TODAY -

Dams & hydropower push in the Himalayas: Concerns of the indigenous communities

Jajo Themson *



Introduction: On a global view, those countries especially where large dams are built like China, USA, Japan, Brazil, South Korea, Canada, South Africa and Spain, are in the stage of decommissioning and removal of mega dam projects on realizing the relative low contribution and multiple negative impacts they had created such as contamination of water, environment, climate, ecosystem and health deterioration etc. and disruptive and dislocated human life.

On the other perspective, there has been strong push towards construction of more and more dams and hydropower projects under two fundamental global challenges that compelled to find new avenues for fulfilling its requirements. One of the important challenges is the increased threat of climate change and its projection of "Carbon emission free energy".

It calls for a shift from carbon intensive energy sources like coal, oil and natural gases which contribute about 77% of the global energy requirement consequently, proponents of hydropower technologies along with other nuclear fission, solar, wind and renewable plants are being attempted to capture space. Another important challenge the current world faces is energy crisis. There is relative shortage of Oil supply in the global level, supply of Natural gases etc.

Still there is another third global factor of evolution of many Multi-Millionaires/Billionaires who are looking for newer avenue for investment growth with the profit motives, making the southern nations as hunting ground. Therefore, the very view of finding hydropower based green and clean energy, opens a wide door for them for rapid intervention.

Moreover, the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) signed by 76 countries in the UN Conference 2012, ruled out hydropower as carbon free, renewable, clean and green energy. Furthermore, in facing these changing global scenarios, mainly the dual challenges, global energy industry is pushing towards hydropower in the renewed perspective.

With huge financial offer, the focus is made towards building hundreds of dams & hydropower project in the South Asian Himalayan countries like Jammu & Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, North Eastern states of India, Nepal, Bhutan, Sikkim. Being natural resources in the developed countries have almost been exploited; direction is pushed towards river valleys of these developing Himalayan countries which is the most suitable as it constitutes the Water Tower of Asia.

Consequently there has been increased effort of dam attacks in the Himalayas without serious consideration of possible devastation to natural environment, eco-system, human livelihood and other negative impacts.

Concerns of the Indigenous Communities: Like there has been increased global push towards construction of many dams & hydropower plants in the abovementioned region through various imperative circumstances, so is compelling for the right thinking citizens too to rise up to protect and save our rivers and their tributaries and survival source of the people.

Considering the necessity of response and actions to the arising issues, a three days South Asian Conference on Dams & Hydropower in the Himalayas was organized at Rishikesh, Uttarakhand from 16-18 March 2018 under the initiative of Public Advocacy Initiatives for Rights and Values in India (PAIRVI).

During the Conference, serious comparative discussions were made on the multiple impacts of the previous bitter experiences of dam projects and possible negative impacts when several new dam projects are built in the Himalayas. It was deliberated that submergence of fertile land in the river valleys, destruction of forest, grazing fields, involuntary social displacement, disruptive livelihood by both physical and economy, increased vulnerability to large communities populations who are dependent on nature both in the upstream & downstream area, loss of biodiversity, ecosystem & environment etc. are mostly caused large dam projects.

Feasibility of dams & hydropower project in the Himalayas: It's so true as Medha Patkar, renown Human rights activist stated that "Building of dams is nothing but rivers & people plus eco-system do matter" And regarding feasibility of dams & hydropower projects in the Himalayas region, Mr. Jayanta Bandhya Padhaya, former Professor, Indian Institute of Management, Kolkata remarked "As ecology & environment, topography, Bio-diversity in the Himalayas and other impacts are not well understood, building of dams & hydropower projects in the Himalaya is not encouragible"

Besides this, the movement and process of Tectonic in the Himalayas are unsafe as there are earth tremors every 22nd days in the region and hence, there is high possibility of more and more occurrence of earth-quake. 85% of land sliding in the Himalayan region is due to seismic process.

It is also a proven fact that the North Eastern Region of India falls under Seismic Zone-V. Reflecting the proposed 240 MG Silent valley Project in Kerala which was totally halted due to possible negative environmental impacts and the Irrawady dam, the largest dam project in Kachin state of Myanmar which was also stopped by the public in 2011, it was a compelling circumstance that any mega dams & hydropower projects cannot be built in the ecologically and environmentally fragile Himalayas region covering the North Eastern states of India.

Conclusion: In conclusion, it is comprehensive that Rivers, Water, Ecosystem & Environment, Climate Change, energy, People's life and dams & hydropower projects are inseparably interrelated. As per my experiences, it may not be the best solution to compromise our natural environment, eco-system, rights and livelihood of the people for achieving some percentage of energy requirement and in the name of finding renewable, Clean & Green energy.

While there is eminent push of building multiple dams & hydropower projects in the Himalaya region, the Rishikesh Conference of the South Asian countries (16-18/03/2018) decided on consensus to form a common platform with the name "Himalaya Rivers' Forum" with the main objectives to save our rivers; ensuring their free flow, to preserve ecosystem, protect environment, to secure livelihood and rights of the river valley dependent people, a platform to raise joint effort and solidarity in any related issues, move against treaties on trans-border river valley projects etc.

It is hoped that all right thinking citizens of states, regions and countries across the globe need collective response to protect and save our rivers in the interest of global environmental integrity and their long sustainability.


* Jajo Themson wrote this article for The Sangai Express
This article was webcasted on April 10, 2018.



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