Kharadi in Yamuna Basin: when Small Hydro unleashes big destruction

Beyond Barkot (first small urban town on Yamuna river) Yamuna Valley opens into Ranwai Ghati, inhabited  by typical mountain community. Kharadi is one such place located 12 KM farther from Barkot on National Highway (NH) 123 in Uattarkashi district. The small marketplace but major ‘Char Dham’ pilgrim’s halting point 35 KM before the Yamnotri Shrine is divided into three parts (Upper, Middle and Lower Kharadi).   Kharadi still cherishes much of the fast vanishing pristine charms and hardships of hill life. Notably, the word Kharadi itself is derived from ‘Kharad’ a traditional skill of harnessing kinetic energy of water to produce wooden products.

Than village women taking a break before climbing up with fodder tucked in bamboo baskets

Than village women taking a break before climbing up with fodder tucked in bamboo baskets

With boom in annual ‘Char Dham’ pilgrimage, Kharadi  rose to fame and prosperity till June 2013 when Upper Kharadi was washed away in flash flood released from Gangani Small Hydro Project (GSHP). Construction of 8 MW GSHP started amid mixed reactions from locals in 2007. From the day one, villagers have been pointing out that the diversion head of project squatting on right side of the river is just below the seismically active zone where River Yamuna was dammed by huge landslide during 1990s and heavy boulders and rocks still keep falling down the slope. This was the reason behind shift of the National Highway (NH) 123 route from left to right bank of River Yamuna. “Road construction to Kishala located uphill on the right side of diversion head has provoked fresh landslides on the right side too. But it seems project developers have been knowingly underplaying such warnings”, reported a local school teacher.

“100s of trees were axed without any permission to lay down the 3 KM long project pipeline and fertile farm land of Than village had been left with machine scars and silt laden by the company without any compensation” revealed an aggrieved Than villager.

Several land slips have taken place during and after setting up 3 KM long pipeline (made from 25 feet long pieces of 8 feet diameter pipe pieces). Several pipe pieces fell down into Yamuna in 2010 floods causing panic among locals. Villagers did not know the name of the project developer and address it as NOIDA COMPANY or DELHI COMPANY.

In August 2012, a cloud burst over snow-capped hilltop in catchment area led to flash floods in Yamuna River, causing damage to upper Kharadi including GSHP diversion head, pipeline and under-construction power station.

Map based on Google Image showing the places mentioned in this article

Map based on Google Image showing the places mentioned in this article

1. Kishala Village 7. More than 50 hotels washed away from this location in June 2013 flash flood 14 Motor bridge damaged in June 2013
2. Land slide dammed Yamuna in 1990s. Diversion of NH route 8. Syalana Khad 15. GSHP Power Station
3. Khanera Village 9. Foot bridge (1) washed away in June 2013 16. Foot Bridge (2) that was damaged in June 2013
4. Kishala land slide 10. Govt. Inter College (GIC) Kharadi 17. Badyar SHP on Badiyar River
5. GSHP Diversion head 11. 3 KM GSHP pipeline causing landslides (the red lines shows the path of the pipeline and it is causing landslides all along this path 18 Gangani Shrine
6. Crematorium 12. & 13. Than and Nagangaon

No lesson was learnt from the Aug 2012 incident. In June 2013 the calamity struck the valley again. On the night of 16 June 2013 Yamuna River, loaded enormously with boulders, rocks, silts was obstructed by GSHP diversion head for sometime. When the water overflowed from the dam and struck Kharadi, all hell broke loose on it. The flood released was the most destructive in recorded history.

Hotel Buildings ravaged by June 2013 flood

Hotel Buildings ravaged by June 2013 flood 

Nearly 50 big hotels parched on left bank in upper Kharadi were washed away. Two foot bridges connecting several villagers to middle Kharadi  and Gangani shrine, one motor bridge leading to Than and Nagangaon were also blown away as the pipeline burst and eroded the left bank adjoining to bridge. Countless giant pipes fell down and were badly damaged and some washed way in flood. Power Station of the GSHP was filled with silt and turbines suffered severe damages. GSHP suffered financial losses running into crores. The owner could not dare to re-invest, repair and restart the remaining construction work for many months to come. Two rooms of Govt. Inter College (GIC) Kharadi situated on left banks of lower Kharadi  were also badly damaged. All these places are marked on the map above.

“Kharadi  to barbad ho gayi hain, Kuch nahi bacha hai” (Kharadi is destroyed to dust, nothing is left now) said Vinod Rana an affected.

Kharadi  as in June 2015; The Kharad craft and Gharat (water mill) facing extinction

August 2012 devastated one to the two Kharad units in Kharadi. The remaining one is located upward from NH 123 hidden behind front row of hotel. A single water channel emanating from Syalana Khad, a perennial water stream flowing close, met the water need, first of Kharad and then of Gharat. A long stretch of NH 123 was washed away in June 2013 flood. New road is constructed at a shifted location, but side drains to carry rain water has not been constructed. Locals fear that if channel to drain Kharad discharge water is not constructed, it will cause soil erosion and further loss of property.

Lungtaya sitting at his now defunct Kharad unit, a wood working machine that uses the power of flowing water

Lungtaya sitting at his now defunct Kharad unit, a wood working machine that uses the power of flowing water

In August 2014, there was again an unprecedented flash flood in Syalana Khad which severely damaged the Kharad water channel and protection wall, few hotels and a scenic Kharadi  eco-park developed by Forest Department. With no supply of water the Kharad and Gharat are lying defunct. Locals have become insensitive and disinterested towards revival of  ancient Kharad and Gharat culture and Lungtaya is possibly the last person in the village in possession of a rare and vanishing art. “Sahab, anyhow arrange water for my Kharad, I want to run it” stated Lungtaya his eyes and voice striving for some sign of hope. With major portion of upper Kharadi (where some 50 hotels were situated earlier) washed away, there is great space crunch. New hotels are steadily moving upwards, tightening noose over Gharat and Kharad land.

Scars and damages of June 2013 destruction left unhealed and unaddressed

Even after two years after the flood disaster, the marks and wounds of June 2013 destruction are still lying afresh all through the Kharadi. Unprecedented flash flood in Syalana Khad in August 2014 has only added on to the massive trail of irreversible destruction.  

Two foot and one road bridges are still to be repaired, the move has left dozens of villages inaccessible for district administration and visitors since last two full years. The villagers have to go through trouble and hardships each day. With School session on, it is

taking hours for hundreds of students to cross the river using a single ropeways trolley. “The trolley carries at most 6 students at a time and there are hundreds of them coming from villages lying across the river. It takes three to four hours for them to cross the river” said Jagmohan Bartwal, President of Yamnotri Sewa Samiti, Kharadi .

Villagers waiting for ropeway trolley where a  foot bridge at middle Kharadi washed away in June 2013

Villagers waiting for ropeway trolley where a  foot bridge at middle Kharadi washed away in June 2013

Than & Nagangaon village motor bridge lies unrepaired

Than & Nagangaon village motor bridge lies unrepaired

Hoteliers who lost their property were reportedly given Rs. 2 lakh as compensation. “Even our furniture was costlier then the compensation amount, let alone the building and other material. Moreover, persons owning two rooms or twenty room hotels were paid  same amount” said Gopal Chouhan whose hotel was damaged in flood.

GSHP generating newer issues and even bigger threats for Kharadi

Planned to be completed in 2010, GSHP somehow become operational around mid 2014. Hardly being in operation for a year, several pillars of 3KM long pipeline have started wearing out at many places. The embankment wall right next to spill over canal is suffering erosion and could fall any moment. Many potential landslips have begun peeping out along the pipeline. At many places the pipeline has been squeezed by rock debris falling from hill side.

Land erosion next to GSHP spill over

Land erosion next to GSHP spill over

Cracks are visible in several pillars holding the GSHP pipeline

Cracks are visible in several pillars holding the GSHP pipeline

GSHP Project has failed to generate the power it promised. “Power generation is half the planned capacity” stated a contractual staff working at GSHP. Out of 20 staff employed in the project only 4 are locals. Villagers are getting no electricity from the project.

GSHP pipeline causing landslides

GSHP pipeline causing landslides

GSHP playing havoc with Yamuna flow; Local dissent rising

In the month of April, May and June 2015 most of the time, no flow was released in Yamuna, all the water diverted by the GSHP. The diversion head is working like a dam which diverts maximum flow towards diversion gates ensuring no flow through the unconstructed part of the river.

“The crematorium of Kishala and Khanera villages is 200 meters downstream from the project head. There are occasions when we found no water in river to perform even  last rites of dead villagers. When as village representative I raised the issue before project officials, I got life –threatening  calls from top ranked police officer” said Ramesh Rana, village headman, Kishala.  “They have money and muscle power, we are weak and divided, we can’t fight with them” said a Block Development Council member from Kharadi.

All the water is diverted through GSHP diversion gates as can be seen from this photo of diversion head. It rained the previous day that is why we see water flowing in river in the downstream in this photo, otherwise the project diverts all the water for power intake channel

All the water is diverted through GSHP diversion gates as can be seen from this photo of diversion head. It rained the previous day that is why we see water flowing in river in the downstream in this photo, otherwise the project diverts all the water for power intake channel

All the water is diverted through GSHP diversion gates as can be seen from this photo of diversion head. It rained the previous day that is why we see water flowing in river in the downstream in this photo, otherwise the project diverts all the water for power intake channel

There are reports of criminal charges being levelled against two more village representatives for objecting to no release of water for downstream area. “It’s pathetic and no tragedy can be bigger than this for us, pilgrims from far and away are taking bottle full of Yamuna-Jal and we are deprived of it even for last rites from the very river which we used for past several centuries”, an enraged villager said.

It shows that even this 8 MW project, called small hydro by government definition, is diverting full water for the Yamuna river, not leaving any water for the downstream river. The concept of environment flows seems alien here! This again underlines the need for brining all such so called small hydro under the perview of EIA notification so that they need to have Environment Impact Assessment, environment management plan, environment clearance, public hearing and monitoring.

 “The company is diverting all the Yamuna flow when they need to generate electricity and sometimes suddenly discharge all of it  in the river creating artificial flash floods without making any public announcements”, a local activist said. He further stated that there are always some local people strolling by the river banks for fish, sand and stones. School children from GIC Kharadi  cross the river from make-shift bridge. Releasing water suddenly in dry river bed causes flash floods and danger to people of being washed away. Such sudden release also has impact on the river and its geo-morphology.

Perennial streams in spate and landslides in Kharadi catchment continues

In August 2014 there was unprecedented flash flood in Syalana Khad, Kuthnor Gad, Syana Chatti Khad, Pali Gad and Hanuman Ganga which are relatively peaceful streams. All these tributaries join river Yamuna upstream from Kharadi.

Kuthnor and other Khad (small streams) never swelled so much as to sweep the rocks as clearly seen here

Kuthnor and other Khad (small streams) never swelled so much as to sweep the rocks as clearly seen here

On-going landslips at several places including near and opposite of Kishala village (which is considered seismically vulnerable), Syana Chatti, Phul Chatti around Yamnotri shrine itself are preparing lethal recipe for future disaster. Concerned authorities as well as locals so far seem unaware or unable to figure this out.

Hanuman Ganga another sorrow tale of river affected by a small hydro project

Hanuman Ganga is key Yamuna tributary in upper Yamuna reaches. Both roaring rivers, the Yamuna and the Hanuman Ganga are believed to carry equal amount of water at confluence. They merge at Hanuman Chatti about 20 KM upstream from Kharadi. Hanuman Ganga Small Hydro Porjcet (HGSHP) is stationed 1 KM eastward form Hanuman Chatti (30*55’44. 83” N 70*24’14.18”E elev 2148 m). Work on 3 MW HGSHP started in 2005. The capacity of the project was enhanced with additional 1.95 MW in 2008. The project has claimed to achieve 100% energy generation by 2014. However on 25 June 2015 when SANDRP visited, only one  1.5 MW turbine was working and the rest two were lying defunct due to technical faults, as we were told. Contradictory statements on the power production were made by staff. “We are not able to produce more than 1 MW” said a caretaker.  “The production from plant is close to 5 MW and we are planning to construct one 2 MW substation downstream” reported a senior official presented at site. The sub-station of the HGSHP located few meters downstream was destroyed by June 2013 floods.

A villagers crossing the river over damaged bridge downstream of HGSHP

A villagers crossing the river over damaged bridge downstream of HGSHP

Like in case of GSHP, only four local persons have been employed by the project. Very little information is available about damage to the project during 2013 floods. However during site visit it was revealed that guest house and sub-station of the project were completely destroyed by successive floods of 2012-13. Hill slopes  right next to the project was also seen wearing out due to fresh landslides during 2014 flood surges. A foot bridge connecting nearby village of Dungurgaon, Bariya, Nishni, Pindki Madesh was damaged and still lies unrepaired. The 1 KM long project road earlier accessible by trucks is entirely washed away, leaving the project site reachable only by foot. This has severely jeopardised repairing and maintenance work of heavy machines and transformers. The flood potential of a nearby Khad (seasonal stream) was underestimated by the project developers which carries massive amount of water during monsoon. In fact the company guest house was erected right over it, which today stand flood ravaged. This is also in violation of the Supreme Court order of 13 December, 1996 in M.C. Mehta vs Kamal Nath & Ors case (for details, see: http://indiankanoon.org/doc/1514672/).

HGSHP 1 KM long approach road totally washed away in June 2013 flood

HGSHP 1 KM long approach road totally washed away in June 2013 flood

Damaged guest house of HGSHP stand next to local stream

Damaged guest house of HGSHP stand next to local stream

1.HGSHP Power House , 2. Land slide occurring opposite of HGSHP, 3. Damaged Guest House 4. Washed away substation site

1.HGSHP Power House , 2. Land slide occurring opposite of HGSHP, 3. Damaged Guest House 4. Washed away substation site

Our team was first denied entry but later let in on condition of not to take any photo or do videography. It was  learnt that project turbines are supplied water via 3 KM long pipeline running down hill slope. Whenever turbines are not in operation, some water is stored in an iron tank overhead. The staff failed to answer as to what will happen if water were to spill over from the storage tank and cause landslips. They only responded that we will send the staff to diversion point and cut the supply to the tank.  One wonders, how the project will manage the situation when there is unintentional delay in closing down the supply in the event of non-operation of turbines. The storage tank spill over could rush down the slope inducing landslides.

In conclusion Yamuna, like other Himalayan rivers is considered flowing free of pollution and problem in mountains. However closer inspection goes contrary to the popular belief and proves it wrong.  Yamuna’s existence is threatened and compromised right from its origin within its home state, Uttarakhand.The lower, middle and upper stretches constituting 150 KM length of River Yamuna and main tributaries are 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. This will also entail construction of one new barrage at Katapathar just 10 KM upward from the existing Dakpathar Barrage. There are power projects planned in Naugaon and Damta that constitutes the middle part of Yamuna River. Then Gangani, Hanuman Ganga and Badiyar SHP (recently commissioned)  have tamed wild tributaries and perennial Yamuna in its upper segment.

Small Hydro Projects can also be destructive:

Smaller dams and run of the river hydro power projects can spell destruction to small river eco-system and riparian community as a whole the same way as big dams do to big rivers and dependent communities.  Experiences of SHP built on  Yamuna and Hanuman Ganga show this, in addition to experience from other such projects. Gangani,  Hanuman Ganga SHP are short sighted decisions taken without consent or cosultation with the communities or without an impact assessment or management plans and are unsustainable. They are likely to face collapse in the event of earth quake or 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 to manifolds.

Community built and managed Micro (less than 1 MW) Hydro Projects could be way forward option Time to say BIG NO even to SMALL Hydro Projects unless these projects are included under EIA notification of Sept 2006 and are taken up with free, prior and informed consent of all concerned. Riparian community (upstream, downstream and along the project area must be involved in and thoroughly consulted right from the conceptualization stage. Ideally Micro Hydro Projects (MHP) lesser than 1 MW capacity should be planned, built and operated with active participation of local community. It is desirable if the capacity of local community is enhanced and such projects are handed over to locally formed cooperatives for operation and maintenance. Generation from such community owned MHPs would be sufficient enough to sustainably meet local people’s electricity requirement. Surplus, if any, can be sold to the grid. Decentralized and village level biomass, solar and wind energy ventures are other options for meeting the energy requirement of mountain communities. These initiatives could prove as a win-win situation for environment. Given the destruction that current big and private projects are inflicting on local people and rivers, it is imperative to harness local projects, also learning from Kharad and Gharat techniques.

See SANDRP recent blog to find out how ongoing Vyasi and upcoming Lakhwar projects in lower Himalaya reaches is leaving Yamuna in highly compromised state: https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2015/07/09/yamuna-fighting-existential-battle-in-the-homeland-as-govt-speeds-up-construction-of-dams/

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/

One Comment on “Kharadi in Yamuna Basin: when Small Hydro unleashes big destruction

  1. Local people must oppose any upcoming project when such evidence is already in hand. Wherever local people have come together such blatant and brazen “rape” of their local rivers have been prevented.

    Like

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