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Vishnugaad – Peepalkoti hydroelectric project, Uttarakhand, India

"At your Own Risk"; challenging World Bank and IFC funded projects can cause you more troubles than expected. Despite severe ecological risks and the experts' voices like Dunu Roy. All in the name of development and green energy.


The government of India has requested the World Bank's assistance to finance the proposed Vishnugad Pipalkoti Hydro Electric Project to be developed by the THDC India Ltd (THDC, a joint venture between the government of India and the government of Uttar Pradesh) on the Alaknanda River in Uttarakhand, the land where the Kedarnath tragedy unfolded in August 2013, when unprecedented floods claimed thousands of lives. The Vishnugad Pipalkoti Hydro Electric Project has been designed as a 444-megawatt, run-of-river hydropower scheme which, when completed, will generate an estimated 1,665 gigawatt-hours (or million kilowatt-hours) of electricity in a typical year. According to the proponents, this will represent a valuable addition of peaking power to India's Northern Grid, which faces severe power shortages at high-consumption times.

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:Vishnugaad – Peepalkoti hydroelectric project, Uttarakhand, India
State or province:Uttarakhand
Location of conflict:Chamoli
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Water Management
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Dams and water distribution conflicts
Specific commodities:Electricity
Project Details and Actors
Project details

VPHEP is a 444 MW run-of-river scheme that includes the concrete gravity dam, an 8-mile-long headrace tunnel, an underground powerhouse that will contain four 111 MW vertical Francis turbine generating units and the 2-mile-long tailrace tunnel.

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Level of Investment:US$ 922 millions total cost of the project [1]
Type of populationRural
Affected Population:2000
Start of the conflict:2011
Company names or state enterprises:Tehri Hydro Development Corporation (THDC) from India
Bharat Heavy Electricals Ltd (BHEL) from India
Relevant government actors:Uttarakhand government
International and Finance InstitutionsThe World Bank (WB) from United States of America
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Matu Jan Sanghatan
Human Rights Watch (HRW)
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stagePREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups mobilizing:Farmers
Local ejos
Social movements
Forms of mobilization:Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Objections to the EIA
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches
Occupation of buildings/public spaces
Environmental ImpactsPotential: Air pollution, Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Floods (river, coastal, mudflow), Food insecurity (crop damage), Global warming, Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Soil contamination, Soil erosion, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems, Other Environmental impacts
Other Environmental impactsIncreased risk of earthquakes
Health ImpactsPotential: Malnutrition, Health problems related to alcoholism, prostitution, Occupational disease and accidents, Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…)
Socio-economical ImpactsPotential: Displacement, Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Violations of human rights, Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place
Project StatusUnder construction
Conflict outcome / response:Court decision (failure for environmental justice)
Objection to the project have failed so far (2016)
Development of alternatives:The slogans raised in the fights against dams in the regions are : “Ganga Chalegi Apni Chaal, Uncha Rahega Uska Bhaal (Ganga will continue to flow with its dignity intact)”, “Dekh Raha Hai Aaj Himalaya Ganga ke Rakhwaalon Ko (Himalaya is looking towards saviours of Ganga)”.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:The project is under construction despite the criticism of ecologist Dunu Roy and local inhabitants, and the national campaigns.
Sources & Materials
References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

[3] Human Rights Watch - "At your own Risk" report
[click to view]

Objections alterered to give World Bank clean chit: Dunu Roy (Anubuthi Vishnoi, The Economic Times, 19 July 2016)
[click to view]

Links to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites

[1] World Bank, Vishnugad Pipalkoti Hydro Electric Project
[click to view]

The Hindu - Critics of World Bank projects intimidated: report
[click to view]

India Today - Jan 2013 - Vishnugad-Pipalkoti power project in Uttarakhand in trouble, World Bank to send team for investigation
[click to view]

[2] CatchNews July 2016 - Ecologist inspecting U'khand hydel project accuses World Bank of altering his findings
[click to view]

Other comments:Villagers summons the officials of World Bank
Name of the Project: Vishnugaad – Peepalkoti hydroelectric project {444}: River: Alaknanda Ganga; Dam Company : Tehri Hydro Development Corporation;
The Villagers and Project Affected People of Vishnugaad – Peepalkoti hydroelectric project summons the officials of World Bank. World Bank is funding this project where people have continuously complained about the incomplete rehabilitation work in this project. The ecology and environment is getting largely affected due to the tunneling and overall development of this project. But World Bank has been cleverly showing that the problems have been resolved and this project should operation in a systematic manner.
The second environmental clearance has been given to the project violating the Hon’ble Supreme Court’s order dated August 13, 2013. The affected people of various villages have surrounded the officials of World Bank again today. This happened whenever the officials visited the villagers. They remained silent mostly and diverted the question when asked about the questions regarding resolution of problems related to rehabilitation, ecological devastation and environmental concerns.
On 2nd March also, the same thing happened with strong opposition from the villagers against the flawed developmental project and the promises from the Govt. and the World Bank. The dissent has spread all across the villages namely Palla, Jaakhola, Huon, Pokhni, Tirosi, Laanjhi, Harsari, Urgam, Matth, Jaretha, Bajni, Gangot, and Durgapur village. Villagers are going to be affected due to the tunneling work of this hydroelectric project. The tunneling has been questioned by various environmentalists on the ground of making hills vulnerable to landslides and ecological devastation.
At the same time, from the cultural aspect, Murlidhar Bhandari of Pokhni village has put a question that if the Ganga River will go into the tunnel, where will they do the funeral? Sarpanch Maatbar Singh has asked about the replies which he have not received till now against the letter, he sent in October, 2015 to the Company associated with the development of this Dam. Sarpanch Kanvar Singh Bhandari of Laanji Village said that the tunneling will affect dangerously the water, forest, and the land of the affected area.
Many others asked the similar questions but after listening to all the questions, the officials of World Bank has only replied that ‘we will come to your village next time’ and went back. The meeting was held in the ‘Siyasen’ Guest House of THDC, which is very much safe considering the distance from the actual place of tunneling. Contrastingly, after repeated claims of no destruction on the hills above the tunnel, THDC has not constructed any office there. It is clearly visible that putting the villagers in danger, they have marked themselves safe by keeping the office out of the affected area.
The villagers of Durgapur village were not heard showing lack of time and other engagements. 21 villagers have been framed in a legal case by a contractor company of THDC, alleging the disruption to the project work. The village is going to face the landslide as it is situated at the outlet of the tunnel from where the river will come out. The people have stopped the project work, staged protests, movements which was stopped by the district magistrate of Chamoli with an assurance of an investigation and report on likely impacts on the village due to the blasts carried out for tunneling under this project. The investigation is not yet completed; compensation for previous destruction has also not been given to villagers. THDC’s claim of illegal encroachment on their land after 2013 disaster is also false as the govt. only given the land to the villagers. The investigation report is not come out in the public even after the visits of officials and now because of the movements and protests against these irregularities, the company who has been given the contract is filing false cases on villagers for disrupting the work.
Similarly, the villagers have been framed in the village where the tunnel starts and village above Power House. Whenever people protested, they were framed and cases were filed against them, on the other hand the company kept moving ahead with the project work. This clearly shows the policies of World Bank where they are in a way against their own safeguard policies of rehabilitation and environmental and proving the work of Dam project right by ignoring the serious issues of rehabilitation and environmental devastation.
On blatant violation of World Bank policies, the affected villagers had complained with the so called independent investigation team in which the process took more than one year of time but the report has miserably failed to address the real issues. After which the company and the World Bank is working without any hesitation and when the villagers protested against the progress of dam work, they were endlessly framed by THDC and their contracted companies. Today almost 74 villagers are facing the legal cases in the dam affected area.
Ms. Sona Thakur, Mr. Piyush and a bank official were presenting the World Bank team. There was no information ever with the villagers and the Gram Sabha about their visit. The team has failed miserably to answer the questions and the real picture narrated by people during the meet.
Ganga need to be independent from the destruction then only the Himalaya and its inhabitants will remain protected and healthy. We will continue to take this struggle and movement ahead.
Narendra Pokhariyal, Dhaneshwery Devi, Muralidhar Bhandari, Vimalbhai
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Contributor:Daniela Del Bene, ICTA-UAB
Last update06/09/2016
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