In trouble again

In trouble again on november 8, 2005, a three-judge bench of the Supreme Court (sc) issued notices in a case challenging the closure of the final diversion tunnel of the Tehri dam project, because mandatory conditions have not been met. The sc was hearing a petition filed by N D Jayal and Shekhar Singh. The notice demanded replies from the Union government, Uttaranchal state and the Tehri Hydro Development Corporation, within two weeks. The bench comprised Chief Justice Y K Sabharwal and justices C K Thakker and P K Balasubramanyan.

Non-compliance The petition, while challenging the October 29, 2005, order of the Uttaranchal High Court, draws attention to issues concerning non-compliance of relief and rehabilitation measures by project authorities before they closed down tunnel t-2. This closure will gradually lead to filling up of the dam reservoir. In its judgment, the high court had lifted a 53-day long stay on the closure of t-2. "In its September 1, 2003, judgment, the sc had made it clear that clearance to the dam was conditional to several mandatory environmental and other conditions being met,' says Sanjay Parikh, advocate for the petitioners. Environmental conditions included setting up of the Bhagirathi Basin Management authority, catchment area treatment, command area development, flora, fauna, water quality management, disaster management plans and relief and rehabilitation. "Most of these conditions have not been met,' says Parikh.

Requirements not met After the state of Uttaranchal was formed, the case was transferred to its high court for monitoring that conditions were being met before the diversion tunnels t -1 and t-2 are closed down. Two different committees were entrusted with the task of monitoring and reporting. "Both these committees had reported that mandatory conditions are not being met,' says Parikh.

Despite this, t-1 was closed in January 2004 and in October authorities pressed a claim to shut down t-2 as well, saying all conditions had been fulfilled. "Closure of t-2 is in complete violation of the sc order,' says Parikh. For instance, the command area (ca) development involves planning the impounded water will be distributed in the ca and also the means to do so. And ca development is imperative before impoundment begins. The project authorities submitted the ca treatment plan only in January 2005, which awaits clearance by the ministry of environment and forests. Another condition was the construction of a water monitoring station before the submergence but this has also not been done.

Incomplete measures The petitioners have complained that the relief and rehabilitation process is also far from complete. "In several villages neither the land acquisition process has been completed nor rehabilitation sites been developed. Basic civic amenities like primary health centre, schools, irrigation, drinking water, roads and electricity are incomplete in all new rehabilitation sites,' says Vimal of Matu People's Organisation, a non-governmental organisation working with dam oustees.

On October 29, 2005, t-2 was closed down amidst heavy police protection. The reservoir will take about three years to completely fill up. Once filled, the reservoir will submerge old Tehri town, 37 villages completely and 72 villages partially. Till August last year, most of the villagers of Malidewal, the first large village to be submerged, had not left the village due to inadequate rehabilitation measures. Villagers have been averse to leaving the hills and resettling on the land allocated in Pashulok in the Terai region. "In many villages, people have not yet constructed a house at the rehabilitation site. Closure of t-2 will drown these villages and force villagers to move to the rehabilitation site with whatever little they receive,' says Vimal. Even in the old Tehri town, about to drown completely within a few days, a few people were still left.

The water level in the Bhagirathi, downstream of Tehri, has drastically reduced and the river is nothing but a small stream now. The most visible impact of this is found at Devprayag, where Bhagirathi and Alaknanda meet to form the Ganga. Disappearance of one of the rivers at the confluence is indeed a strange spectacle for the pilgrims and local people. "This would ruin the local economy of the town which is completely dependent on pilgrims who come to take a dip at the holy confluence,' says Vimal.

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