Uttarakhand rivers dotted with over 40 hydroelectric plants

  • | Tuesday | 9th February, 2021

The hydropower plant projects of Uttarakhand hs come under the lens after the flash flood that claimed several lives in Chamoli on Sunday. Experts believe that the over-exploitation of rivers in the fragile Himalayan ecosystem is leading to several catastrophes.

The hydropower plant projects of Uttarakhand has come under the lens after the flash flood that claimed several lives in Chamoli on Sunday. Experts believe that the over-exploitation of rivers in the fragile Himalayan ecosystem is leading to several catastrophes.

At present, several hydel projects — with a cumulative capacity of around 2594.85 MW — are operational in Uttarakhand. In fact, India’s first hydro-power station was commissioned at Galogi near Mussoorie in 1907. The station still remains functional.

#UttarakhandDisaster | Dehradun-based Indian Institute of Remote Sensing (IIRS) says, "A landslide scar at an eleva… https://t.co/AsY33QECPM

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The rivers and basins in the state are dotted with 43 micro hydel projects. Between 2005-10, the state gave nod to the construction of over a dozen hydroelectric projects (HEPs). The state also has 17 major HEPs — including the one involving India`s tallest dam in Tehri on the Bhagirathi, Maneri Bhali HEP (Stage I and II), Chilla HEP, and Chibro HEP, among others.

In the past, locals and activists have protested against the Vishnugad-Pipalkoti HEP on the Alaknanda. Earlier, an expert committee of the Supreme Court (SC) on the Kedarnath deluge of 2013 had also warned not to construct any hydropower plant in the upper Himalayas but the warning was largely ignored. The SC committee had warned that the ‘river-bed profile’ across the major HEPs of Uttarakhand has changed significantly, suggesting the possibility of disasters in future.

“Neglecting all warnings of the experts, rampant construction was carried out in the sensitive zones even after the 2013 Kedarnath deluge. Notably, two dozen hydropower plants of Uttarakhand were rejected by the Supreme Court after the expert panel report,” said Hemant Dhyani, member of the high-powered committee (HPC) appointed by the Supreme Court for the Char Dham All-Weather Project.

Seven years ago, the Kedarnath expert committee in its report had warned about the excessive exploitation of vulnerable regions and the need to re-study and re-evaluate the HEPs of Uttarakhand. The report also objected to HEPs at an altitude of over 2000 metres. The report, a copy of which is with TOI, read, “Potential threat of landslide, cloudburst, subsidence, flash floods has increased tremendously in the past few years and many critical zones need immediate attention as pointed out by the Geological Survey of India.”

Ravi Chopra, who chaired the Kedarnath committee and is also chair of the SC-appointed HPC on the Char Dham project, said, “The dams in Dhauliganga valley should not have been built, which included Tapovan-Vishnugad which was damaged on Sunday and Rishiganga project which was swept away. We had recommended that no dam in the high Himalayas, be built as these are highly sensitive zones.”

The committee had concluded in its 2013 report, “Existing and under-construction hydro-power projects in Uttarakhand have led to several deleterious environmental impacts. Among the significant impacts are on the river ecosystem, forest and terrestrial biodiversity, geological environment, and social infrastructure.”

The study also mentioned that a lot of anthropogenic pressure due to different activities related to HEPs was alarming and needed checks. It read, “The committee strongly recommends that a detailed study of the impacts of the hydropower projects in terms of deforestation/tunnelling/blasting/reservoir formation of the hydrogeology of the area should be carried out.”

“It is now time that those who ‘approve’ and those who ‘execute’ such environmentally-sensitive projects be held ‘personally’ accountable for any such disasters,” said Chopra.

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