Yamuna fighting existential battle in the homeland as Govt. speeds up construction of dams

The Landslide warning board exacly on Lakhwar Damsite (all pics by author taken between 24-27 June 2015)

The Landslide warning board exacly on Lakhwar Damsite (all pics by author taken between 24-27 June 2015)

Contrary to common mindset that Yamuna River is still flowing pristine in Himalaya, an exploratory visit (23-27 June 2015) inside Yamuna Valley underlines that construction of 120 MW Vyashi Hydro Electric Project report, proposed 300 MW Lakhwar dam and Katapathar Barrage is compromising the existence of the special river in its very homeland. The report also highlights that the river stretch where all these projects are coming up is prone to large scale landslides. It was also found that downstream community is unaware of environmental flow and the project developers are tight lipped on impact these projects over aquatic biodiversity. Road expansion work upstream these projects is dumping tonnes of debris into river, in complete violation of all norms (neither state nor central government seem bothered about these violations by the government agencies) further lifting up the already escalated riverbed. The perennial natural springs are gradually drying up in the area. Impact of all these impacts and threats on River Yamuna and riparian community still remain unstudied and unaddressed.

 Vyasi Hydro Electric Project (VHEP) Hithiyari, Vikas Nagar Dehradun

Vikas Nagar a prominent market hub lies at the doorstep of Yamuna Valley in Dehradun district Uttarakhand. The town is rapidly sprawling on either side of National Highway (NH) 123 and the Yamnotri shrine is located at a distance of 150 KM from here. A distant glimpse of outer Himalaya from Vikas Nagar  is more than enough to enthral the visitors in Yamuna Valley.  As we move on, stunning mountain vista unfolding one after another leaves us awestruck.  River Yamuna runs boisterously in deep gorges at the base of these giant hills. Small villages, green farm lands, tranquil ambience, melodious avian calls and tweets are on offer generously.

Work on VHEP diversion head at Juddo

Work on VHEP diversion head at Juddo

However, all the pleasure provided by the majestic view vanishes as  soon as we reach Hathiyari the power station site of 120 MW Vyasi Hydro Electric Project (VHEP). Hathiyari means a place of weapons and is located approximately 15 KM from Vikas Nagar. Locally it is believed that while on exile, legendary Pandavs hid all their weapons here. Today we get to experinece the cranking sound of machines, dozens of trucks parked by road side, hundreds of labour drilling the hills, muck of tunnel being dumped by the river, and remaining debris pushed down the slope and a board asking passerby to stay alert as main features of Hathiyari

The tail of 3 KM long VHEP  tunnel ends here and the mouth of the giant tunnel is located 8 KM upstream at Juddo. The tunnel has been fully prepared and now construction work of diversion head at Juddo is being carried out round the hour.

Google imagery showing landslide at Juddo and Lakhwar dam site

Google imagery showing landslide at Juddo and Lakhwar dam site

The site of 300 MW multipurpose Lakhwar dam is located hardly 5 KM upstream of Juddo. The biggest dam on Yamuna River  was recently approved by Uttarakhand cabinet.  Once built  the mammoth reservoir of the dam will inundate dozens of village upto  Nainbagh 15 KM upstream from the dam site.

A new barrage will come up at Katapathar 2 KM downstream of VHEP. Dakpathar Barrage is located about 10 KM farther. The barrage diverts most of water of Yamuna to Shakti Canal that feeds Dhalipur, Dhakrani, Kulhal and Khara Hydro Power Plants in sequence. And below this barrage Yamuna River runs dry most of the time of the year upto Hathini Kund Barrage built further 35 KM downstream. Once built, all these three projects will swallow up about 50 KM long river stretch from Nainbagh to Dakpathar Barrage that will be almost 1/3 of its total length in Uttarakhand.

Issues of Environmental Flows Remain Unaddressed

’नदी तो गयी’ (River is gone) said a hopeless Yashpal Thakur, member of Yamuna Swachata Samiti (YSS) a local environmental group at Katapathar. He is among few people who have been asking villagers for past many months  to go ahead cautiously. But his concerns are downplayed by others who support construction of the VHEP, Lakhwar dam work as only means  to ‘Development of the Area’. Many of these locals are working as small contractors in VHEP. Yashpal Thakur further reveals that the company has not so far resolved the issue of rehabilitation and resettlement of Hathiyari village people against the land acquired decades back in 1990s. He also feels villagers have been compensated unfairly.

Arvind Tomar, another villager from Katapathar stated that they are against big dams but treat Lakhwar as an exception: “We can’t live without power now; these projects are the only means to get power, money and development”. Though locals are aware of money sanctioned for the project, they have no information on environmental flow to be maintained downstream of VHEP dam or about the Environment Impact Assessment or Environment Management Plan. “We will not accept less than 30% flow round the year in the affected stretch of river” stated Sardar Singh Tomar, President YSS Katapathar. It is also strange that Uttarakhand Jal Vidhyut Nigam Ltd (UJVNL) is dead silent over the issue. Few engineers we questioned at tunnel site had no clue of the environmental flow and asked us to meet and access Detailed Project Report (DPR) from S.S. Negi Public Relation Officer (PRO) posted at UJVNL, Dak Pathar barrage office.  The engineers stood aghast on the question of presence of Mahseer (a very important fish species) in Yamuna. He however appreciated the concerns raised by  Sardar Singh Tomar and made a very important point that rocks at Hathiyari are less pressure resistant in comparison with rocks of Himachal Pradesh. “In childhood we used to see 4-5 feet long Mahseer around Hathiyari in Yamuna. They are still found in  in the river but not more than 1-2 feet long.  June 2013 floods has filled up deep pools of river. This project will further destroy the remaining habitats of the fish” reported Kuldeep Tomar another member of YSS Katapathar.

Outlet of VHEP tunnelat Hathiyari

Outlet of VHEP tunnelat Hathiyari

Meanwhile at UJVNL office, S.S. Negi scanned the VHEP DPR thrice but could not figure out how much flow will be maintained below the VHEP reservoir except mentioning about some vague Central Electricity Authority guidelines (no such guidelines exist to the best of our information) that all the dams and HEP has to maintain certain amount of flow round the year in the river.

Land sliding and dumping of debris continue to raise the riverbed

DSC_0268

The muck dump of VHEP tunnel is left unattended for last 2 decades at Hathiyari. The road stretch from Hathiyari to Juddo was hit by floods in Yamuna in 2010 and has not been fully repaired till today. There is massive sliding happening right opposite side of Juddo, on the Lakhwar Dam site and at dozens of locations in Yamuna valley. Yamuna riverbed has risen up notably since June 2013. Trees sunk about 10 feet deep in Yamuna silt  near Maror confirm this.

Small forest patch before Nainbagh buried under 10 feet wide silt bed during June 13 flood 

Small forest patch before Nainbagh buried under 10 feet wide silt bed during June 13 flood

‘पहले नदियों को तल नीचे जा रहा था, पर 2010 के बाद नदियों का तल ऊपर उठ रहा है।’ (Riverbed was dropping earlier but post 2010, it is rising up) stated Sardar Singh Tomar. Significant length on NH 123 is currently being widened at many places upstream of VHEP and Lakhwar dam.    Everyday several hundred tons of rocks, debris and soils are pushed down the steep slope. All this is slowly but surely reaching River Yamuna, increasing the riverbed level. Moreover soon entire stretch of NH 123 right from Nainbagg to Janaki Chatti will be widened to facilitate tourism and  ‘Char Dham’ pilgrimage.  As a result the river will be receiving debris in even bigger volumes that will be washed down during annual floods. Concerned govt. Agencies including Union Water Resources and Environment Ministry or National Ganga River Basin Authority or the State Pollution Control Board or State Environment Deparment and project developers seem not to be bothered by any of this.

Native steams fast drying up

Been Nala (natural stream Katapathar, running almost dry         

Been Nala (natural stream Katapathar, running almost dry

 The natural springs and small tributaries that feed the Yamuna river in this stretch are gradually drying up. “A decade back Been, Dyodhi Khad, Bhairon and other nalas used to be perennial but now have turned seasonal” stated Kuldeep Tomar. There are over half a dozen small tributaries which during lean season almost run dry and the water from them do not reach the Yamuna River for months.

In conclusion:-  Degraded badly in mainland, Holy Yamuna is facing existential threats in the very hills it originates from. The lower, middle and upper stretches constituting 150 KM length of River Yamuna is under tremendous stress from on-going and planned dam and power projects.

In lower stretch, work on 120 MW Vyasi dam and hydropower project is ongoing on war front. 300 MW Lakhwar Dam[1] has also been approved by the State cabinet.  These projects  will also entail construction of one new barrage at Katapathar just 10 KM upward from the existing Dakpathar Barrage. Once built fully, we will get to see more than 50 KM stretch of roaring Yamuna flowing through tunnels and imprisoned behind barrages and reservoirs as a static water pool, the river wont be flowing at all in this stretch.

The muck of VHEP tunnel is left dumped by the Yamuna near Hathiyari. There has been no environment impact assessment, environment management plan, public consultation or environmental appraisal of the massive Lakhwar project. These projects are being taken up ignoring the role played by such projects in increasing the proportions of the Uttarakhand flood disaster of June 2013, as per the April 2014 findings of the Ravi Chopra Expert Body appointed by the Supreme Court, also endorsed by Union Environment Minister in an affidavit in the Supreme Court in Dec 2014. Lakhwar dam is clearly an invitation to greater future disasters.

Google image Yamuna River between Nainbagh to Dakpathar Barrage, Vikas Nagar

Google image Yamuna River between Nainbagh to Dakpathar Barrage, Vikas Nagar

1. Vikas Nagar 5. Katapathar 9. Juddo
2.  Dakpahar barrage 6. Katapathar Barrage site 10. Lakhwar dam site
3. Tons River 7. Hathiyari VHEP site 11. Aglar River
4. Amlava River 8. VHEP tunnel 12. Yamuna river
13. Nainbagh    

 Hydropower projects in Yamuna Basin

Yamuna Basin Map (SANDRP) showing existing and proposed power projects and dams on Yamuna River 

Yamuna Basin Map (SANDRP) showing existing and proposed power projects and dams on Yamuna River

Yamuna basin has at least 12 operating hydropower projects with installed capacity of 495 MW, at least 5 under construction projects and 31 proposed projects with installed capacity of 2361 MW.[2] Building and planning of more hydroelectric and dam projects will jeopardize the already threatened river eco-system irreversibly, besides hugely increasing the disaster potential of the area.  The fate of key tributaries is no different. Demand for construction of Renuka Dam on Giri River (a tributary of Yamuna in Himachal Pradesh) is still there even though the work on the dam has not been started following NGT case.  Kishau Dam on Tons River has been granted State clearance recently. Giri and Tons are major tributaries meeting the Yamuna from Himachal Pradesh side. Then there are proposals to build 20 MW Damta-Naingaon and 42 MW Barkot-Kuwa hydro project upstream Lakhwar dam. Gangani, Hanuman Ganga and Badiyar Small Hydro Projects have tamed tributaries and perennial Yamuna in its upper segment.

Even with so many existing, under construction and planned projects in Upper Yamuna basin, there has been no cumulative impact assessment or carrying capacity study, which is absolutely necessary before taking up any new project.

Where is the River Yamuna

The dams, barrages and hydro projects are and will make flowing Yamuna River confined to tunnels, pipes and reservoirs. Rampant land slips and unchecked soil erosion across the upper Yamuna basin will increase and will increase the disaster potential in the basin. It is also going to adversely impact the power projects themselves and barrages in lower reaches. Gangani, Badiyar and Hanuman Ganga SHP are short sighted decisions taken without consent of or cosultation with the communities and are unsustainable. They all will face collapse in the event of earth quake and next Yamuna flood. Yamuna’s founder basin is very small and delicate and highly vulnerable to natural catastrophes which are recurring at faster frequency in the age of climate change. But whenever these projects are run down by natural disasters they are going to magnify the impacts and human death toll manifolds in addition to the question of damage to other infrastructure and belongings.

Environmental Flows and other relevant issues

Debris (from road expansion work) in huge amount is dumped in Yamuna river

Debris (from road expansion work) in huge amount is dumped in Yamuna river

Allured by short term monetary gains for some and under pressure by massive operations, infrastructure & powerful interests, local people are unable to realize how these projects will impact the social, cultural and economical sphere of their lives. They have been intentionally kept in dark as in case of Lakhwar Dam there has not even been any EIA or public hearing. Even the qualified engineers including PRO of VHEP turned up clueless regarding these issues. This stretch of Yamuna River and Aglar a tributary joining it upstream of Lakhwar dam are widely known for Mahseer and rich diversity of indigenous fish species. UJVNL is quiet on the issue and Lakhwar dam will spell doomsday for aquatic eco-system of Yamuna and Aglar rivers. Displaced Hathiyari villagers’ rehabilitation and compensation matter has not been resolved till today. No study is carried out on Yamuna basin to measure rate of sedimentation and siltation in the river like done in Ganga basin. Yamuna riverbed is rising up post after the June 2013 flood. Huge mountain of silt is still lying dumped on river banks. Widening of NH 123 and construction of locals roads and other projects is further dumping thousands of tons of soils and debris into Yamuna.

Caution board placed upstream Hathiyari

Caution board placed upstream Hathiyari

The gradual disappearance of natural streams is indicating that we must revive Yamuna with catchment restoration rather than destroying it irreversibly by damming, barraging and tunnelling it in its very home.

Yamuna and all other rivers do deserve a better treatment from us rather than turning them into a dump yard as is happening now. This is happening in close proximity with the Yamnotri, one of the four sacred pilgrimage centre and when Ganga rejuvenation is the professed priosity of the government. Yamuna is one of the main tributaries and part of the Ganga basin. Also lets us find out and fix why streams in upper reaches of Yamuna are increasingly in spate and perennial ones in lower part are fast drying up. We could keep spending hundreds and thousands of crores in Yamuna Action Plans in Delhi, Agra and Mathura for years to come without any success unless we become serious towards Yamuna catchment restoration.

Aglar a key tributary meeting river Yamuna upstream Lakhwar dam site

Aglar a key tributary meeting river Yamuna upstream Lakhwar dam site

Bhim Singh Rawat, SANDRP (we4earth@gmail.com)

END NOTES:

[1] See: https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2013/04/22/lakhwar-dam-project-why-the-project-should-not-go-ahead/

[2] For Details, see: https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2013/07/10/uttarakhand-existing-under-construction-and-proposed-hydropower-projects-how-do-they-add-to-the-disaster-potential-in-uttarakhand/

2 Comments on “Yamuna fighting existential battle in the homeland as Govt. speeds up construction of dams

  1. very very unfortunate & DISHERTENING act on part of planners .A time to ask ourselves who will benefit with these unwise decisions where roads are certainly not leading to any destination, rtivers and tributaries are getting filled with silt and muck choking wildlife and MAN a silent & helpless spectator, Need to ease ourselves by just thinking whether we all hilly people and our really great civilization not survived and flourished without these cosmetic and detrimental experiments performed on our hills. Hills are some sort of scalp and no surgery could be worth EXPERIMENT.

    Like

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