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Tehri Dam: Submersion of a Town, Not of an Idea

By Shekhar Pathak
Economic and Political Weekly
13th August 2005, p. 3637

Despite local protests over two decades, the Tehri dam was finally built. There were people in the area who supported it because of the seemingly attractive compensation that was offered. The completion of Tehri marked the submersion of just a town and not of the idea that big dams are not the only solution to managing water resources. The lesson of Tehri is that any change in the politics of environment must entail a change in the environment of politics as well. We have to develop the art of transforming a movement into a catalyst for social and political change.

It is true that in December 2001, when the Tehri Hydropower Development Corporation (THDC) authorities were preparing to close the gates of tunnels 3 and 4 to terminate the flow of Bhagirathi river, there were little protests in Tehri. It is also true that not many people in Uttarakhand (the still popular and technically accurate name for the state of “Uttaranchal”) and elsewhere celebrated the occasion of the beginning of the submergence of the 185-year-old Tehri town and much older villages in the valleys of the Bhagirathi and Bhilangana rivers. Why did this movement fail, a movement which related to the fate of more than one lakh local people as well as millions more downstream, which had a profound bearing on the pattern of development in the fragile Himalayan region, and which foregrounded the snatching away of the very little available agricultural land from the peasants? The answers to these questions are spread across a time span of more than three decades, a period which saw as many as nine prime ministers of India, an equal number of chief ministers of Uttar Pradesh, and three chief ministers of Uttaranchal. [more]