Is it wise to have hydropower project near Badrinath. — An old report by Chandi Prasad Bhatt on a power project near Badrinath. Translated from Hindi

Uttrakhand Himalaya is endowed with rich bio-diversity and provides wide varieties of natural resources including the life sustaining water to the Indian sub-continent. In the recent times, the enormous hydroelectricity potential of Uttarakhand has made it

synonymous with the URJA-ANCHAL (Power State). Driving through various river
basins, one can witness that majority of the river valleys are riddled with hydropower
construction activities.
One such project is planned near Badrinath between Rarang Chatti and Kiro Gad
(Hanuman Chatti). According to the project report, the proposed barrage site would be ~3
km down stream of the Badrinath temple. Total catchment area of the river basin at the
barrage site would be 1010 km2 out of which around 660 km2 is snowy catchment. Water
from the barrage will be diverted through a 2875 m long and 4.3 m diameter head race
tunnel that will open near Kiro Gad where an underground power house is proposed.
Total cost of the project as on 2006 was 1456.65 crore rupees. Here it is worth
mentioning that the proposed barrage site of this project ~15 km upstream from the
Vishnuprayag project. Becasuse of the Vishnuprayag project the Alaknanda River
between Lambaggar and Govind Ghat has become a dry Nala (Fig.1).

Figure-1 Picture showing the river above the Vishnuprayag barrage (a) and below the barrage (b)

Figure-1 Picture showing the river above the Vishnuprayag barrage (a) and below
the barrage (b)

There is no denial that the terrain lays in ecological fragile zone, particularly,
Khiro valley is known for its rare habitat of musk deer, Himalayan black bear, Himalayan
peacock (monal) and many rare floras. Considering the ecological sensitivity of the
terrain, concern has already been raised regarding the impact on flora and wildlife of
area.

Hatched area indicate glacial deposits.

Figure-2 Hatched area indicate glacial deposits.

We have been traveling through this region which is dominated by the avalanche
debris and glacial deposits (Fig. 2). There is evidence to suggest that Alaknanda River
was dammed by the glacier deposits in the past. In fact there are spectacular lake deposits
right near the proposed barrage site at Rarang Chatti. In addition to this, Rishi Ganga that
originates from Nilkant is known to contribute exceptionally large amount of glacial
sediment that at times block the river.
According to a study published in current science showed that glacier descended
well below the Rarang Chatti (3000 m). These are loose deposits which readily eroded by
the Alaknanda River as a result entire stretch of the river bed between Hanuman Chatti
and Badrinath is covered with glacial boulders (Fig. 3).

Alaknanda River is covered with boulders that eroded from the flanking glacial deposits.

Figure-3 Alaknanda River is covered with boulders that eroded from the flanking
glacial deposits.

Besides this, there are innumerable cirque glaciers on either side of the Alaknanda
River between Hanuman Chatti and Badrinath which contribute both snow and debris
into the river during the winter. Historical evidence suggests that the Alaknanda River
was temporarily blocked in the upstream by avalanches and moraines and the breaching
of blockades caused unprecedented damage around Badrinath. Most recent incident
occurred few years ago that wiped out a suspension bridge near Mana village along with
the deposition of thick pile of sediments.
Water is the main ingredient of the power project. Our experience with
Vishnuprayag project was that we failed to apprehend that there would significant
decrease in the water discharge during the winter as a result it would not be possible to
generate proposed power during winter months. In case of Badrinath project which more
close to the glacier, can we maintain 300 MW power generations during the lean seasons
(winter)?
It is mandatory to have Environmental Impact Asses done before the project is
approved. We are sure the EIA exercise must have been done for the Badrinath project as
well. What safeguards the EIA report suggested for the points raised above? Although
EIA is prepared by a team of dedicated scientists, but no body evaluates the scientific
capabilities of the scientist involved or engaged in EIA report preparation. They may
be good in their respective discipline but when comes to evaluating the impact of a power
project it requires an integrated approach with utmost sensitivity.
We have already paid the price of commercial forest exploitation in the region.
Thanks to the people whose efforts are now bringing back the lost natural resources in the
region. Watersheds which were badly inflicted by wounds caused by large-scale
commercial forest denudation are in the process of recovery. In such a situation, this new
venture of harnessing the river waters for generating electricity particularly in the
ecologically sensitive higher Himalayan region of Uttarakhand should not turn out to
become developmental disaster.

Translated from original Hindi

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