Although dam related issues of Uttarakhand have been receiving more attention at the national level, there are serious dam related concerns in the neighboring state of Himachal Pradesh as well. To give just one example, so many years have passed since the displacement of many villagers from the submergence area of Pong Dam, but their serious problems still continue and news reports appear from time to time regarding this. Some years back I was even more surprised when I suddenly had visitors at my home who told me that they were representatives of Bhakra dam evictees. Now Bhakra was one of the earliest dam projects of post-independence India and they had been assured of a very fair treatment, but they told me of a very different real experience which was full of problems and unresolved issues. Justice delayed is justice denied, as they say, and these evictees provide a glaring example.
However these problems of displaced people at least get some attention and became an issue. But there are more silent problems of people who are living in neighboring areas of dam construction activity and these problems just get ignored as there is hardly any provision in dam projects for resolving these problems. In Chamba district of Himachal there are around a dozen ( small and big) hydel projects. Prof. Shivani Abrol of Chamba Government College who researched their local impact has written, “ Large-scale execution of hydropower projects has wreaked havoc on hill districts environment and has brought it on the verge of ecological disaster as the flow of major rivers is being diverted into tunnels leaving their original bed dry. Experience from other hydropower projects in the state, especially in Bharmour reveals that the local natural water sources get disturbed and often dry up as a result of the tunneling activity for hydro projects.” More exposure to flash floods on the one hand and droughts on the other hand, deterioration in drinking water quality, more water scarcity are some of the problems that have increased for local communities as a result of dam construction .
While such concerns have existed earlier, after the recent Uttarakhand disaster in a neighboring state now these concerns are being voiced more often and what is more, in areas where very large-scale dam construction activity is planned in future, local communities are now more concerned about safety aspects as well. Several community leaders have expressed their opposition to such large-scale dam construction activity in their region. As The Times of India ( Chandigarh edition, February 9) reported soon after the Uttarakhand disaster , “ The protests against hydel projects already sanctioned and proposed on Chenab basin in Himachal’s Lahaul have started increasing …As of now seven sanctioned projects –Jispa (300 MW), Seli (420 MW), Bardang (138 MW), Tandi (104 MW), Reuli-Dugli (430 MW), Rashil (130 MW), and Miyar (120 MW) are facing public resistance. Many more projects are proposed for the Chenab basin in Lahaul and Pangi regions.” Several struggle committees have emerged. Panchayats have passed resolutions. Grounds of opposition are displacement, other damage and safety risks in this seismic area.
The Indian Express reported on the same day, quoting Vikram Katoch, Vice-President of Save Lahaul Spiti organization, “ 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. Residents here are strictly against hydroelectric projects and are more interested in agriculture and tourism.” This report went on to record the opposition of women groups who had been active in protecting forests as well as of panchayat leaders.
Keeping in view local opposition as well as the opinion of several eminent experts , it is advisable to avoid the new rush for dam projects not just in Himachal Pradesh but all over the Himalayan region.
Bharat Dogra is a journalist and author. His recent books include Planet in Peril and Vimla and Sunderlal Bahuguna—Chipko Movement and the Struggle Against Tehri Dam Project.