Widespread protests near Tehri

Monday 13 December 2010

Residents are angry after increase in the dam’s water level led to landslides and subsequent house collapse

SUDDEN landslides near Tehri Dam in Uttarakhand have forced residents of nearly four dozen villages to launch an agitation against the Tehri Hydroelectric Development Corporation (THDC).

The corporation increased water level of the 35-km reservoir beyond 832 metres between September 18 and 20 before bringing it down. The sudden move made 45 “partially affected” villages vulnerable to landslides.

On November 7, villagers of Sarot sat on hungerstrike after about 15 houses collapsed in landslide. In New Tehri too, dharna was started. Sunderlal Uniyal, a resident of Jaspur and a member of Nagrik Manch, sat on fast-unto-death on November 11.

“Water level was allowed to go up to 832 metres between September 18 and 20, much beyond the permitted 820 metres. The THDC went to Supreme Court seeking permission to hold water till 830 metres. They said the situation could flood Haridwar and Rishikesh. But what about people living here?” asked Prem Dutt Jual, a BJP leader in New Tehri.

Even the powerhouse of the under-construction Koteshwar Dam, right below Tehri Dam, was flooded and damaged. The estimated loss is Rs 100 crore. It is being cleaned up now. The actual loss will be assessed after that, said Puran Singh Rana of Matu Jan Sangathan, a non-profit that works against dams in Uttarakhand.

“According to our survey, all 45 villages near the reservoir’s rim area have suffered in some way. In case of Nakot and Raulakot, that are above 900 metres, even the government has accepted that they have been totally destroyed by landslides,” said Rana.

Two crucial bridges—at Chinyali Soar where the reservoir ends upstream of the dam and at Ghonti that connects about 60 villages to the main road—are already submerged. People have to take a diversion of 20-50 km now to reach the district headquarters.

On November 7, villagers of Sarot, who were not compensated for their collapsed houses, threatened to take 'jal samadhi'. A representative of the district magistrate had assured them action within 15 days. “Nothing has happened till date. Our village is exactly at 840 metres, the reservoir’s maximum height. But the THDC is talking about rehabilitation only for villages till 835 metres. No one in the government is listening to us,” said Roshan Lal, a resident of Sarot.

Activists say the apex court has told both the THDC and the Uttarakhand government to rehabilitate people in the area before increasing the water level. But it has had no effect.

“The state government claims it has no money for rehabilitation. But it is entitled to 12 per cent free power generated by THDC. Revenue from this power is supposed to fund rehabilitation, which is not being done,” said Vimal Bhai of Matu Jan Sangathan.

“The actual damage due to the reservoir can be seen up to 1,250 metres,” said Jual.

The state government has constituted a committee of scientists from Geological Survey of India, IIT-Roorkee, forest department and R&R department to check the damage and prepare a report for rehabilitation.

“The committee surveyed 32 villages in just three days by travelling in boats. What will they find if they don’t walk up to these villages and see the damage?” asked Jual. “We can’t say anything till the survey is complete,” said Harish Bahuguna, senior scientist at GSI who is part of the committee.

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