Integrated View of All Dam and Hydro Projects in Himalayan Region is Needed

Tehri Dam

There is generally a very strong tendency in terms of the appraisal of various projects including dam projects on a one-by-one basis. Hardly any effort is made to take an integrated view of the impacts of various projects in a region together, to look at their cumulative impact and inter-actions. This may prove to be a costly mistake particularly in the case when a very large number of projects are being taken up.

There has been a growing realization of the diverse and severe adverse social and environmental impacts of dams in recent decades, as well as of safety risks. These risks are particularly serious in the context of the Himalayan region where potentially a lot of hydro power can be generated but this involves many complications and difficulties, including very serious questions of safety. These have been confirmed repeatedly in the case of several projects, and many disaster situations relating to these projects have already arisen from time to time.

The special complexities and safety risks in the context of the Himalayan region have been confirmed by several senior geologists, engineers and other including those who have occupied very senior official positions.

Despite this the number of dams and hydro projects in this region is going up steadily and this may even be propagated in terms of providing a source of clean energy in times of climate change! If all the projects being seriously considered at present get the go-ahead, then the Himalayan region may become a region of one of the most dense concentrations of dams.

The weaknesses of the appraisal reports on the basis of which  clearances for various individual projects are generally given have been   highlighted from time to time. Many of these reports  would be found wanting if these have to face serious  independent scrutiny.

What is no less important, and perhaps even more important aspect is that an integrated view of all the projects, even those included within a country, or just a state , is often not taken, not to mention an integrated view of the entire Himalayan region.

In the case of India, for example, several reports have been appearing regarding the impact of various projects taken up in Uttarakhand or Himachal Pradesh or Arunachal Pradesh where resistant movements have emerged from time to time and to a lesser extent from other Himalayan states as well. These movements have  made available more details particularly on social and displacement aspects while the reservations voiced in scientific papers are more on geological, environmental and safety aspects. From all this evidence taken together, very serious misgiving emerge regarding the desirability of several of these projects. The information on projects being constructed in one country with serious impacts on people in other countries is  more difficult to access.

However the most disturbing aspect is that an integrated view of all such projects in the entire Himalayan region is not available. If we look at the scale of this impact, the  kind of changes that were not seen in thousands of years are being brought by human made factors within a few decades  in terms of changes in river-flows, structures on them, storages and submergence, direct and indirect displacements of people, geology and geomorphology etc.  of the region. When the pace of such changes is so rapid and also so huge  then surely we need to be very cautious but this caution is being neglected clearly. In terms of impacts on factors like reservoir induced seismicity and the impact of  earthquakes on such structures clearly an integrated view is badly needed. One can only hope that such efforts can be initiated soon before it is too late, and due importance is given to the implications of such an integrated view at policy level.

Bharat Dogra is a journalist and author. His recent books include Planet in Peril and Man Over Machine.




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