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Home > Environment, Health and Social Justice > India: The Collapse of Srinagar Coffer Dam in Uttrakhand Not (...)

India: The Collapse of Srinagar Coffer Dam in Uttrakhand Not Surprising

by People’s Science Institute, 30 July 2009

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People’s Science Institute, July 28, 2009

The collapse of the coffer dam for the 330 MW Alaknanda Hydro Power Project does not come as a surprise to serious observers of Uttarakhand’s hydropower development programme.

"Many of us who have been carefully watching the construction work on this project, being constructed by GVK Power & Infrastructure Limited, have been appalled by its shoddy practices and its wanton violations of environmental rules and regulations", says Dr. Ravi Chopra, Director, People’s Science Institute, Dehra Doon. "At a meeting with the Chief Secretary of Uttarakhand and other senior officials in May 2008 members of the Uttarakhand Nadi Bachao Abhiyan informed the officials that the company had not built any retaining wall to contain the overburden, in complete violation of the existing environmental regulations. They demanded that the government at least enforce the laws. They also suggested that an independent body be set up to look into such matters. Unfortunately no action was taken then. Later officials of the World Bank also pointed out the environmentally unfriendly practices of this company", adds Dr. Chopra.

It is incredible that the state has no mechanism to monitor construction of dams. Even when roads are constructed by contractors, government engineers monitor the construction activity. But the construction of dams in Uttarakhand is completely unregulated. The State Pollution Control Board, which is responsible for reviewing EIA reports and forwarding its recommendations to the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests, sees itself only as a post office whose task is to receive these reports and forward them without any analysis whatsoever. 

Reviews of several EIA reports and Detailed Project Reports by People’s Science Institute show that developers often misrepresent facts, use inadequate data and try to cut corners. "It is quite possible that in constructing the coffer dam the company did not adequately design it to withstand the heavy monsoon flows in the Alakananda river", suggests Dr. Chopra. 

"The recent Metro mishap in New Delhi, saw massive media attention and calls for accountability. A committee was set up immediately and officials were hauled up for their negligence. But in Uttarakhand neither the officials nor their political masters are bothered. This abject neglect lends credence to the view that in Uttarakhand hydropower projects are not meant just to produce power but more so to lay ones hands on the loot, at the expense of the safety of the people and the environment", charges Dr. Chopra.
The Uttarakhand government must immediately set up a monitoring system with the involvement of local communities who can keep a watchful eye round the clock, before a major tragedy occurs.