THE SUNDAY STORY Dams have played a big role in the way rainfall turned into a disaster in Uttarakhand.

The recent flash floods, cloudbursts, and landslips in Uttarakhand displaced many residents, stranded pilgrims, left people without food, many of them unemployed, and presented a grim picture of a mindless development model.

Dams have played a big role in the way rainfall turned into a disaster in Uttarakhand.

The 330-MW Srinagar dam in Pauri district, now under construction, witnessed a steady increase in water level on June 17. Residents complained that when the level rose without warning, the dam authorities opened the gates to relieve the pressure.

The resulting wall of water swept through downstream colonies. The debris from the dam site was also carried along and deposited at Shakti Vihar and the Sashastra Seema Bal Academy at Srinagar, burying it under silt.

Many villages in Rudraprayag district were swept away. The Singoli-Bhatwari Hydroelectric Project (99 MW) in the district exacerbated the situation. Satish Kumar, an electrician with the project, said the flooded Mandakini swept away two of its units and the debris in the dumping yard.

Debris from the yard of a barrage being built by Lanco Industries was carried by the Mandakini and lies deposited on the riverbed.

At Narayanbagar in Chamoli district, the mountains are fragile. Every year, the slightest rainfall causes landslips and floods. While the entire Pindar Valley around Narayanbagar is crumbling, making people homeless and out of work, a proposed 352-MW hydro project will only make the situation worse, residents say.

The residents say the project will tunnel the Pindar river for 27 km. Also, the dump yard for the project is just 4 km upstream of Narayanbagar. Regular blasting for dam construction will worsen the state of the valley as the tremors will continue to shake the valley for years till the project comes up.

On the way to Govindghat, also in Chamoli district, two hydropower projects are planned on the Alaknanda.

Tehri Hydro Development Corporation’s (THDC) Vishnugad Pipalkoti Hydro Electric Project (444 MW) in the district has constructed an underground tunnel in the mountain on which the villagers live. Regular blasting has weakened the mountains, and tunnelling of the river has left the main stream dry. The debris from the dam site too is dumped in the Alaknanda.

Just a few kilometres upstream of THDC’s project is Jaiprakash Power Ventures Limited’s Vishnuprayag 400-MW hydropower project. Parmendra Bisht of Chaen village, where the powerhouse of the project is located, said: “The underground tunnel leaked in 2007. Slowly, the mud beneath all the houses started sliding as the water from the leakage gushed underneath these houses.

Yashoda Devi, a resident of Chaen, said authorities never accepted that this was the result of the leakage from the tunnel.

The village just above the powerhouse has no electricity. All the streams that helped in irrigation are now dry as all the water has been diverted to the tunnel, and the houses are on the verge of sliding down.

In Uttarkashi, the situation is equally dire. The Maneri Bhali Phase-II hydro project, promising 304 MW, is coming up on the Ganga. For that, some houses along the river were promised alternative land and rehabilitation.

Balwant Ranghar, a resident of Joshiyara in Uttarkashi, said: “It has been almost six years since we were promised rehabilitation, but nothing has been done.

Though the dam authorities have been instructed to store water ensuring that it does not enter our houses, they increase the storage at night.”

In the recent flash floods, water and silt filled the houses of these residents and they had to flee to hotels. No action has been taken by the dam authorities to compensate or rehabilitate these residents. All they are now left with is papers promising them alternative land.