"The degraded Himalayas"

Thursday, June 30, 2016


Developmental  Blues

Somewhere in the midst of our Himalayan sojourn, the sight of a river-crossing riveted my attention. A cable-car made of wood connected to both sides of the River Ganga by thin steel wire was being maneuvered by a small boy. The cradle-like contraption was full of his mates, all school-going children doing the crossing at seventeen feet height with great difficulty. The little navigator pulled the steel wire quite strenuously and eventually reached the other side. Oddly enough, half of the road had been washed away by the devastating floods, three years back. It was a painful sight to watch the kids touching the ground. 

Further up, a private company named Jayaprakash Power Ventures Ltd. was erecting a HEP (Hydro Electric Power) generating station which itself got partially washed away in 2013. However they were in no mood to wind up. How this HEP was going to affect the lives of those school children, I wondered. They would leave the school, I was sure, maximum at plus-Two level to take up farming. The home-grown farmer was sure to fail as his fields would be perennially starved for water.  The deforestation for mega projects resulted in soil erosion already. Agricultural land had been degraded. The water-table was at a much lower level due to “Run of the River” constructions. Water from the reservoir is channelized through ‘penstokes’ (pipes having extra large diameter ) to make the turbines rotate which are kept at the ground level. The water-flow through the river from the dam to the Generating Station is more or less blocked. The fragile ecology of the village is affected beyond repair. Blasting of the country side still goes on. Excavation is unabated. Heavy equipment and machinery constantly move through the crumbly roads sinking them further.  Obviously the roads are built with no Performance Guarantee and hence the quality of construction is far inferior. This is a major cause for landslides. The poor farmer is at peril throughout. The ability of his land to support vegetation is coming to naught (Desertification).

The livelihood issue is paramount because Himalayas are home to more than 10 % of India’s population. There are 15 crores people living in the mountains and foothills. About 30 crores people live in the adjacent plains. The total of 45 crores people is no small a figure. Moreover the rights of indigenous people are protected by the Constitution. Nobody can afford to ignore livelihood-issues.

The Unbearable Weight of Being !

 It is downright foolish to assume that the Himalayan geology can withstand any construction activity. The soil consists mainly of Mica on which no structure can be built safely. But, it’s a free-for-all going on at present.

There are a total of 400 HEPs envisaged in the Himalayan region generating a total of 1,60,000 MW. Uttarkhand on the Ganga basin alone has identified 70 odd HEPs with a total generating capacity of 10,000 MW. Ecology and Hydrology would be definitely affected.  In fact the massive power projects will not service the local people. That’s the saddest part. For the local populace to get benefited, the Government should build a network of small and micro HEPs (below 25 MW). Those SHEPs can be placed at load-centers, i.e., the place where there is maximum demand for electricity.  Long transmission lines are no more required in this set-up. Electricity can be distributed locally. The advantage is that there is a great reduction in Transmission and distribution loss. Together they account for 30 % of the electricity generated in our country. (Ideally it should not cross 12%).

The second developmental activity is the construction of roads. Roads are being constructed even upto the main gate of pilgrim centres. What’s the idea? Why no buffer zone?

On an average, there are 75 mountaineering expeditions, 25,000 trekkers and 2.5 crore pilgrims visit Gangotri glacier every year. They litter the whole place and never take back non-degradable items. Massive hotels are being constructed for them. However, home-stays are not promoted. We wanted to live in home-stays but couldn’t find any.

Everything for DEVELOPMENT’s sake.


If you want to make an omelet, you got to break an egg.

That’s the problem, we need to question our desire for omelets.

If you break too many eggs, there will be no more omelets.