Green activists say blasting has loosened soil and made mountains more susceptible to landslides, while power companies argue that dams have cushioned the impact of flash floods and protected areas downstream…
The recent deadly floods and landslides in northern India have sparked a debate about hydroelectric power projects in the ecologically fragile Himalayas. Green activists say blasting has loosened soil and made mountains more susceptible to landslides, while power companies argue that dams have cushioned the impact of flash floods and protected areas downstream. At least 1,000 people were killed and more than 5,700 are still missing following floods and landslides triggered by heavy rain in northernIndia last month.
“A disaster of this magnitude is bound to open up new approaches. We need power, of course, but at the end of the day you are building on a fragile ecosystem,” said Nirmalya Choudhury, a senior research associate with the New Delhi-based Council on Energy, Environment and Water. He said Indian agencies contracted by State and private companies don’t assess the impact of hydroelectric projects while they are being constructed, contrary to widely-followed global practice. Instead they rely on assessments made before projects are built.
But Government officials and companies complain that hydroelectric projects are already held up for long periods while clearances are obtained. In India, clearance for hydro projects can take as long as eight years.
India plans to add 88,537 megawatts of power generation capacity by March 31, 2017. The Planning Commission, the country’s main policy think tank, has projected that about 12 per cent of this will come from water sources. Himalayan rivers will play a big role.
D.P Bhargava, technical director of State-run NHPC Ltd., India’s biggest hydropower company, said power projects are adequately planned and not anti-environment. He suggested the construction of hotels and other buildings on the edge of rivers was more damaging. Action Aid said Uttarakhand courted disaster through rapid construction and aggressive construction work along river banks. The construction of more than 245 hydroelectric dams and mining projects along the 14 river valleys in the State within the last decade has posed an enormous ecological threat, it said in a statement.
“Rivers have been diverted, hills blasted and forests destroyed, causing large-scale soil erosion and landslides. Debris from the construction has raised water levels, which contributed to flash flooding,” it said.
Debabrat Patra, Uttarakhand regional manager for ActionAid’s India office, said diversion of water had affected villages as hillside farms have dried up and trees have stopped bearing fruit. “Although their houses exist, they are as good as displaced,” said. “They have to look for other livelihoods.”
India’s Power Secretary P.K. Sinha and Uttarakhand Chief Minister Vijay Bahuguna weren’t available for comment. Prodipto Ghosh, director at the New Delhi-based Energy and Resources Institute, said India should continue with hydropower projects but better implementation is necessary. He pointed to Austria and Switzerland as examples to follow.
– WSJ: India Floods Spark Hydropower Debate