Dams and Dams

While the recent trend in river management in the West and America is to decommission big dams, the Government of India, irrespective of the party that runs it, is hell bent on damming every river, no matter whether it is the holy Ganges or an insignificant rivulet in the Himalayas. Recurring natural calamities do not deter them from executing suicidal projects from which contractors and bureaucrats only benefit. They are destroying environment and future as well. Also, many Indian dams have been a source of strained relations with its neighbours, particularly Bangladesh and Pakistan. They call it multi-purpose but the only purpose big dams serve is to fatten the coffers of vested interests. And evictees suffer and they will continue to suffer in the coming days unless the culture of river management is reversed and the persons in authority change their policy.

The proposed 162.8 metre high mega multipurpose dam at Tipaimukh in Churachandpur district (Manipur) will lead to cutting down of more than 7.8 million trees, destruction of bamboo cultivation spread across 25,000 hectares, displacement of 90 villages and 40,000 inhabitants when the land goes under water, and the obliteration of endangered species of flora and fauna. The highly seismic region is inhabited by several ethnic Naga communities. The project is expected to generate a mere 412 mega watts of electricity, even though the project’s installed capacity is about 1500 mw. The foundation for the project was laid in December 2006, by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Bangladesh fears that during the monsoons, when the proposed Tipaimukh dams’s spillway gates are opened to let out excess water, it would cause flash floods in Bangladesh. The project may cause massive destruction of the ecology downstream of the Barak river in Assam, and the Tuivah river in Manipur. Then the Delhi Sultans don’t bother about human tragedy and ecology.

The Srinagar hydropower project is under construction at Srinagar on the Alaknanda which is the major tributary of the Ganga. The Dhari Devi Temple is located in the submergence zone of the 30 km long reservoir of this project. The Temple consists of a Holy Rock akin to one at Vaishno Devi. An idol has been placed in front of the rock. Adi Shankaracharya is believed to have done penance here. The Company making the project has proposed to submerge the Holy Rock and reinstall the idol at a platform built on pillars at the same location. This means that mankind will be deprived of the spiritual charges of the rock forever. It is like submerging Hemkund Sahib, Mecca or Jerusalem for the generation of hydropower.

The endangered Mahseer fish lives in the lower Ganga. It migrates to upper Ganga to lay eggs. This migration will not be possible because the Srinagar Dam on Alaknanda will obstruct its path just as Tehri has done on the Bhagirathi. Moreover, all aquatic life like worms and tortoise downstream will be affected because the sediments and debris will be trapped in the reservoir of Srinagar Dam. This is their food. About 350 hectares forest will be submerged in the reservoir leading to loss of biodiversity.

The Directive Principles enshrined in Indian Constitution require the State to minimize the inequalities in income. Hydropower does exactly the opposite. The environmental loss is mostly borne by poor people. They are deprived of sand and fish. They fall sick due to breeding of mosquitoes and emission of poisonous gasses from reservoirs. Their water sources go dry due to blasting in the mountains for making tunnels. Their houses develop cracks. The livestock do not get fodder as the forests are depleted. The electricity generated, on the other hand, is used by the urban rich for running air-conditioners. The State Government gets 12 percent free power. It sells this to generate revenue. Fifty percent of the revenue is used up in paying salaries and pensions to government officials. In this way hydropower transfers resources from poor to the rich.

For one thing the developed countries want India to reduce thermal generation because the developed countries are affected by the carbon emissions. They want India to increase hydropower generation because the negative environmental impacts are mostly local. And the Manmohan Singhs are dancing to the tune of big brothers!

Vol. 46, No. 4, Aug 4-10, 2013

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