First edition of Nazariya Magazine, themed “Imperialism: In and Out” released on 18th March, 2023 in the form of a physical magazine. Contact us for your copy!

Kishau Dam: Another Story of Dispossession

Geographical phenomenon impacts the life far beyond the physical boundaries of geography alone. To understand this, it is important to highlight that the categorisation of subjects into separate disciplines and the notion of specialization of work are predicated on the targets of the modern market based supply and demand economy. This disciplinary division has created the idea of the ‘specialist’ and has produced a special section of society who have claimed recognition as professionals. This process which attaches more value to piecemeal specialization has resulted in the decline of holistic systems of thinking and processing in totality. Which means a geographer can only claim and theorise geography correctly, a sociologist can only suggest a better way forward for this society. This process of division has benefitted the production process and improvised the quality of production. In actuality, this whole system detaches the person working in a particular space with a particular skill from another person or related work. That is to say, in any given socio-political scenario, this indirectly prohibits the possibility of critical investigation from multiple lenses. The perspective of examination derives from the class position.

We must examine the Kishau Dam project in the class frame. Different sections of society, particularly different classes see a Big Dam Project from their own class lens. For the petty bourgeoisies of Delhi and big corporates, water from Himachal Pradesh and Uttrakhand is essential for the sustaenance of over production of capital in urban areas. But in totality, this project is entirely against the interest of the environment and the people of these regions who are primarily dependent on agriculture and livestock economy. Just like 60 years ago, when the life and livelihood of the people from Himachal Pradesh and Uttrakhand were threatened by the construction of the Tihari dam, a sequel to this anti-people project of now comes in the form of the Kishau Dam Project.

An image of the Kishau Dam project

The Contemporary government claimed that the new hydroelectric dam is the symbol of modernity. A dam which was going to submerge almost 6000 hectares of land and who’s future was based upon acute vulnerability of Himalaya which could have capacity to submerge the whole 5 city of Uttranchal. How could a minister could be able to said that the dam was the symbol of modernity? Dam had to face a strong resistance by the locals when the first project came on surface and in 1999-2000. ‘Ganga Aviral Bahti Rahe’ the famous slogan of the movement clearly demarcated the people’s concern for the river. Similarly, Narmada Bachao Movement is the biggest example in India where state forced the people to evacuate their land. Many people were faced fabricated charges, arrested and lathi-charge by the police and armed forces,when they collectively protested against their forceful evacuation. Medha Patekar is one of many which are still facing repression through different means of state brutality. Most of the people kept outside from the purvey of rehabilitation and resettlement. Pollavaram Irrigation Project which was finalized in 2018, was a colonial project which was finalized by bjp government. The eviction of residents from 222 villages on the Godavari River basin for the Polavaram project tells the story of India’s tribal families fighting a battle which enforced them to grab their land, water and forest rights. “In the name of rehabilitation, the government gave us a lower land areas which usually merger under the water during whole monsoon season,” a local aadivasi people who was forced to evacuate.

The Kishau Dam is a proposed gravity dam on the Tons River which will straddle the border between the Indian states of Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand. The primary purpose of the dam is power generation and downstream water supply. It will support a 660 MW power station and provide water for the irrigation of 97,076 hectares (239,880 acres) of crops. According to the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change, the DPR of the project will be completed by 2023. The Kishau Dam Project envisages the construction of a 236 m high concrete gravity dam along with a 660 MW capacity power house across the river Tons, a tributary to the river Yamuna, for harnessing the vast monsoon flow of river Tons by storing and utilizing the regulated release thereof, for irrigation and power generation. The government has commissioned the company, Tracktowel, to make the detailed DPR (Development Project Report) by 2023. But this is not the first DPR for this project. Before this, there were two DPRs presented in 1985 and 2010. While the government is gearing up to kickstart this project, it is pertinent to understand the water crisis in Delhi that makes the anti-people  Kishau Dam project inevitable.

Protest demonstration against Tehri Dam by local women of Uttrakhand.

The demand for water in Delhi is undoubtedly beyond the capacity of the city and its resources, making the need to streamline water resources from Uttrakhand and Himachal Pradesh. As per the water availability data shared by the Delhi Government Economic Survey in 2020, the state is facing a deep demand-supply gap of 380 million gallons every day. This rift in demand and supply is the byproduct of over-consumption and excessive pressure on particular land-mass. In turn, this disparity has given way to the current model of development which demands more sacrifice from people in the hills for the sake of metropolitan people. Clearly, the delocalization of resources for the interest of the capital is as much a historical phenomenon as capitalism is. However, this delocalization is amplified through the neo-liberal project and its economy and its pursuant policies. Here we need to recognize that the major consumption of water and over-exploitation of water is directly related to the wrongful presentation of DPR.

The first DPR of Kishau Dam was presented in 1965 and the very DPR was rejected by Ministry of Irrigation and Power because the area is not sufficiently capable to cater to the weight of a 236m dam. The upper Yamuna region is an active seismic zone and represents a vulnerable landform of Middle Himalayas. Despite the fact that the DPR has already been prepared, one of  the local activists was denied access to the report by Uttrakhand Jal Vidyut Nigam Limited(UJVNL) under Right to Information (RTI) Act citing Intellectual Property Right as an issue.  DPR has a dark history in India. To get the environmental clearance, the investigating bodies who measure the effected area of the project present lesser than the actual submerged effected areas by the project. According to the last DPR of Kishau Dam, the number of effected villages are 17, in which 9 is of Uttrakhand and 8 is of Himachal. Its submergence area will spread over 2950 hectares. Of the total submergence area, 512 hectares is cultivated private land and 2438 hectare is forest land. A total of 5498 people belonging to 701 families will be affected by the project. The actual difference comes when the measurement body considers only revenue village as a unit to consider the effected area. Sirmour, a district of Uttrakhand which is going to be effected under this project presents a different picture of actual measurement and effected area. According to information provided under RTI, in Sirmour district 285 families from 6 revenue villages will be affected by the project. According to a survey done by PAPN team, around 387 families in 19 villages from 4 panchayats of Sirmour district will be affected. The dates of population is old and more than 20 years back. Which means that the actual effected number of person is too high as compare to the estimated calculation. There is an another parameter which we need to consider, especially when we work on dam projects –the distinction between Completely Submerged Area and Partially Submerged Area. Most of the time, the government tries to grab the land without giving any actual compensation. Elimination of partially submerged area from the actual affected area is  a technique to project the lesser affected area and reduce the compensation amount.

People of this Area

Agriculture with livestock rearing is the main livelihood activity in the region. Farming is carried out in relatively flat lands with irrigation facilities available all round the year thus allowing multi cropping and highly productive farming. People also practice commercial farming and cultivate crops like ginger, turmeric, cabbage, tomatoes and ground nut etc on a large scale. Sharing his views, one of the natives of the village said, “We do not have common land right and entitlement like Himachal Pradesh people. If we loose our community or common forest we can not get compensation.” The area is rich for medicinal plants as well. For their livelihood, majority of the population directly depends upon agriculture and related activities. The division of land represents the unequal distribution of share between upper caste and lower caste families. Majoriry of the Dalit working class population work on the lands of landlords. This project will negatively impact the most vulnerable and marginalized community and class of the combined population of Uttrakhand and Himachal Pradesh. Himdhara, a dedicated organization functioning inside Himachal Pradesh has conducted a survey of land distribution of the effected area. According to it, “In  interviews with 8 general caste families in five villages and 5 scheduled caste families from four villages, we found that the average landholding size of general caste families is around 30.5 bighas and that of an SC family is 5 bighas.” Special category of land named Shamlat lands, which actually owned as a private land, under the land rights of General category people(precisely upper caste). We often listen in public domain that this catastrophic event left behind huge loss of human resources. But this term ‘loss’ is not free from class analysis in India or any other space where we imagine class struggle. Obviously, above analysis clearly shows us that the land right and livelihood of dalits will largely be impacted from this project. Overall geography of this area is vulnerable and prone to land sliding. Big Dam construction invites seismic waves, which can aggravate the devastating impact of river.

Unnatural Metamorphosis of Space Through Capital

“The institutions which creates such flow of capital are those which serves the cause  of monopoly corporations and financial institutions, these corporate bodies are represented through state institutions that ensures export of their capital in different geographical locations. Such capital colonises the region and produce a particular kind of space where the capital is superimposed on societies that have not seen capitalist revolution. This superimposition has retrospective impact over the society because it restricts the natural productive force of the people.”( from book Himachal by Uttam Singh).  Social, economic, political and environmental space so produced is subservient to the interest of capital. “Means we have to differentiate the nature of imperial capital from capital production with spacial nature of capital production. The basic nature of imperial capital is the expropriation of wealth from the people and spatial expansion for the penetration of imperial capital.” Uttam Singh correctly recognised the nature of the imperial capital that” it does  create social conditions to tenders the emotional eternal and mystical ties with the people have with the resource. Which means the culture of market is created on the basis of it, does not create any association with the space where it produces. Extreme exploitation of resources is the basic nature of imperial capital. Imperial capital comes with its cultural set up. Which means the Dam will not come alone, but it will come with tourism, heavy investment in hotel and other sectors, corporate based city planning and commodification of  nature. Uttrakhand, the place has a historic significance for the natives to develop their own culture. External penetration is not new for this region. Before colonial era, the most ancient natives of Uttrakhand was Kol Tribe people and after them the Aryan invaders reached the place and played an active role in changing the internal structure of culture and economic practice. After them, many invaders from plain area occupied gadhwal kumaun area during the feudal age of India. But the change we experienced during the colonial age was an up side down. Imperial capital firstly changed the ecological structure through forest cutting. Through rigorous change in the Forest Act, the colonial ruling class delegitimised the historical claim of tribal people over their land and forest. In the name of conservation of forest and development of land, they penetrated the capital through roads, rail networks and new urban planning. In addition, this calls to question the historical regressive relation between the land, landlords and imperial capital. Undoubtedly, this nexus is still in practice through different direct or indirect means.

We have number of examples where people fought bravest struggle against the nexus of imperialism and comprador bureaucratic bourgeoisies. Along with legal struggle we need to understand our real enemy, the imperialism and penetration of imperial capital to sabotage the natural relation and preserve feudal forces and their land relation. In more simpler terms we have to formulate a strong organised movement against the imperialist plunder under the guiding principles of new democratic revolution. In the current context, we need to claim our rights over the people’s resources(land, water, forest). The most revolutionary class of the human history (working class) along with landless peasantry, students, intellectuals, journalist should oppose this anti people project. Different sections who are fighting against these projects must come under the umbrella of united struggle against this resource loot game. Journalist, University going students of uttrakhand, Himachal Pradesh, women activists, must spread the awareness regarding this project and loot of resources among the larger masses and build a strong movement against the imperial model of development. Brahmanical forces trying hard to support the corporate model through religion based urbanization. New constructions near by the river making the very terrine vulnerable for any natural calamity. People of hilly area must take a visionary approach towards the current model of urban planning which is heavily based upon external forces without any substantial participation of the population who are living there.

by Nishant Anand, Law Student of Delhi University.

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