NEW DELHI, April 29 Badly managed hydro-power
projects in northern India were partly to blame for devastating
floods last year that killed thousands of people and caused
extensive damage, an environment ministry panel said in a report
obtained by Reuters on Tuesday.
The panel finding's highlight the problem facing India, one
of the world's lowest per-capita energy consumers, as it rushes
to expand power generation to meet rising demand.
Governments have long sought to harness the power of rivers
despite the risks, in part to diversify away from polluting coal
and gas plants that are increasingly costly to run.
The Himalayan state of Uttarakhand was hit by its heaviest
rainfall on record in June 2013, causing lakes and rivers to
burst their banks, inundating towns and villages below.
In a report commissioned by the Ministry of Environment and
Forests, a panel of 11 experts said that hydroelectric plants
had led to the build up of huge volumes of sediment in rivers
that was not managed properly.
The sediment raised river beds during the floods and was
then flushed downstream, aggravating the severity of the
"Can it be a mere coincidence that the maximum destruction
of land and property occurred in areas downstream of hydro-power
projects?" the experts asked, referring to three projects in
The official death toll was 900 with more than 5,700 people
declared missing, making it the deadliest ever in the
mountainous region. Floods or landslides also washed away or
damaged 5,000 roads, 200 bridges and innumerable buildings.
The experts rejected suggestions that the extent of the
flooding was caused by deforestation or the breaching of dams
brought on by landslides, as was the case in previous floods.
Authorities urgently needed to conduct region-wide
assessments of the impact of projects, rather than consider
individual plants in isolation, the panel said, and should
reject 23 out of 24 proposed power projects in Uttarakhand if
they were within areas of significant biodiversity.
Companies with hydroelectric interests in the state include
Jaiprakash Power Ventures Ltd, GVK Power &
Infrastructure Ltd and state-run NTPC. The
companies did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Himanshu Thakkar, co-ordinator of the South Asia Network on
Dams, Rivers and People, a Delhi-based environmental group, said
he welcomed the report but limiting the study to two of the
state's river basins had weakened its findings.
"Most of the recommendations are useful but some of them are
a bit weak," he said. "We think they should have asked for all
work on the 24 proposed projects to stop immediately - they
should have said this explicitly."
Hydro electricity accounts for about 18 percent, or 40,000
megawatts, of India's installed generation capacity and another
14,000 megawatts are under development, government data shows,
but its contribution is expected to fall as environmental
complaints slow new construction.
(Reporting by Tommy Wilkes and Shyamantha Asokan; Editing by