“The Ganga to me is the symbol of India’s memorable past which has been flowing into the present and continues to flow towards the ocean of the future.” – Jawaharlal Nehru
The ever increasing demand for power and electricity has forced the government work out different plans at any cost. An RTI filed by water activist Bharat Jhunjhunwala in 2010 revealed that the Uttarakhand government planned to construct 557 dams across the Ganga and its tributaries. After being turned into a virtual drain , where 2.9bn litres of sewage is dumped into the river daily, now the flow of ’the holy river’ in its upper course is being slowed down to near standstill.
The side-effects from these dams outdoes the benefits it brings to the people. The Tehri dam, on Bhagirathi river (source stream of the Ganges) is a perfect example. 1000MW hydro capacity dam has been the object of protests by environmental organisations and local people of the region. Located in the Central Himalayan Seismic Gap, a major geologic default zone, seismologists say that earthquakes with a magnitude of 8.5 or more could occur in this region. A perfect recipe for disaster.
The environmental consequences of large dams are numerous and varied, and includes direct impacts to the biological, chemical and physical properties of rivers and riparian environments. The report prepared by the Wildlife Institute of India (WII), Dehradun, warns the Centre against going ahead with 24 hydropower projects planned on the Alaknanda and Bhagirathi river systems in Uttarakhand. The Kotli-Bhel dam at Devprayag will submerge 1200 hectares of forest, wiping out the river otters and ‘mahaseer’ (a kind of fish) that are found here. The flora, especially the bryophytes and fungi which are significant part of the river eco-system are in danger. Chemical Oxygen Demand (COD), a measure of pollution in water was found to be as high as 39.4mg/l (permissible limt-25mg/l) at site 2 and 3 of Tehri Dam.
Due to building of the reservoir for these dams, huge amount of lands will be submerged including numerous villages and hamlets which will ultimately lead to relocation of millions of people dwelling there. The likelihood of floods in the downstream course of the river is quite imminent. ‘Save Ganga’ crusader and activist Mr.G.D Agarwal and many other organisations such as Ganga Ahvaan, Bhagirathi Bachao Andolan Samiti are putting up protests against these projects.
Instead of going on with these plans, government should look out for alternate sources of energy in the form of wind power, solar power and biomass energy or lowering power transmission loss which stands at 30-40%. Mr G.D Agarwal has asked 125km stretch starting at Gangotri to be left pristine and unharmed, possibly outside the reach of the government.