Skip to main content

Uttarakhand tragedy: How govt 'ignored' dam reports, warning from environmentalists

By Vimal Bhai* 

Uttarakhand again witnessed a catastrophe. Local residents of Raini village, goat grazing herders and labourers working in the (13.5 MW) Rishi Ganga Power Project have been declared dead or missing in the sudden flood in Rishi Ganga in Chamoli district.
After that, the deluge reached Dhauliganga, destroyed the entire dam of Tapovan Vishnugad's power project (520 MW) and filled the debris and silt in the tunnels leading to the power house. The workers employed in the tunnel of this project are still missing. Some dead bodies have been found and many more are still missing. The exact number of people killed and missing is not clear yet.
On the other hand, the number of people who were actually killed will never be revealed because the authorities will only talk about the registered labours. There is no record of the number of small contractors involved and how many people were working with them. Till date, there is no complete record of the missing and killed people in the disaster of June 2013.
The nature is being blamed for the whole incident. The news of breaking glaciers is being widely publicized but there is no statement or discussion on the delicate ecology of the Himalayas for the creation of such large projects, the use of uncontrolled explosives, cutting down of forests, and complete neglect of environmental laws and regulations.
Governments have so far ignored dam reports, warnings from environmentalists, warnings of nature. Being situated in the central Himalayas, Uttarakhand state is full of natural beauty, but at the same time there is always the risk of natural disasters. Constant tampering with nature makes such disaster more frightening.
The loss of life and property due to the so-called glacier rupture incident of February 7, 2021 would have been bare minimal, if these two mega dams were not constructed. Governments should see that it is because of these projects that laborers and other workers, residents of the village and Bakarwal have been killed. 
The people of Raini village constantly raised the issue of excessive use of explosives for construction of projects. Villagers also went to the Uttarakhand High Court and the court gave the responsibility to the District Magistrate.
We at Matu Jansangthan also challenged the environmental clearance of the Tapovan-Vishnugad project in the then "National Environmental Appellate Authority", which was cancelled by the Authority on the issue of filing this appeal after the deadline. Even after this, we kept raising all the issues related to the environment, but the government never paid any attention. We believe that the local administration, the concerned departments of Uttarakhand state and the Union Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC) are responsible for the environmental violations in both projects.
Former chief minister of Uttarakhand late Narayan Dutt Tiwari said after the Tehri Dam that no such big dam will be built in future. Despite that the public hearing of Pancheshwar and Rupali Gad dam on Mahakali River were held in 2017 with full deception. The government is moving forward with a large Kishau dam on the Tons River. It is an invitation to another direct disaster.
The impact of so-called glacier rupture incident of February 7 would have been bare minimal, if two mega dams were not constructed
After the June 2013 disaster, the Supreme Court, in the case of "Alaknanda Hydro Power Company Limited v. Anuj Joshi and others", took cognizance of the Uttarakhand disaster and ordered the central and state government not to sanction any dam project in Uttarakhand. And the Government should assess the impact of hydropower projects on the rivers.
MoEFCC limited the order of the Supreme Court to some rivers of Ganges. The Supreme Court never held MoEFCC accountable for limiting its order. The committee headed by Ravi Chopra recommended stoppage of 23 out of 24 projects stated in the 2012 report of Wildlife Institute of India, Dehradun. But the Supreme Court stayed all the 24 projects.
After this, MoEFCC formed a new committee and recommended that six of the 24 major projects be taken forward. The Central Electricity Authority also formed a committee.
But the joint affidavit from the Ministry of Jal Shakti, Power Ministry and MoEFCC which was to be filed in the Supreme Court has not been furnished till date. The Supreme Court has not held any hearing for a long time. The Supreme Court is guilty of not hearing such a significant and critical case related to climate change and killings of people. Therefore, the Supreme Court is also responsible for this accident.
Whereas in 2016, the then Power Minister Piyush Goyal had said that we are producing more electricity than required. According to government data, if the current power projects also produce 70 to 75%, then we have no need for new projects. Then what is the need of such projects in such sensitive areas of the Himalayas? 
It is also a matter of fact that rehabilitation and environmental conditions have not been fulfilled literally even in a single dam project in Uttarakhand. The same has happened here. Dams change the natural calamity of any river into a formidable form. The Ravi Chopra Committee mentioned this clearly in its report.
We have many such examples in the June 2013 disaster. If the Vishnuprayag dam built on the Alaknanda River did not break, then the bridges below would not have brokn. Thousands of pilgrims of Badrinath ji and Hemkund Saheb would not have got stuck. Because of Srinagar dam on the same river, the government and non-government property of the lower area became submerged. People are still fighting for the compensation.
The government did not learn any lessons from the June, 2013 disaster. The Supreme Court has not taken any concrete steps on this till date.
Apart from Matu Janasangathan, Himalayan lovers and environmentalists of the Uttarakhand and the country warned the government in 2013 on the issue that such accidents can happen again, so big projects should be stopped.
  • Accountability of public representatives, policymakers, officers and government should be fixed on all these issues. They are the ones who lead these dams for so called ‘development’ and power.
  • Orders should be issued to furnish the complete records the labourers working in all projects.
---
*With Matu Jansangthan, a National Alliance of Peoples' Movements associate

Comments

TRENDING

'Flawed' argument: Gandhi had minimal role, naval mutinies alone led to Independence

Counterview Desk Reacting to a Counterview  story , "Rewiring history? Bose, not Gandhi, was real Father of Nation: British PM Attlee 'cited'" (January 26, 2016), an avid reader has forwarded  reaction  in the form of a  link , which carries the article "Did Atlee say Gandhi had minimal role in Independence? #FactCheck", published in the site satyagrahis.in. The satyagraha.in article seeks to debunk the view, reported in the Counterview story, taken by retired army officer GD Bakshi in his book, “Bose: An Indian Samurai”, which claims that Gandhiji had a minimal role to play in India's freedom struggle, and that it was Netaji who played the crucial role. We reproduce the satyagraha.in article here. Text: Nowadays it is said by many MK Gandhi critics that Clement Atlee made a statement in which he said Gandhi has ‘minimal’ role in India's independence and gave credit to naval mutinies and with this statement, they concluded the whole freedom struggle.

A Hindu alternative to Valentine's Day? 'Shiv-Parvati was first love marriage in Universe'

By Rajiv Shah*   The other day, I was searching on Google a quote on Maha Shivratri which I wanted to send to someone, a confirmed Shiv Bhakt, quite close to me -- with an underlying message to act positively instead of being negative. On top of the search, I chanced upon an article in, imagine!, a Nashik Corporation site which offered me something very unusual. 

Don't agree on domestic subsidies, ensure food security at WTO meet: Farmer leaders

Counterview Desk  The Indian Coordination Committee of Farmers Movements (ICCFM), a top network of farmers’ organizations in India, in a letter to Piyush Goyal, Minister of Commerce and Industry, has asked him to “safeguard food security and sovereignty, even as ensuring peasants' rights" at the 13th Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organization (WTO MC 13), to take place from 26 to 29 February 2024 in Abu Dhabi.

Sharp 61-85% fall in Tech startup funding in India's top 'business-friendly' States

By Rajiv Shah Funding in Tech startups in top business-friendly Indian states has witnessed a major fall, a data intelligence platform for private market research has said in a series of reports it has released this month. Analysing Tech startup data of Telangana, Maharashtra, Delhi NCR, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Kerala, Tracxn Technologies Ltd , the Bengaluru-based research firm, finds that except for Kerala, funding witnessed a fall of anywhere between 61% and 85%.

Students, lawyers, professors detained in Delhi for demonstrating in support of farmers

By Our Representative  About 25 protestors, belonging to the civil rights network, Campaign Against State Repression (CASR), a coalition of over 40 organisations, were detained at Jantar Mantar for holding a demonstration in support of the farmers' stir on Friday. Those detained included students, lawyers and professors, including Prof Nandita Narain and Prof N Sachin. 

Maize, bajra, jute, banana cultivation banned off West Bengal border: Plea to NHRC

Counterview Desk  West Bengal-based human rights defender Kirity Roy, who is secretary, Banglar Manabadhikar Suraksha Manch, and is national convenor of the Programme Against Custodial Torture & Impunity, in a representation to the chairman, National Human Rights Commission, second within few days, has bought to light one more case of trespassing and destruction of a fertile banana plantation by BSF personnel along the Indo-Bangladesh border, stating, despite a written complaint to the police has taken "no initiative".

Solar energy funding dips 9% in 2023; 2024 'kicks off' with US$1 billion investment

By Lakshmitha Raj*  Solar energy tech companies have already secured slightly over US$1 billion in funding in 2024 (till Feb 7, 2024) after total funding into Solar Energy companies in India fell 9% to US$1.55B in 2023 from US$1.7B in 2022. A total of 39 $100M+ rounds have been closed till date, with Delhi leading the city-wise funding, followed by Gurugram and Mumbai.

India second best place to invest, next to UAE, yet there is 'lacks support' for IT services

By Sreevas Sahasranamam, Aileen Ionescu-Somers*  The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is the best place in the world to start a new business, according to the latest annual Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) survey. The Arab nation is number one for the third year in a row thanks to a big push by the government into cutting-edge technology in its efforts to diversify away from oil.

Buddhist shrines were 'massively destroyed' by Brahmanical rulers: Historian DN Jha

Nalanda mahavihara By Our Representative Prominent historian DN Jha, an expert in India's ancient and medieval past, in his new book , "Against the Grain: Notes on Identity, Intolerance and History", in a sharp critique of "Hindutva ideologues", who look at the ancient period of Indian history as "a golden age marked by social harmony, devoid of any religious violence", has said, "Demolition and desecration of rival religious establishments, and the appropriation of their idols, was not uncommon in India before the advent of Islam".

Mahanadi delta: Aggressive construction in flood plains, reduced fish stock, pollution

By Sudhansu R Das  Frequent natural calamities, unemployment, low farmers’ income, increase in crime rate and lack of quality human resources to strike a balance between growth and environment etc. continue to haunt the state. The state should delve into the root causes of poverty, unemployment and natural calamities.