The unchecked development in the ecologically fragile district of Kinnaur in the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh has led to large-scale devastation. Climate change has accelerated the destruction.
The proliferation of hydroelectric projects has brought rapid changes in the land and has adversely impacted the fragile Himalayan ecosystem and brought untold grief to the largest tribal community of the region. And the implications will also be as severed downriver.
Landslides have become common in the Sutlej River valley and experts blame it directly on the hydropower projects.
Unchecked Hydroelectric Projects Destroying Kinnaur
Nine-tenths of forest land in the district was diverted for hydroelectric projects and transmission lines. This has led to rapid changes in the use of the land. Forests have been severely fragmented, leading to loss of biodiversity and change in weather patterns. Compensatory afforestation measures have largely been a sham.
The landslides that ravaged the district recently shifted focus to the fact that 40% of the district is ‘highly-sensitive’ in geological terms. 202 lives have been lost in the last three months as 4 major natural disasters struck the district.
Unseasonal and hard rain has led to landslides, floods, excess snowfall. High altitude lakes have regularly burst their banks, leading to flash floods. There has been a major increase in precipitation activity in Kangra, Chamba, and Lahaul-Spiti pointing to the effects of climate change.
Flooding has affected around 23,000 hectares (56,800 acres) according to a Climate Change Adoption report by the Asian Development Bank.
But it is the rapid but unplanned thrust for hydroelectric development for clean energy that has harmed the region the most.
These regions in the Himalayas have been the prime focus for hydroelectric projects. The mountainous region has a potential for 150,000 megawatts. This particular region has seen the highest pace of developmental activity.
Kinnaur alone has 53 hydroelectric projects with a collective capacity of 3,041 megawatts. But the quest for green energy is harming the ecology of the region. There have been little efforts to study the environment of the fragile river basin before embarking on these gigantic projects.
The projects near Kinnaur have involved the construction of gravity dams, powerhouses, roads, labor camps, transmission towers, and the use of high-grade explosives for tunneling. All of these have combined to ravage the region leading to successive projects for maximum utilization of the power source.
The government has recently decided to go ahead with doubling the potential for hydel power from 10,547 megawatts. This could turn out to be the proverbial straw for the district of Kinnaur.