The Srinagar hydroelec
tric protect being built on the
Ganga in Uttarakhand is a classic example of how they are inviting environmental catastrophe. This project will convert the Ganga River into a 30-km long stinking reservoir. This will have many severe environmental impacts. The sediments that are food for fish and that renourish sea coasts will be trapped. A study by Nagpur-based National Environment Engineering Research Institute has found that the Ganga water has specially powerful coliphages. These are beneficent bacteria. These coliphages become active whenever there is influx of pollutants and eat them away. They settle in the sediments. These sediments are especially rich in copper and chromium which have bactericidal properties. The sediment also has minute levels of radioactivity which may have a bearing on creation of these beneficent coliphages. Making large number of dams on the rivers impacts the sediments in two ways. Large amounts of sediments are trapped in the reservoirs behind the barrage. Making the river flow through tunnels removes the friction between water and the rocks and thereby prevents creation of these sediments.
In a global study by Switzerland-based institutes it was found that incidence of malaria around man-made reservoirs was about 7 percent higher than surrounding areas as mosquitoes will breed profusely in the reservoir.
There will be an increase in landslides. Houses of people living near hydropower projects routinely develop cracks because of blasting during making of tunnels and because of land subsidence.
Yet many local people support the project despite these environmental hazards. Argument is that objections to the project should have been made earlier; not when the project is nearing completion. This argument ignores the fact that the first Petition against the project was filed in the High Court in 2008 when construction had just started; that many representations were made to the State Government about illegal activities of the project authorities such as capture of forest land in excess of approved, not demarcating the acquired land, etc.
And usual populism is that local people will lose their jobs in event of stoppage of the project. This is factually true. But the jobs and contracts are only for a period of five years during construction. Only a handful of local jobs-probably 50 or 100 will remain after construction is complete. The long term loss of jobs from closure of other opportunities is much greater. About 350 hectares forest land, and more private land will be acquired for the project and will get submerged into the reservoir. The loss of jobs from this land will be much greater. The potential of job creation from the services sector will be hit. Hospitals, universities and software parks can be established on the banks of naturally flowing rivers with excellent results. Conversion of Ganga into dry bed or stinking reservoir will kill this opportunity. Lacs of hoteliers and taxi operators make a living from the Char Dham Yatra in Uttarakhand. This Yatra will be less after Ganga is killed.
Not that hydro power is to be opposed blindly. The solution however lies in the changing design of the hydropower project. A partial obstruction should be made on the river bed, instead of a barrage across the entire bed, to take out part of the water for generation of hydropower and leave remaining riverbed free to enable downward flow of sediments and upward migration of fishes. Such a design will increase the cost of generation of electricity from present Rs 4 per unit to, say; Rs 5 per unit but the environmental and social costs will be reduced by about 90 percent. The basic trick lies in abstracting water from the river without making an obstruction across the river bed. The Tajewala Barrage on the Yamuna in Haryana did precisely this. Water for the Eastern Yamuna Canal was taken out by erecting gates on the side of the river. Water used to go into the canal through the gates due to the centrifugal force as the river took a turn. The Taziminia hydropower project in Alaska also takes out water from the river in a similar way. An opening is made in the river bed where there is a natural pool. Water slips into the tunnel without requiring construction of a barrage. This project is small-only 825 KW. But there is no reason why this method cannot be used for other larger projects.
Vol. 45, No. 11, Sep 23 -29 2012
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