Apoorva Joshi

PhD student - Michigan State University; Independent journalist - environment, science and international news.

Fellow - International League of Conservation Writers.

Member - Society of Environmental Journalists, International Communication Association.

Hydro Power v/s Gharial Power

Disclaimer: I am putting up an email I sent as a reply to a certain person who wanted to know more about the dangers that power plant projects pose to Gharials and the Chambal. I chose to put up the email just as it is, with no changes, because that's how I wanted it to be and as I see it, no one should have any objection to the content of the mail, including the receiver. This is in pure interest of the Gharial. Thank you. [As an intro, I'm starting with excerpts from the mail that I got from this person and then my reply].

"hi Apoorva,
Thanks for your quick resaponse. You would be happy to know that your articles -'Once upon a time A ghariyal lived' & 'Headed the Dino way' have not only been published in Twinkle Magazine Oct 31 issue but your story has been publishd as cover story. The issue raised by you has also found place in the editorial of the magazine. I really appreciate your concern for the Gharials & other wild life. I am a civil engineer and work as an Executive Engineer for MP Power Genrating Co. Ltd. I look after Survey, Investigation and planning of Hydro Power projects. As you may be aware that Hydro Power is one of the most pollution free forms of energy.Once built no fuel is required to run the plant. Moreover the hydro power plants are capable of running as peaking power plants because of its ability to start and stop quickly unlike a thermal power plant. As such it is considered ideal to have a optimal mix of thermal and hydro power project capacities around 60:40. In our country this ratio is far below the desired one and Govt. is giving lot of thrust for adding hydro power capacity. However construction of hydro power requires building of dams and diverting water to power house which certainly changes the natural regieme of the water and also results in submergence of large area of land running sometimes into several sq. kms. As such many environmental issues on this account crop up while plnning a hydro power project based on reservoir or even based on run off the river. You would also appreciate that producing any form of electical energy - hydel, thermal or atomic has some kind of environmental impact and/ or risk. As we know that electrical energy is one of the most important and convinient energy sources and has become almost indispensible with rise in its demand every day. Being a public and poilictical issue ther is a large pressure on public utilities to build more and more power projects.Further increasing sale rates of energy and chnges in electricity regulations are attracting lot of private playesr to build power plants. Any kind of power plant requires consumptive use of water and the same is to be drawn from the river by creating a storage. Thus the need (or compulsion) of constructing more and more dams and reservoirs is growing which is creating a kind of conflict among the Environmetalist, Power utilities, Public and Govenment. Certianly ways and means have to be found out keeping in view the ground relaities to preserve the nature/ environment along with building new projects. In this direction what I feel stongly that the technocrates and environmentalist should work together like a team and not like enimeis. There is a greater need to reach an understanding of each others views and issues. Otherwise aletrnative convinient ways of fullfilling the need of electricity like - using inverters, diesel/ petrol generators, kerosine, fuel wood etc. would also harm the environment which would in turn directly or indirectly affect the wild life. Your article on Ghariyals drawn my attention as I am associated with Surveys, invetigation and planning of a series of projects on Chambal River in which issues of Ghariyals sanctury is a major one. The National Board for Wild Life has rejected the proposal recently..."

REPLY:
Hi,

Several issues need to be addressed as regards your email. Firstly, "Environmentalist" is a term I do not prefer to be associated. I am more of a practical conservationist. And just because I want to see the wildlife conserved, does not mean that I am against development. None of us are against development. We live in the same country. We face the same issues. So we understand what needs the people of this country have and what can be done to fulfil those needs.
As far as energy goes, I have studied Environmental Science, and a major portion of that was energy, conventional and non-conventional sources, and power generation. I understand the details involved in issues that have conservationists, politicians, developers and the Government at war-heads with each other.
As regards the articles being published in magazines and the editorial coverage, I am pleased that an important point such as this got across to several people. The main point behind all these articles is awareness. However, awareness does not mean merely KNOWING about a problem. It also means knowing why it exists and what can be done to stop it from aggravating.
The problem in Chambal is not something that can be solved with one deal or one meeting. It is very clear, and hence, has a very obvious solution. I will come to that once I explain to you WHY there is just one solution.

We need power for a country that is the 2nd most populated country in the world. We have many mouths to feed, many things to achieve. We have a brilliant culture and strong traditions. Yet somehow, we have forgotten to value what is more important than all of this. The one thing that sustains all life. Water.
97% of the world's water is sea water. Of the remaining 3%, only 1% is available to us in the form of fresh water. That 1% does not belong to anyone. And that brings us to the fact that most of us overlook - we share our resources with all other living beings. This includes the Gharials in Chambal, the Gangetic Dolphin, the Otters, the Mahseer and several more. These species depend entirely on fresh water for their survival.
We have more evolved brains. We are more intelligent apparently. Thus, we have the technology to invent and discover. This is why I need you to understand that I am not someone against technology. I respect the upcoming techno field but at the same time, I feel that it is mis-applied. It is used more towards mankind's destruction that its advantage.
The Sun provide 10 raised to 16 quantity of Solar energy. The entire Earth's requirement of energy put together comes to 10 raised to 13. That means we have 1000 times more energy coming in from the Sun than all of mankind would need to function. We have a massive coastline. We have mountains, hills, and ravines. Tidal energy and Wind energy can easily be harvested from these resources if the right amount of dedication, enthusiasm, and technology is used. EVERY year our country spends ridiculous amounts of money on absolutely useless things. All that could be wisely used to develop these non-conventional sources of energy.
Why we still don't have a system in place for these new sources, is because we just simply don't want to let go of our conventional thermal, and hydro power. We still want petroleum and diesel to burn instead of CNG and other alternatives.
So, please dont expect me to believe that what we NEED today, is a hydro power project. That too, coming up in the Chambal area, or any other area which is ecologically sensitive. Try and realize, that today, most of India is ecologically sensitive because we MADE it that way.
You were asking about a solution. There is only one solution. Whether we meet, speak or email, that wont change. The National Board for Wildlife and the MoEF have been very correct in passing their decision.
If you understood my article on Gharials and the Chambal and the threats they face, you will obviously be aware of the fact that it is not a pretty picture at all. The Gharials are not having a gala time in an ecosystem which is degrading day by day. The local people mine sand regularly for construction purposes, and they remove this from the nesting sites of the Crocs. That puts a huge dampner on their survival.
It has been observed over years that the water levels in Chambal are fluctuating erratically because of the erratic monsoon. Global warming has even changed and affected seasons. So at a time when we should all really be fighting to save our wildlife, we are fighting to set up power plants and telling each other that "there will obviously be environmental damage". That is a very escapist and ignorant way of looking at things.
Please understand that I do not mean to be arrogant. I mean to drive home my point which seems to have been left incomplete by the article. As far as rural areas go, villages are now happier with Biogas plants than they were with wood and coal burning energy means. So if they can adapt to ecologically safe methods, it is but natural that we, being educated, should also show the same concern.

The solution is, to not build any more dams and barrages on the Chambal as whatever little is left for the Gharials, is essential for their survival. The water levels fluctuate already due to the monsoon and stronger summers. With that, if more dams come up, things will go completely under the water. It is not just the Gharial that is endangered. The Gangetic River Dolphin, which has recently been declared as India's National Aquatic animal, and the River Otters, the Mahseer fish, etc, are ALL endangerd species. These species help to give the Chambal a protected area status, which in turn, protects not just the quality of the Chambal's waters, but also safeguards these animals from falling prey to habitat destruction and pollution. Nature has enough problems to give these animals as their survival rates are not that high anyway. Man is only blindly and cruelly adding to those. If these animals go extinct, the Chambal will become what the Yamuna is today. It will turn black with pollution, chemicals, sewage, industrial waste, human waste, and will be afloat with dead Gharials.

I am sorry to crush your hope but you must understand that when an animal is called Critically Endangered, it is one step from COMPLETE extinction.

Regards,
Apoorva.

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Have refrained from adding the person's name on purpose. I think it's a good thing that engineers, and people who are connected with these projects actually want to know more about the threats to the wildlife they will be affecting, but also, like I said, awareness has more to it, than just merely knowing of the existence of a problem.

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