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A hydro onslaught the Himalayas cannot take

  • IASbaba
  • September 3, 2021
  • 0
UPSC Articles
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ENVIRONMENT/ GOVERNANCE

  • GS-3: Environment Conservation
  • GS-2: Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.

A hydro onslaught the Himalayas cannot take

Context: The affidavit filed recently by Union Ministry of Environment in an ongoing matter in the Supreme Court has recommended the construction of seven partially constructed hydroelectric projects in the Uttarakhand Himalaya.

Expert Committees on Hydro Projects in Himalayas

  • After the Kedarnath tragedy of 2013, under guidance of SC,an expert body (EB-I) was constituted to investigate whether the increasing number of hydro-power projects in Uttarakhand was linked to the disaster. 
  • In its findings, EB-I said there was a “direct and indirect impact” of these dams in intensifying the disaster. 
  • Later, Union Government formed committee after committee until it got approval for these projects with some design changes.

Concerns/ Criticisms

  • Short-Term gains long-term loss: Dam lobby who promote hydro projects as green energy, wants to go ahead with such projects for short-term monetary gains despite the dire warnings of climate change threats and environmental challenges.
  • Questions over sustainability of the dams: Hydropower solely relies on the excess availability of water. Retreating glaciers and the alternating phases of floods and drought will impact the seasonal flows of rivers.
  • Existence of sediment hotspot paraglacial zones, which at the time of a cloud burst, contributes huge amounts of debris and silt in the river, thereby increasing the river volume & endangering dams. 
  • Social Displacement: Hydro projects are capital intensive ventures that negatively impact local communities and their livelihoods. 
  • Intensifies Natural Disasters: The proliferation of the hydroelectric projects in these eco-sensitive Himalayan regions accelerate the intensity of flash floods, avalanches, and landslides. Ex: Rishi Ganga tragedy and the disasters of 2012 (flashfloods) was aggravated by dams.
  • Sinking of mountain slopes: The construction and maintenance of an extensive network of underground tunnels carrying water to the powerhouses contribute to the failure of mountain slopes.
  • Economic Feasibility issues: By the time they are constructed, the cost of electricity generated will also be phenomenally high and would have no buyers. 

Way Forward

  • It is high time the MoEFCC formulated a written position on climate change adaptation with respect to the hydropower sector, after a thorough public discourse.
  • Considering the environmental and cultural significance of these areas, it is imperative that the Government declares the upper reaches of the Ganga as eco-sensitive zones. It must allow the river to flow unfettered and free.

Connecting the dots:

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