By: Manish Verma
Empowering Nation or Impoverishing Itself
Once, Roti, Kapada and Makaan were supposed to be the basic necessities of human beings. Today, it won’t be an understatement, if we added Bijlee to this list. Things like clean drinking water, radio, TV, light at night, telephones, etc., which are often taken for granted in everyday life are very basic and are also the determinants of quality of life. Power (Electricity) has completely changed the way we used to live and brought prosperity wherever it has permeated. Power creates wealth by facilitating production and enhancing productivity of processes. It can be a strong tool for not only Industrial growth but also for upliftment of the poor and rural people.
Himachal is blessed with vast hydro power resources of which around 25-30% has been harnessed so far. Considering the potential, Himachal is a power surplus state and fulfilling the power needs of states like Punjab, Haryana, Delhi and even Tamil Nadu. As the economy is growing at more than 9%, the power sector needs to grow at 1.5 times to sustain it. Despite this surplus, the state is witnessing huge inflow of investment in hydro projects from public as well as private sector. These projects vary from a micro-hydro to large hydro depending upon there capacity.
The country today is facing huge power deficit, with 12% peak deficit and 8% energy deficit. It’s available to 56% of households only. Because of these underlying shortages, Indian power sector is undertaking reforms processes and is witnessing huge generation capacity programmes. The intensity and urgency of these programmes can be understood from the fact that the target for capacity addition in this single decade is one lakh Megawatts, which is equal to the capacity added in last five decades.
Himachal has a potential of 20,386 Megawatts, out of which 6,045 Megawatts has already been developed and projects for another 6,000 Megawatts are under Planning and execution. The rest of the 7,000 MW is under investigation. These projects are worth crores (Per Megawatt cost of hydro projects is around Rs 5 Crore). Being a power sector professional, I do feel and appreciate the need of these projects, but on the other hand, I am also aware of the problems arising out of them and pain and distress of the people affected by these projects.
Well, the concerns arising out of all these developments are quite obvious. The government is trying to portray these projects as forerunner of development and prosperity, by employment generation and infrastructure development in affected areas. How far this will fructify, only time will tell, but going by the history, such projects benefit not the poor and deprived, but only the already rich and crooked.
Although, sufficient compensation is given to displaced families on paper but ground realities are different. The rehabilitation and resettlement schemes are marred by huge corruption and nepotism in land allotment and grant of compensation. The emotional loss to the affected people can never be compensated (nor is it considered). To add to this, the promises made by these project companies are seldom fulfilled (except in case of public sector companies like NHPC which are doing considerably well). Locals are given paltry jobs and even labour is from outside states (UP & Bihar).
Little is done to prevent ecological damage and waste generated is dumped into the downstream of the same rive,r causing serious threat of deluge and flash floods. Clearances are easy to get by greasing Babu’s hands (off course that costs less than actually following the norms). Although small hydro projects are treated as renewable energy sources but large hydro projects (above 100 MW) are the second largest contributor of greenhouse gases (19% of overall greenhouse gas emission) caused by decomposition of plants and trees in huge reservoirs. Not to mention another hazard from theses dams is the increased threat to seismic stability of the region because of large reservoirs.
Despite being so hostile to local people and environment, these projects face subdued protest, here as people are docile and peaceful by nature (and neglected too) where as in other states like West Bengal (Nandigram incident), Gujarat and Maharashtra, it is hard to work without taking villagers into confidence.
Temporary employment does not bring prosperity, neither do roads that extend only up to the project site. These projects result in tax savings and earnings to the outside state investors. In addition to that these investors will also earn from CDM benefits which makes the project virtually free. The power produced from such large projects will boost industrial growth somewhere else and will make little improvement in the lives of the local people.
It is completely a misnomer to purport such projects as bringing development to the region. Instead of promoting such measures, which help them make some fast bucks, the government should aim to empower local people by providing means and skills to help them to use locally available resources for economic development and income generation in a sustainable way. Local area development and environment protection issues are of grave concern, as there are hundreds of projects proposed in the state, in all the river basins (details available on http://www.hpseb.com/hydro_potential.htm).
There are alternatives to such haphazard and mindless development, like renewable energy, which is emerging as a powerful strategy for not only electrification but also for providing employment opportunities through community involvement and development (especially in rural areas). It is a multi-pronged tool which also addresses issues like global warming and waste management.
Sounds interesting, doesn’t it? But what does it mean and how it can be achieved?
In my next post I’ve attempted to find answer to this what and how by taking help of some examples of how others have done it.