| A view of Old Tehri in 1991, which is now under water. (Right) Tehri dam under construction
July 30: The Tehri hydro-power project, made famous by environmentalist Sunderlal Bahuguna’s dogged campaign against it, was opened today three decades after it was cleared.
“This is a dam built with our tears,” Bahuguna had said at the height of protests against the project that would submerge the town of Old Tehri. He went on fasts unto death, lasting more than 40 days each, in a campaign that was a precursor to the protests against the Narmada dam years later.
Last year, when the town finally went under water, Bahuguna’s wife Bimla took the last boat out. He had left earlier.
The environmentalist was not in New Tehri today when Union power minister Sushil Kumar Shinde formally commissioned the first unit of 250 MW.
“The project’s past 35 years formed a saga of battles, sacrifices and vision of national leaders. The greatest of all, the sacrifice of the people of Tehri who had to abandon their city to shift to a new one, is simply unforgettable,” he said, recalling also the contribution of Bahuguna, saying “that great man helped us learn a lot” about safety and rehabilitation.
“The Tehri project was conceived originally by the first Prime Minister of the country but the project carries memories of all senior leaders like Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi. I am happy to dedicate the same to the nation,” the minister said.
Bahuguna did not issue any statement.
Congress sources said when all four units are commissioned within the next two-three months, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress president Sonia Gandhi will be invited to dedicate the project on which Rs 8000 crore have been invested.
When fully operational, the plant will supply power to nine northern states. Uttar Pradesh will get 374 MW of the total 2400 MW that is expected to be ultimately generated by the plant. A spokesman of Tehri Hydro Development Corporation, Satish Sharma, said Uttaranchal, where the plant is located, will get 12 per cent of the power produced free.
Controversy continued to dog the project with chief minister N.D. Tiwari choosing to stay away from the inauguration. Tiwari, who as chief minister of undivided Uttar Pradesh had played a crucial role in the development of the project in the late seventies, felt he had not been given as much importance as Shinde, sources said. The official reason for the absence was that Tiwari was unwell.
Sources also said that the chief minister stayed away because discontent is still brewing among the oustees and he might have faced protests. “There are still some anomalies in the rehab package, especially the cut-off year of the residents in Old Tehri who were entitled to get compensation,” said Kishore Upadhya, a Congress MLA from Uttaranchal.
The construction of Asia’s highest rock fill dam was cleared in 1972 but made little headway till 1978. With environmentalists across the country opposing the dam located at the confluence of Bhagirathi and Bhilangana rivers, construction was shelved in the mid-eighties. In 1988, the project was handed over to the Tehri Hydro Development Corporation.
The plant includes the 1000 MW Tehri dam and hydro-power plant, the 1000 MW Tehri pump storage plant and the 400 MW Koteshwar dam and power plant.
Shinde laid the foundation stone of the Rs 1,657-crore Tehri pump storage project, which was cleared by the Union cabinet earlier this month.