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Hydropower Projects
in Uttarakhand
Displacing People and Destroying Lives

crore people due to mega projects of all

sorts. Dams and HEPs are the biggest culprits as they have displaced about threefourths of all project-affected people,
while only a quarter of those thus displaced have been resettled.
Hydropower Development

Rakesh Agrawal

There has been an unthoughtout

rush to build hydroelectric power
projects in Uttarakhand without
assessing the ecological, social or
economic costs of their
implementation. The government
is not even sure of how many
projects are planned and of what
capacity. Written well before the
recent destructive floods hit the
state, this article shows the
extent and nature of the
developmentalist disease which
has afflicted our planners and
policymakers. It will provide
some background to the debates
on the link between the damage
to the environment and the
destruction caused by the floods.

Rakesh Agrawal (

is a Dehradun-based researcher on natural
resource management and grass-roots


olicymakers have a grand vision

of turning Uttarakhand, an ecologically fragile and sensitive
Himalayan state, into an Urja Pradesh
(energy state) and have planned 558
dams and hydroelectricity projects
(HEPs) on its rivers to produce thousands
of megawatts (MW) of electricity, most of
which will be sold outside the state.
The ex-chief minister, Ramesh Pokhariyal Nishank of the Bharatiya Janata
Party, tried to sell this dream to the people of the state, promising them employment and development, unmindful of
the grave ecological and human disaster
it would cause. With all these dams and
run-of-the-river projects, the rivers of
the state, including the Ganges, will flow
inside tunnels and the present river
streams will run dry. Uttarakhand, also
called the water tower of India, will be
bereft of water. It will also displace
thousands of people from their homes
and destroy their fields and forests. The
resulting mass migration will create
massive unemployment through the
loss of extant livelihoods, which the
few low-end and menial jobs for locals
from these development projects will
hardly recompense.
Even the new chief minister Vijay
Bahuguna of the Congress is pursuing
the same line and is a vocal supporter of
dams and HEPs. He wants to revive all
these projects under the misplaced
notion that they are the pillars and symbols of development and are necessary
to yield power. This reflects the mindset
of policymakers, cutting across party
lines, where development should be
pursued at all cost, irrespective of its impact on the poor, deprived and havenots. This paradigm of development is
being followed all over the country and
not just confined to Uttarakhand. It has
resulted in the displacement of a few
july 20, 2013

The picture of Uttarakhand is no different. However, there is a discrepancy in

the governments own data about the
status of dams and HEPs and a total lack
of reliable information about people
affected, displaced and resettled by
these projects. It raises more questions
than it provides answers.
In Uttarakhand 558 dams and HEPs
have been planned that will convert
1,152 km of river length into underground canals. The Uttarakhand Jal
Vidyut Nigam Limited (UJVNL), the state
governments nodal agency to construct,
run and operate HEPs in the state, provides only outdated data. It claims that
the total number of projects ongoing,
under construction and planned is only
290. These include those in the small
(less than 1 MW), medium (between
1 and 25 MW) and large (above 25 MW)
categories. However, the chief ministers
office claims there are 557 HEPs in
Further, discrepancy in UJVNL data
can be spotted. While it mentions 104
projects2 being developed by state, central and private sectors, the separate list
of all these three sectors adds up to just
953 and if we add up those being developed by different agencies UJVNL,
Uttarakhand rural electricity development agency, a central sector as well as
private sector this number jumps to
137. The matter does not just end here.
When it talks about the projects under
operation, it lists 43 projects, ignoring
the fact that three large projects have
been cancelled by the National Ganga
River Basin Authority (NGRBA) in 2010.
Ravi Chopra, the director of Peoples Science Institute, a Dehradun-based public
interest organisation, and a member of
the NGRBA has also underlined the
shocking state of governments own information and has used the Right to
Information (RTI) Act through which he
received a list of 557 projects existing,
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Economic & Political Weekly


under-construction and planned from

the chief ministers office.
There were 113 projects in this RTI list
which were common to the UJVNL list. If
we combine the remaining 177 from the
UJVNL list with those listed in the RTI, the
total number of HEPs planned,
under construction and existing comes
to a whopping 734! Out of them, 155 projects are listed with an installed capacity
of 5MW or more. Subsequently, a public
interest litigation (PIL) was filed against
56 HEPs in the Uttarakhand High Court in
2011 and the government, instead of arguing its case, cancelled the registration
of all these 56 HEPs one day prior
to the hearing. So now there are 678 HEPs
(if we take the full figure of 734 we arrived at) and not 557 existing, under construction and planned HEPs in the state.
Here it is important to remember that a
river is not just as a body of water;
it is a wholesome entity of water, silt and
organic matter and the HEPs, when fully
operational, will reduce them to nothing
more than a canal of sterile water in
Uttarakhand. The clearest example of
this is the river Ganga whose sediment, as
a study conducted by the National
Environmental Engineering Research
Institute (NEERI) finds, has traces of radioactive elements and heavy metals like
uranium, thorium, zinc, lead and copper
that gives it its legendary self-cleansing
property (NEERI 2012). Now, because of
these HEPs, the Ganga sediment gets
trapped and when its water is released by
the sluices of the projects, it is largely
bereft of this property.4
Dams and People
Even with the number of project-affected
people, there is no reliable data available
with the Uttarakhand government
which maintains a stoic silence on this.
The state government considers only
those displaced or where villages lie in
the vicinity of tunnels to be among the
affected people. But many villages lie
above or below the length of these
tunnels and people living in these villages are also affected since their homes
also develop cracks and water sources in
these villages dry up. Further, the mountain sides get weakened by the blasting
and give rise to landsides. This becomes a
Economic & Political Weekly


july 20, 2013

permanent threat to people living below

and above these dams and HEPs.
Just a glimpse on the route through
which the Ganga flows is an eye-opener.
Here, an area spread over about 45 km
from Maneri to Dharasu has become
parched, leaving just a 100-km long
stretch. But, harbingers of development
are determined to put obstacles in this
natural inflow zone of the river as the
projects like Pala-Maneri, Loharinagpala,
Bhaironghati-I and Bhaironghati-II have
been planned precisely on this stretch
that will terminate the very existence of
the Ganga. This mighty river will be
reduced to an underground canal flowing almost entirely inside tunnels, visible
only at a few spots.
This is against the declared policy of
the Government of Uttarakhand that
only run-of-the-river projects will be
made. Run-of-the-river projects are
built alongside the natural river flow
without disturbing it. This refers to
mini- and micro-hydroelectricity plants
like those on gharats (traditional watermills) where river water is not diverted
and no tunnel and reservoir are created. However, the present run-of-theriver projects are massive and involve
diverting the entire river inside submountainous tunnels and drying up the
original riverbed.
Now, if we only talk about the two
mega projects: one in Garhwal and
another in Kumaon Tehri and Dhauliganga projects we will come to know
the destruction they have caused and
benefits they would yield. These projects
have been constructed with the purpose
of flood control and generation of HEP.
The Tehri dam is on the Bhagirathi
river, which is a tributary of the Ganga.
The dam measures 855 feet in height and
is believed to be the fifth tallest dam in
the entire world. It was designed to produce 2,400 MW of electricity.5 The Tehri
dam is located in the seismic gap of the
central Himalayas, which is known to be
a major geologic fault zone. The region
is highly earthquake-prone and along
with reservoir-induced seismicity, the
danger of this dam being hit by a major
earthquake is quite high.
Even if the danger of the earthquake
is in the realm of probability, this HEP is

vol xlviii no 29

producing less than 30% of its installed

capacity of 2,400 MW. This is the same
dam that displaced thousands of people
and was instrumental in creating a huge
flood in Tehri in 2012. The Dhauliganga
dam and power plant has been constructed near Dharchula in the Pithoragarh district on the border triangle between India, Nepal and China of the Indian
Himalayas by the National Hydroelectric
Power Corporation (NHPC).6
This concrete-faced rock-filled dam
has a height of 56 metres and a crown
length of 270 m. The dam axis is sited at
a V-type valley with very steep side
slopes. The rock layer is formed of biotite
gneiss and augen gneiss with streaks of
mica schist that are not very strong. This
mega-project displaced more than one
lakh people, many of whom were relocated to urban outer fringes in cities like
Dehradun, Haridwar and Rishikesh
where, deprived of their natural and
social networks, many sold their newly
allotted lands at throwaway prices.
While these oustees are now reduced to
menial and daily-wage labour, those
they sold their land to have become very
rich as the land prices in these colonies
have shot up.
Of the thousands who lost their land
and were displaced, this project has provided regular employment to 162 local
people and one member each of 36
affected households. There are many
households in a number of villages in
the Tawa Ghat area in Pithoragarh district that are even now waiting for resettlement since 2005; rehabilitation will
come later.
The government that had cleared
major HEPs on the upper reaches of
Ganga has had to suspend work on
them because of overwhelming opposition in the state, particularly after the
devastation created by the 2012 monsoon.
If the work on these projects restarts, it
will not only reduce the river into a dry
canal, it will also result in further massive displacement of people and loss of
their land and livelihood, besides submerging large areas resulting in loss of
forests and biodiversity.
In October 2012, because of massive
landslides and floods created by the 2012
monsoon, the Ganga was overflowing


the danger mark in Srinagar in Garhwal

where it blocked the operation of the existing Maneri Bhali-I project and also
created havoc in the Tehri project.
The example of a village nestled in an
invigorating and picturesque Himalayan valley Chaen in Chamoli district
tells us a lot about the destruction
caused by an HEP. It has been totally
devastated by the 400 MW Vishnuprayag Hydroelectricity Project, built by
the J P Company. All 136 households
have been affected; 20 houses have
been totally destroyed, 25 have developed cracks and 27 households are
forced to live like refugees in the railway reservation centre in Joshimath,
the nearest town 12 km away, because
of relentless explosions and tunnelmaking by the company. Through all
this, their pleas for resettlement have
fallen on deaf ears.7
NGRBA members have also noted the
inhuman condition created by the 600
MW Loharinag-Pala HEP in Uttarkashi
district during a field tour in January
2010 where several houses in Salang
hamlet of Tihar village had developed
cracks due to blasting by National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC) (Agrawal 2009). The affected households told
the team that they had complained
about this to the NTPC officials, but
the company paid no attention (Chopra
et al 2010).
Of the HEPs which are operating in the
state, there are 34 projects commissioned by the state government with
an estimated potential of 1,305.9 MW;
there are three central government
projects of 1,400 MW and eight private
sector projects of 458.85 MW (ibid). In
the state, especially its hill regions, rural
electrification remains a low priority
with only 15.5 MW supply.8
No precise data about the number of
people displaced by the operational and
under-construction HEPs in Uttarakhand
is available, nor how much land is submerged. However, even assuming that
only 2,000 villages, a bare minimum,
have been affected by these projects and
further assuming that only 100 persons
have been affected in each village, we
still reach a figure of about two lakh
people or about 2% of the states

current population. This is a very

conservative estimate and the actual
number will be much larger given
that these HEPs destroy or dry up most
traditional water-harvesting sources,
a large number of houses develop
cracks and mountain sides are damaged
by landslides.
Current Scenario
Uttarakhand remains largely rural with
69.45% of its population living in villages
and 58.39% of its workforce engaged in
agriculture. But agriculture land in the
state has decreased from 7.91 lakh ha in
2009-10 to 7.41 lakh ha in 2011-12, as
revealed by Om Prakash, principal
secretary (agriculture), Government of
Uttarakhand. One can imagine how
many more people will lose their primary livelihood if all the 558 proposed
dams and HEPs are constructed. Although
at 1.917%, the population growth rate is
not alarming, large-scale migration of
people from the hilly regions to the
plains has been a constant factor and
will only increase.
The total power demand in Uttarakhand is calculated at 2,400 MW but
electricity production is just 1,300 MW.
This is so because the installed HEPs
in the state are working far below
their capacity. For instance, if only
the Tehri HEP was running at its full
capacity, no other HEP would be needed
in the state!
The demand for more and more power
reverberates through the state. But the
lions share of power consumption is
from industries and urban extravaganzas like the airconditioned mega
malls concentrated in the plains of
Dehradun, Haridwar and Udhamsingh
Nagar districts. More than 54% of power
consumption was by the industries;
domestic consumption and agriculture
consumed only 27%.9 Less that 13% of
the total electricity is consumed by the
hill regions of the state.
The estimated shortfall of electricity
in Uttarakhand is between 700 MW and
800 MW a day. There are more than 100
HEPs that have been constructed but are
lying defunct. If these can be maintained and operated they will generate
about 1,000 MW a day and the state
july 20, 2013

will become power surplus. Then there

will not be any need to construct any
new HEPs.
Traditional fuels continue to meet
about about 58.5% of the energy needs
in the state. Wood is still used for cooking by more than half the total households (54.6%).10 Overall, fuel wood
contributes to around 65% of the total
energy requirement. Given this context
of present day daily energy consumption
in rural Uttarakhand, how much of
peoples displacement, their loss of land
and livelihood and the destruction of
natural resources like land, water and
forests is justified to produce power for
the plains? This question needs an
urgent and just answer, particularly
from the supporters of HEPs.

See Uttarakhand Jal Vidyut Nigam Limited

Website, Operational Plants, accessed on 22
June 2013. http://uttarakhandjalvidyut. com/
details.php?pgid= 77&type=03c7c0ace395d8
2 See List of Hydro Projects Being Developed by
Various State/Private Agencies in Uttarakhand.
accessed on 22 June 2013, http://uttarakhandjalvidyut. com/bd5. pdf
3 See documents for list of projects by UJVNL, CPSUs, and IPPs, accessed on 22 June 2013 http://uttarakhandjalvidyut. com/bd2.pdf, http: //uttarakhandjalvidyut. com/bd3.pdf& http: //uttarakhandjalvidyut. com/Hydro%20 Proj ects%20
Being% 20Developed%20by%20IPPs.pdf
4 See article on Tehri Dam, accessed on 22 June
2013, http://www.indianetzone. com/34/tehri_dam_uttarkhand.htm
5 Ibid.
6 See article on Dauli Ganga Dam, accessed
22 June 2013, http://www. indianetzone.
7 Ibid.
8 See UJVNL website, accessed on 22 June 2013,
9 See Uttarakhand Government Portal, Electricity and Water Supply, accessed on 22 June
10 See State of Environment Report of Uttaranchal, Environment Trust section VIII, Energy,
pp 179.

Agrawal, R (2009): Hydro Project Reduces Chain
to Rubble, Civil Society, February, pp 12-13.
Chopra, R, S K Sinha and R H Siddiqi (2010):
Report of Non-official Expert Members of
National Ganga River Basin Authority: Field
Tour to the 600 MW Loharinag-Pala HydroElectrical Power Project and Surrounding
Areas, January, p 3.
NEERI (2012): Water Quality of the Bhagirathi,
Ganga in the Himalayan Region: A Study by
NEERI, India Water Portal, accessed on
22 June 2013, http://www.indiawaterportal.
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Economic & Political Weekly