunnels and channels of the project and raised the water level artificially. On Sunday evening, they raised an uproar that if they don’t shift the temple as soon as possible, it will be submerged (in the flood). Within minutes, AHPCL employees came with all the gear and cut off the idol from its base,” says Nautiyal.
On the collapse of the new structure, Nautiyal says, “Dhari Devi had come to that place of her own wish. Such accidents prove that the devi (goddess) would not accept any other place.” She believes the idol was taken away and nobody knows its whereabouts. “The devotees have been cheated by the AHPCL and Pujari Nyas,” she says. Lakshmi Prasad Pandey, member of organisation Pujari Nyas, refutes all allegations but says that he does not know where the idol is at the moment.
“Just when the idol was lifted at 7.30 pm on Sunday, there was lightning and heavy rains. It is the wrath of nature that has been unleashed on Uttarakhand now. The floods and landslides are because of the unhindered exploitation of the natural resources. The government should learn from this,” says Hemant Dhyani, a member of non-profit Ganga Aahvan who plans a protest march in Haridwar on June 22 and 23.
Sources say the state government had been pushing for the relocation of the Dhari Devi temple as it was a major obstacle to starting AHPCL’s hydro-electric project.
WP (PIL) No. 137 of 2009 by Shri Ram Lal and others vs. Union of India in the High Court of Uttrakhand at Nainital regarding Environmental Clearance to M/s Alaknanda Hydro Power Company for Srinagar Hydroelectric Project
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