Narendra Modi has criticised the Congress Government of Uttarakhand for not being able to push hydropower projects. He has said that the people of the state are unemployed, but the UPA Government is not concerned. He has also suggested that Uttarakhand should be named a different type of SEZ—Spiritual Environment Zone. He has thus projected hydropower as a solution to the problem of unemployment and he sees no conflict of this with spiritual life.
Modi’s understanding is wholly misplaced. Jobs are created in hydropower projects during the short phase of construction, which lasts 4-5 years. Thereafter, a large project typically requires the services of barely 150 workers, most of whom are skilled engineers from outside. These projects, however, lead to a huge loss of long-term employment. Large areas of cultivated fields are submerged in the reservoirs of the projects, leading to loss of jobs in cultivation. Large areas of forests are submerged, leading to loss of grazing land and minor forest produce. Rivers go dry or are converted into reservoirs, leading to loss of fishing and sand harvesting. Thus, jobs in hydropower are akin to making coffins.
The conflict of hydropower with the spiritual environment is even more damaging. This was seen in the disaster at Kedarnath earlier this year. The immediate cause of the disaster at Kedarnath in Uttarakhand appears to be global warming, which has led to increased incidence of cloudbursts. Cloudbursts are natural phenomena that have been occurring since times immemorial. But the capacity of the earth to bear the cloudburst has been eroded by human actions. Before, there was ample green cover. Rainfall would seep into the earth, alongside the roots of trees. This water was stored in hill aquifers. The trees also held the soil together and did not let it get washed away with the heavy downpour. The reduction of forest cover and the chipping away at the mountains has ensured that less water seeps into the earth and more flowing down in a torrent, carrying along boulders and uprooted trees. I have seen huge logs, about 3 feet in diameter and 20 feet long, flowing down the Alaknanda during the recent events. Knowledgeable hydrologists have told me that the Himalayan rivers bring along with them boulders of up to 6 feet diameter. These boulders and tree trunks hit against the foundations of bridges and houses and bring them down. The same amount and velocity of plain water would not inflict as much damage because it would flow around the structures.
Two hydropower projects are in progress in the mountains below Kedarnath. These are Phata-Byung and Singoli-Bhatwari. About 15 kilometres of tunnelling is being carried out in each of these projects. For this purpose, dynamites are being used. This blasting has had two effects. One, it has weakened the mountains. Consequently, the water flowing after the cloudburst has been bringing down more muck and boulders. Secondly, it has created cracks in the mountains. The water stored in the aquifers has leaked out through the tunnels. Springs have dried up. Trees have been deprived of moisture and have become weak. They are not able to hold and slow down the downpour as much as they did before. This has resulted in more boulders and trees flowing down and has led to disaster.
The Ganga is considered holy because its water carries the spiritual charge from the shrines of Kedarnath and Badrinath. This spiritual charge gets destroyed when the water hits the turbine blades. Research by Masaru Emoto of Japan has shown that molecular clusters of H2O form beautiful six-cornered shapes in free flowing rivers, while they are disorganised in stagnant and polluted waters. There exists, therefore, a direct conflict between our holy shrines and spiritual powers of our rivers on the one hand, and hydropower on the other.
The question is why are the Congress and the BJP both pushing hydropower? Because it is good for their business and the same goes for officials. I am informed by sources that a bribe of Rs 1 crore per megawatt is being handed out for signing the MoU for generation of hydropower. This is a huge amount, considering the hydropower potential of Uttarakhand of about 40k megawatts. The state government gets 12 per cent free power from these projects. It sells this power. One-half of the revenue earned is used to pay ever-increasing salaries, pensions and perks to government employees. A share of the remaining goes towards administrative expenses. The remainder is spent for public works. Of this, the going rate for bribes is 20 to 50 per cent. On the whole, a mere 20 per cent of the revenue reaches the people, as once famously stated by Rajiv Gandhi. But they bear a 100 per cent of the negative impact. They lose the sand and fish that they previously got from the river. Mosquitoes breed in hydropower dams. People die of malaria, dengue and other diseases . And, of course, the very same people further bear the brunt of disasters such as the one that took place recently. The electricity generated, however, is mostly enjoyed by the rich. The benefits from illegal mining too, similarly accrue mostly to the rich, who use the minerals. The powers-that-be make hay with the hefty bribes involved in the process.
Cloudbursts mean a bonanza for politicians and officials. First they make bribes from hydropower projects, inviting cloudbursts. Officials get higher salaries and perks from the revenues generated by the sale of free power. Then there is the business of distributing relief. The rich in Dehradun get cheap electricity for running their air-conditioners, cheap minerals for their lavish houses and cheap land from encroachments. It is the aam janata which suffers the devastation from cloudbursts. They suffer the environmental costs of hydropower. They suffer from an incensed nature as mountains give way and the forests disappear. The present cloudburst is a natural phenomenon, but the devastation is mainly manmade to supply benefits to the rich and benefit themselves in the process. In the process, huge costs are imposed on the poor.
Narendra Modi has caged the Sabarmati between brick walls at Ahmedabad. The river flows as directed by Modi, not as per her own wishes. Modi now similarly proposes to cage the holy rivers of Uttarakhand, which is fine, because politicians are what they are. But it is rather an oxymoron, to speak in the same breath about hydropower bringing in jobs and spiritual environment. Modi must reconsider his support to hydropower not only in Uttarakhand but in all states because people of all states want lasting+ jobs and all rivers of the country are holy.