Forest Diversions from Hydel Projects in Uttarakhand: An Analysis


I wrote this article as my first investigative project working with ERC. Suddenly Ritwick Sir told me why don't you do an analysis on forest diversion in Uttarakhand due to hydel projects. This could be a great study. Without thinking twice I started the work and within 24 hours the article was ready! The findings then become viral in media and news channels kept highlighting this study in the support of how hydel projects are responsible for the disaster in the form of flood in Uttarakhand. Sharing you the article here.

Originally posted on eRc India website on 28th June, 2013 and can be accessed online by following this link.
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"Since 2008, more than half of all forest diversions being made for hydel projects in Uttarakhand occurred in Chamoli District alone."
Image Courtesy: indiawaterportal.orgThe nation is witnessing the disastrous flood in Uttarakhand, of which districts Uttarkashi, Chamoli and Rudraprayag being worst affected. We, at eRc carried out an analysis of all the Hydel Projects in Uttarakhand which has been granted Forest Clearances till date since 1984. 1980 was the year, when the Forest Conservation Act came into existence in India, and taking Forest Clearances became mandatory for projects involving forest areas. Based on the information from Ministry of Environment and Forests, a detailed analysis was done for all hydel projects of Uttarakhand granted forest clearance since 1980. The total number of Hydel Projects been given Forest Clearances were found to be 99 till date. A total forest area of 5391.17 Ha or 13,321.83 Acres were diverted for Hydel projects. An yearwise analysis shows that after the year, 1987 when maximum diversion of forest has been done due to Tehri Dam, year 2002 has witnessed largest forest diversion but the first 6 months of 2013 has witnessed the third largest forest diversion for hydel projects in Uttarakhand till date.


 Years with Highest Forest Diversions for Hydel Projects in Uttarakhand:
Year
Forest Diversion (Acres)
1987
7231.46
2002
837.52
2013 (Till June)
679.18
2006
410.69
2005
385.08
2007
286.73


Figure: Yearwise Forest Diversions for Hydel Projects since 1984.

The diversion of forests for hydel projects in the first 6 months of 2013 has already exceeded the highest figures in the year 2006.
A districtwise analysis was also done and it was found that District Chamoli leads the race with 30 hydel projects, followed by Pithoragarh and Uttarkashi at 17 each. A detailed analysis can be seen in the following chart.

Figure: Number of Hydel Projects granted Forest Clearance since 1985
 A separate analysis was carried out to estimate the amount of damage caused in last 5 years due to hydel projects in the state. The total forest diversion for hydel projects since 2008 till June, 2013 was calculated to be 867.69 acres. To our surprise Chamoli tops again! More than half of all forest diversions being made for hydel projects in Uttarakhand occured in Chamoli District alone at 490.95 acres. It was also observed that within the same time period.

Figure: Districtwise Forest Diversions for Hydel Projects in last 5 years.


Figure: Number of Hydel Projects granted Forest Clearance in last 5 years.

Conclusion:
Situation in Uttarakhand is a clear evidential proof of how much damage could be caused when natural balance is disturbed. This is just another example of climate change where rapid deforestation could be one of the factors along with a large scale disturbance to hydrological cycle. The scenario in Uttarakhand must raise a question not only the government's pro-clearance attitude towards the large number of dams coming up in the state but the credibility of EIA or Environmental Impact Assesment Reports, based on which a large number of such projects are still getting nod after much opposition by environment activists. SHP or Small Hydro Power Projects (less than 20 MW) do not even need Environmental Clearance from MoEF, hence no EIA. Most of the SHPs identified by Ministry of New and Renewable Energy falls in Himalayan states. The estimated power generation capacity of India from SHPs is 15,000 MW, which find most interests in private parties as well. So, it is now high time to debate on how much this clean energy is actually green!
*Till 28th June, 2013

About the Author:
Debadityo Sinha is associated with eRc as Programme Officer. He is engaged in analysis of Environment and Forest clearance processes in India.

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