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Hydroelectric projects blamed for Indian flood disaster

Locals say the danger has not gone away

Hydroelectric projects blamed for Indian flood disaster

A power project under construction in Uttarakhand

Ritu Sharma, New Delhi

September 20, 2013

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Hydroelectric projects in the mountains of Uttarakhand were a major factor in the recent flash floods that devastated the north Indian state, according to local villagers and environmentalists.

“Huge structures in the mountains are not pro-ecology," Anil Joshi, director of the Himalayan Environmental Studies and Conservation Organization, told today.

Uttarakhand lies in the foothills of the Himalayas. Nearly 500 power projects have been proposed by its state government, with 52 of them so far sanctioned and several now under construction.  

“You need machines and dynamite to remove rock in order to make these structures, which can destabilize the mountains,” said Joshi.

"If cleared rock and soil is not removed it poses a great threat in the event of flooding, in the form of mudslides."

Joshi says most of the projects are in the central or lower Himalayas, where he claims that "the soil is very soft and mountains cannot bear the impact of such huge structures."

The floods that started on on June 16 swept through several districts in the state, including the Hindu pilgrimage site of Kedarnath, destroying nearly all buildings except the renowned ancient temple.

Although authorities say the true number of dead may never be known, the total is estamated at around 6,000.

Local people say that, as tunnels have been dug in the large scale construction projects, the extracted rocks and earth have been dumped in rivers instead of being taken away. This has caused the river levels to rise.

“Water levels of the Mandakini and Alaknanda rivers rose to between 15 and 20 meters during the floods, carrying everything with it, including vehicles and even buildings,” said Manoj Purohit, a flood survivor from Rudraprayag district.

Chander Negi from Augustmuni in the same district added the water levels have not receded since the floods.

“The silt of the flood waters has accumulated at the bottom. We are in danger. The river has never been this close before,” he said.

The Supreme Court last month instructed the federal and state governments not to sanction any more hydroelectric projects, after 24 were found to have significantly impacted biodiversity.

“No doubt energy consumption is increasing, but the government has to look for alternatives like wind, solar and biogas energy,” Joshi said.

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