The mountains of Uttarakhand are fragile and new. Hence, Uttarakhand is inherently vulnerable to various kinds of disasters, such as high intensity rainfall, cloud bursts, landslides, flash floods and earthquakes. Its geology is ridden with fault lines. Climate change is increasing the frequency of extreme events. Our developmental projects need to take this reality into account.

However, we have not done a credible environmental, or social, impact assessment (EIA) for a single project — a fact that even our former environment minister has accepted. We do not have a credible public consultation process; local people do not even get the EIA in their language.

The Expert Appraisal Committees that the MoEF appoints are effectively agents of project developers. They do not apply their mind to the inadequacies of the EIA or the public consultation process. We need a credible cumulative impact assessment that takes into account all kinds of interventions in river basins. The assessments are inadequate, and are done by agencies such as Water and Power Consultancy Services or IIT’s (Roorkee) Alternate Hydro Energy Centre, raising questions of conflict of interest.

A large dam diverts the whole rivers into underground tunnels that could be up to 20-30 km long, and wide enough to carry three trains side by side. These tunnels are blasted by massive use of dynamite in fragile, landslide-prone mountains. This paves the way for townships, roads, deforestation and submergence. The State has over a hundred (a very conservative estimate) such projects. Each clearance is supposedly given after several conditions and environmental management plans are adhered to, but the Environment Ministry has confessed that it cannot ensure compliance with any of these aspects. Besides, the electricity output of these projects is not up to the mark.

Hydro projects have magnified the effects of heavy rain in Uttarakhand. Mismanagement of operations of the Tehri dam has led to floods in downstream areas. The claim of Tehri Hydro Development Corporation that in the absence of Tehri dam, Rishikesh and Haridwar would have been washed away is completely unfounded. Floods on the Bhagirathi on which the Tehri dam is situated occurred on June 16, while the peak flood downstream on the Alaknanda occurred on June 17. It is true that in the absence of the Tehri dam the floods would have occurred downstream a day earlier. But that does not mean the peak level would have been higher.

Areas downstream of the Tehri dam faced an avoidable floods disaster in September 2010. If the dam is not properly managed, we may be in for a repeat later this season.

We need to stop this blind rush for projects which are increasing our vulnerability. There are other options for electricity. We need to rethink development, taking local people and conditions into account.

Courtesy: Business Line