The disaster in Uttarakhand on June 16-17 has reignited the debate on the merit and demerits of hydro power projects.
The Supreme Court has expressed concern on the issue and put a freeze on construction of power projects and directed the Central Government to form an experts committee to review the effects of these projects. Since inception of Uttarakhand in November 9, 2000, the interim BJP State Government had given the slogan of making Uttarakhand an ‘Urja Pradesh’ following which successive State Governments allowed indiscriminate and unscientific construction of power projects in the State.
People affected by the construction of these projects, concerned citizens, environmentalists and people from various sections of the society opposed these projects but the State government ignored their concerns while the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests facilitate the construction of these projects without proper study of the environmental and other impacts. Inspite of the wide spread devastation caused in Uttarakhand recently, for which many blame the power projects, the politicians in power continue to favour the construction of hydro power projects at the cost of the environment. Since State formation, in the Ganga river valley alone, 11 power projects are under construction, five projects are generating power while 41 projects are proposed.
During the recent disaster, the lamgarh barrage of the 400 MW Vishnuprayag power project was destroyed. The damage wreaked in Pandukeshwar and Govindghat is also believed to have been caused by this project. The once green and environmentally rich area of the Alaknanda valley starting from the Valley of Flowers now appears to be deserted and shows signs of destruction due to the power projects.
The barrage of the under construction 530 MW Tapovan Vishnugad project about 15 km from Joshimath was also damaged. The coffer dam of this project broke down last year. A tunnel boring machine has been stuck in the tunnel of this project for the past three years while water has been leaking in a dangerous manner from this tunnel for the past four years. The geography of Govindghat has changed while debris from the 252 MW Devsari power project in the Pindar valley has caused damage from Deval to Karnprayag. The Nanda Raj Jat Yatra which is conducted once every 12 years involves devotees walking to the destination. They walk from Karnprayag to Deval but this route is not left now. The government has failed to improve the situation and has instead postponed this important religious Yatra.
Garhwal University geologist Dr SP Sati states that there are about 70 under construction power projects on various rivers in Uttarakhand. About 50 lakh cubic metres of debris have been dumped in the Alaknanda from the Srinagar power project. He said over 1.40 cubic metres of debris must have been dumped from 70 under construction projects which lent a devastating edge to the disaster.
Himalayan geologist Dr KS Waldia said that the recent disaster was not natural but man-made. Based on his research of more than four decades, he said that the explosions carried out for construction of the projects and debris dumped from here have caused the devastation experienced here in June.