Swami Sanand, formerly Professor G D Agarwal of IIT Kanpur, left his mortal body late last year after fasting for 112 days seeking cancellation of four under-construction hydropower projects on the Mandakini and Alaknanda. Twenty-six years old Brahmachari Atmabodhanand from Kerala has been on fast for 120 days (as on 21 February 2019) seeking the cancellation of the same projects.
The Union Government is spending about Rs 20,000 crores in building Sewage Treatment Plants (STPs) on the Ganga. One major measure of pollution is the presence of harmful bacteria called coliforms. These are found in thousands of types. Each type of coliform is destroyed by a specific type of beneficial bacteria called coliphage. The National Environment Engineering Institute, Nagpur brought out that the coliphages in the Ganga have unique “wide-spectrum” capabilities. One coliform can destroy many types of coliphages. The Institute of Microbial Technology, Chandigarh has said, “Our findings also revealed variety of different phages that are reported to have specific bactericidal activity against clinical isolates and pathogens… Our analysis showed the vast and unparallel diversity of bacteriophages present in the river Ganges…” The report lists 17 diseases the bacteria of which are killed by coliphages in the Ganga water. These beneficent coliphages stick to the sediments of the Ganga. The sediments have to be continuously created for these coliphages to survive. The hydropower projects divert the water of the Ganga into tunnels or still them in reservoirs. That removes the friction between water and stones and prevents the creation of these sediments. That harms the coliphages and leads to additional expenditures on STPs.
We must protect our biodiversity in the grim scenario of global warming. The famous Mahseer fish of Uttarakhand migrates upstream to lay eggs. The fishlings then flow down with the flowing water until they become big and migrate upstream in the next cycle. This migration is obstructed by the hydropower projects. The Snow Trout requires flowing water to survive. These unique species will be harmed by the projects.
Beauty of the River
The people of State of Washington in the United States petitioned the Government that the Elhwa Dam was blocking the migration of salmon fishes and preventing them from fishing and kayaking. The Government commissioned a survey. People of the state were asked how much money they would be willing to pay to remove the Elhwa Dam. The survey found that the people were willing to pay much more than the benefits being derived from electricity generation and irrigation from the Elhwa Dam. The Government removed the dam on the basis of this survey. The Indian Institute of Technology, Roorkee has estimated that people of India would draw a benefit of Rs 23,255 crores per year if the Ganga flowed freely. The benefit would be Rs 2,325 crores per year if we attribute ten percent of this value to the four under-construction projects. About Rs 5,000 has been spent on these projects till date. The cost incurred by the country in scrapping these projects, therefore, would be a onetime payment Rs 5,000 crores while we will get a benefit of Rs 2,325 crores per year.
The State of Uttarakhand gets 12 percent free power from hydropower projects. These projects utilize the physical quality of Ganga of falling from a higher to lower elevation. The alternative is to utilize her higher psychological qualities. I once did a survey of pilgrims at Haridwar, Rishikesh and Dev Prayag. Twenty six percent pilgrims replied they got health benefits, 14 percent got better business, and 9 percent got success in examinations. This indicates that hospitals and universities on the banks of the Ganga would provide much better success rate. The State will get huge revenues from these activities.
The cost of electricity from new hydropower projects is about Rs 7-11 per unit against Rs 3-4 per unit from solar power. According to the head of the Central Electricity Authority of Ministry of Power, solar power can be stored and used in the morning and evening when the demand is more at a cost of mere 40 paise per unit. It is for this reason that many hydropower projects are in financial trouble today.
Uttarakhand may still feel short-changed. The benefits from free flow of the Ganga will accrue to people of the whole country while the State of Uttarakhand would be bear the losses. Therefore, the Union Government should pay a “Ganga Bonus” to the State and make up the loss.