The story behind the conflict at Srinagar hydro plant is one of communities, spiritual devotees, powerful goddess, courageous activists and incredible coincidences.
The hydroelectric plant is located on the river Alaknanda, one of the affluents of the sacred Ganga river, in the state of Uttarakhand (hereafter UK). It is operational since March 2014. It is run by the company GVK through its subsidiary Alaknanda Hydro Power Company Limited (AHPCL), and has benefitted from CDM funds. The hydel plant has been developed as a run of the river project. According to the Power Purchase Agreement, 88% of the energy generated will be purchased by the Uttar Pradesh Power Corporation Limited while the remaining 12% will be given free of cost to Uttarakhand state. The state government has been pushing for hydropower development for many decades now, both in the public and in the private sector while a few of them are also funded by the Asian Development Bank and CDMs. The organization SANDRP counts on the Alaknanda river and its tributaries alone 37 hydroelectric dams in operation or under construction. The whole state of Uttarakhand has 98 operating hydropower projects (of all sizes) with combined capacity close to 3600 MW. Out of this capacity, about 1800 MW are in the central sector and 503 MW in the private sector . But plans are likely to expand rapidly. The state is aiming at a total of 336 hydropower projects with total capacity of more than 27,000 MW. The bulk (122) of such projects are in the Alaknanda basin, while the largest capacity is proposed to be in the Sharda basin.
As with many other hydel projects in the region, the plant has sparked opposition from the local inhabitants since its inception. Activists argue that the terrain is not fit for construction of such a huge structure. Some also point out that a medical college was proposed to be built in the same place, but the plan was scrapped due to the nature of the land . Risks of flood, water leakages and unstable terrain jeopardize entire towns, villages, fields, forests. The dam’s capacity has increased from 200 MW (from an initial phase) to 330 MW without any thought and concern for the environment and geomorphology of the place, according to the mobilized organizations such as Matu Jan Sangathan. Local EJOs also recall how mishaps are not new at the project site. In 2008, 2009 and 2010, and again in 2014 the coffer dam (which is a structure constructed just below a diversion structure of a canal to remove bed sand, and silt loads) broke, and debris submerged houses and fields. During the Uttarakhand floods on June 16-17 2013, the reservoir of the Srinagar Hydroelectric Project was filled due to heavy rainfall. The dam authority, AHCL, kept the gates closed which led to accumulation of water. Only when the water was far above the limit, AHCL opened the dam gates without informing or sounding any alert to the localities downstream. The massive flow of water swept away the muck that was dumped in the river bed by the dam authorities and damaged the villages and houses downstream. In an interview given to Down to Earth, Vimal Bhai of Matu Jan Sangathan said: "“Even after six months since the June calamity, there has been no inquiry by the state or Central government. We have been trying to file an FIR but local district police officials have always refused to do so. It is very much clear that politicians are supporting dams, not the welfare of people, and are pursuing their own personal interest,” . Activists argue that all the run of the river projects involve the building of a dam, diversion structures, desilting mechanisms, tunnels, roads, townships, mining, among other components. These additional activities and infrastructures have made the soil even more instable and provoked hydrogeological disturbances and land slides. Therefore, they are among the major causes of floods and disasters such as the one in June 2013 .
As of Sept 2014, the company is still in the process of repairing the cracks caused by the previous year's floods as well as more recent ones. It has not able to generate any power since the flooding.
At the Srinagar Hydro Electric Project, the matter is further complicated due to the sacredness of the Dhari Devi temple, located on the river's bank.
As it was going to be submerged, AHPCL had been trying to relocate the Dhari Devi temple which would allow enhancing the hydro-electric project’s capacity from 200 MW to 330 MW. The Ministry of Environment and Forest submitted an affidavit in the Supreme Court in May 2014 stating that the Dhari Devi temple is of “tremendous religious, emotional and cultural significance for people all over the country…several religious leaders have undertaken fast unto death on the score and several have announced that they will commit jal samadhi (death by drowning self)”. It also mentions that BJP leader Uma Bharati also visited the site several times and announced she will take jal samadhi if the temple was disturbed. The affidavit pointed out that in the recent case of Orissa Mining Corporation (the better known "Vedanta case"), MoEF had put forward similar arguments regarding the rights of the local tribal people to worship the Niyamgiri hill and the Supreme Court had ruled that the right to worship must be respected.
However, the bench replied saying that as the deity at Srinagar has been uplifted on a platform upon the river's water but is still attached to the sacred rock, "none of the rights of the devotees of Dhari Devi Temple hasve been affected by raising the level of the temple". They also added that: “The Dhari Devi temple is not included in the protected monuments of Archaelogical Survey of India and it is a local temple to be worshipped by nearby villagers only. All the local villagers and the priest of the temple are in agreement with the project authorities to raise the temple”. Be it as it is, on June 16th 2013, Dhari Devi, the goddess of power, was placed on the new platform. On the same day, in a cruel twist of irony, the cloudburst opened on the Himalayan ridges above the Alaknanda and Mandakini rivers, setting off the calamitous flood.
UPDATE from Matu Jan Sangathan press note 25th August 2016; "On 19th august National Green Tribunal (NGT) after 18 hearings gave a historic verdict on the petition filed in august 2013 by Srinagar Bandh Aapda Sangharsh Samiti and Matu Jansangathan for the compensation against the destruction and damage caused during 2013 disaster because of srinagar dam constructed over Alaknanda river by GVK company Uttrakhand. Hon’ble Justice U.D Salvi, judicial member and Hon’ble Prof. A.R. Yousuf , expert member held GVK company responsible for 2013 disaster and ordered to compensate the affected people with rupees 9,26,42,795 Rs. and 1 lakh per petitionor. "[full press release in Other Comments box below]