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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

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