ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Displacing People and Destroying Lives

Hydropower Projects in Uttarakhand

There has been an unthoughtout rush to build hydroelectric power projects in Uttarakhand without assessing the ecological, social or economic costs of their implementation. The government is not even sure of how many projects are planned and of what capacity. Written well before the recent destructive floods hit the state, this article shows the extent and nature of the developmentalist disease which has afflicted our planners and policymakers. It will provide some background to the debates on the link between the damage to the environment and the destruction caused by the floods.

Policymakers have a “grand vision” of turning Uttarakhand, an ecologically fragile and sensitive Himalayan state, into an Urja Pradesh (energy state) and have planned 558 dams and hydroelectricity projects (HEPs) on its rivers to produce thousands of megawatts (MW) of electricity, most of which will be sold outside the state.

The ex-chief minister, Ramesh Pokhariyal Nishank of the Bharatiya Janata Party, tried to sell this dream to the people of the state, promising them employment and “development”, unmindful of the grave ecological and human disaster it would cause. With all these dams and “run-of-the-river” projects, the rivers of the state, including the Ganges, will flow inside tunnels and the present river streams will run dry. Uttarakhand, also called the “water tower of India”, will be bereft of water. It will also displace thousands of people from their homes and destroy their fields and forests. The resulting mass migration will create massive unemployment through the loss of extant livelihoods, which the few low-end and menial jobs for locals from these “development” projects will hardly recompense.

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