HP Upreti, an ex-serviceman lives in the Shakti Vihar locality of the Srinagar town of Uttarakhand. He vividly recalls the day, five years ago, when one of the worst natural disasters struck his hometown. “The water came rushing in. It was everywhere. Its a scene I will never forget.”
Srinagar was one of the worst-hit areas during the devastating June 2013 floods in Uttarakhand. Low lying areas of the town, like Shakti Vihar, were inundated and houses were filled with muck deposited by floodwaters.
“Nearly the whole colony was underwater. The whole area was filled with muck brought in by floods. All the houses were filled with muck and in some cases, the water had completely covered the ground floor of the house. I suffered heavy damage and everything was destroyed,” Upreti recounted to Mongabay-India while showing the restoration work he carried out. “I got only Rs one lakh (Rs 100,000) compensation and that too after a lot of haggling. I didn’t want to shift from here and so, since 2013, I have spent over Rs 14 lakh (Rs 1.4 million) to restore my house,” added Upreti, who is now fighting a case for enhanced compensation.
Over 1,800 days have passed since the June 2013 floods that brought widespread tragedy to Uttarakhand. But its scars remain fresh.
THE DISASTER THAT SHOOK THE HILL STATE
It has been estimated that about 6,000 people were killed, found missing or presumed dead, 4,200 villages were affected, 9,200 cattle/livestock were lost and 3,320 houses were completely damaged due to the floods.
Extensive relief and rehabilitation work has been carried out across the state but the scars of the tragedy are hard to go past.
Experts, both private and from government-funded institutions, unequivocally agree that the magnitude of the disaster caused by the June 2013 floods that ravaged a part of the hill state, had increased manifold due to unabated illegal construction on river floodplains and the government’s relentless pursuit of hydropower projects. Currently, the State plans to develop 450 hydroelectric projects (HEPs) across the state to harness the potential of generating 27,039 MW of power. Local communities in Srinagar town believe that the 330 megawatts Srinagar hydroelectric power project built on Alaknanda River amplified the damage.
Their fears were confirmed in the 2014 report of an expert committee, formed on Supreme Court’s order and led by environmentalist Ravi Chopra.
THE GOVERNMENT CONTINUES TO PUSH FOR DAMS
Despite several expert committees questioning the role of a large number of dams spread across Uttarakhand, the State government has not slowed its push for more such dams as it believes hydropower is an important source of revenue and will bring development to the state.
In terms of the hydropower potential, Uttarakhand is next only to Arunachal Pradesh and has an ambitious programme.
According to data from the Uttarakhand Jal Vidyut Nigam Limited (UJVNL), the nodal corporation of the Uttarakhand government for managing hydro power generation at existing power stations and developing new hydro projects, the plan is to develop 450 hydroelectric projects (HEPs) across the state to harness its potential of 27,039 MW.
Over 250 of these projects are still on the drawing board and growing concerns about the effect of dams on biodiversity and riverine ecosystems have not helped their case either.
COULD THE UNRELENTING PURSUIT OF HYDROELECTRICITY DO MORE HARM THAN GOOD?
A 2015 report by the Comptroller and the Auditor General of India had noted that the “natural terrain conditions combined with climatic/ weather conditions and haphazard human intervention resulted in the unprecedented disaster in the Kedar and Mandakini Valleys and in other parts of the State”.
Meanwhile, even as impacts of big dams are being debated, India is looking at building the country’s highest dam in Uttarakhand.