Tirthan, a tributary of the Beas river in Himachal Pradesh, is one of the rarest of rivers in India.
Not because it is teeming with trout, or because the tiny valley is home to nearly 100 species of butterflies, or because it has several functioning water mills running with flow of the river, but because it is protected by the Himachal legislature and by a court ruling as a free-flowing river. This means that no hydropower and dam projects can be built on the river.
While calculating the costs and benefits of dams, there are no similar discussions when it comes to a free-flowing river. How does a free-flowing river touch lives? Does it provide people with services, with succor, with hope? What are the tangible or intangible benefits of free-flowing rivers?
At the cusp of spring this year, photographer Abhay Kanvinde spent some time with the residents of Tirthan Valley. Here are some of his impressions:
This is not to say that everything is perfect in Tirthan valley. Too many hotels are being built on the riverbanks, construction debris finds its way into the rivers, sewage treatment is limited, the list goes on. But compared to the neighbouring valley of Sainj, with numerous mega hydropower projects, Tirthan and Jibhi valley hold on to something special: their autonomy.
The residents of Tirthan valley take initiative in protecting the forests, grazing lands and rivers, they are not “displaced or project affected people” stuck in a cycle of protests, fights and negotiations. The river, in turn, provides much to them, including employment. Perhaps the free-flowing nature of their rivers has rubbed off on the residents of the Tirthan Valley too.