Hunger strike delays Himalayan dam

Work on a major hydroelectric dam in the Himalayas has been stopped after one of India’s most eminent scientists, GD Agarwal, staged a 38-day protest fast, the Guardian reported. The fast against the Loharinag-Pala project was Agarwal’s second in a year against dam projects that are planned or under construction by India, Pakistan, Nepal and Bhutan in the Himalayan foothills.


Agarwal is a former dean of the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur. He called off his fast after the Indian government agreed to accelerate its inquiry into how electricity could be generated on a tributary of the Ganges without impeding the flow of the water. The free-running of the river is a crucial element of the Ganges’ sacred status to Hindus.


Together, the 600-megawatt (MW) Loharinag-Pala project and others are expected to provide 150,000 MW of electricity for countries in which power cuts are frequent and demand is growing. But experts say the dams will have profound effects on the environment and culture of the region, directly affecting the lives of millions of people.


A recent report from International Rivers, an NGO, said that the dams will transform the landscape, ecology and economy of the Himalayan region and displace hundreds of thousands of people. Written by Shripad Dharmadhikary, one of South Asia’s leading water and energy experts, the report said the dams are being planned and built with little assessment of environmental impacts. It also warned that climate change – by causing more silt to be washed down mountains in melting glacier water — could reduce the amount of electricity that the dams are planned to generate.


The study did not consider dam-building on the Chinese side of the Himalayas. China recently announced plans to build 59 reservoirs, but its stated aim was to store water from its shrinking glaciers.


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