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CPIML (2005.10): Environmental Devastation in Uttaranchal

Liberation, October 2005

For the past several months, Utaranchal has been witnessing a movement against the Hydro Electric Power Project at Joshimath – one of the 93 projects planned by the State Government to tap the State’s rivers for power. We carry an interview with Atul Sati, Convenor of the Citizens’ Struggle Committee of Joshimath town, on the implications of the Uttaranchal Government’s policies on the State’s environment and people.

Lib: What sparked off the agitation against the NTPC’s Tapovan Vishnugad Hydro-electric Power Project at Joshimath?

AS: Two years back, in 2003 when the survey was on for the Project, we raised the question – why did Joshimath town or Uttaranchal need such a large project? NTPC usually generates power from coal (thermal power); now, it was called by the Uttaranchal Govt to use river water to generate power, with grand plans of turning Uttaranchal into ‘Urja Pradesh’ ( Power State ). In 1979, the water authorities surveyed the trans-Himalayan river Dhauli Ganga at Joshimath, a confluence river which joins the Alaknanda at Vishnuprayag and assessed that it could generate 300 megawatts of electricity. Today, 25 years later, we are told it will generate 520 watts. All studies point to the fact that in this period, the Himalayan glaciers have receded – how, then, is it possible to expect the river water to generate more electricity?

When we raised our apprehensions about displacement and land-loss, we were told that this was a ‘run-of-the-river’ project – designed as an alternative to big dams, which would generate maximum power with minimum impact on the environment and people. The truth is: when the world discarded the idea of big dams, India started building them; now, when developed countries like New Zealand and USA have discarded the run-of-the-river dams, we’ve started building them here!