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Nefarious truth behind “Urjja Pradesh”

Dr Nitin Pandey

17-April-2011

“Powerful people have changed the name of my Dev Bhoomi to Urjja Pradesh” laments a highly popular song of Narender Singh Negi, a charismatic Uttarakhandi singer. This one line says it all. Associating “Urjja Pradesh” with Uttarakhand started a couple of years back and seeks to change the very identity of our State. Uttarakhand meant for its people, it’s Gods and Goddesses, its mountains and its rivers suddenly styled itself as the powerhouse of the Nation, at the expense of almost everything else.

Can anyone be naïve enough to say that we don’t need electricity? But can anyone be equally naïve enough to say that building environmentally disastrous dams is the only way to develop Uttarakhand, stop migration from the hills and provide employment to the people?

Of course, we need electricity, but green electricity produced from renewable sources of energy. Why is it that in Uttarakhand it appears that the only way to produce electricity is to dam(n) the rivers? Why is it that no one talks of solar and wind mill farms? Has the absolute avoidance of these sources of electricity anything to do with absence of contracts in these projects? Why is it that the Government of Uttarakhand does not even have wind maps of the State?

Tehri Dam would be a good way of assessing the benefits to local people and the State from big projects. Uttarakhand gets a meager 4% of electricity produced from it. A number of villages around the dam site are supplied drinking water by tankers and a many of them do not even have electricity.The only employment it provided the local population was as laborers during its construction. Dozens of villages live under the shadow of recurrent landslides (due to water seeping into the fragile mountains), are cut off from the rest of the world in monsoons due to rising water levels and are fighting for the promises made to them, at the time of dam construction, to be fulfilled. Do we really want to replicate this all over Uttarakhand?

Designed to produce 2400 MW of power, Tehri produces around 600 -700 MW only. Work on Tehri Phase 2, which was to produce 1000 MW, has not even started and the 400 MW Koteshwar Dam is in a mess. It is difficult to understand why, when THDC has not been able to complete Tehri Dam and has been trying to issue tenders for other companies to make Tehri Phase 2, has been given yet another dam to make, the controversial Vishnu Gadh – Pipalkoti Dam. And do remember, Uttarakhand gets only 4% of the output, which comes to around 24 MW!

One wonders why the proponents of dams in Uttarakhand are not upset about the meager 4% share of Uttarakhand, the delay and the bungling in completing Tehri? Also one wonders why those interested in promoting Uttarakhand as “Urjja Pradesh” are silent on the massive 31% transmission loss of electricity in Uttarakhand? The money spent on buying electricity could be reduced by a third, if this massive leakage of electricity is plugged.

Even more naïve, is to blame opposition to environmentally disastrous dams for the lack of electrification of villages in Uttarakhand. That around 1200 villages in Uttarakhand do not have electricity, is because no electricity lines were ever laid to these villages rather than a shortage of electricity. The model of Central generation of power and its subsequent distribution is inappropriate for hill states because of the difficulty in laying lines and maintaining them, which is why, it is ideal to generate power locally (from wind, sun or small turbines).

A study of electricity distribution patterns in Uttarakhand is interesting as it blows to smithereens claims that lack of electricity is harming the people in hills. Roughly 60% electricity is given to the three plain districts of Dehra Dun, Udham Singh Nagar & Haridwar. There are five electricity distribution circles for the three districts and three for the rest of the state. One of the reasons for high electricity requirement in Uttarakhand is the establishment of electricity intensive industries in the Terai region, a choice which people now regret. While the major cities enjoy luxury of almost 24 hour electricity supply, most of the villages in hills have long power cuts.

Uttarakhand was made for the development of people in the hills and not for development at the expense of the people in hills. Much more development can reach the doorstep of a poor villager in the hills by promoting Uttarakhand as “Dev Bhoomi” rather than “Urjja Pradesh”. Dev Bhoomi is a tourist paradise with beautiful mountains, virgin forests and untamed rivers, with village level eco-tourism providing employment at the village level , while Urjja Pradesh is a land slide pocked mountain state with rivers diverted into tunnels in the mountains, villagers forced to live as migrants far away from their ancestral lands and rich contractors.

It is a bit interesting to see sudden spurt of pro-dam activities in Dehra Dun coinciding with the meetings of the Ganga River Basin Authority in New Delhi. In 2009 “villagers in traditional attire” descended on Dehra Dun, a few days before such a meeting, to demand “bijli”, and now we have a surge of media statements and meetings. All these seem to be designed to give an impression of an average resident of Uttarakhand demanding dams. This is in contrast to a survey carried out by Citizens For Green Doon in Dehra Dun, a few years ago, in which around 70% of respondents were against the construction of big dams in Uttarakhand.

It is also very sad to see our Chief Minister, Vijay Bahaguna, coming out aggressively in support of dams after the elections. Perhaps, the electoral result would have been different if he had come out in such a fashion before the elections. His stand on dams saddens me more because the Late Hemwati Nandan Bahuguna was a staunch environmentalist and he was the one who in 1973, had on the height of Chipko movement, ordered a stop to the felling of trees above 1000 meters, a key demand in those days.

To conclude, I would like to say that we do need electricity, but not at the cost of our environment, our heritage and our lives; it is easier to live without electricity than without oxygen and if we really care for our brethren in the hills, then we must promote our State as “Dev Bhoomi” rather than “Urjja Pradesh”.

Jai Hind! Jai Uttarakhand!!



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Date14-Oct-15
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Date09-Jul-12
From: BCKMishra
Uttarakhand gets 12% free power from all the central sector projects developed in the state apart from about 3% as share of Uttarakhand in the electricity being generated in northern grid from central pool (as per Gadgil formula) and not 4% as mentioned in your article.




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