‘Dried and Dusted’, Rivers of Himachal seek rescue : Report
Himdhara Environment Research and Action Collective compiled an extensive report titled “ State of the Rivers Report- Himachal Pradesh 2016” on the state of all five rivers and dire need to provide them protection from ecological destruction being carried out in the name of blind development.
Shimla: How much do you know about the rivers that owe their origin to Himalayan glaciers? How much do you know about the river basins in Himachal Pradesh?
A person with an average level general knowledge can tell that the state has five major river basins Satluj, Ravi, Beas, Chenab, and Yamuna.
The Giri and Tons are Yamuna’s tributaries originating in Himachal, which form a part of the Ganga river basin flowing westward.
The other four rivers are major tributaries of the eastward flowing Indus River – one of the longest in world (2000 miles or 3200 kilometres) with a flow twice the size of the Nile.
The Indus becomes a much larger river once it is joined by what is known as the ‘Punjab’ (literally meaning 5 rivers – Satluj, Ravi, Beas, Chenab, and Jhelum).
But how much we know what is happening to these rivers as they are now dammed, stressed out, tampered with and tunneled due to human activity or development. We have not cared about the rivers while harnessing it as a resource for our developmental activities.
These rivers are in a desperate need of rescue from clutches of ignorant humans. They need protection from a human activity known as “development”. Development is inevitable but we can make it more sustainable.
Along with fragmentation of the habitats, the diversion of the river flow to facilitate the hydropower projects, illegal and unscientific sand mining in excess, industrial pollution, unregulated construction etc. create a huge impact on the other life-forms that depend on these rivers, rare and endangered plants, and the livelihood of the local communities.
Himdhara Environment Research and Action Collective has compiled an extensive report titled “ State of the Rivers Report- Himachal Pradesh 2016” on the state of all five rivers and dire need to provide them protection from ecological destruction being carried out in the name of blind development.
The organization said it is a preliminary document for the India Rivers Week. It provides some basic information on Himachal’s rivers and the threats they face.
The report has assessed that the surrounding ecology and livelihood of a local population is today most threatened by 41 big hydro and dam projects and 91 small and micro HEPs.
As per the report of the Cumulative Impacts (Indian Council of Forestry Research and Education, 2015), in case of Himachal a total of 11665.346 ha have been diverted for different development activities after 1980. Out of it, 62% of the forest land has been diverted for construction of hydro electric projects and transmission lines.
Satluj basin has highest hydropower potential at 13,332 MW.
Already 9 large hydro projects are in operational stage with a total installed capacity of 5780 MW, which is more than 50% of total hydropower generation of the state.
The biggest hydropower projects of the country after Bhakra was the i.e. Nathpa Jhakri 1500 MW in the public sector and Karcham Wangtoo 1000 MW in the private sector built by Jaypee group which also constructed Baspa II of 300 MW.
So from Karchham onwards the river has been reduced to a trickle as Satluj is diverted in a 17 km long tunnel. Further downstream is Nathpa Jhakri, followed by the 412 MW Rampur project which was commissioned recently. Next was the 750 MW Luhri dam which is now in the doldrums following local opposition. After this comes the 800 MW Kol Dam which located in Bilaspur district Kol Dam has an installed capacity of 800 MW and got commissioned in 2015.
Next was the 750 MW Luhri dam which is now in the doldrums following local opposition. After this comes the 800 MW Kol Dam, located in Bilaspur district. Kol Dam has an installed capacity of 800 MW and got commissioned in 2015.
The number of lakes in the Satluj basin rose from a mere 38 in 1994 to 390 in 2014 due to glacial melting, says a 2014 report of the HP State Centre on Climate Change, State Council for Science Technology & Environment. The lakes poses potential threat of flashfloods.
Although the number of lakes has remained stagnant during the last two years, this region has some of the biggest lakes. There are 10 lakes with areas more than 10 hectares and 45 with an area between five to 10 hectares, the report said.
According to the report, the Beas, Satluj, Yamuna and Ravi are the most threatened river basins.
Based on its report, Himdhara has urged the government to design an effective River Protection Plan. Chenab and Spiti should be allowed to flow freely like Tirthan.
In this report we have focused on highlighting the key information about Himachal’s rivers, pointing out the threats that these rivers are facing. We compare the health of these rivers based on the extent of threat that they face,
said Himdhara activist.
The identified key threats include developments which are interfering with river flows, hampering riverine ecology and changing the nature of the river and dependencies around it, said the report.
These include hydropower development, Sand Mining, Pollution due to tourism, urbanisation, industrialisation and climatic changes.
We have studied each of these developments for the five river basins and made a threat projection – Critical, moderate or low,
said a Himdhara activist.
The Chenab as of now and Upper Satluj, with Spiti as the main tributary along with parts of Beas, like the Tirthan are the only wild and free-flowing rivers in the State.
There are streams and rivers in small stretches that are pristine but small hydro projects are have been planned around most of them.
Parts of the Tons and Giri tributaries, known for their Mahaseer fish, are under threat due to the dams.
The report recommends that the blue or wild rivers need to be protected from the threats and a plan of action needs to be prepared and executed for the same.
At the same time, the areas where there is a moderate threat, extensive efforts are required from the regulatory agencies – the Forest Department, Pollution Control Board and the State Environment Department.
A thorough ‘State of the Rivers Report’ should assess the social, cultural, economic values of these rivers and how they have changed historically, carrying out a detailed study based on primary data as well as secondary research from a variety of sources,
said Himdhara activist.
Moreover, it is the communities which depend on these rivers, therefore, they could best describe the changes that have occurred over time. Any assessment would be incomplete without a people’s voice in it.
Most textbooks and articles largely highlight the magnitude of the Himalayan river systems and move on to speak about it anthropocentrically like the energy generation and irrigation potential, to harness them as a source to pursue the never-ending process of development.
People rarely see them as riverine ecosystems that are already providing services and supporting the living beings.
Himdhara expects the report to generate interest and a debate amongst communities as well as policymakers and researchers about the urgency to protect the Himalayan rivers.
Today, we speak of interlinking these rivers but fail to see the existing natural inter-linkages not just between the rivers but also among all life forms, the benefits of which are being drawn by humans.
The Himalayan rivers are older than or as young as the Himalayas themselves. And yet, despite being so powerful and revered, all the life they support, these rivers are vulnerable.
This vulnerability is rarely spoken of. The slightest variation and changes in temperature, flow, course, and composition of the rivers impact their surroundings.