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The Need to Reconsider Himalayan Hydropower Projects


  • Concerns about the effects of hydropower projects on the Himalayan region have been raised in light of the recent crisis in Joshimath and the previous glacier burst.
  • It has sparked discussions in the area about how to strike a balance between economic growth and environmental preservation.


GS Paper-3: Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation, environmental impact assessment.

Mains Question

Given the recent crisis in the Himalayan region, hydropower projects there should be reevaluated. Discuss (150 words)


  • Since hydropower doesn’t emit any emissions or pollutants and instead produces electricity from the natural flow of water, it is frequently regarded as a green energy source. Additionally, it doesn’t depend on fossil fuels. However, depending on the particulars of each project and the techniques employed to implement it, the effects of hydropower projects on the environment can vary.
    • Communities are frequently uprooted as a result of the construction and operation of large hydroelectric dams, which also frequently cause significant changes to the local ecosystem.
  • This could result in less habitat for fish and other wildlife, which would be bad for the environment. These substantial hydroelectric dams’ construction and maintenance may also have a negative impact on the environment.

Himalayas as a Source of Water:

  • The Himalayas are a significant source of water for much of South Asia. The majority of the countries in the area, including India, China, Nepal, Bhutan, and Pakistan, have constructed or intend to construct hydropower projects in the Himalayas.
    • Hydropower has been cited by the Indian government as a major renewable energy source. In the Indian Himalayas, numerous hydropower projects are being built or are in the planning stages.
      • Examples of this include the Teesta Low Dam Hydroelectric Project in Sikkim and the Subansiri Lower Hydroelectric Project in Arunachal Pradesh.
  • Hydropower has also been recognised as a significant energy source in Nepal. Numerous hydropower projects, such as the West Seti Hydroelectric Project and Arun III Hydroelectric Project, are currently in the planning and development stages.
    • Bhutan’s primary source of income is hydropower, and the government has set a goal to export excess electricity to India.
      • The Chukha Hydropower Project and the Tala Hydropower Project are just a couple of the hydropower projects the nation has constructed.

The Hidden issues of Hydropower

  • The construction of hydropower projects in the Himalayan region has been a contentious topic of discussion.
    • Concerns about potential conflicts over water resources are in addition to those regarding environmental effects, such as those observed in Joshimath and other regions of Uttarakhand.
      • The delicate ecosystem of the Himalayas, which is home to a diverse range of flora and fauna, makes it susceptible to the effects of deforestation, excessive grazing, and other harmful construction activities.
    • These activities not only have a negative impact on the environment, but also on the livelihoods of nearby communities that depend on the ecosystem.
      • Building dams can alter river flow, water temperature, and chemical composition, which can cause landslides, erosion, and sediment buildup that are harmful to the environment.
    • If habitat is destroyed during the construction of the dam, they may also interfere with fish migration patterns and other aquatic life.
    • Local communities are frequently uprooted during the construction of large hydroelectric dams, which has a detrimental effect on their livelihoods and cultural heritage as well as a decline in the general well-being of the affected population.

The Hydropower Alternatives:

  • Micro Hydro Systems are one of them. Micro hydroelectric power generation systems with a capacity of up to 100 kilowatts are referred to as this (kW). They generate electricity by turning a turbine with the force of falling water.
  • Run-of-river and storage systems are the two main categories for micro hydro systems.
    • Run-of-river systems use a stream’s or river’s natural water flow to produce electricity. Contrarily, storage systems keep water in a reservoir and release it when needed to produce electricity.
      • Compared to large hydroelectric dams, micro hydro systems are typically less expensive to construct and maintain and leave a smaller environmental footprint.
    • They can be located even in remote locations where it is challenging to transmit electricity from larger power plants, and they can offer unconnected communities a dependable source of energy.


  • Micro hydro systems can be designed to minimise their negative effects on ecosystems and to offer sustainable energy sources.
    • It’s crucial to remember that even small-scale hydropower projects can have an effect on the environment and nearby communities.
      • At the planning stage, public participation and consent mechanisms need to be strengthened, and a grievance redressal system needs to be implemented to address concerns raised by the public after clearance.

• All active and ongoing projects, particularly those where accidents have already been reported, should be subject to an independent investigation or audit to determine whether social, environmental, and safety norms are being followed.

May 2024