In Issues number 70 and 91 of
Manushi we had reported on the
Tehri dam controversy and the two indefinite fasts
undertaken by Sunderlal Bahuguna in 1992 and 1995 to press for an
independent and transparent review of the entire Tehri dam
project in the Uttarakhand region of the Himalayas.
Following both of these fasts, which lasted 45 days and 49 days,
respectively, the-then Prime Minister Narasimha Rao had promised
a review of the project. However, the government blatantly
violated both of these assurances by refusing to appoint the
promised review committee and permitting the work on the dam to
continue. Bahuguna waited nearly a year after the May 1995
promise for the government to honor its word before undertaking
his third indefinite fast beginning April 13, 1996, which he said
was a prayashchit satyagraha -- "a measure of repentance of the
sin of nonfulfillment of the promise to review the Tehri dam
According to Bahuguna: "Even though the main responsibility of
this sin falls upon those who had made the promise, yet, I regard
myself as a party to this because my [earlier] prayerful fast had
awakened the hope - that an independent review will bring to the
surface the lies surrounding the Tehri project."
Bahuguna resorted to this do-or-die method for the third time
because the government had already begun the process of
evacuating people from the Tehri township as a preparation for
its submergence. Even though Motilal Vora, the-then Governor of
Uttar Pradesh, had himself gone as the Prime Minister's emissary
to promise a comprehensive review following Bahuguna's second
fast in 1995, the Chief Secretary of Vora's government, Mata Lal
Prasad, was the one who issued a notice for all government,
semi-government offices and educational institutions of Tehri to
be shifted to the New Tehri town to pave the way for the
submergence of the old Tehri town.
During his 74-day fast, Bahuguna lived on one bael fruit and one
spoonful of honey a day. However, while his spirit stayed strong
to the end, his health began to break down. Finally, on June 18,
the new Prime Minister Deve Gowda promised in writing that his
government is "willing to have the ecological aspects, including
its impact on the people of the area and resettlement of
displaced persons examined by a fresh group of experts" including
those nominated by Bahuguna. His letter stated that the
government "will give the highest considerations to the
recommendations of the expert group." On June 25, Bahuguna
travelled to Delhi to break his fast at Rajghat, the samadhi of
There has been a long history of opposition to the Tehri dam
project since 1972 when the Planning Commission approved it. The
opponents of the dam have the endorsement of many leading
national and international scientists who have expressed serious
doubts about the wisdom of building this dam on the following
- The dam is being built in a highly earthquake-prone zone, which
the International Commission of Large Dams has declared to be one
of the most hazardous sites. Top independent seismologists from
within the country and abroad have confirmed that the likelihood
of a big earthquake during the lifetime of the dam is very high,
especially after the Uttarkashi earthquake of October 1991. If
the dam were to collapse, the havoc it would cause downstream is
- The dam's design is technically outdated since it was conceived
in the 1940s and designed in the 50s and 60s when the available
seismic information was limited. Therefore, several scientists
have reservations about the basic size and design of the dam
which they believe does not adequately cover the various risks
involved in building a dam of such magnitude.
- The Himalayas are a very young and fragile mountain range.
Scientists have expressed doubts about the Himalayan
mountainside's ability to hold such a mammoth structure --
believed to be the fifth highest dam with a water reservoir that
is 260 meters deep and spread over an area of 45 sq. km. Recent
deforestation has made the slopes extremely vulnerable to
landslides, which add to the risk of dam failure and major
- The building of this dam will kill Ganga, the most sacred river
of India. Its water will lose the quality it is revered for --
(it stays fresh indefinitely even when bottled), if the river is
dammed so close to its source and the water made to go through
closed tunnels. Fish and other water creatures which keep the
water pure cannot survive in closed tunnels and deep reservoirs.
- The Tehri dam planners have made no provision to provide water
and electricity to surrounding Himalayan villages, who need them
most -- both for daily needs as well as for regreening the
Himalayas. All of the electricity generated is meant for Delhi
and cities of western UP.
- The claimed irrigation potential (2.7 lakh hectares) as well as
the expected electricity-producing capacity (350 MW) of the dam
is too small to make it economically viable.
- Due to Ganga's heavy siltation rate, the life span of the dam
is expected to be no more than 30-40 years against the claimed
100 years. This, too, makes the dam uneconomical especially
keeping in mind the astronomical escalation in dam cost -- from
197 crores in 1972 to nearly 5500 crores at 1992 estimates.
- There are serious allegations of corruption resulting in the
use of substandard materials, making the dam even more unsafe.
The project is a gold mine for politicians and contractors, but
of little use to the people in whose name it is being executed.
- The resettlement package offered is not only ridiculously
inadequate but being carried out in the most ham-handed fashion,
allowing large scale corruption and misuse of funds.
In Issue No. 91 we had issued an appeal to Manushi readers asking
them to carry out a signature campaign in their respective areas
in support of the demand for a comprehensive review and to send
the petitions to the-then Prime Minister.
Now, with a new government in power, we need to redouble our
efforts to ensure that the assurances given by the new Prime
Minister Deve Gowda does not follow the pattern of all the broken
promises of the previous governments. This dam is not just an
issue for the local people of Tehri, but will affect people all
over India because the destruction of Himalayan rivers and
ecology affects the ecology and well-being of the entire country.
Therefore, we make a special appeal to our readers to send the
following petition to Prime Minister Deve Gowda with as many
signatures as possible.
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