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Thursday, February 25, 2021

Uttarakhand disaster makes Lahaul wary, residents say will oppose hydel projects

At least two gram panchayats in the valley have met since Sunday, resolving to not let any hydel project be set up in the Chandrabhaga or Chenab basin, home to a large number of glaciers.

By: Express News Service | Shimla |
Updated: February 9, 2021 3:16:07 pm
Uttarakhand disaster: Three bodies recovered from Rishiganga power project siteSite of the Tapovan hydel project as rescue works are underway, two days after a glacier broke off in Joshimath causing massive flood in Dhauli Ganga River, in Chamoli district of Uttarakhand, Monday, Feb 8, 2021. (Express photo by Gajendra Yadav)

After Sunday’s flooding incident in Uttarakhand, residents of Lahaul in Himachal Pradesh have intensified their opposition to the proposed hydel projects in the valley, fearing an occurrence of similar disasters in the fragile region. At least two gram panchayats in the valley have met since Sunday, resolving to not let any hydel project be set up in the Chandrabhaga or Chenab basin, home to a large number of glaciers. A few days ago, one of the panchayats also wrote to the President against the “destructive” hydel projects.

Currently, there is no hydel project in the high-altitude district of Lahaul and Spiti, but 56 small and big projects are proposed to be built there, according to Vikram Katoch, vice president of Save Lahaul Spiti.

“Residents here are strictly against hydroelectric projects and are more interested in agriculture and tourism activities. People do not want an environmental tragedy to occur in this ecologically sensitive region. The government needs to redefine how development should proceed in the mountains,” he said.

On Sunday evening, members of the Goshal gram panchayat met and decided not to grant a no-objection certificate to the 104 megawatt Tandi hydropwer project proposed to be built by SJVNL, a joint venture of the state and central governments. “Whenever heavy snowfall occurs here, it is common to see avalanches damming the Chandra river.

Twice, floods caused by a breach in such dams have destroyed the old bridge on the river,” said panchayat pradhan Sushila Rana.

Former pradhan Megh Singh said that Lahaul is one of the most affected Himalayan areas in terms of glacial lake bursts and avalanches.
“The government’s decision to build 56 projects here will prove tragic for the entire valley,” he said. Residents said that to prevent landslides and avalanches, the local Mahila Mandal has worked hard to protect the forests in the area, and has even banned the felling of junipers. The Tandi panchayat met on Monday to come up with similar resolutions.

On February 3, Buddhi Chand, the up-pradhan of Triloknath panchayat, wrote to the President on the behalf of over a dozen villages falling under Triloknath and Shakoli panchayats, seeking the cancellation of the Badrang hydro project allotted to SJVNL. He alleged that gram sabhas and forest rights committees are not being consulted before the allotment of hydel projects in Lahaul, even though it is a scheduled area. “Heavy snowfall always brings the threat of avalanches, and in 1979, an avalanche destroyed much life and property here. Lahaul is also sensitive to earthquakes as it falls in a high seismic zone. The mountains here are composed of weak rocks and any blasting operation during the construction of hydel projects may prove to be disastrous. It may also lead to drying up of water sources and destruction of pasture land,” he wrote.

An ‘alarming increase’ in glacial lakes

Researchers at Himachal government’s state centre on climate change have also red-flagged an “alarming increase” in the number of glacial lakes in the state due to the rapidly changing extent of glaciers. In a study published last year, they warned that bursting of such moraine dammed lakes can cause disastrous flooding in downstream areas.

A moraine is the accumulation of rock debris carried or deposited by a glacier, and sometimes, it can act as a dam to form a lake near the lowest end or snout of a glacier. A sudden release of meltwater due to breach in the dam can cause large downstream water discharge – an event called a glacial lake outburst flood (GLOF). It is one of the suspected causes of the flood in Uttarakhand on Sunday.

The tragic flooding in Uttarakhand in 2013 has also been correlated with a GLOF near the snout of the Chorabari glaciers, the study said, and suggested a proper monitoring of all such lakes in the Himalayan region to avoid any future disaster.

Due to climate change, glaciers are melting at a faster rate resulting in the increase in glacial lakes. Through satellite imagery, researchers were able to map a total of of 935 lakes in the river basins of Sutlej, Chenab, Beas and Ravi, with a majority of lakes being less than five hectares in size.

In the Chenab basin which lies in Lahaul, researchers have identified a total of 242 lakes, including some vulnerable areas such as the Miyar sub-basin which witnessed at a high frequency of lake formation at the glacier snouts. Meanwhile, the area of a lake at Geepang Gath glacier snout in the Chandra sub-basin increased from 93 to 99 hectares within a year, the study warned.

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