Hydro-power plants to blame for floods
A report released earlier this week by an environment ministry panel says badly managed hydro-power projects in northern India were partly to blame for last year’s deadly floods.
The panel findings highlight the problem facing India, one of the world's lowest per-capita energy consumers, as it rushes to expand power generation to meet rising demand.
Governments have long sought to harness the power of rivers despite the risks, in part to diversify away from polluting coal and gas plants that are increasingly costly to run.
The Himalayan state of Uttarakhand was hit by its heaviest rainfall on record in June 2013, causing lakes and rivers to burst their banks, inundating towns and villages below.
In a report commissioned by the Ministry of Environment and Forests, a panel of 11 experts said that hydroelectric plants had led to the build-up of huge volumes of sediment in rivers that was not managed properly.
The sediment raised river beds during the floods and was then flushed downstream, aggravating the severity of the flooding.
“Can it be a mere coincidence that the maximum destruction of land and property occurred in areas downstream of hydro-power projects?” the experts asked, referring to three projects in particular.
The official death toll was 900 with more than 5,700 people declared missing, making it the deadliest ever in the mountainous region. Floods or landslides also washed away or damaged 5,000 roads, 200 bridges and innumerable buildings.
The experts also rejected suggestions that the extent of the flooding was caused by deforestation or the breaching of dams brought on by landslides, as was the case in previous floods.
Himanshu Thakkar, co-ordinator of the South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People, a Delhi-based environmental group, welcomed the report yet believes that due to the small sample size, its results lack certain validity.
“Most of the recommendations are useful but some of them are a bit weak,” he said. “We think they should have asked for all work on the 24 proposed projects to stop immediately – they should have said this explicitly.”