Fear of impending disaster keeps residents of Doda & Kishtwar districts on tenterhooks
Call it a deliberate attitude of the government to remain unaware of the fallout of the Baglihar hydroelectric project reservoir or inability of officers to deal the situation, uncertainty is increasing in the twin districts of Doda and Kishtwar, where the threat of a huge disaster is becoming a major concern for the populace.
This 900-MW power project is fast turning the area into a no-habitation zone with huge mountains ‘merging’ into the Chenab slowly and steadily.
The stagnant water has started to show its effects with loose soil becoming its first victim. Water has entered deep inside the mountains with the area being home to different kinds of stone, including lime and gypsum, for which water is a great threat.
Soil erosion had started within months of the creation of the reservoir and sinking of a portion of a 100-metre road near Assar in January 2009 was its first evidence. Since then, rock after rock and mountain after mountain started to feel the heat. Soil erosion is fast turning the area into a death zone.
“This was bound to happen as the government did not pay any heed to our report in 1997 when we called for taking remedial measures before starting the project. This report is gathering dust in government offices and no action has been taken,” said GM Bhat, a geological expert.
Construction on the state-owned Baglihar project near the Chanderkote area of Ramban district was started in 1999. In October 2008, the 450-MW first phase was commissioned, which was inaugurated by then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. On November 7 this year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated the 450-MW second phase and made the project fully functional.
The threat seems to be increasing with time as water can lead to localised earthquakes in the near future. The area already falls under Seismic Zone V and violating natural norms adds to the threat.
“The fault line passes through the area and water entering the mountains can lead to earthquakes. Though the process has not started yet, it cannot be ignored. It can start any moment in the future, but we cannot tell the exact time for want of instruments and technology,” Bhat cautioned.
He said a major disaster like an earthquake of magnitude of above 7 on the Richter scale could break the dam wall and the area downstream would be nowhere.
The Baglihar power project authorities and the Power Development Department are not willing to accept this fact. They feel that the soil erosion occurring in the area is not due to the reservoir.
“The Baglihar project reservoir has nothing to do with soil erosion and sinking of land in the upper reaches. Even if it is due to the reservoir, the impact cannot be more than 50 metres. The widespread road network which is coming up in the area has led to the sinking of the road,” said Abdul Wahid, Chief Engineer, Baglihar project.
“If these experts have anything to say about the project and its fallout, they should share it us and the higher authorities. I am not buying the argument that the Baglihar reservoir is responsible for the damage,” he said.
Elected representatives of the erstwhile Doda district have failed to take up the issue at the highest level and take it to its logical end. Despite being a part of the government, several elected members failed to convince the high-ups that the Baglihar project was becoming a threat to the area. Local residents have expressed concern over the impending disaster, but there is nobody to listen to them.
“The Baglihar project may have given a boost to the state’s economy, but it has surely added to the misery of people of the erstwhile Doda district. We are living on a potential time bomb which can explode anytime, causing extensive damage to the region,” said Syed Asim Hashmi, president, Bar Association, Doda.
“If any such thing happens, it will not only have an impact in our area, but the area downstream will be affected as well. The state has behaved like a chronic capitalist which has failed to address the issues and pay back royalty to people and the region,” he said.