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Unjustified construction of hydropower projects in Ganga and Himalayas

Written By mediavigil on Thursday, September 23, 2021 | 5:08 AM


Shri Narendra Modi
Hon'ble Prime Minister 
Government of India
New Delhi

Date: 23/09/2021

Subject: Unjustified construction of hydropower projects in Ganga and Himalayas 


With reference to the open letter dated September 10, 2021, addressed to you by over 60 concerned eminent citizens, I wish to draw your attention towards the pearls of wisdom from Mahabharata. (The letter is reproduced below) Mahabharata describes
the Divine Being saying, “The mountains are his bones. The earth is his fat and flesh. The oceans are his blood. Space is his stomach. The Wind is his breath. Fire is his energy. The rivers are his arteries and veins. Agni and Soma, otherwise called the Sun and the Moon, are called his eyes. The firmament above is his head. The earth is his two
feet. The cardinal and subsidiary points of the horizon are his arms,” This is narrated by Bhishma in conversation with Yudhishthira by referring to the reply of Rishi Bhrigu to sage Bharadwaja. This verse occurs in the Shanti Parva of Mahabharata.

I submit that hydropower projects on rivers entails mutilation of the veins and arteries of the divine nature. Rivers shape the terrain and lives of people by its waters which are always in a dynamic state. Breaking
this dynamic would unleash forces of uncontrolled change and invite
the ‘law of unintended consequences’. Let’s remember the terrible Aral Sea disaster caused by the mistakes of Soviet Union in which two Siberian rivers were diverted.  

I submit that whenever there is conflict between financial gains and rivers, the latter must get priority over monetary benefits because by any yard stick economic value of a free flowing river is bigger than
dammed and mutilated rivers.  The capitalist, communist and colonial legacy of treating rivers as material flow that flow through pipelines must be abandoned and rivers must be treated as living beings that
nourished our civilization for centuries and can nourish all the coming generations if cannibalistic tendency of diverting waters in
bottles, dams and banks is stopped.

With regard to pollution in rivers, I wish to submit that if the Hon'ble Prime Minister can demonstrate the political will to stop all the effluents and sewage from entering into river streams through a single executive decision,
he would have done an exemplary act of arresting ecological collapse
and for safeguarding the quality of blood flowing in veins and arteries of the present and future generations. The issue quality and quantity of water in the rivers is linked because whenever there depletion of water flow in the river, quality of river water deteriorates. Therefore, how can depletion of river flow through dams on Ganga which results in deterioration of quality of water in Ganga be deemed defensible. 

It creates a compelling logic for me to endorse the letter below authored by the eminent citizens. 

Open Letter to the Prime Minister:

Restarting seven under-construction hydro projects in Ganga Himalaya unjustified
Recently the MoEF&CC has recommended restarting the construction of seven under-construction HEPs  in Uttarakhand namely Tehri II (1000 MW), Tapovan Vishnugad (520 MW), Vishnugad Pipalkoti (444 MW), Singoli Bhatwari (99 MW), Phata Byung (76 MW), Madhmaheshwar (15 MW), and Kaliganga II  (4.5 MW). The news came as a shock to citizens, devotees and environmentalists who have been struggling  since over a decade to preserve our national river Ganga and the Himalaya. The deeply felt concern over  the fate of these two pivotal ecological systems and defining symbols of Indian culture, compel us to write  this letter. Not the least, as a citizen, it is also our constitutional duty ‘to protect and improve India’s natural  environment’.

In the past the MoEFF&CC has strongly supported and concurred with the findings of Expert Body-I (EB I), a body formulated on the directions of the Supreme Court, which found that HEPs aggravate disasters  and cause irreversible environmental damage. The MoEFF&CC stated in its affidavit (5/12/2014) ‘that it  was a cause of pain, anguish and outrage that so many lives had been lost and properties damaged.’ Therefore, it said any decision on HEPs should be on ‘very strong and sound footings with scientific back  up.’ In direct contradiction to this the only reasons given for restarting these projects is that ‘a substantial  progress and sizeable investment’ has been made.

Six out of the seven projects (except Tehri Stage II) recommended, lie in para-glacial zones, or in its buffer.  The EB-I Report had explicitly highlighted the dangers of building dams in the para-glacial zone, now  understood as the region upstream of the MCT. Several scientific publications thereafter have also  supported the EB-I recommendation against building dams in these areas. The destruction of the  Vishnuprayag, Phata-Byung and Singoli Bhatwari HEPs in 2013 whereas the Rishiganga and Tapovan  Vishnugad HEPs in February 2021 are recent examples.
The Madhmaheshwar and Kaliganga HEPs are proposed on virgin rivers in a para-glacial zone. Scientific  publications in the recent years have highlighted that small para-glacial tributaries are more destructive than  the main rivers. For example, the most severe destruction in 2013 was caused by Khiro Ganga, and in 2021  by Raunthi Gad and Rishiganga. Following the June 2013 disaster, Madhmaheshwar and Kaliganga rivers  are virtually clogged with sediment. These sediments are likely to get mobilized during extreme hydro  meterological events thus likely to impact the Singoli- Bhatwari HEP, whose barrage is located barely a few hundred meters below the confluence of Madhmaheshwar ganga with the Mandakini river as happened  with the two HEPs in February 2021.

Phata-Byung and Tapovan-Vishungad can in no way be considered as 50 per cent complete. They have  suffered extreme damage, and lie buried under debris even to this day. Their upstream geomorphology and  catchment ecology is completely obliterated compared to what it was when the projects were designed and  approved. They would require detailed fresh investigations, new DPRs and fresh clearances if they were to  be considered for reconstruction. Local reports suggest that Vishnugad-Pipalkoti construction too, is under  50 percent. Tehri 2 HEP, if constructed, would immediately recycle the river water that emerges out of  Tehri 1 dam without allowing for even a minimal stretch of flow in which the Ganga could revive herself.  Studies by NEERI have found that Tehri 1 has already compromised the self-purifying property of  Gangajal. Tehri 2 would only deteriorate it further.

Glaciers in the Himalaya are retreating faster than the global average. Hence the increased frequency of  downstream flooding, glacial lake floods, and other disasters is expected. We have recently witnessed Rishi  Ganga HEP being wiped out in minutes by the flooding in the Rishiganga River. Tapovan-Vishnugad and  its tunnels was buried under tonnes of debris minutes later, and still remains in a deplorable condition.  Labourers lost their lives in a tragic and horrific manner and many dead bodies could not even be retrieved  from the tunnel. ICIMOD had already predicted in 2009 that, ‘Valuable infrastructure, such as hydropower  plants, roads, bridges, and communication systems, will be increasingly at risk from climate change. Entire  hydropower generation systems established on many rivers will be in jeopardy if landslides and flash floods  increase, and hydropower generation will be affected if there is a decrease in the already low flows during  the dry season.’  
Fresh designs, costs of the damages suffered and reconstruction will make the power produced by Phata Byung and Tapovan-Vishugad prohibitively costly, especially when compared to the cheap solar power  available today. The price of recovery in the valley after 2013 Kedarnath flood was estimated at Rs.6,259  crore (aprox 1.1 billion dollars). Perhaps the MoWR is already aware that the power production costs at  Tapovan-Vishnugad and Singoli Bhatwari have currently escalated to Rs.23/unit and Rs.16/unit  respectively.

Given all these facts, reports and studies, it would be a profound error, indeed a self-defeating exercise, to  implement any more HEPs in the Himalaya and on the Ganga, whether under construction, new or  proposed. The life security of our people is at stake here, and is paramount. The Himalaya are the sentinels  of India and river Ganga supports almost half a billion people in its basin. The Ministry of Jal Shakti has  submitted that, ‘along with the conservation of water flow, the protection of the catchment area, the forest  cover and the protection of overall biodiversity is much needed because the eco system services of the Ganga-Himalayan basin is extremely significant and have a direct and indirect impact on the overall food  and water security and climate conditions of the entire nation.’ 

We strongly emphasise that the world is in the grip of a climate change crisis. The recent IPCC report has  declared a ‘Code Red’ for humanity. It has particularly cautioned that India will be among the hardest hit  nations.

In our hearts and minds is also ever present, the deaths of, Baba Nagnath, Swami Sanand, and Swami  Nigamanand who sacrificed their lives in prolonged fasts, to ensure the aviralta and nirmalta of Mother Ganga.

Our collective Conscience and Science both demand that the decision to restart these seven projects be  reversed, keeping in mind many factors that have been ignored, in the best interests of our nation and the  stated goal of the government to rejuvenate the Ganga. There are alternatives for electricity generation but  there are no alternatives for our age long cultural and civilizational identity- the Ganga and the Himalayas.

The PMO has already taken a welcome and judicious decision in its meeting of 25/2/2019, that:
‘No new hydro-electric project shall be taken up on River Ganga and Its tributaries  in the State of Uttarakhand. 
All projects in which the work has not started on the ground shall be dropped. c. Considering the revenue and opportunity lost to the State of Uttarakhand, it was  decided that the State of Uttarakhand may be compensated for the projects which are  being dropped and on which work has already started.’ 

We conclude with the observation of the Jal Shakti ministry itself: ‘As may be seen from the views of experts  and expert organizations indicated in the foregoing para, the HEPs will adversely affect the ecology of the  Himalaya, leading to an irreversible loss to the Himalayan eco system and to the national river Ganga  which is the nation’s identity and symbol of faith and heritage.’ 

We sincerely hope that you will reconsider the recent MoEF&CC recommendation to restart the construction of the seven HEPs.

In view of the above letter and in the light of the National Mission for Sustaining Himalayan Ecosystems as part of National Action Plan on Climate Crisis, I earnestly request you to make all policies and projects in the Ganga basin and Himalayan ecosystem, subordinate and subservient to the natural rights of Ganga and the Himalayas. This will set a healthy and exemplary precedent for mother earth recognised under Paris Agreement. 

Warm Regards
Gopal Krishna
ToxicsWatch Alliance (TWA) 
New Delhi/Patna 

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