Uttarakhand floods: Broken barrages rise again in four years, river down to a trickle at places

Lambagar market, which was washed away in 2013, now stands on a kutcha road with tin sheds having replaced the concrete buildings for shops.

Written by Kavita Upadhyay | Lambagar/srinagar | Published:July 4, 2017 12:05 am
uttarakhand, uttarakhand project, india news Vishnuprayag hydroelecric project on the Alakananda. Kavita Upadhyaya

About 15 km ahead of the Badrinath temple stands the Vishnuprayag hydro-power project, now rebuilt, with hardy any sign remaining of the damage caused by the 2013 flash floods in the Alaknanda. Downstream of the project, however, the river itself been reduced to a trickle. Four years after the Uttarakhand disaster, when overflowing rivers killed over 4,000 and stranded lakhs, a dry riverbed awaits the respite of monsoon rains. With almost all its water channeled towards the 400 MW project, the Alaknanda, one of the head streams of the Ganga, has all but disappeared under the combined effects of ecological changes and man-made projects.

“Even a nullah is bigger than this,” says Dhirendra Singh of Lambagar village, a kilometre from Jaiprakash Power Ventures Limited’s hydropower project. “For most of the year, the river remains dry. But, during the monsoon, when it rains incessantly and the water level in the barrage [of the Vishnuprayag hydropower project] increases, we get scared.”

Lambagar market, which was washed away in 2013, now stands on a kutcha road with tin sheds having replaced the concrete buildings for shops.

In June 2013, the flooded Khiron Ganga gushed to the Vishnuprayag barrage and jammed its gates so that no water could be released. The floods then breached the structure and gushed downstream, causing destruction in at least seven villages including Lambagar. “We were paid Rs 1 lakh each, but only after we protested for compensation,” Dhirendra says.

Since then, the barrage underwent substantial reconstruction. “During reconstruction, all the debris was dumped on the riverside,” says an employee on the site.

“We have constructed protection walls along the river,” says an official looking after construction. The official refused to comment on whether environmental norms were followed during the reconstruction.

“Sometimes dam authorities release so much water that, for fear of floods, we pack all our belongings and run uphill,” says Shiv Singh, a Lambagar shopkeeper.

At Srinagar Garhwal, it is the Srinagar hydropower project (330 MW) that continues to threaten the lives of people living downstream. Four years ago, when the Alaknanda flooded areas in Srinagar, houses in the town’s Bhaktiana and Shakti Vihar localities were filled with material from the dam.

Much of the ITI (Industrial Training Institute) building, which, according to Bhaktiana resident Surendra Dutt Raturi “was the identity” of the area, is still buried under the muck. “Many ministers came and promised they would restore the building, but nothing has been done so far,” Raturi said. “It took me three to four months to clear all the muck from my house. Only then could I return.”

Pointing to a house belonging to one Manav Bisht, Raturi added that “Manav hasn’t got the muck cleared yet; he cannot afford it”.

In 2016, the National Green Tribunal had asked the Alaknanda Hydro Power Company Limited (AHPCL), a subsidiary of GVK, to pay compensation of Rs 9 crore to residents who incurred losses. Later, the company challenged the order in the Supreme Court where the case is currently pending.

The Supreme Court has asked a committee to assess the extent to which the hydro-power projects contributed to exacerbating the deluge. The Chopra Committee report that followed held that the dams were responsible for the devastation in the Alaknanda and Bhagirathi Basins. The report also mentioned the results of a geochemical analysis that showed that the muck that had buried parts of Srinagar town had come from the power project.

The former Congress government and the current BJP government aim to tap the state’s water potential for generating 27,000 MW through 450 hydro-power projects. The Uttarakhand Budget for 2017-18 mentions: “All those hydroelectric projects which were stalled shall be looked into and efforts will be made to start them.”

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  1. R
    Reenu Paul
    Jul 5, 2017 at 11:00 am
    Minimum eflow should be ensured in the rivers otherwise what about the water rights of the lower riparian states. The Uttarakhand High Court had directed the central Govetemt to form Inter State Council . So far nothing had been done in that regard.
    Reply
    1. V
      Vik
      Jul 4, 2017 at 7:24 am
      Dams provide reserves of water which are released when rains end and the land would then be parched. It actually helps farmers. Also producing electricity does not consume any water. It just slows down the speed of water and this actually helps prevent the bank erosion common in fast flowing water. So it is not clear what the author is saying.
      Reply
      1. S
        Spandan
        Jul 4, 2017 at 3:32 pm
        Dams and it's sluice gates are a means to control the flow of water (it does not generate electricity but channels flow of water into Hydro-electric generation Plants where the water turns turbines to generate electricity. If not designed and maintained properly it can lead to faults and depneding on the mass of water involved cause devastation on a massive scale. This is something like a power switch whcih controls (by swiching off or diverting to different circuits) electricity. The higher the Wattage and Voltage handling requirements of the device the more robust should be it's safety, maintenance and design features. In case of casualties because of failures of switchgear the responsibility is affixed and compensation paid and penal actions taken.
        Reply
        1. S
          Spandan
          Jul 4, 2017 at 3:39 pm
          Dams are more often than not a big problem for the environment as it alters the habitats of the natural flora and fauna (which includes Human settlements) both on the catchment areas and downstream banks. It submerges areas in the catchment areas making it virtually unusable. In the downstream side, during lean periods of drought or the dry seaons, the regions are deprived of water as most of the water is pumped out to irrigation channels or human settlements for water treatment to make it potable. However these same areas bear the brunt during excessive rainfall or during dam breaches while those enjoying the fruits of the dam go unscathed. It is basically exploitation like sucking out the blood of a living creature.
          Reply
        2. H
          Harminder Singh
          Jul 4, 2017 at 7:02 am
          No body has learnt a lesson and even today with the new Govt suddenly heavy machinery has appeared from no where and tearing the hillside down in the name of a much hyped road building exercise in the name of development with inflated bills being pocketed for their own development.The ensuing haphazard activities will bring the mountains down and heavy rains which will impact the mountains later will be disastrous
          Reply