Power deficit woes
By five years in 2021-22, the country’s power deficit is likely to rise to 5.6 percent from 2.6 percent at present. According to a joint Assocham-PricewaterhouseCoopers study, this widening demand-supply gap can only be met by going for hydropower in a big way. It has said that if the Indian economy is to keep growing at 8-9 percent every year, its power supply too needs to keep pace at 7 percent annually. The fact that coal-based thermal power generation still accounts for around 70 percent of total installed capacity and over 80 percent of total units generated, has been identified as a serious threat to the country’s energy security. But plumping for the hydropower route comes with issues like environmental concerns posed by mega dams, rehabilitation and resettlement of displaced people, land acquisition problems, water sharing disputes between states, delays in procuring clearance and approvals, as well as idequate technical and fincial capability of developers. It is because of difficulties associated with these issues that the share of hydropower in the country’s energy mix has gone down by almost 30 percent in the last four decades. The study ends up putting the onus on the government to create a fund and offer loans at lower interest rates, attract private investment, and form a specialized institution to speed up project clearances. The point is that it is the Himalayan range, with its fragile ecosystem and seismic vulnerability, which is considered the fountainhead of hydropower in the sub-continent. But some experts are now pointing out that while hydropower is considered as ‘green’ energy that can help reduce dependence on carbon fuels, it too needs to be made ‘climate proof’. This is because extreme weather events brought on by global warming, like storm surges, cloudbursts, destructive floods and protracted draughts are impacting the hydropower sector. Unless water availability and magement problems are not studied in this new light, development plans based on hydropower will only backfire in the long run.