|A dried riverbed of the Bhagirathi downstream in Uttarkashi district.|
As the state goes to the third Assembly polls on January 30, the most controversial and most important issue for the state remains the development of its hydroelectric potential.
Although most of the political parties talk of building the hydroelectric potential keeping in view the environmental concerns, the two parties, the BJP and the Congress, that ruled the state for the past more than 11 years failed to evolve a power policy. More than six agitations all across the hilly areas of the state were organised against the construction of such hydroelectric projects.
At the time of the formation of the state, hydroelectric potential was billed as the singlemost important resource of the state with a capacity of 20,000 MW. Both political parties termed the state “Urja Pradesh” with a promise of exploiting its hydroelectric potential. However, in the past 11 years, confusion on the issue whether to go in for bigger hydroelectric or opt for smaller hydroelectric projects has been created as people in the state are up in arms against the proposed hydroelectric projects.
Uttarakhand finds itself at a crossroads of development, politics and ecological concerns.
The ruling BJP finds itself caught in its own political web. The development strategy vis-à-vis tapping the hydroelectric potential of the state since its formation has been mired in politics. At the time of the formation of the state on November 9, 2000, it had a total generation capacity of 1100 MW of power from the existing hydroelectric projects.
However, the trouble for the hydro-power sector started in June 2008 when environmentalist Prof GD Agarwal started his fast in protest against hydroelectric projects on the Bhagirathi, citing the sentiments of the Hindu community which revered the river as sacred.
He got ample support from the RSS and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP). Under pressure from the party high command, then Chief Minister BC Khanduri, reluctantly, stopped two of the major power projects, namely 480 MW Pala Maneri and 381 MW Bhairon Ghati Phase-I and phase-II upstream of Uttarkashi on the Bhagirathi.
Agarwal then started another fast to stop work on the Lohari Nagpala project being built by the National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC). Apprehensive of the approaching Lok Sabha elections of 2009, the Union Government stopped the work on the project despite spending Rs 800 crore.
The Uttarakhand BJP government then focused its attention on smaller hydroelectric projects but the entire process of giving tenders of 56 such projects was mired in controversy following allegations of corruption and favouritism, forcing the state government to cancel the entire process as the matter went to the high court.
Moreover, the Ganga River Basin Authority declared the 135 km stretch of the Bhagirathi from Gaumukh to Uttarakashi as the eco-sensitive zone and ordered to stop all three major hydroelectric projects.
“Both Congress as well as BJP governments added only 304 MW of power in the past 11 years. This is the situation of the most important resource of the state. One can imagine about other resources,” claimed SS Pangtey, a retired senior bureaucrat and leader of the Uttarakhand Raksha Morcha.
The first elected Congress government of ND Tiwari did work to increase the hydro-power potential by awarding various projects to public and private sector units amid protests by environmentalists and social organisations. The Congress government restarted the pending 304 MW Maneri Bhali-phase-II that got completed in 2007 but pledged to have only run of the river type of projects instead of storage dams.
Two power projects, namely 400 MW Vishnuprayag by a private company and 180 MW Dhauli Ganga project by the National Hydroelectric Power Corporation (NHPC), were the projects that got completed besides completion of 1000 MW Tehri project by the Tehri Hydroelectric Development Corporation (THDC). The state government gets around 13 per cent of the power from these projects as royalty.
“We are for the development of hydroelectric projects keeping in view all environmental concerns of the local people,” maintains Surender Aggarwal, spokesperson of the Uttarakhand Congress.
With industrialisation and urban development of the Terai regions of Haridwar, Dehradun and Udham Singh Nagar districts, the power demand has skyrocketed in the past decade but the state government will be unable to meet the peak demand. The state BJP government has demanded 2000 MW of free power from the Centre for cancellation of power projects.