Water Crisis in Uttarakhand

The Himalayan Mountain system is dotted with 12 rivers, out of 18 major rivers of the country. Hundreds of small rivulets and thousands of streams make the Himalayas as “Water Bank of Asia”. This constitutes 42% pf the total of the country. It is ironical that these rivers have not been of any use to the local resident, except for the minor utilities in the form of watermill, occasional irrigation, not exceeding 2% of the total potential use (Joshi 2004)

The government scheme of water supply has largely failed due to its appropriate nature, poor maintenance and distribution. This has plunged mountain residents to severe water shortage, so much so that women and girl have to walk kilometers for potable water. In Uttranchal, out of total 16000 villages 8800 villages have been placed as water scarce villages. The districts like Almora, Pauri, Tehri, Pithora Garh and Chamoli are facing drinking water crisis (Joshi 2004).

72% women and 14% children have to bear the responsibility of carrying potable water. The average 60% women have to walk ½ km while 10% of them walk 4 km for fetching water. The villagers are not satisfied with the government scheme.

In district Tehri, Smt Bachni Kaunthura has to climb 1.5 km, 5 times to collect water with a back load of 40 litres of jerry cane. Smt Shankara Devi of Village Nagri of district Tehri has to engage herself for water collection from 3 a.m in the morning. There is often quarrel among women on the issue of water. When the quantity being the priority is not met out, quality of water becomes the secondary need.

They believe that traditional methods of water harvesting were the best. By their own efforts, where government has failed, villagers are making at hilltops to charge spring, an ageold practice like in Maikoti (Rudraprayag).

Women are suffering lot in every village where water problem is severe. Natural sources are drying up which adds the kilometers for women everyday to quench the thrust of their family as well as animals.

Women are the major workforces in whole Garhwal region. They work from early morning to late evening to serve the family. They do all household work from cooking to cleaning and washing clothes and soiled utensils as well as look after their children and animals. Women also collect the water required for cooking, cleaning, washing, bathing and drinking both for human beings and animals.

Smt. Kundana Devi of the village Kandakholi, in district Tehri, which is situated above 1800m M.S.L, told with tears in her eyes that there is pipeline from Govt, but water comes weekly or sometimes fortnightly only for one hour. There is no natural source nearby. The govt. water supply is through a pumping system, lifted from Bhilangana river a tributary to Bhagirathi which is at about 700m M.S.L Now they reduced the number of animals only because of water crisis. The only source close to the village is about 1.5 km. The discharge rate is only 1.0 liter per minute. A woman has to wait for minimum of 1 hour to fill a buntha (20 lt.) of water. They get up early in the morning to queue for water and go to bed late around 11.30 after storing enough water for next day work.

Smt. Shashi Devi of Kandakholi says that we take bath one by one and only once in a week because of the water problem. Or they go very early or very late to the spring to take a bath or wash the cloths. They also told us that water is also reducing every year. They are also afraid of drying of the only existence source.

Similar stories were told by the women in other villages also. 269 ladies of 32 villages in two districts of Garhwal Mandal in Uttaranchal were interviewed for water. It was observed that a glass of water is much more precious than Kerosene oil in the villages where people have to travel more than 8 km for one brass pot (Gagar) of water or have to pay to more than Rs. 50 for one 15 liter of tin. Most women walk on an average of 5-10 km per day just to fetch the water. In some villages condition is worse, where women walk between 20-24 kms per day spending 5-9 hrs per day just for water.

Villagers also blamed Govt. for their hand pump scheme everywhere. According to them natural water sources are drying wherever there are hand pumps.

During the survey in Jaunsar area of district Tehri Garhwal, village Nagthat, Duena, Vishoi, Gadol, Jandoh, Chitar, Chichrad and Gangoa were visited. It was observed that water in the region is mostly acidic in nature. Water problem in Chitar and Gangoa villages is very severe, where people carry water on mules from 8 – 10 Km far from the village. Because of the poor water quality, most of the villagers in the regions are suffering from many diseases related to skin and teeth. Natural resources of water in the area are very few and they are also disappearing very fast. During the survey, Smt. Nisha Devi of village explained that they are not getting enough water for their animals so they take their animals to the spring about 2-3 kms away.

In the villages where govt. pipeline is available, water quality is quite good but due to the carelessness of extension workers, they don’t get water. Especially during the two months in the summer they face lot of problem. Another problem is of maintenance of the pipeline, whenever it is damaged by one or other reason, repairing is always delayed. Women are not able to do their normal work due to the time spent to fetch the water. Most of the women in water scarce villages suffer from the joint and back pain. Girl child education also got affected in such villages because after mother they have to bring the water. Boys also spent their time for water collection as well as to take the animals to the water sources, which affects their studies. Water mills in most of the villages are either closed or are seasonal, because of reduction in the water in the streams.

Suggestions of women for improvement:

1. Proper water conservation measures should be used. People should be made aware and trained on the techniques of water conservation.
2. For the conservation of water in the fields, khals, chals (small ponds) should be made.
3. Natural water sources should be restored.
4. Watermills should be improved so that it can run in less water also.
5. Government schemes should be implemented properly

Tehri Dam Project

The Geological Survey of India conceived the Tehri project in 1949. The Tehri site was considered suitable, provided that sub-surface investigations did not reveal any adverse factors. However, it was only in 1963 that the detailed investigation was made. The site was finally confirmed, after the visit of the then Union Minister for Irrigation and Power, K. L. Rao in 1965. By 1967, several Indian and foreign experts visited the dam site and recorded their opinions (Paranjpye, 1988).

Apprehension was expressed with regard to the geological vulnerability of the area at and around the site – the unstable hill slopes that would constitute the reservoir run areas and the seismic danger at the site. The preliminary investigations by the Geological Survey of India had revealed a riverbed fault at the dam site and this strengthened the decision to opt for a concrete dam.

Tehri Dam is a gigantic multipurpose project being built on the Ganga at Tehri in the Garhwal Himalaya. The cost of 260.5 metre high dam project which was originally estimated at about Rs.197.29 crores in 1972 has now escalated to Rs.10,000 cores. The dam has been surrounded by controversy since its very inception. The main reasons why the citizens of Tehri Garhwal, several scientists and ecologists have opposed the Tehri dam are the following (MatuPeople’s Organisation, 2002):

i) The uprooting of more than one lakh people, directly and indirectly from their homes in Tehri town and surrounding villages.

ii) The high risk of dam failure, whether by an earthquake of higher intensity than what the dam design provides for, or by other factors; in the case of such event the acute threat to dense urban and rural habitations in the downstream area, including the culturally important towns of Dev Prayag, Rishikesh and Haridwar.

iii) The threat of RIS or reservoir induced seismicity, after the creation of the huge new artificial reservoir, to the people living around this reservoir, a threat that arises from the height of the dam and other factors favourable to RIS found at and around the dam site.

iv) The threat of rapid siltation of reservoirs due to the high erosion in the catchment areas. Some experts assess the present life of the reservoir at only 60 years.

v) The project has been steeped in financial waste and corruption. The Comptroller and Auditor General has raised disturbing questions about this project.

vi) Adverse impact on fisheries, other fauna and flora, and various other adverse effects.

The 260.5m high dam is more than two-thirds the height of the Empire State Building, and is on the river Bhagirathi, a tributary of the mighty Ganga, India’s holiest river. The most worrying feature of this reservoir is that it is being constructed in the Himalayas, one of the most geologically unstable and earthquake prone regions on the earth, as the subcontinent of India continues to slip and grind its way northwards into central Asia. Indeed, it is well known in engineering circles that the massive artificial water bodies created by dams have a tendency to increase the frequency, and perhaps the intensity of earth quakes (Davies and Day, 1998).

The Tehri dam will impound 3.22 million cubic metre of water. The reservoir will extend up to 45 kms in the Bhagirathi valley and 25 kms in the Bhilangana valley with a water spread area of 42.5 sq. kms. The reservoir is expected to irrigate 270,000 hectares of land. The turbines in the powerhouse at Tehri have an installed capacity of 1,000 MW, so that they can operate essentially to satisfy the peaking power requirements of Uttar Pradesh Power Grid. (Shiva and Jalees 2003)

Besides, the Tehri dam is also expected to supply 500 cusec of drinking water to Delhi. While cost has increased from 200 crores in 1972 to about Rs.10,000 crores, the benefit component will not change in real terms because the height of the dam, and therefore the water available for irrigation will remain constant. Similarly, as there will be no change in the waterhead, there can be no change/increase in power generation. This will make the cost benefit ratio even worse.

An important aspect of the Tehri Dam is its proximity to the Chinese border. We cannot ignore the fact that we had war with China and in future if there is war, Tehri dam might be an attractive target for Chinese bombers. It is a well-known fact that during the Second World War, the Allied forces and Nazi Germany busted each other’s dams without any qualms. Since then, it has been wisely decided by most countries not to build dams too close to unfriendly borders. A dam at Tehri, barely 100 kms from the border, is strategically vulnerable. (Shiva and Jalees 2003)

However, the main controversy surrounds the all-important feature of seismicity at the Tehri location. It is feared that if an earthquake of intensity equal to eight or more on the Richter scale were to occur, the dam would collapse, and the catastrophe would lead to consequences that would greatly outweigh the benefits from development.

Galileo (17th century) stated: “I had less difficulty in the discovery of motion of heavenly bodies in spite of their astonishing distances than in the investigation of movement of flowing water before our eyes.” The significance of Galileo’s statement acquires even greater relevance today when one is dealing with a river like the Bhagirathi, which originates at an attitude of 12,000 ft. from a glacier, which is 26 km long and is fed by some of the highest mountains in the world. The Bhagirathi has a catchment area of 7,511 sq. kms out of which almost one third, i.e., 2,328 sq. kms, is snow bound as it lies above an attitude of 16,000 feet above mean sea level. ( Shiva and Jalees 2003)

In 1969, the project authorities had estimated the rate of sedimentation as 1.7 acre-feet per sq. mile of catchment area per year. At this rate, the life of the dam was estimated as 100 years. However, as empirical data started coming, the annual rate of sedimentation went up substantially, i.e., 2.8 acre-feet per sq. mile by 1980 or 13.5 hectares per 100 sq. kms per year. Subsequently, at this rate of siltation, the expected life of the dam reduced to 61.4 years.

In case the Tehri dam collapses, the impact would be as given in table 5 (1). As seen in the table, in less than an hour and a half the water would hit Rishikesh and Haridwar and wipe out these two cities. This is certain because the height of the water would be 260 metres and 232 metres respectively. This would result in horrific loss of life and property. In order to assess how this can be minimized and to what extent, a disaster management plan is essential. This plan would also prescribe the communications and personnel networks that would need to be in position and the costs involved in all this. These costs would have to be calculated as a part of the cost benefit analysis of the project (Singh and Banerjee, ed. 2002).

Impact on cities if the tehri damSource: Shekhar Singh and Pranab Banerjee (ed., 2002): Large Dams in India: Environmental, Social and Economic Impacts, Indian Institute of Public Administration, New Delhi.

It needs to be noted that Tehri Dam Project is only one of the over 40 hydel multipurpose projects, which have been constructed, or being constructed/ investigated in the Garhwal region. These projects include big, medium and small projects (Paranjpye, 1988).

The cost benefit ratio

B/C ratio = Annual Benefits/Annual Costs = 21007.47/37539.31 = 0.56

The annual benefit per cost rate is calculated as 56 per cent. In other words, for every rupee put on Tehri project, only 56 paise will be recovered (Paranjpye, 1988).

The project has also not made any provisions for rural electrification schemes in the surrounding areas, even though the dam will submerge about 100 villages in two districts of Tehri Garhwal and Uttarkashi. On the other hand, the project will supply enough to large industries and urban areas in the plains of Uttar Pradesh.

The locals are totally alienated from the project. Hence the authorities have foregone the advantage of having first hand knowledge from the people, say the types of trees most beneficial for water retention, their fuel requirements, etc.

The Tehri Project at a glanceSource: Paranjpye, Vijay (1988): Evaluating the Tehri Dam: An Extended cost Benefit Appraisal, Studies in Ecology and Sustainable Development, Series No. 1, INTACH, New Delhi.

Another controversial aspect is the catchment area management by the Forest Department, which had been entrusted with the planting of trees to build the soil. Though the catchment area is around 7 lakh hectares, the forest department is entrusted with only 52,000 and odd hectares for greening.

There are 12 rare and endangered species of flora and fauna, which may be disturbed by inundation. They are: (Kumar 2001)

1. Cirrhopetalum hookeri
2. Eulephia hormusjie
3. Gastrodia orobunchoides
4. Herbenasia triflora
5. Listera microgolties
6. Saccolabium olistichum
7. Allium rubellun
8. Gagea preudoreticulsta
9. Tulipa clusians
10. Abgcuia tongleusis
11. Poa rhadiana
12. Preudoduntonia himalaica

The construction of the reservoir would push the fauna to the higher slopes in the area. The flora that was thriving on the facile conditions in the valley would face with a tougher life. The fauna already inhabiting the higher slopes would share scarcer resources and smaller habituating area of the land, which they are not accustomed to. In their fight to survive against new odds, we may find ourselves the losers with many species becoming rare.

Rehabilitation: Human Factor

Involuntary displacement of human population is always traumatic. Irrespective of the causes leading to migration the degree of suffering experienced by such people simply cannot be quantified in money values and even in words; it can be described only inadequately. In the case of natural calamities and wars one notices a sense of helplessness because the causes and consequences are so diverse and widespread that compensation and restoration become either intractable or apologetic. However, this need not be the case when the displacement is the consequences of pre-planned developmental projects undertaken by the government or other public authorities. But, unfortunately ousting of people likely to be submerged under irrigation or hydel power dam is a classic case where hardships are imposed on people, in spite of the ‘pro-people’ laws and policies proclaimed by the government.

The history of this phenomenon in India dates back to 1884 when the British Government passed the Land Acquisition Act, and legitimised the displacement of people whose lands were to be acquired for “public purposes.” The Act was based on the general philosophy that the interest and well being of a few could be subsumed by the larger interest of the society, which, in practical terms amounts to the interest of the state.

The Act however was very clear on the point that such displacement does not indeed cause great sacrifice and therefore, such people should be fully compensated for all the losses, and that if such land acquisition is not voluntary, an extra 15 per cent of the total compensation be paid in addition.

Over the years, experience, however have shown that almost all the displaced persons become the refugees in their own country, and end up penniless, landless and homeless.

The Tehri Dam Project has affected around 125 villages including the old Tehri Township. Thirty-nine villages are going to be fully affected and another 86 villages (number may possibly increase) would be partially affected. Wherever less than 75 per cent of the families are in the displaced category and have to be rehabilitated, all those villages have been categorized as partially affected. That means that even where 74 families out of a total population of 100 families are eligible for rehabilitation, they have been classified as belonging to partially affected villages.

According to a new estimate made by the Rehabilitation Directorate, around 5,291 urban and 9,238 rural families would be affected due to construction of Tehri dam. 3,810 rural families have been partially affected by the dam. In reality, however, the number of affected families is much higher. As of now, the number of urban families displaced by the dam has reached 5,500 and the number of rural displaced families is more than 12,000 (Matu-People’s Organisation, 2002).

The State Government has deliberately submitted lower figures of the displaced families in the affidavits filed in the Supreme Court of India in 2002 ignoring the ground situation. The Government has not still compiled the aggregate statistics of the affected people. However, if it is assumed that each urban family has roughly five members and each rural family consists of seven members, the total number of affected persons, may in fact, be more than 1 lakh. Even 1,605 families of government employees have been categorized as displaced families (MatuPeople’s Organisation, 2002).

The report published by Peoples Union for Civil Liberties highlighted rampant corruption and other irregularities prevailing in the Tehri Dam Project. For instance:

● Out of a total outlay of Rs.582 crores for rehabilitation measures, only Rs.94 crores have been earmarked for the displaced people.
● Out of the budget for rehabilitation, residential premises for District Magistrate and the Superintendent of Police were earmarked at a cost of Rs.47 lakhs and Rs.43 lakhs respectively. A sum of Rs.2 crores was earmarked for a field hostel, though no amount was spared for building Dharamshalas.
● Sale of residential flats by the rehabilitation authorities like builders.
● Rehabilitation becomes the business of moneybags.
● Lack of clear rehabilitation policy and disregard for Government Orders.
● Significant recommendations of Dr. Hanumantha Rao Committee were not accepted.
● Flawed evaluation of socio-economic structure of the community.
● Exodus of people rather than meaningful rehabilitation is happening in Tehri.

In the rural areas, there are only two categories of displaced families, namely, landowners and landless agricultural labourers; and no estimate is done (table 5.3). Whereas, in the urban areas there are many other categories made for rehabilitation. Even government employees and organisations have been categorized as displaced families.

Categories of Displaced Families(Matu people’s organisation 2002)
Partial Submergence: Unrealistic Demarcation,

Eighty-six villages would be partially submerged by the Tehri Dam Project. This includes those villages where 70-75 per cent of families and land are going to be affected. However, eligibility for the status of a fully affected village has been determined as affecting 75 per cent or more families and land. Even those villages, where 25-30 families would remain after submergence, have been affected. Although denomination of villages as partially affected has been done on a mathematical formula (wherever the land of 75 per cent of the families is involved), no estimates have been prepared to take into account the existence of link roads, gazing places, local markets, civic amenities, ‘ghats’ along the banks of the river drains, and the disintegration of social life. If the people were deprived of all the amenities in villages where only 25 to 30 per cent of the people would be left (in some villages the number is as less as 5-10 families), how are these people be expected to retain their existence and identity as part of the village society?

Cut off Area

Around 80,000 people are going to be indirectly affected by the construction of the dam. The area is in Pratapnagar tehsil. This area has been dependent on Tehri Township for various civic amenities. Due to the construction of the dam and the resultant reservoir, six bridges (two motorable and four pedestrian) on the Bhagirathi and Bhilangana river would be submerged, thereby completely disrupting the roads connecting the district, block, state and national capital and other areas. As a result, the distance to be traversed between these places would increase by 100 to 150 kms. A large part of the cut off area falls in the rim area of the dam and partially submerged area.

Benefits and costs, loss of output on submerged land, loss of output on the land for rehabilitation and comparison of revenue are given in tables respectively.

Benefits and costs of the Tehri dam
TabelSource: Paranjpye, Vijay (1988): Evaluating the Tehri Dam: An Extended cost Benefit Appraisal, INTACH

The Secret Reports of Geological Survey of India

The idea to construct a big Dam in the unstable and geologically sensitive mid-Himalayan region has been mired by innumerable controversies. The government, on the other hand, claims that the dam design has been prepared keeping in view the geological aspects. Yet many questions arise. What would be the impact of the reservoir on the mountain habitations?

The Geological Survey of India has identified as unstable large tracts above the rim area, which may face land slides in future due to the reservoir. Many villages are located in this area. Though the report has been classified as secret, many significant issues highlighted by the report have become public.

When subsurface explorations were carried out on advice of the Geological Survey of India in the 1960s, a major fault was found at the dam site that has been fully or partially proved. In the GSI report it has been stated: “in the area encompassing the rock fill dam, the rocks exposed are the massive phyllitic quartzites, the schistose and sheeted phyllites of grade III and IV quality and numerous, cross as well as foliation sheet-zones of grade V quality. These alternative bands of phyllites and quartzites are of the Chandpur series, and at some places up to 20 bands can be counted.” And finally, it said, “the riverbed sheet-zone has been proved by drill holes and the true thickness of this zone below the core of the rock fill dam has been established to be 11.6 metres.”

About the seismicity, the Geological Survey of India reports that the proposed project site falls between isoseimals VIII and IX of Kangra Earthquake (1905). In the vicinity of the Tehri dam, the following tectonic features exist:

1. The Srinagar Thrust is located about 4 kms from the dam-site, which brings the rocks of the Bharat Series against the Shimla and the Chandpur phyllites.
2. The Gadolia Tear Fault was traced from village Paukhal to village Nelda.
3. The Tehri Tear Fault has been traced near Nandgaon.
4. The Tehri Tear Fault has proved the existence of a fault running along the river course, and it represents the just older branch of the Tehri Tear Fault.
5. The Deul Tear Fault passes through terrace gravel and there is a scarp about 15 m high along its inferred trace.
The GSI Report further states: “The seismicity of the thrust and faults is not known as no seismographic data exists in this connection.” And in the Tehri dam detailed project (1983), it is stated that epicentres of 77 earthquakes lay within a radial distance of 320 kms from the proposed dam site. The nearest epicentre was located 35-40 kms northeast from the site. Most of these quakes had a magnitude of 5-7 on the Richter scale. (Shiva and Jalees 2003)

Tehri (Historical Trihari)

The biggest township, which is going to be submerged in India, is perhaps Tehri. Instead of augmenting its own prosperity after independence, the Tehri township is being devastated in the name of oft-repeated national development. This is an ancient land, which is being submerged and devastated on the pretext of developmental projects.

The place where Tehri Dam is being constructed, finds a mention as ‘Dhanushtirth’ in the ‘Skandha Puran.’ The confluence of Bhagirathi and Bhilangana rivers is just 500 m from the main gate of the dam. This confluence is known as ‘Ganesh Prayag,’ also known as Trihari – the confluence of three rivers and later called Tehri. Swami Ramtirth, the founder of ‘Practical Vedanta,’ adopted Trihari as an abode of meditation and ‘nirvana.’

The king of Garhwal, Sudarshan Shah belonging to Panwar dynasty, built Tehri township as the new capital of the state in 1815 AD. Prior to this, the capital was Srinagar Garhwal, which had been captured by the East India Company. The capital Tehri built by King Sudarshan Shah witnessed royal grandeur for almost 133 years.

The Garhwal state however witnessed decline after the reign of the sixth king. Till the state’s decline, Tehri continued to be the capital. Being the capital, Tehri became the hub of education, literature, culture and politics. Even after independence, Tehri retained its importance. It was the centre of peoples’ movements. Chipko, Prohibition and Uttarakhand movements reverberated in the streets and markets of Tehri and chronicle the grandeur of the township.

Shri Dev Sumar had undertaken a marathon 84-day old hunger strike, which is only second in duration in the world history. The fast had been undertaken to gain freedom from the royal rule. After 84 days, Shri Dev Suman passed away and became a martyr.

After visiting Yamunotri and Gangotri, most of the pilgrims heading for Kedarnath and Badrinath have to pass through Tehri. Even when there was no motorable road, Tehri was the traditional route of the pilgrims.

Unlike in other places, where construction of dams has taken place, the displaced belong to highly educated middle class families. According to the 1992 statistics of the National Literacy Mission, the literacy rate in Tehri had reached 98 per cent.

Besides education and literacy, the economic condition in the township was admirable. Only 5.54 per cent of the houses were thatched. Although Narendranagar was the district headquarters, more than 40 government offices were located there including the District Court. All civic amenities were available for the residents at a distance of 2-3 kms. Since Tehri was the central point and the nearest market for the adjoining 200 villages, there was lots of hustle bustle and the place used to be quite crowded.

The Historical and Cultural Heritage of Tehri Region

In Tehri, there are religious, cultural and archaeological places and monuments of importance, which require conservation efforts. However, there is no plan for conserving the heritage in the submergence area of the reservoir.

In fact, some Dharamshalas (places of residence for the pilgrims), rock scriptures, and unique craftsmanship on wood and stone still exist in the precincts of Badrinath Temple complex. Nearby, the staircases of ghats reaching the innermost depths of the confluence of Bhagirathi and Bhilangana rivers still exist.

The Badrinath complex consists of a large number of intricate high-domed mosque like temple structures having unique, expansive metal sculptures of presiding deities like ‘Satteshwar Shivling,’ ‘Bhairav Panchmukhi Hanuman,’ ‘Raj Rajeshwari,’ ‘Laxmi Narayan,’ ‘Ranganath,’ ‘Ganga Dakshin Kali,’ ‘Shitala Mata’ –
Posted by
Get the latest news on water, straight to your inbox
Subscribe Now
Continue reading