Based on these cumulative impacts, a ‘list of proposed projects that may be reviewed for combined benefits of reducing impacts on both, aquatic and terrestrial biodiversity and for acceptable outcomes from hydropower development for biodiversity conservation and societal wellbeing’ has been put forward. The list of projects to be reviewed (recommended for exclusion/scrapping) features 24 projects. According to the report, ‘ecological prudence requires that securing long-term biodiversity conservation should get precedence over economic considerations visualised in commissioning these 24 projects’.
While accepting that dropping these 24 projects would mean reducing power-generation capacity by 27%, the report significantly states that India has one of the world’s highest power transmission losses -- about 30-40% -- against a global average of 15%. A better and more effective power transmission management system could, to a large extent, offset this loss in power generation. This is a welcome statement as this and the falling per MW electricity production in India’s hydro sector, non-optimisation of peaking power generation and sanctioning of unviable capacities are issues that are consistently ignored whilst lobbying for more dams.
- Number of projects underestimated: Though the study mentions that only 70 projects are commissioned, under construction and in the planning stage, the number is clearly much greater. As an example, the study has not included commissioned projects like the 144 MW Chilla, 0.4 MW Tharali, 0.8 MW Tapovan or planned projects like the 745 MW Utyasu (I-IV), 745 MW Birahiganga, 72 MW Bagoli or 44 MW Bangri. This is a very serious lapse. The AHEC study lists 244 projects in various stages of construction in Uttarakhand, of which a majority are in the Alaknanda and Bhagirathi basins. The number needs to be re-checked on an urgent basis and additional projects included in the list.
- No mention of impacts of peaking power: All hydropower projects are supposed to generate maximum peaking power, as this is supposed to be their USP. Peaking power, even if regulated with strict e-flow norms, can lead to huge downstream fluctuations in water levels, affecting ecosystems and communities. This has been one of the central points of discussion in basin studies on rivers in the Northeast like the Lohit and the Siang. However, the issue of peaking power does not find a single mention in the WII report -- a huge omission that has to addressed as it will add to the cumulative impacts.
- Livelihood issues: Another serious weakness of the WII study is that it does not consider livelihoods that depend on the ecological goods and services of river systems in the region. It simply states: ‘In addition to the expansion of urban areas, road-building activities and, in recent times, hydroelectric projects have further marginalised the individual landholding in Uttarakhand. These projects are certainly going to engulf the already marginalised productive agricultural fields, thus implying more hardship to local populations in times to come.’ Itadds that degrading ecosystem goods and services from a flowing river impairs social and economic development and could have an adverse influence on livelihoods, income and local migration, which in turn may lead to unrest and even political conflict.