Responsible Development (India vs China hydro projects)

I had made two trips in May and June of 2014 to the two mountainous regions of India and China. First one was in the Kinnaur district of Himachal Pradesh of India, which lies in the west to the Tibetan plateau. Second one was in the Dauxe Mountain range, a part of Hengduan Mountains, in the Sichuan province of China, which lies in the east to Tibet border. Kinnaur was a lone backpacking trip carried through public transport or friendly hitchhiking.  China trip was an organized trekking trip in a group of around 10 people.

In India trip, I travelled the entire distance from New Delhi to Kalpa to Sangla Valley and back to Delhi on road. In China, the distance from Chengdu, capital of Sichuan, to Kangding to the base village near Mount Gongga to CoaKe village and back to Chengdu was on road. The total distance travelled in India was about 1300 km and that in China was about 800 km. Time spent on road in India was about 50 hours in public transport and co-travellers’ Innova. Time spent in China was about 15 hours in private mini-bus vehicle. Most of the time spent was in both the journeys was in the hilly areas going up till almost 3000 m above sea level.

The stark difference between both these travels was the quality of roads and the quality of environment in terms of deforestation and landslides adjacent to the hydro projects. Both of these areas have rivers and steep valleys making them suitable for hydro projects.

In Kinnaur district, the biggest dam is at the Kancham-Wangtoo, a Jaypee project, which was started more than a decade ago. There are many small projects all over the valley. Due to the massive floods of July 2013, the roads were still not repaired when I had visited in May 2014. In fact, on the Sangla-Chitkul Road which cuts from NH22 towards Sangla Valley the stones, rocks were constantly falling on our car for over a distance of about 20 kms. The driver of my taxi had his window-shield broken in one of the incidents when the rock actually hit his car! He was keeping a watch on the falling rocks from the slopes above while also looking ahead on the broken road.

Hydro project India
Hydro project India

In China as well, there were many hydro projects that we passed en route from Chengdu to Kangding. However, the roads were incredibly well maintained. There were a few cracks in the road here and there which could be due to rains or snowfall. But all the main highways G108, G318 were not only very smooth and safe; they had many tunnels to cross over valleys and dangerous routes. We covered a distance of about 10 kms just in the tunnels on our return journey from CaoKe village to Chengdu via Ya’an.

Broken road India
Common Broken road in India
Most broken road in China trip
Most broken road in China trip, this was probably the worst patch

During my entire time in China, I compared everything that I saw or heard or experienced with India. I might have been comparing (Indian)Apples to (Chinese)Oranges (pun intended!) but it was unavoidable. I couldn’t help but gape at the infrastructure development carried by Chinese government in the same difficult terrain and dangerous areas as those in Indian Himalayas. What the hell were we doing wrong?

Cemented mountain walls in China
Cemented mountain walls in China
IMG_5153
Untreated barren eroded walls in India

When I came back I read this story about the village in China which literally carved a tunnel using chisels and hammers for 5 years. Everyone knows China has constructed motor able roads till Mount Everest Base camp. I found that China is even creating more powerful and huge dams. On the other hand, we in India are halting development, because our development is probably resulting in more harm. From what I saw in Kinnaur, I could not help but agree with this report about how the hydro power projects in Kinnaur have actually reduced the place into a landslide infested barren and dangerous region.

Let me be clear about one thing, I believe in development. I believe in construction of roads to connect people and cultures. To promote business and trade. To allow education and personal growth. I also strongly believe in capability of our engineers and scientists to build projects which are both environmentally friendly and allow developmental growth.

What I do not understand is why we have not been able to achieve that in the most vulnerable part of the ecosystem, i.e. our mountains? Is this also due to lack of capital or greed to earn more profits? Is it because the government doesn’t have enough resources to implement the guidelines suggested by environmentalists’ at the time of project inception? Or is it because we didn’t have an active civil body to raise concerns and monitors progress of such projects? Or is it because everyone would rather make money using corrupt means than take up responsibility of such projects?

While coming down from Rampur to Shimla in a taxi, I had a long conversation with the taxi driver who was from the Rampur district. We spoke about the degradation of Kinnaur area and how land was further sliding downwards in the Peo village. Though I sensed a lot of biasness against Kinnaur locals from him due to some local traditional conflicts in the two areas, one more connected to Punjab-Haryana plains and another more connected to Spiti and Tibetian culture, it is possible that locals couldn’t/didn’t do much in this case to avoid such a downfall of this area. Maybe they were happy with the money they got from the land sold for these projects. Or maybe the projects brought work to them that fetched them money. Or maybe they didn’t know whom to approach and how to get heard regarding the rising dust and pollution in that area.

When I think of mountains, I think of trees. I think green. I think of flowers and birds. I think of rivers and not riverbed mining. I think of natural erosion and landslides and not hydro power tunnelling explosions, barren faces of mountains as an after effect. I think of pure natural air and not clouds of sand and dust.

I really do not know where we are failing in our developmental endeavours, but it is high time someone starts a company which can provide solutions into ecosystem preservation. Given the crazy funding activity going on, I am pretty sure a business idea around valley conservation and responsible tourism will be a big hit with investors! Something must be done.

National highway from Kalpa towards Kaza
National highway from Kalpa towards Kaza
Wild flowers near highway in China
Wild flowers near highway in China
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10 thoughts on “Responsible Development (India vs China hydro projects)

  1. You said it: It is because we didn’t have an active civil body to raise concerns and monitors progress of such projects. And it is because everyone would rather make money using corrupt means than take up responsibility of such projects.

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  2. Yes, I agree with development but how we can ignore such conditions for few bundles of notes. The villages there are all of two kinds, one who don’t know the cause and result and other who don’t want to care about the social thing. In all cases both are suffering and no one is steeping ahead to correct it and to discuss openly. Hope to be in action soon.
    Thanks for all the information and I promise to be in front for the cause.

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  3. Thank you Munmun, it’s been an eyeopener for each ‘n every inhabitant of Himalayan region. I have friend from Kinnaur & Spiti those who study or work in Delhi, Chd and other metro cities. They visit only once a year because of the life threatening conditions of reads to The Land of Gods. Even, I also belong to one such place in Shimla District. It takes more than 16 hrs. to reach our native place, If roads are in good conditions it will take not more that 10 hrs. It is true people make bunch of extra bucks via these projects but these are few most of the population in these areas are self dependent, mostly on agriculture, apple farming & other fruit production. Rightly said, there is lack an active civil body to raise concerns and monitors progress of such projects, lethargic government, lack of awareness and corruption… list is long. In simple words It Hurts a lot!

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    1. Thanks Sunny! I m sure very soon technology will help us generate more activity through civil bodies located and connected globally and also more transparency in the system will help deliver better quality roads and infrastructure. I m quite hopeful that we will witness a lot of change within a decade.

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  4. I am from Kinnaur . Condition here is worst than before .because of of these hydro project landslide ,road accident r very common here .. Rich ppl ad politician got huge money for these project ad poor don’t know where to approach for their grievances.. No 1 in administration ad politician had taken any step even after the 2013 man made disaster .i live in delhi whenever I think of visiting home it made my stomach churn..thanks for article …spread it as much as you can may be they wil wake up…

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  5. Generating electricity with hydro energy is not polluting itself and for your kind information Mr. Ran hydel projects comes under CDM.The only pollution occurs during the construction of these massive power plants and during construction also there are proper guideline for IPPs made by several govt. dept and H.P.P.C.B plays a big role during construction as wel after completion. I do agree that monitoring process need to be rectified and few amendments has to be done.
    My friend ran,who is from kinnaur should not blaming hydro projects for bad road in kinnaur actually he should blame the politicians coz each IPPs in hydro project give 1% of the total cost of the project(during construction) and 1% generation bill every month after commissioning of project. Which comes under LADA or LADF + for 1 to 12 year state Govt take 6% royalty in each generation bill which is use for development of roads or other use.
    Sad to say that IPPs lossing intrest in hydro projects all coz of Govt. Policies and unwanted local issues.

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