Community-based power projects giving a ray of hope to migration-hit Uttarakhand villages

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hydro-power-projects-in-Basarpatti-area-in-Uttarakhand’s -Tehri-district
villagers discussing about setting up of community-based hydro power projects in Basarpatti area in Uttarakhand’s Tehri district

Experts say once the projects become functional, each family in the area will take home at least Rs 18,000 per month by selling electricity to the state-run Uttarakhand Jal Vidyut Nigam Ltd

Sita Devi, a 62-year-old villager from Uttarakhand’s Tehri district saw two of her young sons migrate from their native village in search of jobs. With a heavy heart, the sexagenarian works on her small agricultural land holding every day, waiting for a day when her sons would return home.
But the lives of villagers, including Sita Devi, of Basarpatti area – around 190 km from the Uttarakhand capital Dehradun– are set to change. If all goes as planned, over 100 residents of four villages of this belt will become owners of a micro hydroelectric power company.
To be built on the Bal Ganga River (in the Bhagirathi River Valley), the project has been approved by the Centre and its detailed project report is currently being prepared by the Uttarakhand Renewable Energy Development Agency.
Once functional, the 1 Mega Watt capacity project will garner Rs 28 lakh per month for the villagers through sale of electricity to the state-run Uttarakhand Jal Vidyut Nigam Ltd (UJVNL), which manages hydropower generation.
“I hope at least one of my sons – and so from each of the other families in the belt – will return to the village once the project starts…Otherwise, there’s hardly any employment here,” says Sita Devi, whose sons are among 863 out of every 1000 persons who have migrated from rural areas of Uttarakhand according to a government survey.
“Lack of employment opportunities in the hills is one of the key reasons forcing locals to migrate. After the commissioning of the project, each family will take home at least Rs 18,000 per month,” says Trepan Singh Chauhan, convener of Chetna Andolan, a people’s movement which convinced villagers to set up the company.
Amid a debate over the feasibility of the large hydro power projects in ecologically fragile Uttarakhand – most of which are run by private companies – this model of a community-owned hydroelectric project is giving a ray of hope to villagers around the state.
Over 33 big hydropower projects are currently suspended in Uttarakhand due to environmental and legal reasons, as per the UJVNL. In contrast, over 78 such community-based small scale projects are in the pipeline in the state where over 86% geographical area falls in the hills.
Such projects, experts says, are not only environment friendly but will also help in arresting migration in a state where at least 1065 out of 16,826 villages have turned into what are infamously referred to as the “ghost (un-inhabited) villages”.
“Unlike bigger dams, these small-scale power projects do not hamper the local ecosystem and also hold the potential to provide self-employment in remote areas,” says Uttarakhand-based noted environmentalist and Padma Shri awardee, Anil Joshi. “More such small companies should be encouraged and villagers should be given trainings to operate such projects,” he adds.

Originally appeared on http://www.hindustantimes.com

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