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A dam big scandal

Kumkum Dasgupta, Hindustan Times
June 17, 2010

Politicians love photo-ops. So I wasn’t very surprised to see Uttarakhand’s Chief Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal take a dip in the Ganga during the Maha Kumbh and then hold a Cabinet meeting on its banks. He apparently wanted to raise awareness about Ganga pollution and demand a ‘world heritage’ tag for the national river.

But at Srinagar, a small town on the banks of the Alaknanda in Pauri Garhwal district, Uttarakhand, Pokhriyal’s dip hardly created a ripple. Many see his concern for the river as a sham as they feel Uttarakhand’s dam-building spree on the Bhagirathi, Alaknanda and Ganga will eventually ‘kill’ the nation’s lifeline. The Bhagirathi and Alaknanda meet at Devprayag to form the Ganga. According to a 2009 government list, 558 dams are under construction or being surveyed in the state.

Their fears and concerns have been corroborated by a recent Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) report. Yet to be placed in the Assembly, the report is severely critical of the bumper-to-bumper dams and state that large stretches of the river will dry up if these hydroelectric power projects (HEP) are built. The issue has become controversial. The CM’s protocol officer Ajay Bisht told me, “I can set up an interview with CM-saab if you want to discuss the Kumbh Mela. But he won’t talk about the HEPs.” The CM considers the ‘successful completion’ of this year’s Mela a feather in his cap. [more]