Friday, July 05, 2013

After the suffering

About a month ago, I'd read a critique of the report of the Inter-Ministerial Group (IMG) on hydropower projects in the Upper Ganga Basin and Ganga River. The report was submitted to the Ministry of Environment and Forests. It came in for sharp criticisms from the South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People (SANDRP), which claims that the report is biased in favour of large hydropower projects.

IMG stated that 69 large hydropower projects in the Upper Ganga basin already exist. But, apparently only 17 are operating and 14 under construction. SANDRP points out that the report has even included projects which were officially dropped.

Another criticism is that the report doesn't bother with science. It says “the distance between two hydro projects should... ensure that over-crowding is avoided” but doesn't define over-crowding. At the same time smaller distances between projects are justified if gradient is high. I quote from the SANDRP critique: “if gradient is high, for the same distance, the river will have less time to travel than if the gradient were low. It is in fact the 'time of free flow' that is a crucial... for river to regenerate itself. So if the river were to have the same amount of time to flow between two points, with higher gradient, river will require more distance.”

IMG wants six rivers to stay 'pristine' but also recommends projects on these rivers. There are other serious problems. It wants to implement projects on a stretch of the Bhagirathi that has already been declared eco-sensitive. It is also interestting that none of the non-government members in the group (3 out of 15) have endorsed this report (those who are interested in details can read the full critique at

The question now is – after the tragedy in Uttarakhand, after over a thousand have lost their lives, will the ministry of environment change its attitude to large hyropower projects, or not?

A lot of India's messing about with Himalayan rivers is on account of our hunger for electricity. But it has always confounded me why India doesn't work harder to minimize the burden by turning to our greatest resource – the sun.

Whenever the question of solar power came up in previous decades, one heard excuses like how it is too expensive, how it cannot be supplied off-grid easily, how it is 'unfeasible'. But it's nowhere near as unfeasible as it's made out to be. I've lived in houses that use solar-powered water heaters. I've been to villages where people are denied grid-connectivity but with a solar power unit, each home could at least charge mobile phones, torches, and light a bulb at night. Why is this dismissed or scoffed at?

Many states are now giving solar energy a bit of a push. Kerela, Tamil Nadu, Gujarat have taken steps to introduce solar panels on roof-tops. Every town has its own climate to factor in, of course. But Delhi has a better chance at capturing solar energy than Kerela and it is high time greater efforts were made. In fact, Greenpeace organised a 'bike-a-thon' recently. Reports say that bicycles were generating electricity, lighting up the message: “Switch on the Sun”.

Delhi has had plans for solar-powered households since 2011. This year Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit finally launched a project whereby reportedly 1,257 solar panels generated power from the roof-tops of the discom BYPL.

I believe that should a time come that hydropower is not available, alternatives will spring up overnight. Every home (starting with the richest) and every state will make provision for its own supply. The tragedy is that it hasn't happened already.

First published here

1 comment:

Tushar Mangl said...

Really agree with you on this. Solar power is our ultimate strength. But the corporates are chasing the rivers and the Prime Minister is still gung ho about Nuclear power. Solar Power is the real answer to our energy problems.

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