Dehra Dun : Some of the intelligentsia, who may perhaps not be remotely aware of the need to preserve the environment, including three recipients of the Padma Shri of this district have come out openly in favour of making hydel power projects in Uttarakhand despite its fragile ecology.
Ironically one of them is Avdhash Kaushal, a self-proclaimed environmentalist who once took up cudgels against the powerful mining lobby of Dehra Dun. Though initially just a clerk in the health department of Uttar Pradesh (Uttarakhand was then a part of UP), he was made a professor of environment in the prestigious Lal Bahadur Shastri National College of Administration in Mussoorie.
They have called for meeting of like-minded people at the Gandhi Park on May 21, where they even want to rope in some of the villagers who have been affected economically by the closure of a project or two in the upper areas of the state, and want that they be restarted.
The economic losses are mainly in the form of a handful of jobs to the youth of the adjoining villages and petty contracts to some influential persons of the area. However, they do not realize these are short term benefits which will finish once the projects are completed, while the losses due to long term environmental hazards will be impossible to assess or evlaute.
Take the case of Himachal Pradrsh, which has almost similar environment and topography as Uttarakhand. The governments in Himachal have gone full steam ahead to harness the about 23000 MW hydel power potential of the state with combined efforts of the state, central and private sectors.
According to reports by 2022, the state hopes to generate 12,798 MWs of power taking into consideration the projects that have come up, are about to come up or in the process of construction.
But at what cost?
When this happens the entire length of the Sutlej and parts of other major rivers would be running in tunnels and not seen like the mythical Saraswati.
Himachal has already lost 6300 hectares of forest land which has been diverted for projects and transmission lines and lakhs of trees have been axed including the blue hill pine whose cones bear the high price chilgozas. The people of Kinnaur are up in arms against the projects coming up in that district.
Deforestation and tunneling the rivers has caused the temperatures to rise causing change in climatic conditions and existing flora and fauna. Debris from the projects is dumped on the hill sides, causing it to flow into river beds and streams with rain water, raising their floor bed and resulting in flash floods which cause huge loss of life and property.
The state is known as an apple state and fruit bowl of the country because of the large amount of apples and fruits it produces. But the production of apples has already started going down in some of the areas as the climatic conditions have now become non-conducive for the growth of the fruit.
True the revenue of the state has gone up from Rs 29.6 crores in 2003-04 to Rs 1050 crores in 2011-12, but most of it is utilized in paying the salaries and pension of the government employees and just a portion of the money is spent on infrastructural development, which will benefit the man on the street. Do the losses suffered compensate the revenue earned is the multi million question?
A state like Uttarakhand, where there is hardly any infrastructure, where horticulture and agriculture is yet to make a worthwhile impact on the economy of the lives of the people and can be increased multifold and pressure on forest land has increased manifold after getting statehood for developmental projects can hardly afford climate change and losing thousands of hectares of land to dams which will be built on rivers for channelising the water through tunnels. And then the problem of relocating the large populations that will be dislocated will mean further encroaching upon forest land to rehabilitate them.
Former much maligned chief minister Ramesh Pokhriyal had founf an alternative for constructing the hydel power projects. He had asked the centre to compensate the state with some mega watts of power for keeping the Ganga free of projects, which would be provided free to the people of the state, that would give them much wanted relief and also adequate power supply for the existing industry and that is likely to come up in the coming years.
A journalist with over 40 years of experience, Jagdish Bhatt was Editor, Hill Post (Uttarakhand).
Jagdish had worked with India’s leading English dailies, which include Times of India, Indian Express, Pioneer and several other reputed publications. A highly acclaimed journalist, he was a recipient of many awards
Jagdish Bhatt, aged 72, breathed his last on 28th August 2021 at his Dehradun residence.