World Bank panel mulls investigation into complaints against Vishnugadh hydropower project

Residents of a village have alleged that the muck threatens a historic temple and construction has affected their livelihood and access to water

August 26, 2022 10:15 pm | Updated 10:15 pm IST - NEW DELHI

About 40% of funds for the $792 million Tapovan-Vishnugad hydel project has already been disbursed

About 40% of funds for the $792 million Tapovan-Vishnugad hydel project has already been disbursed | Photo Credit: V. V. Krishnan


An independent panel of the World Bank is considering a plea by residents of Haat village, Chamoli district, Uttarakhand to investigate environmental damage from the under-construction Vishnugad Pipalkoti Hydro Electric Project (VPHEP) in the district, according to documents reviewed by The Hindu.

The 444-MW VPHEP is being built by the Tehri Hydropower Development Corporation (THDC), a partially State-owned enterprise. The project is primarily funded by the World Bank and was sanctioned in 2011. It is proposed to be completed in June 2023.  About 40% of the funds for the $792 million project (₹64,000 crore approx.) had already been disbursed.

Residents in their complaint to the bank panel have said muck dumping from the dam threatens the local Lakshmi Narayan Temple, which is deemed to be of historical and cultural importance by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI).

The historical significance of the temple wasn’t known until the ASI investigated and submitted its report this year, said Mallika Bhanot, an environmentalist based in Uttarakhand.

The complainants, whose identities aren’t public, but comprise 83 community members of the village, said that other than ecological damage the project had caused forced resettlement, loss of livelihoods and, in several instances, the amount of compensation offered was inadequate.

Last September, community members who refused to take compensation and relocate voluntarily were evicted, and some were “locked up in the police station,” the plea notes.

They also complained about the limited availability of water saying that 70 of the 92 households received water only for two hours daily and that 12 received water for two to five hours daily, while before the project construction, they had ready access to water.

This is the third such complaint to the bank panel by villagers with neither of them having triggered an investigation by the panel. Before deciding on whether such an investigation is required, the panel had written to the bank management asking for a response to the issues raised by the villagers.

The panel also contacted the project management of the THDC who, it said, assured them that they wouldn’t dump muck close to the Lakshmi Narayan Temple, that they were continuing to support livelihood activities and that a grievance redress mechanism, which included community members, was established in 2009.

Water supply in the resettled area was reviewed in June 2022 and that water is pumped twice daily from the river to a water tank in the resettled area, which could be accessed by households, the management informed the panel.

The panel noted that this time, fresh issues were being raised and the third request presented “new evidence or describes new circumstances that relate to i) physical cultural resources and the allegation that muck dumping is threatening the stability and the existence of the Lakshmi Narayan Temple, ii) the allegation of worsening economic conditions of community members, and iii) the allegation of limited accessibility to water sources by community members.” The panel also noted the requesters’ claim that they are not being heard on these issues.

Hydropower projects in Uttarakhand have been a controversial issue particularly since 2013 following the 2013 floods in Kedarnath that killed at least 4,000 and caused widespread destruction. Following complaints by local environmentalists, the Supreme Court ordered a review of hydropower electric projects and tasked a panel of experts with determining whether they were environmentally sustainable. Based on their reports, two ministries – the Environment Ministry and the Jal Shakti Ministry— concurred that most of the projects sanctioned by the Uttarakhand government needed to be junked, except for seven that were already over 50% complete. The VPHEP is one such.

However several environmentalists say the Environment Ministry is pushing for more projects, going by their most recent communication to the Supreme Court via an affidavit in August 2021.

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