By Y.S. RANA,CHANDIGARH—DEC 11—Hydro-power is the main source of energy. The mindless construction of dams on various rivers in Himachal Pradesh risks the livelihood of people besides triggering natural disasters. But who is listening. Mega projects are continuously being built to bind rivers on seismically sensitive zones. What will this imply, this stopping of the flow of state’s rivers, damning them?
In the state, some facts are clear, flashing a stark statement on the flawed policy in the name of development. The state has a wide network of rivers—Jhelum, Ravi, Chenab, Beas, Satluj, Yamuna. All over the State, large-scale and small power dams are being built on these rivers and on their tributaries. Hydro-projects in hill States contribute to 66 per cent of total power generation in the country.
According to sources, there are 536 small hydro projects on these rivers in the State, including those complete, under construction and still that are proposed, with total capacity of 2267.81 mw power generation. So far, 112 small hydro projects has been installed in the State generating 375.38 mw power and 40 such projects are under implementation with capacity of 137.7 mw power generation.
The facts speak for themselves. The famed river Satluj and its tributaries have 35 dams dotting its flow. On the other major rivers, mega projects with capacity of 20463.5 mw power such as Baira Siul Dam; Bhakra Dam; Chamera Dam; Nathpa Dam; Pong Dam; Pandoh Dam and Ranjeet Sagar Dam have been constructed and a number of small projects on their tributaries.
The State along with 23 states have announced for setting up commercial small hydro projects through private sector participation. Up to December 2010 the state has approved 63 small hydro projects with total capacity of 271.25 mw power generation.
The damages are colossal. Displacement is an inevitable fall-out of any such project, with villagers having to cope with the loss of settled lives; their houses and fields are flooded, their livelihoods jeopardized, depletion of ground water level, drying up of natural resources. Who is accountable for the human and natural fall-out of such fast-paced and mindless development?
The effects are not in the immediate sense. Pong Dam construction began some three decades ago amidst voices raised against it by locals and environmentalists. It has displaced a number of families and many families though not displaced entirely were affected by the dam. Pong Dam oustees are still struggling to be rehabilitated.
It is a matter to ponder over seriously that over the few decades, the same questions persist. Who is paying the price for development and who is benefiting? It appears if these questions have not been answered then the definition of development and adoption of policies are flawed.
Arun Ahluwalia, a renowned geologist said that construction of projects and colonization of Himachal had brought the biodiversity in danger. Not respecting the majesty of Himachal is itself a travesty, wantonly destroying its natural environments that act as a bulwark for the region and we are now paying the price. “Agricultural lands are barren. Villages exist but people have migrated. Water resources and rivers are drying up are some of the alarming signs,” added Prof Ahluwalia.
It is stated that there were at least 100 large dams in the country that were 100 years old. The South-Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and Peopl’s states there are around 500 dams which are between 50 and 100 years old. Environmentalists suggest that time has come when we should make policy for solar and wind energy.
Recently, to meet the every-increase in demand for power, the Ministry of New and Renewal Energy has created a database of 5718 small hydro projects potential sites with an aggregate of power capacity of 15,384 mw.
After 65 years of Independence, yet to formulate a clear, defined, legally binding accountability mechanism in case of dams disaster to lives, livelihood and environment, warned Prof Ahluwalia. If we have not learnt lessons through the years of mindless destruction, its fall-out on human and natural resources would be serious. EOM