Development Misplaced

(Dr. krishan Bir Chaudhary)

The horrific disaster in Uttarakhand had to happen. Since late 1990s when decision to exploit Himalayan region’s estimated 150,000 MW potential, all sorts of firms have gotten into hydro-electric projects. Some have long term commitment and have many years of experience in construction and management of power stations. Others have gotten into this sector because of abnormal profit potential and many years of regular income. Still others have entered the sector because of their political contact.

On just one river, our Holy Ganges, sixteen [16] projects are operational, thirteen [13] are under construction and fifty four [54] projects are proposed and in various stages in Uttarakhand. If we just focus on Alaknanda river basin which is a major tributary of the Holy Ganges, six [6] projects are operational, eight projects [8] under various stages of construction and twenty-four projects [24] are proposed.  A very fragile mountain eco- system has been devastated by these projects.

Both the Central as well State Governments are totally responsible for destroying the Himalayan eco-system and experts fear that it may take seven to eight decades to recover if further destruction is stopped right now.

Successive Chief Minister in the hill states of Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand have been charging hefty bribe for approving power projects on per Mega Watt basis. They have even mobilised their administration right down to revenue officials to speed up land acquisition and transfer to the project authorities; if people objected, they were threatened and silenced.

While all the mischief was going on, the administration was sleeping on State’s Disaster Management Authority. Year after year, funds allocated for disaster management and training were allowed to lapse.

The administration has allowed heavy vehicular traffic sometimes carrying 40 to 60 tonnes of load on roads and bridges suitable only for light vehicular traffic. They closed their eyes to violations of various environmental protection acts on conservation of aquatic life, forests, compensatory afforestation, and even basic safety rules and norms for on-site workers.

Even the Comptroller and Accountant General [CAG], after surveying a sample project sites concluded that “no specific measures had been planned/designed in any project to cope with the risk of flash floods. The adverse consequences of such floods are acute as they can not only damage the project structures but cause loss of life in low lying downstream areas. Also, the bigger the project, the greater should be the efficacy of the preventive measures.” [CAG; 2009]

It is shocking that despite serious warning by independent technical experts, and despite many public interest litigations in the High Courts, many projects have been allowed and not one project has been rejected on technical grounds.

Is the Uttarakhand State Government running a for-profit company or a Government? 

While the losses can be estimated for built infrastructure, can anyone figure out the immense losses to ecosystems on which the marginal hill farmers depend? Will these project authorities and the state government compensate the losses they have caused to the local people?

And the loss of lives? Entire families have been wiped out.

Is not the right time to completely stop this sort of destructive development? 


(Editorial : Kisan Ki Awaaz Magazine)