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Telegraph (2005.11.13): That sinking feeling

Old Tehri is sinking and will soon vanish beneath the waters. Anirban Das Mahapatra takes a last look before its imminent submergence

Travelling steadily downhill, the Maruti 800 suddenly comes to a grinding halt. Vikas Rawat, a 60-something resident of Dehra Dun, steps out of the car and perches himself on a concrete barrier at the edge of a steep fall. For a few minutes he sits there, motionless, his gaze fixed on the valley below. He strains to see through the harsh glare of the golden sun and tears soon begin to well up in his eyes.

Several hundred feet below him, across the gorge through which waters of the Bhagirathi and the Vilangana once flowed, stands Tehri Dam — “in service of the nation”, as a roadside plaque many kilometres away in Chamba proclaims. To the left of the superstructure, at the confluence of the two rivers, lies the town of Old Tehri, awaiting its imminent submergence.

The last residents of the six-lakh-strong Uttaranchal town moved out on Monday, about a week after the underhill tunnels that bypassed the waters flowing into the valley during the dam’s construction were shut permanently. It’s only a matter of time now before the reservoir of the dam, with Old Tehri at its base, fills up to feed water to the giant hydro-electric turbines planted in the hollow of the mountain, and the production of electricity begins. It’s only a matter of time, then, before Old Tehri sinks.