The people are not against dams. But the Government has been carried away by the assessments of self-styled environmentalists.
As a source of water, Himalayan Rivers, especially the Ganga, have been crucial for many human settlements.
The stretch of the Ganga beyond Rishikesh fulfils the demands of many industries, including irrigation and transport.
Economic activities, including its use as natural sewers, have placed a heavy burden on this river, but much of it has happened outside Uttarakhand.
Development in Uttarakhand, especially in its mountainous regions, is restricted. Presently, only two sectors — tourism and hydropower — have the potential to improve the economic condition of this mountainous region.
In these hills, hydropower projects are the only means by which the unused water can be used to uplift the economic status of the people. Run-of-the-river hydropower projects will not withhold the water and the question of discontinuity of water flow does not arise.
Hydropower is more environment-friendly, compared with the other uses to which the river is put.
Primary stakeholders, like the hill people living in the Ganga basin, must have the same opportunities as the downstream people to use the river water for their economic development.
HYDEL PROJECTS WELCOMED
Hydropower projects are almost always welcomed by the local people. The resistance expressed by the people is not against hydropower projects, but is aimed at securing their rights in terms of livelihood and proper compensation. Self-styled environmentalists who cry for saving the Ganga neither have the scientific background nor an understanding of the socio-economic conditions of the hill people, to make a critical assessment of hydel projects.
The Central Government went overboard and intervened in developmental projects like hydropower on the insistence of such people and organisations.
A very recent example of this is the Cumulative Environmental Impact Assessment (CEIA) study awarded by Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India, to Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Roorkee, and Wildlife Institute of India (WII), Dehradun.
A quick and unscientific approach to CEIA by a reputed institute like WII has already started misleading decision-makers.
The interim report of WII — full of mistakes and written with little scientific facts — was the basis of MoEF's decision to stop three major projects and permit two others.
The final report of WII changed the entire approach of evaluation and is totally different from interim report. In fact, the final report hides the mistakes that were made in the interim report.
The team members of the study did not make any effort to understand the designs of various projects, before actually studying their impact.
We feel this report should not be used for verifying facts or making any policy decision.
Such misleading reports may further strengthen vested interests that are already active in stalling hydropower development in the state.
(The authors are with the Department of Forestry, HNB Garhwal University.)