Uttarakhand Chief Minister Vijay Bahuguna is a great champion of dams and hydro-electricity projects (HEPs), under the misplaced notion that they are the golden key to development. Alas, he is just following the path shown by his pathfinder, Nehru who declared them as the temple of modern India!
Now, lure of mega-money has also been added to his notion as these projects cost billion and everyone has a share in this loot, even a prominent NGO leader who is also a Padma Shri recipient.
But, some people were opposed to this notion tooth and nail and thankfully, policymakers listened to them when the Government of India (GoI), declared the 135-km stretch from Gaumukh to Uttarkashi that covers two cities, 118 villages and a population of 91,713, as an eco-sensitive zone (ESZ) that in effect, would meet his key demand to maintain the natural flow of Ganga from Gangotri to Uttarkashi and it shouldn’t be disturbed and no dams be built over it in this stretch.
Undeterred, Bahuguna took the ball in the Centre’s court. He personally met the Prime Minister and opposed the new ESZ declaration in the Bhagirathi Valley, which put tough restrictions on tourism and HEPs in the hill state. The state government’s opposition came a day after the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests issued a notification declaring 5km area on Bhagirathi river’s either side as an ESZ. The notification came despite strong protests by residents belonging to 88 nearby villages in the region. Interestingly, the notification was issued on 18 December 2012, but the state government came to know about it only in April 2013 and as the opposition took up the issue, all hell broke and Bahuguna on 7 May 2013, went to Delhi to lodge protest and even accused the GoI to keep him in dark, “The state government was not consulted and they have only seen the notification in a local paper and the Centre has not communicated anything to them. What shocked everyone in the government was that the MoEF also did not bother to take the state government in to confidence before issuing the notification.”
As per the Gazette notification a total area of 4179.59 sq km, comprising of 5 km on the either banks of the River, will come under the ESZ This will impose restrictions on quarrying, commissioning hydropower projects on Bhagirathi above 2 MW, and construction of roads in the prohibited area. Besides, it will impose a blanket ban on felling of trees and setting up of factories to manufacture furniture and other wooden items.
A rough estimate suggests that the projects worth over Rs 10,000 crores have been affected due to the declaration of eco sensitive zone. Little wonder, the contractors’ and builders’ lobby opposed it as it would affect their business, whereas the declaration will benefit locals since building huge hotels will be impossible then and only small hotels in local tradition and architecture will be allowed. Moreover, as the declaration forbids dumping of sewage into Ganga, it would keep the river clean and locals using its water will enjoy its clean and pristine water.
Then the disaster stuck Uttarakhand in mid-June this year, it became clear that such a zone was really necessary as although, it was triggered by massive rain and hence was a natural disaster, it was aggravated many folds because of these dams and HEPs as Uttarakhand has bumper-to-bumper dams that lie at every 18 km and became a manmade disaster because of the following reasons:
Relentless blasting and throwing of muck and debris: While blasting weakened the mountain joints and foundations of houses, throwing of muck and debris blocked the flow of the rivers and rivers were forced to flow out of their nature course and entered into people’s homes and villages. It also created landslides. Sringara HEP, a project near completion, near Srinagar town was responsible for silt entering into several houses of the town after this disaster, as it threw about 5 lakh tons debris.
Wrong operation of hydropower projects: It created greater disasters in the downstream areas. For example the operators of 400 MW Vishnuprayag HEP on Alaknanda River did not open the gates when the river was flooded on June 16-17, possibly to maximize power generation. However, this lead to accumulation of massive quantities of boulders behind the dam, so much so that that there was no space for water to flow. The river then bypassed the dam and started flowing by the side of the dam, creating a new path for its flow. This created a sudden flashflood in the downstream area, creating a new disaster there. Similarly, the incomplete, broken and ill designed protection wall of the Maneri Bhali projects in Uttarkashi lead to erosion and landslides in the downstream areas.
Many HEPs released water: Many HEPs released water after the flood in Uttarakhand as their reservoirs were over flooded. This caused extensive damage in downstream areas. For example, Tehri Dam Reservoir released 500 cumecs of Bhagirathi water.
The supporters of dams and HEPs and their cohorts waited for the enough water to flow down, before they could again start playing their nefarious game to start re-advocating these altars of death and destruction and sabotage the ESZ Declaration.
Little wonder that when the first meeting of the monitoring committee of the ESZ began in Dehradun on 18 Nov, no member of the committee reached and Chief Secretray, Subhash Kumar, who always beat his trumpet about how his government is rehabilitating the flood affected victims and how Uttarakhand is again on the path of development under the beacon light of his pathfinder, Bahuguna, left the meeting when his master, the very same guy: Bahuguna, called him. The members who had come from outside where very angry that no discussion on any scheme was held in the meeting.
Let, Uttarakhand, not fall victim to another human-made disaster.
Dams of varying sizes are either operational, under construction or proposed in Uttarakhand
of Bhagirathi and 61 percent of Alaknanda will dry up if all the dams are built
The 330 MW hydro project on the Alaknanda lies in the buffer zone of Nanda Devi Biosphere Reserve, which houses the Nanda Devi National Park and the Valley of Flowers. Both are inscribed as UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites
dams on Bhagirathi and Alaknanda should be scrapped in order to protect Uttarakhand’s biodiversity, says the Wildlife Institute of India
of the river will remain tunnelled continuously if the proposed dams are constructed
In 85 percent of the projects, alterations in capacity ranging from 22 percent to 329 percent were found, says CAG