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Thursday, December 06, 2001  

Silently, Tehri slips into its key phase

To placate VHP (and ‘save’ Bhagirathi river), a pipe is fitted in one of the tunnels


FOR the first time in two decades, a key and controversial phase in the construction of the Tehri dam has begun. The gates of two diversion tunnels have been shut to form a reservoir, officials said. And the bridge that connects Tehri to the rest of Uttaranchal has been made out of bounds.

Work on the two main diversions tunnels, T-3 and T-4, now carrying the waters of the Bhagirathi, started two days ago. Out of the total 16 gates, 11 gates were in place, partially blocking the flow of the river. Tehri Tehri Hydro Development Corporation (THDC) authorities said all the gates of the tunnels were blocked by Wednesday, marking the completion of one of the most important phases of the 2,400 MW Tehri Hydro Electric Project.

‘‘No actual flooding will take place right now because the level of the water is not much,’’ said Radha Raturi, district magistrate, Tehri. In this phase, the dam would reach a level of 636 metres. Two colonies are going to be submerged — Valmiki colony with 30 families, Suman colony with 5 families. ‘‘All these people have been rehabilitated in New Tehri,’’ said Raturi.

Much to the surprise and relief of the (THDC) authorities, they encountered no local opposition. For one, Sundarlal Bahugana, who has led the movement to oppose the dam since 1987, is unwell and in Delhi. And Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) chief Ashok Singhal, who had threatened a fast unto death saying the water of the holy Ganges would get polluted if ‘‘the water was stopped even for an hour’’, seems to have been suitably mollified.

A committee headed by Union Human Resource Development Minister Murli Manohar Joshi has reached a consensus that a four-inch diameter pipe would be fitted in one of the tunnels to ensure a continuous flow of the Bhagirathi waters. The Bhagirathi river meets Alaknanda to form Ganga at Devprayag.

VHP representatives, when contacted in Delhi, said they were satisfied with the solution. ‘‘We have not submitted any report. But we have spoken to Joshiji and the fact that this pipe will be laid is good enough,’’ said Giriraj Kishore of the VHP.

The other flashpoint for agitators was the Bhagirathi bridge which connects 200 villages of Tehri to Uttranchal. That too will be declared out of bounds tomorrow. An alternate bridge called the Zero bridge has been built, but it isn’t acceptable to local residents because it involves an extra 14-kilometre detour. Authorities were expecting trouble as usual and work began under high security cover. ‘‘We were surprised that there was no opposition. We were all prepared. Even Bahuguna’s family has agreed to move from their positions near the bridge,’’ said Raturi. Around 800 shopkeepers, who were main protestors, have reportedly been rehabilitated.

While 75 per cent of work on the dam site has been completed, the only hindrance in the completion of work were various agitations demanding better. Over one lakh people from 109 villages, which would be submerged in the waters of the reservoir once the two tunnels are closed, are to be rehabilitated in Pashulok and Pathri areas of Dehra Dun and Hardwar districts respectively.

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