Learning from Past Mistakes
Demands of shutting down all hydro power plants in and around the Himalayas are getting louder. Experts are of the view that it has now been proven that hydro power plants have turned out to be enemies of ecology and are posing a serious threat to human lives and properties. In his recent book, renowned ecological expert Himanshu Thakkar has strongly objected to the construction of hydro power plants. Delving into the issue, Mr. Thakkar opined that apart from causing destruction, production cost of hydro power is much higher than other renewable energy sources. For example, he claimed that while one unit of hydro power costs INR 6-7, the cost of solar or air energy is just Rs. 3 or less per unit. Moreover, solar and windmill plants are not as dangerous as hydro power plants.
When the country was in search of alternative and renewable energy, a mad rush was witnessed to build hydro power plants in India, especially in states like Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, etc. The reason behind selecting the states was simple. These hilly states are rich in water resources and are suitable for constructing hydro power plants. But during that period, it was never considered that in the future all these plants would pose a great threat to the fragile ecology of the Himalayas and to human lives. Construction of hydro power plants were bound to change the water level and course of the rivers originating from the Himalaya; the mountain range would become prone to landslides due to deforestation, along with effect on the stability of rocks. The people living around the hydro power plant site, in a sense would become ‘sitting ducks’, who could be the victims of nature’s fury at any time. Further, the ‘run of the river’ technique causes adverse effects in areas surrounding the waterbody.
It is common knowledge that more than two years ago, the residents of the Roini village, the place where the recent tragedy occurred, appealed the Uttarakhand High Court to stop the construction of the hydro power plant on Rishiganga River. The High Court allowed the construction with conditions such as minimal use of explosives, proper steps to prevent landslides and carrying out of environmental impact assessments. But the recent incident proved that none of these conditions were enforced. Rather, it is now alleged by the villagers that the tragedy happened just after an explosion. An estimated 100 hydro power plants are now operational in Uttarakhand. As per experts, nearly 7000 acres of forest land vanished to pave way for these hydro plants. In Arunachal too, a number of hydro power plants have either started producing electricity or construction works are ongoing. Several people living in Arunachal and Assam are not happy about these developments. They are also of the view that sooner or later their states are destined to face Chamoli-like disasters. Thus, it is high time to amend past mistakes. Rethinking the construction of hydro power plants should a priority, else, Kedarnath or Chamoli-like disasters will become regular occurrences.