Posts Tagged ‘environment’

Hydropower in India

I was returning from the beautiful valley of Spiti, and in the last leg of my journey, my bus moved towards Shimla from the beautiful town of Rekong Peo, or ‘Peo’ as the locals call it. Immeresed in the beauty of this valley, I noticed that the landscape changed suddenly, and soon, there appeared a dam on the river. For the next few kilometres, the river ran in a tunnel, and its natural course remained dry. Here, the river had a natural drop of around 900 metres over a short distance, and this was being used for hydropower generation. After a few kilometres, the river emerged from a tunnel, and began its flow again, in its valley. I had a mixed bag of feelings, and then, read the name of the project- Nathpa Jhakri Hydro Power Station.
On reaching home, I read about the project and realised that it is the largest Hydroelectric Project in India, with an installed capacity of 1530 MW. This is a run-of the river project, and since the river runs in a deep gorge here, there is no displacement of people involved. The number of families affected is around 200. The reservoir is not of a significant size and after a short distance, the natural flow of the river is restored. Besides, there are other similar projects being built upstream and downstream on Satluj, including Rampur HEP and Luhri HEP. Satluj Jal Vidyut Nigam manages this project, and is now involved in many Run of the river projects in Uttarakhand and Nepal.
Uttarakhand is one of my favourite destinations, and all the major roads in this state run along the four rivers- Yamuna, Bhagirathi, Alaknanda and Mandakini. These rivers are the essence of this state and its people. In total, there are around 100 small and big hydropower projects planned and operational in Uttarakhand. Many of these projects are less than 60 MW capacity, but still, they do divert the river into tunnels. Many of these projects are under private sector. Intense construction activity is going on all over Uttarakhand, at the sites of these projects. In fact, at every point where a tributary joins any of the main river, a project is being constructed.
Now, after this background, I come to the main point. On one hand, we have Nathpa Jhakri- The largest HEP in India, where few people were displaced, and the natural flow of the river was not ‘drastically’ tampered. There is no big reservoir, and hence, the associated problem of displacement, submergence, deforestation and earthquake prone-ness do not arise. Also, the present capacity is being augmented with additional projects, modelled on the same lines.
On the other hand, there are a number of small HEPs being constructed. The Ganga River system is being lost in tunnels, one after the other, and a substantial part of it is under private hands. There is one huge Multipurpose project too- The famous Tehri Dam.
I am not against Hydropower, In fact, it is a viable way to address our energy needs. What I am against is irrational HEPs being constructed in a fragile ecosystem, which even if individually are small, but their sheer number is evoking a disaster. I wonder if a collective ‘Environment Impact Assessment’ of these projects has been done. Also, the natural flow of the river is being seriously compromised.
What India needs is more projects like Nathpa Jhakri, but not an irrational approach in the grab of development. After Tehri Dam was made, it was conceded that the dam should have never existed. It is a disaster in waiting. The ecology in Uttarakhand has been badly effected due to the ongoing activity. Lots of political ruckus is being generated in the support of these dams, but what I realised was that the Hydropower Companies are fuelling this Pro Dam agitation, to counter the environmentalists.
But, are we all unable to see the rivers being raped?
We have all raped them in the plains, turning them into gutters. Now, how could we spare them in the mountains? The rape has started, and now, reached where these mothers arise, with projects coming up as far as Badrinath.
All is not well.

Jairam Ramesh- The Activist Minister

It is not very often that a minister in the government becomes dear to activists and a cause of concern for his own council of ministers, but Mr. Jairam Ramesh fits into this rarity, rarer than the Indian Tiger, which the minister has been keen to revive.

What prompted me to write this is a video depicting him braving the filthy waters of Yamuna in Delhi to check the quality of water. Come on, he needs an applause for this. Braving the sludge, stench and sewage infested water and actually dipping a hand in it to smell it, Mr Ramesh, you rock, all previous faux pas pardoned (like the comment after he took up the soil of Bhopal factory to say that it was safe!!!).

The work by him has brought recognition to a ministry which was unheard of previously; and it is a fact that the ministry has provided environmental clearance to >95%of he projects that came to it, but rejecting the remaining 5% has brought him into limelight (for the first time) – The bauxite mining issue in Niyamgiri Hills by Vedanta.

I analysed and found out that the environment ministry has a lot of work to do, and it was merely a rubber stamp most of the times. I want to ask how many environment ministers do we remember before him?

Kaam karo to bahut kaam hai, na karo to kuch nahi.

– Controlling pollution- in all its forms, Emission targets, regulations and environmental clearances, forest dwellers’ rights, maintaining and preserving biodiversity, national parks, sancturies, dealing with man- animal conflicts, keeping rivers and lakes clean, dealing with industrial disasters, afforestation, wetland management. In short there are many things to do. And the tussle between economy and ecology is coming up more in these days, as on one side, India wants to sustain its 9% economic growth, on the other side the issue of Environmental Impact Assessment has gained momentum, and due to the spread of activism and role of media, gone are the days where villages could be submerged without raising a hue or cry.

The minister has been vocal to the demand of civil society to make public statements against big hydropower projects coming up in the North East, but this has also invited the wrath of his colleagues, where I must mention the Chairman and Deputy Chairman of Planning Commission, as it is on their shoulders to maintain the pace of growth.

Mr. Ramesh has also been on an all India tour, visiting the Tiger projects, National Parks- This delights me; rather than sitting in his office, here is someone who goes out there and cheers his sub-ordinates, also making them aware that a visit is just round the corner, keeping them on the toes. The tiger must be happy, and yes- its count is increasing.

His work is difficult, I agree, and he has done a good job. Not that all his policies are correct, but such checks and balances are needed, and now, at least the environmentalists have faith in him (I believe). Just adding a tit-bit, he is an IITian from IIT Mumbai and has studied at MIT.

One parallel to him- Dr. Ambumani Ramadoss, remember him? He was the one who stressed for pictorial warnings on cigarette packets, wanted the doctors to serve in villages compulsorily, fought against The AIIMS director. The similarity is that even he did not have many supporters in his government and wanted to take the decisions that need courage; whether they were correct or not is a different issue.

India needs leaders who think independently, and work with a free hand. For change to happen, the beginning has two occur from either of the ends- one is the top- that is the Executive (council of ministers) and other is the people- the grass root level. The correctness of decisions is determined by the circumstances that follow, but those taken by a rational mind, under the free will are blessed to turn out as the better choice.