To reach world level, India needs 5.6 times its current installed capacity; to ‘electrify’ every Indian to reach world level of consumption might result in environmental disaster of unimaginable proportion if coal-and-cement Mafia determined technological options take primacy over sustainable ones. With T&D losses, a euphemism for theft, pegged at 40% against 6% for China and 11% for Indonesia, the ruling elite can’t blame the former colonialists for keeping us in the dark. (2) The thoughtless plan for milking Himalayan waters is already showing terrible devastation that we are systematically documenting, with the fervent hope that our concerns result in saner voices prevailing over GDP driven crack-pots in Delhi.
The Oil flowing from ‘The Himalayas’
"Water is to us what oil is to Arab," said the King of Bhutan (3). There could not have been a more absurd comparison but then kings, and ‘queens’ even in democratic societies, must be tolerated; idiocy is actually a monopoly of non-performing political assets. Thrust upon the democracy, government economists ensure that the formula for mass extinction appears as gross domestic product or gross domestic happiness without accounting adjustment for idiocy as factor input. I have proved their genocidal strategy several times, but failed to decipher how the ruling elite itself will survive having poured the sixth bowl. The wrath of the Gods takes different forms and shapes; perhaps Gods unravel themselves in many ways.
The Himalayan potential for hydro-power is ‘reassessed’ at 248,871 MW detailed in Map 1. The estimated country-wise potential is: Pakistan: 41,722 MW, India 108,143 MW; Nepal 83,000 MW; and Bhutan 16,000 MW. (4) Micro hydels are excluded from this estimate.
In Himachal Pradesh about 286 micro hydel projects of below 10 MW have been approved, many under execution. (5) True data are not available; much is under wraps.
The mad scramble to loot water is on without care or concern for the environment. At least one major dam has been constructed without environmental clearance; rivers are being diverted, rivulets redirected, debris from construction work is destroying forests, shrubs, creating water channels that were never there. All this is seriously eroding ecosystems that have supported thousands of livelihoods in the mountain areas and millions in the basins that are served in the plains. Those who oppose this wanton destruction are called ‘anti-development.’
This paper focuses on projects in Himachal Pradesh state, which accounts for about 20% of hydro-electric potential of India. The pressures due to the projects and climate change are briefly touched upon. The state of affairs is documented with examples from several project areas and then villages where ecosystem destruction has threatened livelihoods. The paper further explores impact on ecosystems at three Chamba villages and one Kangra village with photographic evidences. The response of the government is discussed under relevant heads including questions of conflict of interest. The responses of the civil society are briefly documented.
Given the scale of hydro-electric projects in this ecologically sensitive state in particular, and the Himalayan region in general, the paper raises questions of long term sustainability of these projects and survival of millions of South Asians in the mountains and in the plains.
2.1 Hydro-electric projects in Himachal Pradesh
(a) Large projects
The hydro-electric power potential in Himachal Pradesh is estimated at 20,386MW, which is 24.27% of India’s total potential. Of this, 6,045 MW [29.65%] has been harnessed so far, 2720.5 MW [13.34%] is under execution. Techno-economic feasibility studies are complete for 3,011 MW and in the process of completion for 3,671.5 MW. Survey has been completed for 4187 MW. Him Urja, a new agency administers micro-hydel projects. [Table 1]
The Satluj basin is targeted for heaviest exploitation with 9420 MW projects spread over 37 locations. Beas basin comes next with 4,582MW, spread over 26 locations. Ravi and Chenab basins account for 5042MW spread over 46 locations together. Yamuna basin straddles two states [Himachal and Uttaranchal] and accounts for 591.5MW spread over 12 locations. Thus, 45 projects are either operational or under execution. [Table 2]
Out of 115 projects, 23.5%  are large [over 200 MW], 37.4%  are medium sized [50-200MW] and 45 are of under 50MW capacity. Satluj, Beas and Ravi basins account for 72.17% medium and large projects.
(b) Small projects
These have been defined and redefined in accordance with pressure of the lobbyists. Currently projects under 50-MW capacity are called small-hydels. These projects are exempted from preparing Environment Impact Assessment reports.
About 286 micro-hydels, with total capacity of 601 MW, have been approved. The project areas are spread over all five basins with a view to utilizing water flows of hundreds of tributaries and streams. [Table 3]
Indications are that Him Urja, the state Government organization that oversees development of micro hydels, has already approved over 300 projects adding up to 750 MW. Available data is given in Table 3; basin-wise data is being compiled.
2.2 Water resource in Himalayas
The Himalayas sustain two of the world’s largest river basins (Ganges-Brahmaputra and Indus). While 58.01% of India’s land area falls under Ganges-Brahmaputra basin 33.51% falls under Indus; 52.28% of Pakistan falls under Indus basin (6). It implies that 1.927 million sq. km area of Pakistan and India is directly served by the Himalayas. [Table 4]
Various estimates indicate that water resources in the Himalayas are declining (7). While the glacier resources in Himalayas are second largest in the world (Table 5a) recent Chinese studies show that 95% of the glaciers are retreating (Table 5b).
Water from the Himalayas flows from glaciers and the mountains. UNEP and the Kathmandu-based International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (UN-ICIMOD) found that 20 glacial lakes in Nepal and 24 in Bhutan were filling up so rapidly that their walls could breach by 2009.  In Garhwal Himalayas of India, glaciers are retreating at record pace. ‘The Dokriani Barnak Glacier retreated 66 ft (20.1 m) in 1998 despite a severe winter. The Gangorti Glacier is retreating 98 ft (30 m) per year. At this rate scientists predict the loss of all central and eastern
Himalayan glaciers by 2035. 
Mountains act as water table and hold enormous quantity of water. Glaciers do not normally melt during winter; it is the water released by the mountains that feed Himalayan river systems during the winter months. The glaciers and the tree covered mountains together make Himalayan Rivers perennial.
The medium and long term human and environmental consequences of such a large number of hydro-electric projects and associated construction activities (roads, power house, transmission lines, administrative buildings, housing for workers and engineers) are yet to be assessed.
3. State and impacts
3.1 Large projects
Bhakra project, completed in 1963, was the first large, integrated energy-cum-irrigation project in the state. It caused displacement of around 36,000 people and completely submerged Bilaspur town (See Image 3). Even after 50 years many of the dam oustees have not been properly compensated and about 2,500 oustees unable to claim rights to allotted lands because of opposition of local communities to accommodate them. The lessons in pauperization were shoved under the carpet. The two major dams starting in the 1980s (Narmada and Tehri) raised huge controversy because of which there was a relative lull in damming of rivers for about a decade. Dissenting reports emerged, more recently of Sripad Dharmadhikary, but they were drowned in the cacophony of more energy, more hydel projects. Frenzied activities started. Surveys were completed in double quick time, projects were offered, bids received, and environmental clearances given.
In the second phase remote, sparsely populated locations were selected, perhaps to avoid R&R controversies but these projects have become controversial on environmental grounds.
► Parbati projects, a combo of three totaling over 2000 MW, straddles Great Himalayan National Park. Few have been displaced but the environmental cost will be enormous. A GIS-based hydrological case study  of Hurla basin, part of the Parbati II project, shows that inter-basin transfer of water will severely affect the ecological and, consequently, social stability of the area. Discharge data and observations of flows of Manihar, Pancha and Hurla rivers were studied over 2004-06 and the following facts emerged:
► Nathpa-Jhakhri, 1500 MW, another mega project, straddles Kinnaur and Shimla districts. Between April and September 2004, three of the project’s six units had to be stopped due to excessive sedimentation of the reservoir. In August 2004 generation was stopped due to fears that an artificial lake Parcchu in Tibet could breakout and cause dam failure; 3,000 people had to be evacuated from the Sutlej valley. (11)
► Karcham Wangtu Hydro-Electric Project (KWHEP), 1000MW project, is already mired in controversy. The EIA prepared by NEERI has been subject to searing criticism for lack of transparency, objectivity and depth. Opposition to the project on ground of diversion of water and destruction of habitat due to construction activity led to firing by the Police on unarmed people in December 2006.
► Chamera-I has been in the news for wrong things. Project affected villagers were not even informed about the impoundment and had to run from their homes when the reservoir began to fill up. ‘Strong-arm tactics to evict people are common in NHPC operations’ says one analyst (12). In fact, NHPC has ridden roughshod over even state government objections.
Physical verification, discussions with PAPs and analysis of the way these projects are implemented shows that:
The four cases (Table 7) are from villages Sahoo, Jadera (Hul Nala) and Janghi, all three Gram Panchayats (Village council) of Chamba district. In Sahoo and Jadera villages local people had taken initiative to protect their forest about two decades ago. (Image 5 & 6)
Both villages have thick forests of oak and Barberry shrub. It also has rich wild life because of abundance of food and water. Suradi village of Kangra district is included because it shows devastation caused by access roads to project-site. (Image 7 and 8)
While the Hul Nala project was scuttled because of overwhelming opposition of the people the projects at Sahoo is under implementation. Janghi village has been affected because of Chamera – 1, a large project. Referring to the Table, it can be seen that of the seventeen, fourteen ecosystem services were either affected. The impacts on various ecosystem services are briefly discussed below:
The most important ecosystem services affected are fodder and access to grazing land, fuel wood and fresh water. Once the construction start roads are required for accessibility and project authority do not take precaution to stabilize the slope they also throw the muck by the hill side. When it rains this muck clogs the ‘kuhl’ which is main source of irrigation and drinking water. The debris by the hill side destroys the continuity of ecosystem making it difficult for women to access forest and grazing land. The debris creates artificial water channel which destroys the green cover of the mountains. All this affects access to fodder, grazing land and fresh water. In villages where farmers cultivate honey, destruction of shrubs reduces production of honey. In Hul and Sahoo, herb collection supplements household income which has suffered in nearly every project village.
Construction activities invariably disrupt ‘Kuhl’ and cause contamination of water. In its natural state, Kuhl water is clean enough for consumptive use of humans and animals.
In the three Chamba villages (Hul, Sahoo and Janghi), with some nomadic pastoralist (Muslim Gujjar) population, it has been observed that, irrespective of religion, people worship streams and forests. The nomads are so attached to nature that they don’t even spit inside forest area. They even create a deity (a large stone or cluster of stones), if there is none, and pay respect as they enter the forest. People in these parts are appalled that these commons are being expropriated.
Two points worth noting are (a) Small projects usually do not cause displacement as observed in large projects and (b) Project-related construction activities are far more destructive than project itself. Our laws only deal with displaced persons, not ecosystem desturction.
4. Policy gaps
Under current law, a project affected person is one whose home and/or homestead have been acquired for the purpose of the project and the person is now displaced. Damage to ecosystem affecting livelihoods is not even acknowledged under present R&R rules. Destruction of ecosystem leading to loss of livelihood is not recognized as project related adverse impact. Therefore, damages caused by small projects have thus far gone largely undocumented. It means that it is up to the individual household to seek compensation from PA through negotiation, mediation or arbitration.
In so far as large projects are concerned, claims of PAPs who are displaced are recognized; adverse impact on ecosystem due to diversion of water from rivulets or tributaries or construction activities causing livelihood destruction is not recognized as matter for claims. Even the Government has failed to recognize this fact in its recently amended. R&R Policy that is likely to be notified soon.
Third, regulatory bodies (MoEF, MoP, CPCB, State Forest department, etc) are silent on the optimum number of projects that should be located in a basin. For instance, given the number of projects located on Ravi, Beas and Satluj, the rivers are likely to have zero flow during most of the months on the year except monsoon over large stretch (estimated at about 50% of their respective course). This is because of large scale inter-basin transfer of water.
Fourth, given the inherent dangers of such intensive damming, the Government is silent on the sort of disaster avoidance and mitigation measures required to be in place.
And finally, most of these rivers are international. Should there be some sort of regional authority to oversee environmental impact at regional level? These issues have also never been raised.
5. Existing response
(a) Response of Government agencies
The role of government is to create conditions for sustainable development including formulating rules for desirable investment with due consideration for conservation and protection of fragile ecosystem services. These obligations are contained in existing rules and treaty obligations under Agenda 21 and MDGs. Three examples are given below:
(i) The Administration: Local officials in Himachal Pradesh have made it clear to the people that they have vested interest in these projects. Revenue officials are openly canvassing for these projects collecting signatures from villagers for approval of projects. Where popular opposition is strong an environment of fear is being created by the local Police. Elected officials of GPs (Pradhans and up-Pradhans) offered petty contracts are overturning decisions of Gram Sabha which is unconstitutional. Those officials who are on verge of retirement have particularly played a very insidious role in forcing people to acquiesce because they want to join the management of PAs after retirement.
(ii) The Political Parties: When issues became extremely hot for political parties, the Chief Minister of HP ordered enquiry into project approval procedure and even suspended one senior official. However, media report suggests this is just a political bargaining game, to be forgotten after the state elections (to be held in December 2007/January 2008) are over.
(iii) The Judiciary: In one case the civil society found that construction work in a major project was progressing at break-neck speed without any environmental clearance. They filed a writ petition in the HP State High court. It has been alleged that the Judge hearing the case, instead of prosecuting the PA, is now actively seeking a compromise between PA and the civil society. The case is being heard; details shall be released in the fitness of time.
(b) The response of the affected communities
(c) The response of the civil society including the media
(i) Pressure groups: At the moment, nearly every district has an anti-dam forum and there is a state level federation working under the name of Himalaya Policy Campaign Committee or HPCC. All anti-dam movements are part of this loose federation. In 2006 strategy meet it was decided to collect data from each project site and confront all stakeholders with hard facts on ecosystem destruction and bring about relevant policy changes. This was approved in the general body.
(ii) The Media: The media has played a yeoman’s role over the last two years. If it had not been for the support of regional and local media, the PA and their supporters within the administration would have crushed the anti-dam movement. Key members of HPCC took it upon themselves to explain the media of the inherent dangers. Once the media-persons were convinced, they have focused their attention on real, core, issues. It is largely due to their reporting that the Chief Minister had to suspend a senior officer and review energy projects in this ecologically sensitive state.
6. Future response
Future response should ideally be based on hard data on the magnitude of impact on ecosystems and livelihoods. If ecosystems are destroyed, energy projects can’t sustain for long. If livelihoods are destroyed, sooner or later, there will be direct and violent confrontation. We hope to unravel what is going on in the state of Himachal Pradesh. However, any policy that excludes measures to protect the ecosystems is unlikely to be acceptable, never mind the power of kings, queens and the environmentally destructive, anti-people policies of the Indian administration.
The Himalayas are too precious to the world. Its mountains and rivers must not be allowed to be plundered for the benefit of the few.
1. International Energy Agency; Database, 2006-07
2. Central Electricity Authority, New Delhi, India;
3. ‘WAPCOS to prepare DPR for Bhutan hydel project’; The Hindu; March 3, 2004; http://www.bhutannewsonline.com/hydro_electricity.html
4. Compiled from several sources: [i] Central Electricity Authority [India data]; [ii] Federation of NGOs, Nepal [Nepal data] and [iii] Bhutan Government website [for Bhutan data]; and [iv] www.siteresources.worldbank.org/PAKISTANEXTN/Resources/pakistan-Development-Forum-2004/PSD.pdf [for Pakistan]. The reference period is 2004-07. The data is at best indicative.
5. Him Urja, a State Government agency, is responsible for identifying project locations and selecting entrepreneurs to take up micro hydel projects. It should be noted that the data refers to projects finalized up to 2005; http://www.hpseb.com/ravi_basin.htm
6. Yao Tandong, Liu Shiyan, Pu Jianchen, Shen Yongping and Lu Anxin, Recent glaciers retreating in High Asia and their impact on the water resources of Northwest China, Science in China, 2004;
7. Asia: International River Basin register; August 2002;
8. Kharka, Navin S; ‘Himalayan Melting Risk Surveyed’; Copyright Reuters; 2006
10. The study was conducted by INRM-Technology House Consortium and reported in Tribune newspaper, 2006. However, despite many attempts the author could not get hold of a copy of the original.
11. Schneider, AK; ‘The World Bank’s Legacy of Funding Hydropower Projects in India: Nathpa Jhakri’; International Rivers Network; October 2004; http://www.irn.org/programs/india/nathpa_jhakri.php?id=archive/NathpaJhakriReport.html
12. Malovika Vartak, http://www.nerve.in/news:25350055387
13. Discussion with Mr. R.S. Negi, Indian Administrative Service, (Retired) who was arrested for opposing the project in Dec., 2006)
14. South Asia Network on Dams Rivers and People (SANDRP) report on KWHEP; Sept-Oct 2003
November 13, 2007 Arun Shrivastava, [MA, MBA, MBIM, CMC] is an accredited management consultant, author of many books, reports, policy papers and articles and regular contributor to several news websites (www.globalresearch.ca, www.thepeoplesvoice.org, www.mynews.in/ etc). A former officer of Economic Development Unit [Birmingham, UK] and former visiting professor of Strategic Management & Business Policy at International Management Institute, New Delhi (1990-94), he is a founder-member of Himalayan Policy Campaign Committee. He lives in Delhi and can be reached at email@example.com.
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