Hydro Power in India – a grotesque business

The Mullaperiyar Water Conflict This week I attended a meeting on the “Mullaperiyar water conflict” between Tamil Nadu and Kerala, organised by The Forum for Policy Dialogue on Water Conflicts in India. The conflict leads back to a lease agreement signed in 1886 on perhaps the first formal inter-state, inter-basin water sharing transfer in India – leading to the construction of the Mullaperiyar dam in Kerala. The dam is now 114 years old and provides water for the State of Tamil Nadu. It is also responsible for serious security risks for the citizens of Kerala as agreement foresees that the dam should provide water to Tamil Nadu for 999 years in total but has already over-lived its lifetime.

Inspired by this grotesque conflict I ended up discussing hydro projects in India and asked around whether there was a specific dam that would require further attention from a CDM point of view. It quickly emerged that Indian hydro experts were concerned about two run-of-the-river projects at the Bhilangana River in Uttarakhand, North of Delhi which is currently under construction and about to apply for CDM funding shortly.

These two small hydro power projects – Bhilangana II and III – aim to harness the perennial waters of Bhilangana River – a major tributary of the sacred River Bhagirathi. Both projects are situated a few kilometres upstream of the 22.5 MW hydro electric power project which was approved as CDM in early 2007.

The organisation Carbon Trade Watch had already reported about this CDM project claiming that communities were never consulted and that the construction provoked violence, human rights violations and internal conflict. These violations culminated in March 2007 when villagers were jailed on three separate occasions and the village has been subject to police raids twice. In March 2005, 120 villagers were arrested and put in jail for four days, and another 79 were arrested in July 2005, November 2006 at least 29 people were arrested and forced to sign a document that they would stop their resistance. Swasti Power Engineering Limited (SPEL) was in charge of this CDM project and stands to make enormous profits from carbon credits until 2017. ACRES International, a US company, is part owner of Swasti Power and was convicted for corruption charges in 2002 and black listed by the World Bank.

Following my decision to see the Bhilangana area myself, I phoned the project proponent of Bhilangana II and III to inquire about plans to apply for CDM funding. I was told that indeed, also the second and third projects are about to apply for CDM support within a couple days.

There are three dam projects on the Bhilangana River and 146 in the State of Uttaranchal. In total, there are 126 CDM hydro projects in India which are set to produce 5478 MW per year. These projects are set to generate 50451 kCERs by 2012 which corresponds to the annual greenhouse gas emissions of Norway in 2000.

Run-of-the-river dams have been promoted as renewable energy projects with social and ecological benefits under the CDM. However, often these promised benefits are not really happening. Instead, negative impacts caused by the construction of the usually large tunnels are responsible for irretrievalbe damage.

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