Damn it!

Is the VHP calling the shots as far as the fate of the Tehri dam is concerned?

By Kushal Pal Singh Yadav
Published: Friday 31 August 2001

Once again the Tehri dam is in the eye of a storm. Buckling under the pressure of Vishwa Hindu Parishad (vhp) supremo Ashok Singhal, the Union government has set up another committee to review the Tehri dam. vhp has made no bones in opposing the dam, saying that it would "kill the sacredness and purity" of the Ganga. But the reason tendered by the VHP has baffled many. They ask whether the nation can afford to waste time and resources for a purely unscientific reason when the river stops to flow after Hardwar. All this when the dam is almost three-fourth complete.

On March 31, 2001, Singhal had threatened to go on a fast if the tunnels at Tehri dam were closed, claiming that this threatened the "self purification qualities" of Ganga jal (water). vhp says that due to a halt in the flow of the river, the self-purification quality of the water would be destroyed. Water will be impounded for days behind a storage reservoir. Apparently, the water will be released every 160 days. Due to this stagnancy, the self-purification quality will be destroyed, claims the vhp .

The government conceded and an 11-member committee was set up on April 10, 2001, to pacify Singhal. If this was not enough, the vhp was allowed to nominate four members to the review committee. "We nominated four members -- T Shivaji Rao, U K Chowdhary, K S Valdiya and G D Agarwal," says Giriraj Kishore, senior vice president, vhp . Other members of the committee include R A Mashelkar, director general, Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, C D Thatte, former secretary, ministry of water resources. It also includes the top brass of the Central Water Commission, Geological Survey of India ( gsi ), Central Pollution Control Board and the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute.

With Murli Manohar Joshi, Union minister for human resource development and science and technology, as its chairperson, the committee is looking into two issues:

l Seismic safety of Tehri dam in the light of Bhuj earthquake, and

l Impact of Tehri dam on self-purification quality of Ganga jal .

As far as the seismic safety is concerned, the dam has already been certified as safe by gsi , the department of earthquake engineering of Roorkee University and Russian experts assigned by the National Geophysical Research Institute. This is not the first time a committee has been set up to review seismic safety of the dam. In 1996, when well-known anti-dam activist Sundar Lal Bahuguna went on a fast, a committee was set up to examine the issue of seismic safety. But even this group concluded that the design of the dam was safe to withstand the "maximum credible earthquake". "This review committee has been set up so that Singhal can have his meals peacefully," quipped an expert.

A veil of secrecy surrounds the committee proceedings. The proceedings of the meetings have been kept secret and members have been instructed not to disclose anything. Down To Earth managed to speak to some members and found that the pro and anti-dam members are locked in an intense battle. "It is a deadlock," says one member. There seems to be three schools of thought within the committee: one which wants to use religious reasons to stop construction, another one, which is pro-dam and the third is neutral. So far, the committee has met at least five to six times and a number of presentations have been made by experts. "It may take another two-three months to reach some sort of conclusion," says one of the members. One thing is clear though: there seems to be a strong lobby in the committee, which supports the cause of vhp .

What remains to be seen is how the Sangh Parivar will influence the recommendations of the committee. But the vhp is already confident about the outcome of the review committee. "We are positive that the committee will give a decision in our favour," says Giriraj Kishore.

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