Originally Published 2011-11-21 00:00:00 Published on Nov 21, 2011
If hydro power potential of 150,000 MW is to be realised by the end of 2030 as assumed in the Integrated Energy Policy 2006, the government must ensure that policies address the crucial stumbling block of regulatory, social and environmental instability.
Is The Indian Hydro Power Development In Deep Waters?
We're fast running out of time to steer away from business-as-usual hydro energy policies that are not only unsustainable but also threaten to destabilise the future with serious social and environmental impacts. That, in a nutshell, is the message delivered by the growing number of hydro projects facing contestation both at the national and international level.

Measuring the multitude of different factors that impact the planning, operation and maintenance appears to be a daunting task. With the fast approaching deadline of the 11th Five Year Plan (2007 - 12), there is quite a possibility of some factors getting overlooked. Of the 8237 MW of capacity addition targeted for 2012, only 3736 MW has been commissioned so far. Government of India has been pretty laid back in disseminating lessons learnt from the 10th plan performance in the hydro sector. Out of the 5058 MW scheduled capacity addition in the 10th Plan; almost 400 MW projects were delayed due to MOEF clearances. Besides the environment authority approvals, R&R issues amounted to delay in the commissioning of 675 MW projects. These two combined together formed about 15.82% of the total capacity slipped from the 10th Plan. This is hardly surprising, seeing as they carry with them the larger discourse of the social and environmental narratives in the country. People's Struggle with the Hydro Projects:

In the last two decades, there has been a growing emergence of the project affected people voicing their concerns over the dam-related projects. They have covered a wide range of conflicts encompassing issues such as lack of public participation in the decision making, resettlement and rehabilitation issues, environmental degradation, lack of alternative assessment, compensations and poor governance, monitoring and maintenance.

To start with, the most popular, Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) erupted in 1980 sporadically protesting the commissioning of Narmada Sagar Project on Narmada River in Madhya Pradesh. On similar lines, the Sardar Sarovar Project (SSP) threatened the peasants' and tribals' right to life and resources. There has been no attempt to consult, inform, invite participation or seek consent which has led to violation of democratic rights and brutal repression. The displacement has been carried out by compulsion, deception and atrocity and it has fragmented and disempowered the communities1. If not all, Narmada struggle was successful in raising major issues that are relevant to all present water-related projects in the country. It sought to evolve a new policy and paradigm underlining the importance of communities in developmental projects with a right-based approach to displacement and rehabilitation. It is important to note that NBA endeavoured issues pertaining to large dams, displacement and new water and land policies or sustainable development not just as 'environmental' or 'humanitarian' system but as a politics of technology, capital, socio-political and cultural relations and sane development2.

Many other examples such as the Haribad Minor Irrigation Project in Madhya Pradesh, Pulichintala Project on the Krishna River, Polavaram Project on Godavri River, Uchangi Dam in Kolhapur, Tehri Dam and Bhlangna micro hydel project have emphasized the need to acknowledge water resources as a dynamic, diverse and living system. Clearly, one way planning, lack of alternative assessments and ignorance of the socio-cultural impacts in managing developmental project have consequently led to a deadlock.
Alternative Assessments

Not always is the case when there is a lack of alternatives or the fact that the adverse impacts can't be mitigated. In many of the cases above, the Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO) or communities protesting the projects have come up with more sustainable alternative plans only to be rejected by the political and financial clout of the Government of India.

The alternative restructuring of the Sardar Sarovar Project proposed in the book: Sustainable Technology: Making the Sardar Sarovar Project Viable, 1995 highlighted the possibility of reducing the adverse impacts of the dams on the socio-economic development of the region as well as reaping the maximum benefit from the project to balance the cost-benefit ratio. Desolately enough, no attention was paid to such recommendations.

However, influenced by such protests and conflicts, Government of India revised its Hydro Policy in 2008. Improvements like providing 100 units of electricity to the project-affected families additional to the 1% electricity coming from the State Government's free power share can be deemed beneficial given their effective implementation. However, more liberal policy for rehabilitation and resettlement, as compared to the National Policy for Rehabilitation and Resettlement 2007, has still failed to get hold of adequate attention. It is therefore; easy to see why such policies or decisions provoke anger.

Now, though, this new Hydro Policy, 2008 has run aground on the eve of its enforcement, with the government embarrassingly forced by the intervention of the anti-dam activists to continue their struggle against big dams, isn't there a dire need to primarily consult the project affected people in the strategic policy making and decision making processes?


The trade off between the financially desirable and environmentally and socially feasible is constantly being challenged by the Government of India policies, the power producers and the affected people, but the balance between these two often opposing forces remain. So how does one strike a chord that will resound with the policies, social, economic and environmental objectives? Is it ever going to be possible to work in harmony with the two extremist groups, namely the government and the anti-dam activists to agree on a more holistic and sustainable developmental project?

As realised so far, confidence in any government's commitment to hydro power development agenda has been dealt with another body blow, with the exasperated social and environmental activists in turmoil yet again, apparently on a whim. Indeed, it is in this backdrop that the push for 'effective' consultation covering a wide range of stakeholders in these projects should be made. Alternative assessments should be made a priority and environmental impact assessments need to be made more effective with regular monitoring and disseminating lessons learnt from the past projects.

If hydro power potential of 150,000 MW is to be realised by the end of 2030 as assumed in all the possible scenarios in the Integrated Energy Policy 2006, government must ensure that policies address the crucial stumbling block of regulatory, social and environmental instability.

(Sonali Mittra is a Research Assistant at Observer Research Foundation)

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