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Uttarakhand Flood 2013 (Bharatgyan)

Uttarakhand Flood 2013 (Bharatgyan)

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Published by Srini Kalyanaraman
Himalayan Tsunami, Waiting to Happen, Happened - Why?
D.K.Hari and D.K.Hema Hari, Founders, Bharath Gyan
Himalayan Tsunami, Waiting to Happen, Happened - Why?
D.K.Hari and D.K.Hema Hari, Founders, Bharath Gyan

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Published by: Srini Kalyanaraman on Jul 17, 2013
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02/12/2014

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Experience the Knowledge of India
Himalayan Tsunami, Waiting toHappen, Happened
 –
Why?1
Himalayan Tsunami, Waiting to Happen,Happened - Why?
D.K.Hari and D.K.Hema Hari, Founders, Bharath Gyan
 
What is different about 2013?
June 2013 has been a month that will be etched in the minds and hills of the Himalaya for the large scaledevastation wrought about in the valleys of Kedarnath.The Himalaya are known to be earthquake prone. But this devastation was not due to an earthquake butfloods due to a cloudburst.The pilgrim towns in the Himalayas that have been devastated by floods this year have been where theyare for so many millenia. Would they have come up there if it were so flood prone?Have these hills not witnessed cloudbursts before, in all these years? What is so different this timearound then?
In the last few years, have we been doing something different in these hills? Something that our  predecessors did not? 
 An Overpowering Situation
The journey upstream along the major rivers Alakananda and Mandakini reveals the answer.Dotted with more hydel plants than green plants is a barren mountainscape that greets our eyes as wego up along these rivers to the upper reaches of the Himalaya. We see a plethora of Hydel powerprojects being built on the main river itself at close proximity.With 42 hydel power plants operational and 203 more in various stages of approval, planning anddevelopment, it boils down to one hydel power plant every 5 to 7 kms of the river flow downstream.Power Plants being constructed on the slopes
 
Experience the Knowledge of India
Himalayan Tsunami, Waiting toHappen, Happened
 –
Why?2This was not the landscape that was home to the humans, flora and fauna that have been living theresince millennia.The number of Hydel projects in these hilly areas of Uttaranchal have infact prompted these regions tobe derisively nicknamed as
Urjachal 
-
Urja
for power,
achala
meaning mountains.
 Aren’t these numbers
overpowering? Is this not a sign of overpowering greed? Could this sudden surge of power plants be the reason for the recently being witnessed disaster in thisbelt? 
Contract With the Hills
Most certainly, for the amount of funds and effort being invested in the erection of each power plant,sufficient attention may have been given to test the soil conditions. The ability of the terrain there towithstand the drilling, blasting and damming needed for the power plant would also no doubt havebeen analyzed and necessary approvals procured.But hills being hills and a fragile ecosystem and terrain at that, the effects of such heavy dutyconstruction cannot be expected to stay localized to the ground on which that power plant is beingconstructed alone. The vibrations would ripple across the hills and valleys causing the rocks and soil toloosen and crack at the slightest cause.It is like a pack of cards stacked up like domino. It is hard to say which card will cause the pile to cave in.
Who then can guarantee that scooping out of portions of one hill will not cause damage elsewhere? Do the few government bodies really have the wherewithal to ascertain and rule out suchimplications? 
Imagine the strain on the hills when it is being blown up and drilled every 5 kms.Little wonder then that a heavy downpour due to a cloudburst can literally pull the ground away from
under one’s feet causing breeches, landfalls and flashfloods.
 Media had been highlighting this issue for a while, villagers too. Warnings were there for the traditionalstake holders of the land to see physically and raise orally. They seem to have got drowned in thechannels of power.Development in this region does not appear to be an ecology based model but more of a contractordriven model.Worse still, this so called development in this area is not for the people on the hills but to benefit thepeople living in the plains and cities below.
Does this not seem like a case where approvals hardly have a role to play? 
 
Experience the Knowledge of India
Himalayan Tsunami, Waiting toHappen, Happened
 –
Why?3
Does this not seem like a free for all or first come - first served or first claimed scenario? 
Shifting the Silt 
 Silting is Welcome Here
Every river by nature has silting. But heavy to very heavy silting is a unique feature of all Himalayanrivers, whether they flow north, south, east or west. These rivers originate in glaciers high up in theHimalaya. As the glaciers grind over the rocks and flow out as these rivers, these rivers bring downmineral rich silt from the hills.It is because of this silting nature of these rivers, that right from Haridwar where Ganga enters theplains, to Bangladesh, the land is fertile. It is the silt, alluvial soil brought by the waters that has madethese lands fertile.The Gangetic plains of eastern Bihar, Bengal and Bangladesh were formed by such silt naturally filling upthe sea bed. The enormity of silt brought down from the mountains, every day, every hour of the riverflow, can now be imagined.This silting has been a boon for the people in the plains. No wonder then, that this belt is one of themost fertile and consequently densely populated regions of the world.
Cost of Silt 
Look at the cost of building dams across such silting rivers.When a dam is built across such rivers, the storage area of the dam will be filled with silt within a fewyears to a decade. While the cost of desilting is one factor, where can so much silt be manuallyrelocated?
Is sale of silt perhaps anticipated as a byproduct of this power generation? 
 
Instead the better way would be to tap all the excess water flowing over a certain level, which will havelesser silt and take it away downstream through series of canals for other needs. This method has stoodthe test of time and has been found to be sustainable.One of the earliest examples, dating back to over 2000 years ago, is the Sringaverapura water diversionsystem built near Varanasi. While this system is in the plains, this principle is time tested and valid forthe Himalayan rivers.Another drawback of building dams across such heavily silting rivers has been observed by the CAG. Asexplained in their report, the silt in a river slows down the river as it comes downstream, making it lessturbulent. With the construction of hydel projects across these rivers, the river waters are routed intoturbines for generating power and then released back into the river stream.

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