Dam(n) dangerous

A Srinivas | Updated on January 23, 2018 Published on May 27, 2015


India’s hydel projects in the Himalayas are vulnerable to quakes

The twin earthquakes in Nepal should lead to a review of Indian hydel power projects in the Himalayan region. It is surprising that the government has not made a statement in this regard. This is despite the huge number of hydel projects under construction in Uttarakhand. The government’s silence seems particularly odd in view of reports of extensive damage to hydel projects in Nepal. According to a compilation by South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People (SANDRP), 16 hydel projects suffered cracks and tunnel leakages, while the Rasuwagadhi dam under construction was badly damaged.

India has been lucky. But we cannot afford to ignore the vulnerability of hydel projects to quakes, floods and landslides, quite apart from their impact in terms of deforestation and displacement. The June 2013 floods in Uttarakhand damaged the 400 MW Vishnuprayag dam on the Alaknanda river. On August 11, 1979, floods on the Machhu river in Gujarat washed away a dam and with it the industrial township of Morbi, wiping out over 5,000 lives.

It is accepted that dam reservoirs too can trigger serious quakes, such as in the Koyna dam region in 1967. This quake claimed close to 200 lives and damaged the dam as well. The Three Gorges Dam in China is known to have triggered seismic activity. Tunnelling and blasting activity in Kinnaur in Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand to divert river water through huge passages can have seismic consequences. The Tehri dam stands on a major fault, despite warnings by seismologists not to build the dam there.

SANDRP points out that while Uttarakhand has about 100 hydel projects with a capacity of 3600 MW, 41 projects amounting to a capacity of 2400 MW are under construction and another 197 projects with a capacity of 21,000 MW are proposed!

This is madness in the name of ‘development’. Both energy demand and supply cannot be seen as rising without limit.

Deputy Editor

Published on May 27, 2015
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