Srinagar of my thought A recent trip to Srinagar, Pauri Garhwal was educative and eventful. Myself belonging to border areas of Pauri District, I had heard village people often talking of Srinagar in casual conversation. During summer vacation, I would think of travelling to native village via Srinagar but could never explore the route. Watching snaps of Pauri and Almora towns, I imagined of Srinagar town on similar lines as a cascade cluster of modern buildings. In June 2013, the town was in news since an infuriated Alaknanda River waters had engulfed it.
Srinagar on ground today One of the largest and most populous mountain towns, Srinagar rests on south bank of Alaknanda River in Pauri Garhwal district of Uttarakhand. Positioned in middle Himalaya at an elevation of 560 m (above mean sea level), Srinagar is gradually sprawling on either side of National Highway-58 restricted only by steep hill on one side and Alaknanda River on other. The historical town has comparatively wider all weather road networks connecting it well with higher altitudinal locations apart from prime foothill cities like Rishikesh, Haridwar, Dehradun etc. It exhibits sharp variation in seasonal temperature, unusually soaring upto 45 degree in summer and falling to 02 degree in winter. Today, the bustling town serves as a key educational and economic hub for major part of Uttarakhand.
Srinagar as a religious hotspot Srinagar is locally popular as ‘Sri Kshetra’ which literally means an auspicious or divine place. There are numbers temples in Srinagar on the banks of Alaknanda. Originally it was a small ‘Chatti’ (pilgrim night halt point) during annual ‘Char Dham’ Yatra. Even today, thousands of pilgrim enroute Badrinath and Kedarnath shrines stay over here.
During the 16th century, Srinagar was made capital of Garhwal region by King Ajay Pal. In 1804, Gorkha invaded the region and ruled over Srinagar for a decade from 1806-1815. Soon, Gorkhas were defeated by British and Srinagar became a part of British Garhwal.
Srinagar; Shaken and Stirred by Natural Disasters Major portion of Srinagar town (downwards from NH 58) sits over vast tract of silts and boulders deposited over long time by Alaknanda River. In past, many natural disasters including floods and earthquakes had washed away the town. The details of some major natural calamities that struck it are listed as under.
Chronicle of prominent natural calamity that struck Srinagar town in past
|Years||Natural Calamity||Impacts (selected excerpts from study papers published in leading journals)|
|1st Sep. 1803||7.5 + magnitude Earthquake||When Colonel Hardwicke visited this place in 1796, it was perhaps not in its prime, but contained (as he computed) 700 or 800 houses and a good bazar. When Messrs. Webb and Raper, in 1808, passed through it on their way to Buddreenauth, it had sunk deeply in importance, and was to all appearance rapidly advancing to decay. An Earthquake had occurred in 1803, which had done considerable injury: many houses were ruined, and the Rajah’s palace was particularly shattered; and the encroachments of the river Alacnanda yearly destroy a portion of that which yet stands, threatening in time to sap the foundations of all. If there were so many earthquakes in the Garhwal Himalaya at regular intervals since the large earthquake of 1803 till 1817 followed by a lull period up to 1831, a possible explanation could be that aftershock sequence for the 1803 earthquake continued for ~ 14 years and in that case the 1803 earthquake could have been a major event.|
|24 Aug. 1894||Gohna lake burst||In 1893, a landslide — the largest known in central Himalaya — blocked the Birahiganga to form a colossal 350 m-high dam. The lake behind the dam, now known as Gohana Tal, was five km long and two km wide. Ten months later, a part of the landslide dam toppled. The sudden surge of water sent a tidal wave down the valley raising the level of the Alaknanda by 50 m at Srinagar some 100 km away, and the entire town was washed away. Hours later, when the wave reached Hardwar, another 100 km away, the Ganga’s level rose by nearly four m.|
|Sep. 1969||Kaliyasaur Landslide||
In September 1969, a huge landslide took place some three km upstream of the small market place of Kaliasor and blocked nearly three-fourth of the width of the river. The hillside is reported to have kept slipping for four days. There was heavy rainfall during the week preceding the landslide with a flood in the river the day it occurred. Since 1969, the slide has become a menace for traffic. Rocks and mud now regularly move down the Kaliasor slope and massive efforts have to be made during the monsoon to keep the road clear. 
|20 July 1970||Flood induced by cloud burst||During July 1970 (after 76 years), the Alaknanda valley witnessed the second major flood. This was attributed to a cloudburst on the night of 20 July 1970, on the southern mountain front in the Alaknanda valley (between Joshimath and Chamoli). According to an estimate, flood transported about 15.9 million tonnes of sediment within a day. The catastrophe was so large that it wiped out the leftover of the 1894 Gohna lake. Besides, 13 bridges were swept away and far away at Haridwar, around 10 km stretch of the Ganga canal was clogged with sediment and uprooted trees. Again Srinagar town had to bear the brunt, virtually the lower town was completely destroyed by the flood.|
|7-8 Sep. 2010||Flood induced by cloud burst and glacial lake burst||During September 2010 for the first time the lesser Himalaya witnessed such a large-scale slope mobilization either along the roads or around the towns with accelerated and unscientific construction over unsafe slopes in the last few years. It was observed that around 300 landslides of various dimensions riddled NH-58 in September 2010. Majority of them occurred south of the Main Central Thrust between the Alaknanda Fault (AF) and Saknidhar Thrust (ST). In addition, 20 urban settlements located along the highways were severely damaged. The chronic Kaliyasaur landslide which had been dormant for a few years due to the efforts of various government agencies has now been reactivated. Based on the nature of distribution of landslides in the Alaknanda Valley, it can be suggested that this time the Lesser Himalaya had to bear the brunt of slope instability.|
|Himalayan Tsunami||The high flood caused morphological changes to the river, extending several kilometers downstream of the dam. The river carved out a new course to the right immediately below the dam and kept attacking the concave bank against the HNB University area scouring 100 m of the bank. Deposition of fine sediment upto 7 to 8 m height occurred in Srinagar urban area, where velocity was lower of the order of 3 m/sec.|
Historical records reveal numerous landslide-generated floods in the Alaknanda valley. Edwin Atkinson says in his Himalayan Gazetteer, first published in 1982, that Srinagar — then the only place in the Garhwal district approaching a town — had to face floods several times. A palace had been built by the Garhwal rajas long before the British came but a huge flood (exact date unknown) swept away one-third of the town. By 1803, the rajas ceased to live in Srinagar and the town was in ruins. Again, in 1969 and 1894, the town suffered greatly because of sudden floods. In 1969, a landslide dam burst and caused much damage along the valley. Two bridges were swept away and some 70 pilgrims sleeping on the river bank near Chamoli, nearly six m above the ordinary flood level, were killed.
Srinagar Hydro Electric Project
Srinagar Hydro Electric Project (SHEP) concept and construction have been full of controversies from the very beginning. With the construction work taking off in 1993, heavy rockslides shattered the site. Flash floods in 2000, 2008, 2009 and 2010 have hit the project hard, further delaying constructional work of SHEP. June 2013 deluge being the severest in past 600 years recorded history flooded the project site and packed tons of silt inside the turbines causing severe damage. In turn sudden release of water from project reservoir and muck dumped inside river, trained the furious Alaknanda towards Srinagar town subjecting it to unprecedented flood wrath.
Srinagar Hydro Electric Project (SHEP) one look on basic facts
|Revised project Parameters for 330 MW project|
|Location||Srinagar, Pauri/ Tehri Garhwal, Uttarakhand|
|Catchment Area||11100 sq km|
|Nature of Project||Run of the River (RoR)|
|Affected Forest Land||338.36 ha|
|River Bed Level||545 m|
|Full Reservoir Level||605.5 Meter|
|Dam Height||90 m|
|HRT||889 m long|
|Design Drawl||560 cumecs|
|Design High Flood Discharge||19200 (26400 ?) cumecs|
|Construction Period||2008 to April 2015|
|Construction Cost in crores (approx.)||4000|
SHEP was scheduled for opening in October 2013 but could not become functional despite formal inauguration on 3rd March 2014 by Akhilesh Yadav, Chief Minister, Uttar Pradesh. The project power canal leaked and over-spilled many a time in July 2014 inundating downwards farmlands and houses. Till late October 2014 there was patch up work going on to undo the repeated flood and landslide damages. Finally one unit of the project officially started production on 07 May 2015.
Chronicle of Inception and Legal Battle behind SHEP
|Uttar Pradesh State Electricity Board (UPSEB)||The project was originally envisaged by UPSEB.|
|6 Nov. 1982||Central Electricity Authority (CEA)||Granted techno-economic approval to UPSEB regarding SHEP.|
|02 Feb 1985||UPSEB||Submitted EIA to Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF)|
|3 May 1985||MoEF||Granted Environment Clearances to the project|
|15 April 1987||State Forest Department||Forest Clearances for diversion of 338.38 hectare of forest land approved.|
|1987||UPSEB||Stating peaking capacity need, increased the capacity from 220 to 330 MW|
|18 Dec. 1987||CEA||Granted Techno-Economic approval to the SHEP with enhanced capacity.|
|29 Jan. 1988||Planning Commission||Accorded the investment approval to the project.|
|1988-1984||UPSEB||Project could not take off in want of fund until 1994|
|27 Aug. 1994||UPSEB||Signed MoU with Duncan Industries Ltd. DIL later in partnership with Synergics Hydro Asia set up a new firm:Duncan North Hydro Power Co. (DNHPCL)|
|25 Jan. 1996||DNHPCL||Submitted fresh EIA report and DPR to MoEF & applied for transfer of environment clearances to the company from UPSEB.|
|04 Sep. 1997||UPSEB||Requested MoEF for transfer of environment clearances to DNHPCL|
|18 June 1998||UPSEB||Approached MoEF again for transfer of EC to DNHPCL|
|27 July 1999||MoEF||Transferred EC to DNHPCL.|
|14 June 2000||CEA||Provided Techno-Economic approval to the project.|
|Nov. 2000||Partition of UP||Uttaranchal (Uttarakhand) as 28th Indian State was carved out of Uttar Pradesh|
|Oct. 2003||Tata Power Company||The project did not move ahead and was taken over by Tata Power Company|
|Nov. 2004||AHCL||The name of the company was changed from Duccan North Hydro Power Company Limited to Alaknanda Hydro Power Company Limited (AHPCL)|
|Nov. 2005||GVK took over AHPCL||AHPCL limited was taken over by Hydrabad based GVK Group Company|
|10 Feb. 2006||New MoU||MoU signed between AHPCL and Govt. of Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh.|
|27 March 2006||MoEF||Second time transferred of the EC to AHPCL from DNHPCL|
|June 2006||UPSEB||Approved revised project estimate cost|
|28 July 2006||Application under CDM||AHPCL applied for carbon credit funds under clean development mechanism.|
|April 2008||AHPCL||The company started work on SHEP.|
|19 April 2011||Nainital High Court (NHC)||Respondents Anuj Joshi’s writ petition seeking CBI inquiry against proposed increase in SHEP capacity from 220 to 330 MW was quashed and court asked the AHPCL to go ahead with construction of 220 MW project with dam height 63 m & to obtain fresh clearances from MoEF for increased capacity of project.|
|19 June 2011||B.P. Das Committee Report||The MoEF constituted committee visited the site on 05-07 June 2011 and submitted its report on 19 June 2011|
|30 June 2011||MoEF||MoEF on 30.06.2011, in exercise of powers conferred under Section 5 of the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 passed a STOP WORK order directing AHPCL to attend certain environmental issues which included (i) mounting Dhari Devi temple at a higher elevation as per the Plan prepared by INTACH (ii) maintain and manage muck at the various muck disposal sites by providing retention wall, slopes, compacting and terracing etc. (iii) develop greenbelt (iv) Catchment Area Treatment (v) undertaking Supana Query restoration (vi) maintain minimum environmental flow etc.|
|03 Aug. 2011||MoEF||Replied to NHC that the transfer of EC given to AHPCL on 27 March 2006 was for 330 MW. The Ministry also reported that the submergence of private land has increased from 300 ha to 324.074 ha|
|09 Aug. 2011||Review Petition in NHC||Dr. Bharat Jhunjhunwala along with Anuj Joshi filed a review petition challenging the order of dated 03 Aug. 2011 in NHC.|
|05 Dec. 2011||NHC order on review petition||NHC ordered MoEF to conduct a Public Hearing at Dhari Devi temple in the presence of Commissioner Garhwal. The court asked MoEF to decide whether to stop the construction or not.|
|07 Aug. 2012||Nation Green Tribunal||The court disposed of the petition on seeing that MoEF has not acted on previously delivered judgement and transferred the case to Supreme Court|
|Sep. 2012||BK Chaturvedi Committee Report||This committee visited the Dhari Devi temple on May 02, 2012 and interacted with trustees, priests of the Dhari Devi temple and few residents of village Dhari who were In favour of raising the temple above the highest water level. The committee observed that the elevated platform of temple is in advance stage of construction and the preparations are under way for shifting the deities to the elevated location. The trustee, priests and resident who the committee interacted are of the opinion of early completion of the temple at the elevated location. Dr. B. Jhunjhunwala expressed apprehensions against moving the Dhari Devi temple to a higher elevation, as it is against the “Rights of Worship”. He proposed the option of Construction of 3 km long power channel and diversion dam in the upstream of existing dam.|
|2012||Petition in Supreme court of India.||Dissatisfied with NHC judgement, both parties separately filed petition in Supreme Court of India. While AHPCL was questioning the applicability of EIA notification 1994 on a project which had been given clearances years before the notification came into existence, Dr. Bharat Jhunjhunwala and Anuj Joshi were questioning the EC given to 220 MW SHEP which was ignored by NHC.|
|Aug. 2012||Das Committee Report||The report of Das Committee report presented in court. MoEF formed Dr. B.P. Das committee to examine whether the project proponent had complied with the conditions stipulated in the environmental clearance granted in May 1985 as well as Order dated 30.06.2011. Reference was also made to the B.K. Chaturvedi Committee Interim Report.|
|03 May 2013||Report of expert Committee||A supreme court constituted 5-members Committee visited the project site including MUCK disposal sites on May 1st and 2nd 2013 and heard the second respondent as well as the AHPCL. The Committee also visited Dhari Devi temple site and met trustees, priests and few residents of village Dhari . The Committee also visited the catchment area. The Committee examined as to whether the AHPCL had complied with the conditions stipulated in the environmental clearance of May 1985 and also the conditions stipulated in forest clearance of April, 1987. The Committee also examined whether the AHPCL had complied with the conditions communicated under Section 5 of Environment (Protection) Act 1986 vide letter dated 30.06.2011, also issues with regard to Dhari Devi Temple.|
|13 Aug. 2013||Supreme Court Decision||
In the land marking decision Hon’ble Supreme Court of India expressed concerns over June 2013 calamity and said as follows, while also giving ok to Srinagar HEP:
“We direct the MoEF as well as State of Uttarakhand not to grant any further environmental clearance or forest clearance for any hydroelectric power project in the State of Uttarakhand, until further orders.
(2) MoEF is directed to constitute an Expert Body consisting of representatives of the State Government, WII, Central Electricity Authority, Central Water Commission and other expert bodies to make a detailed study as to whether Hydroelectric Power Projects existing and under construction have contributed to the environmental degradation, if so, to what extent and also whether it has contributed to the present tragedy occurred at Uttarakhand in the month of June 2013.
(3) MoEF is directed to examine, as noticed by WII in its report, as to whether the proposed 24 projects are causing significant impact on the biodiversity of Alaknanda and Bhagirath River basins.
Silenced Screams in Violent Alaknanda Valley During past years, number of environmental experts along with concerned red-flagged the construction of SHEP underlining multiple overlooked environmental clearances apart from social and ecological reasons. SANDRP, Matu Jansangthan, Noted economist Bharat Jhunjhunwala, activist Anuj Joshi and Sanghram Singh significantly raised voices against misinterpreted environmental clearances and associated geological impacts. Shusri Uma Bharati then in opposition, openly protested the submergence of famous Dhari Devi temple. Ministry of Environment and Forest also asked the construction company GVK to exercise stipulated conditions and conduct public hearing regarding elevation of Dhari Devi temple before further construction. The litigations in Nainital High Court (NHC)-Uttarakhand, National Green Tribunal (NGT) Delhi and Supreme Court of India went on for four years. All these trials and ordeals could not halt the construction of SHEP. Until the June 2013 disaster, in which Alaknanda River in its unforeseen avatar unleashed deadly spell of hydrological catastrophe in Srinagar town. The incident invited nationwide reactions and criticism about the role played by hydropower projects in Uttarakhand disaster. It paved the path for landmark Supreme Court decision which forced the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests to launch a committee to investigate the role of existing and under construction hydropower projects in Uttarakhand and learn lessons for future.
Unresolved Concerns Inviting Alaknanda’s Fury Again The recent inundation has left defenceless Srinagar town out in open to face the music of potential future floods, seismic calamity and climate change. Here, it is imperative to mention two corresponding agitations about concerns of local people living upstream & downstream of SHEP and underlining potential threats and high vulnerability of Srinagar town downstream of SHEP.
Ongoing Agitation outside Dhari Devi Temple Aadh Shakti Maa Maiti Devi Samiti (ASMMDS) recently marked its 100th day of protest. Aggrieved villagers of Kaliyasaur and Dhari are sitting on an indefinite protest since 02nd Feb. 2015 blaming GVK Company for forceful submergence of about 25 acres horticulture land belonging to Schedule Cast villagers of Kaliyasaur and for which allegedly no compensation has been paid.
Reaching Dhari Devi temple on 5th May 2015, I come across few shocking observations. Firstly, the 16 km linear SHEP reservoir has caused severe soil erosion process in the vicinity of Dhari village which is sitting opposite to Dhari Devi temple. Secondly, despite commissioning of SHEP in May 2015, construction of Dhari village bridge is left incomplete since 2012 drastically hampering the mobility of villagers to nearby market places including Srinagar town thus adversely affecting their social life and economical activities. Villagers are left with no other options but to make do with one electric ropeway to get across the Alaknanda River as an everyday routine, which is an ordeal for them since no more than six people can sit inside and others have to wait on either banks for long. According protesting villagers, the highly debated and controversial rehabilitation work of Dhari Devi temple has also been abandoned unfinished. Locals also shared that 16 km long is full of enormous amount of silt. Villagers also reported that huge amount of silt deposited inside reservoir has brought more area under water.
Sohanlal Shah, protagonist of ASMMDS alleged that SHEP staffs deliberately kept the gates of dam closed to create the scene of artificial floods on 16 of June 2013.
Srinagar Bachao Sanghrash Samiti SBSS agitation led by veteran Ganga activist Prem Dutt Nautiyal, has been raising questions and concerns on slow and shoddy construction of flood protection wall. Several worried residents for the last two months have been demanding timely and full construction of retaining wall to protect exposed Srinagar and restoration of wandering Alaknanda current to its previous course. As per Prem Dutt Nautiyal, June 2013 flood cleared off 5 km long right bank of Alaknanda River. Accusing SHEP official of untimely release of flood waters, he still repents destruction of centuries old Badrinath temple(I) which stood unscratched during all past disasters. The protesters claim that a 2 km long protection wall has been constructed due to ongoing agitation and they will continue to protest unless the entire 5 km long vulnerable riverside areas is provided protection.
Change in Alaknanda River Flow Pattern Post June 2013 gush, Alaknanda River profile has changed notably. The main current of the river has taken a great shift towards town invading the base of higher banks on the side of Srinagar. The perpetual corrosion process is eating into remaining flood retention wall also. Many gigantic concrete cubes of old stud wall were seen caving in and the rest of stud wall is destined to collapse as mighty Alaknanda continue to crave in forming a semi-loop current. As a result, many residential units of Tiwari colony adjoining areas including the ancient Badrinath (II) temple are under erosion threat.
The pre-June 2013 path of Alaknanda River has been blocked by several feet thick sheet of medium size boulders and debris dumped diverting the entire current towards Srinagar. There is a giant muck dumped by project company right next to SHEP. Future torrent will certainly wash it down and spread it over already elevated riverbed, further pushing the river to invade the banks.
Alaknanda River as a Waste Dump Yard Considerable amount of solid and liquid waste from Srinagar town is reaching the Alaknanda River. The worst part is that, Srinagar Nagar Palika has officially created a waste dump site and constructed a Sewerage Treatment Plant (STP) next to Alaknanda River, which are technically very much inside the river. This means Sringar town has officially turned the river into dumping ground and waste disposal channel. The waste yard was overstuffed with all sorts of garbage material eventually falling into the rive. No significant information could be collected on the performance and efficiency of Srinagar STP.
In Conclusion Srinagar town is seismically highly susceptible to disasters since it lies between Main Central Thrust (in north) and Saknidhar Thrust ST (in south). Moreover it is close to Alaknanda Fault upstream Rudraprayag and closer to North Almora Thrust upward Srinagar. The 1803 earthquake had razed the city to ground and threat of a long overdue big seismic event is looming large upon Uttrakhand. Moreover Alaknanda valley has been highly vulnerable to repeated landslide and lake bursts induced catastrophic events. In 1894 the Gohana Tal Lake burst (1894) historic floods (1970) caused unprecedented damages to prospering Srinagar. The destruction of June 2013 glacial lake burst is here for all us to learn and respond wisely. Construction of SHEP in violation of environmental and geo-ecological concerns has further compromised disaster vulnerability of Srinagar town.
In fact, as noted by the Ravi Chopra committee, the SHEP had magnified the flood impact of June 2013 causing immense emotional and material losses to Srinagar residents. The role of unsafe muck disposal and faulty flood operation has been shown to be some of the factors by Ravi Chopra committee. It is beyond understanding how the company paid no heed to unsafe muck dumping issue which was repeatedly highlighted by environmental groups, concerned governmental agencies over and over again. For instance, in 2009, Comptroller and Auditor General Report also mentioned of it raising safety concerns. In 2011 and 12, couple of expert committees set up by MoEF shared same concerns and asked the company to adhere to stipulated muck dumping norms. The issue was underlined by several environmental experts along with local people but in vain. The company kept waiting until the flood struck the town and the muck was deposited all over Srinagar as high as NH 58. Even after all this, there is a huge muck dump till today just outside SHEP providing recipe to another disaster. The change in Alaknanda course is also attributed to SHEP that is eating into relatively safer Srinagar banks.
It is wrong to say that SHEP is a run-of-the-river (ROR) project. Because the project entailed construction of bank-to-bank concrete dam encaging the Alaknanda River into 16 km long artificial lake. As per original plan the dam height was 60 m, that totally avoided the drowning of ancient Dhari Devi temple. The silt and sand stored inside the SHEP reservoir will work as fuel for future floods to breach formerly safe houses and farmlands along the river.
Thirdly the issues of rehabilitation, additional land submergence and landslides are still unresolved. The developer of SHEP has left the restoration of Dhari Devi temple and Dhari village bridge unfinished. Moreover, local people told me that SHEP has neither acknowledged nor compensated drowning of additional 25 acres of agricultural land belonging to Schedule Cast tribe of Kaliyasaur village. The reservoir has sparked off severe soil erosion and the dangerous Kaliyasaur landslide is regular phenomena just round the corner in its proximity. Notably in 2009 coffer dam and in last week of July 2014, coffer dam and basin wall collapsed inviting suspicion over quality of work. On several occasions, the frequent leaks in 3 km long project canal have spread panic in villagers. The canal in itself is stated to be erected over sediments deposited by Alaknanda River in past without carrying any solid foundation work. The SHEP has already faced public ire for mismanagement in the operation of dam gates during June 2013 floods. There is no information available regarding work done under Catchment Area Treatment plan. Mahaseer fish species is also learnt to predominantly dwell in deep pools of Alaknanda River valley. No in-depth study has been carried out to study the impact of SHEP on Mahaseer fish although AHPCL projecting SHEP as green field project has applied for funds under Carbon Credit on 28th July 2006. Financial expenditure is one more grey area about which least information is in public domain. Apparently in 2008, work on SHEP started with an approved project cost of around Rs 2000 crore which shot up to around Rs 4000 crores by October 2014.
I found several boards along the river that warned people that the river water level can suddenly go up or down due to the Sringar Hydropower project, making the holy river a hazard zone for the people.
People wonder if SHEP is a disaster in disguise for Alaknanda river, Srinagar town, affected villages and biodiversity. Some of the local people have filed a petition in the National Green Tribunal alleging that the hydropower project played a big role in the Uttarakhand disaster of June 2013.
Bhim Singh Rawat (email@example.com) SANDRP