The World Bank agrees to study the construction of the Uttarakhand dam
Major victory for villagers alleging violations in construction of Vishnugad Pipalkoti hydropower project
Residents of a village in Chamoli district of Uttarakhand have won a major victory in a dispute over the construction of a dam in the area. An independent World Bank panel has agreed to examine the environmental damage caused by the Vishnugad Pipalkoti Hydroelectric Project (VPHEP) being constructed on the Alaknanda River.
The committee accepted the plea of 83 local communities alleging that the project would destroy the ancient Laxmi Narayan temple in Haat village. The temple is a cultural resource for the locals and is the source of their livelihood.
The 444 MW VPHEP is being built by the Tehri Hydropower Development Corporation, a company partly owned by the Centre. The project is mainly funded by the World Bank and was sanctioned in 2011.
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The mud spill from the dam threatens the architecture of the walls of the temple, which is an ancient heritage site, villagers said. Locals claimed to have a sacred connection with the Laxmi Narayan Temple, which is said to have been established by Adi Shankaracharya in the 19th century.
A 2022 study by the Archaeological Survey of India was cited by the villagers in their plea. ASI is an Indian government agency responsible for archaeological research as well as the conservation and preservation of cultural and historical monuments.
Residents also claimed that they were forcibly displaced from their village. Some residents who refused to accept compensation and move to another location were evicted from their homes on September 22, 2021, while some were locked up by police, according to the petition.
More than 90 families were affected by the project and their livelihoods were also at risk, the petition added. About 70 families only receive water for two hours a day, while 12 receive water for about two to five hours a day. The water supply had been promised to them before the start of the project, the villagers said.
The project also failed to take into account disasters caused by climate change and extreme weather events, the petition added. A midday downpour in Kedarnath in 2013 and the Chamoli disaster in 2021 were also overlooked, he added.
The July 12, 2022 World Bank panel accepted the villagers’ request to investigate the project and the plea was registered on August 19, 2022.
Read more: India can build hydropower projects on Jhelum and Chenab tributaries: World Bank
The committee considered the inquiry request for the third time. The World Bank accepted the first plea on July 23, 2012 and a report was submitted on July 1, 2014. The second request was rejected by the World Bank.
The inspection committee found the villagers’ latest petition acceptable, said Ramani Kunangyam, chairman of the inspection committee. “The plea was entered on August 19, 2022,” he said, adding that the villagers also provided evidence of objection.
The identity of community members requesting the survey will be kept confidential.
The hydropower project is expected to be completed by June 30, 2023 at a cost of US$922 million (approximately Rs 7,36,64,40,000). According to the villagers, the old temple site of Haat village has been turned into a dumping ground for this project.
Potential sites for manure dump sites suggested by villagers were ignored, villagers claimed. They also fear that their source of fresh water will run out once the dam is built.
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