Project Affected Population And Livelihood Issues In Indian Himalayan Region

Nov 13th, 2012 | By | Category: Advocacy, Capacity Development, Disaster and Emergency, Ecosystem Functions, Energy, Environment, Flood, Hydropower, Information and Communication, Land, Lessons, Livelihood, Migration, Population, Poverty, Research, Resilience, River, Tourism, Vulnerability, Water, Youth Speak

Taylor Wilmot: In the twentieth century big dams and other development projects were often associated with progress and prosperous economic development for many countries, including India (Khagram, 2005). Dam development projects entice governments with the promise of hydroelectricity, irrigation, and drinking water for their growing populations. They represent an abundant resource to developing countries (Khagram, 2005).

Since the Nehru era of modernization in India, there has been an increasing presence of large development projects in India, such as dams, as well as an emergence of domestic resistance to these development projects (Shiva, 2002). During this time Nehru referred to dam projects as ‘the temples of modern India’. However, development projects such as dams often have major impacts, including the displacement of large populations of people. In order to successfully implement these projects with the greatest benefit for all involved, the development process must closely follow key components of sustainable development and social change. If India is to follow the traditional goal of development set by the famous Mahatma Gandhi, then future projects must intentionally work to facilitate the ‘rise of all’ (Jain, 2012).

The central part of the Himalayas in India is a target for many large number of development activities, be it river valley projects or infrastructure development (Kandari & Gusain, 2001). The Garhwal Himalaya in Uttarakhand is the location of the Tehri dam project. This massive dam is located at the confluence of the Bhagirthi and Bhilangna rivers, in the foothills of the Himalaya’s (Bisht, 2009). This ecologically diverse area is very vulnerable to environmental and social consequences of dam projects according to published literature.

Photo: The villages adjacent to Tehri dam project in Uttarakhand state of India

The Tehri dam was completed in 2007, and the recent completion of this project provides the opportunity to study the current status of livelihoods of the people affected by the dam, and the aftermath of displacement and rehabilitation. The livelihoods of project-affected people (PAP) are still at risk from the development of the Tehri dam. In the case of the Tehri dam many studies that have been done on the resettlement and rehabilitation policy. Due to a large submersion of forest and agriculture land by the reservoir, over 18,000 families were classified as affected according to the Government of India. Those who received official designation as Project Affected People (PAP) would receive some form of compensation from the government for their loss of land (Joy, 2008). Some studies estimate that the number of families and people affected is much greater than the number accounted for by the Indian government’s policies. Some estimates project that nearly 100,000 people have been affected by this phase of the dam development. The numbers of families living around the Tehri dam and reservoir who require compensation due to impacts of the dam are still growing to this day.

Study Objectives

The focus of this study was to collect current data on the ability of displaced and project affected people to reconstruct livelihoods in the aftermath of the Tehri dam project. Livelihood is defined as the means of securing the necessities of life. The resettlement and rehabilitation has the potential to completely alter the strategies people had used to obtain livelihood and their ability to meet daily necessities for life.

The main research questions include the following:

  •  Do displaced people currently have opportunities to recreate sustainable livelihoods?
  • Have the project-affected people been able to adapt to resettlement in the different areas and utilize the compensation packages offered to them?
  • Did R&R policies for project-affected people provide them with the tools to create and sustain new livelihoods?

Resettlement and Rehabilitation In Tehri Dam Project

The resettlement and rehabilitation process is largely dependent and affected by the lifestyle of the families before displacement. The experiences of urban people, who have often received higher education is much different then rural families who live off of the land and depend on the natural resources around them. The resettlement and rehabilitation policy included specific compensation packages for rural people and urban people. The R&R packages also differ depending on whether the families were partially or fully affected. Different packages apply to cases depending on the percentage of land that was submerged or affected (THDC, 1998). A large number of displaced people used the compensation they received to resettle in the cities of Dehradun, Rishikesh, and Haridwar. Many of these families received their compensation packages as a combination of land and money.

Photo: The water in Tehri dam

One of the reasons project-affected people have been having a difficult time creating livelihoods from the rehabilitation and resettlement package is the disconnection between their original lifestyles and livelihoods, and the compensation provided. As Professor Painuly pointed, subsistence farming was not part of any rehabilitation package. The packages did not match up with the way of life of rural communities from the Tehri district. Therefore, in the process of adapting to the resettlement site the traditional culture is lost (Painuly, 2012).

Due to the difficulties of adjustment, adaptation, and the struggle to reconstruct livelihoods in unfamiliar environments, the happiness and wellness of project-affected families is not benefited. However, counseling for displacement is unheard of and not included in the rehabilitation and resettlement policy or process. Since all the necessary stakeholders are not involved, particularly the voice of the people, the perspective of wealth, poverty, livelihoods, and lifestyles may differ greatly between those creating the policy and those affected by the rehabilitation and resettlement.

Unexpected Impacts of the Tehri Dam Project

One of the unexpected or unplanned consequences of the Tehri dam are the amount of communities that were not initially entitled to compensation or R&R, but have become project-affected people. Mr. Suyal described this as a loophole in policy concerning the communities on the east side of the reservoir. There are many communities along the slopes of the reservoir, which extends for 42 kilometers along the Bhagirathi and 25 km along the Bhilangana Rivers (Joint Expert Committee, 2011). Consequences imposed on the communities located around the reservoir were not initially addressed by the THDC policy. One of the most immediate consequences created soon after the reservoir began to fill was a disconnection of travel routes and transportation. Old Tehri Town served as a hub and source of immense resources for the surrounding towns and villages. The filling of the reservoir, therefore, reduced their inability to access necessary facilities, such as health services, education, markets, and more. This disconnect has created is a perpetual burden of posterity on the surrounding people (Painuly, 2012).

A lack of access to educational facilities, specifically higher education, has become a common problem for the communities surrounding the reservoir. Education facilities were submerged by the reservoir and specifically Old Tehri Town was a hub for higher education (Madan Negi, Juyal). This puts these communities at a big disadvantage as the young generations find it more difficult to access schools, if there are any available at all. The town of Madan Negi reported that the increased distance or lack of access to higher education has especially affected the female students in town. In the town of Upu some government school teachers no longer come to the local schools because of the large distance they must travel (Rana, 2012). In the village of Sarot, the Pradon reported that their local primary school was submerged and a new school has not been created.

Photo: The earthen dam at Tehri

A lack of transportation and efficient travel routes also prevent easy access to district headquarters, health systems, markets, and so many other everyday necessities for the communities of Tehri. At present the THDC has completed one bridge and is also providing boats to transport people from one of the reservoir to the other (Ghildiyal, 2012). In a Supreme Court case that began in 2005, the project-affected people are demanding the completion of 3 bridges (Bhatt, 2012). In 2011 the Supreme Court provided funding for the bridges, but currently only the Dobra Shanti Bridge is in progress (Bhatt, 2012). However, being cutoff from markets continues to cause an inability to sell cash crops because they are perishable (Bhatt, 2012). This affects the ability to sustain livelihoods because they are unable to participate in the process of buying and selling from the local markets. The increase price of all goods because of transportation costs is causing large amounts of out-migration in these communities (Bhatt, 2012). Many people on the east side of the reservoir have begun leaving and more continue to contemplate abandoning their homes.

Development-induced natural hazards are another impact of the Tehri dam project. “Landslides are one of the major devastating natural hazards and annual catastrophe for Mountain inhabitants and downstream population specifically in Himalayan environment…” (Rawat, 2003). The Uttaranchal state of Himalayan region contributes less than 2% of geographical area of India, but has suffered from 60 major landslides since 1970. During these events about 3,500 people have lost their lives along with unrecoverable losses of cattle, agricultural fields, houses, and other valuable properties” (Rawat, 2003). The reservoir level frequently changes depending on the season and production of electricity being created by the Tehri dam. During peak electricity demand the reservoir level is very low and some of the submerged lands and villages are exposed. However during the monsoon season, specifically in 2010, the reservoir filled up past its allowance of 830 M (JEC, 2011). The Joint Expert Committee was then created by the State of Uttarakhand in 2011 to assess the impacts of the high reservoir level. This has lead to increased instability in the slopes all around the reservoir and created new dangers and consequences for the surrounding villages and towns.

The perception of the project-affected people is that THDC did not have a plan for this situation, and was forced to release water from the dam to bring down the reservoir level. The floodwater that was released then damages were reported and multiple locations including the Koteshwar dam. This added to the fear of the people and the danger of unstable slopes in the towns and villages surrounding the reservoir. After assessing many locations along the reservoir, recommendations were made to relocate the communities in unstable areas before the next monsoon season and keep over towns and villages under monitoring (JEC, 2011). This report is now being utilized in the Supreme Court cases as evidence for the increasing number of project-affected people.

One of the other major consequences of the Tehri dam project unintentionally found by this study is the increasing numbers of project affected people even after the Phase 1 and 2 of the dam construction have been completed for years. Many displaced people claim that this is due to a lack of scientific studies completed around the reservoir before the project began. There is general perception and consensus that THDC did not implement appropriate planning, monitoring of the areas around the dam site, which has lead to continuation of environmental, social, and economic problems for many regions in the Tehri district. More rigorous and in-depth planning was needed and involving the communities of Tehri before development began. Transparency between the people and the government is asked for, but instead people observed corruption related to the THDC (Ghildiyal, 2012). Other stakeholders such as NGO’s are needed to assist the people and also serve as facilitators in this process. However no situations of this were discovered and no NGOs were currently working with the displaced people (Panwar, 2012).

Water Access and Quality

The access and quality of drinking water for New Tehri Town as well as the surrounding villages and towns in Tehri district have drastically changed since the construction of the dam and reservoir. The New Tehri Town receives drinking water directly from the reservoir. Mr. Thapliyal, who was born and raised in a village in Tehri Garhwal informed me that he could drink from any natural mountain spring in Tehri, but becomes ill after drinking the water from New Tehri Town. The water from the reservoir is not clean according to locals who consume it. Communities in New Tehri Town believe that THDC does not treat the water before it is piped to their homes. Studies completed during dam development even state that it is well recognized that reservoirs provide fertile breeding ground for disease carrying vectors (Hanumantha Rao Committee, 1997).

The community of Kem Sari, located in New Tehri Town, receives very inconsistent water from pipes that THDC provided outside of their homes. The water is on for two hours a day, but sometimes they go for multiple days without water. Some of the children have gotten sick from drinking the water on repeated occasions and have required visits to the hospital in New Tehri Town as well as Dehradun. The community is completely dependent on the water that is transported to them from the THDC pipes. When the water does not come for days they are forced to send their children to gather water from other sources.

Another water access issue facing the communities around the reservoir is that the natural springs are no longer providing water since the reservoir was created. One particular area facing this problem was the Pratap Nagar block on the east side of the reservoir, as well as communities on the west side of the reservoir. In the village of Sarot on the northwest side, the Pradon of the village reported that the natural spring they had used for generations has been submerged by the reservoir. For a period of time they used a water pipeline, but this was washed away during a monsoon season and they now rely on hand pumps installed by the government, but there were also issues with the pumps. The reservoir affected the productivity and therefore utilization of the natural springs by the local people. Now they are dependent on pump-wells that have been installed by the government based on a scheme (Bhatt, 2012).

Along with drinking water, the unknown change in the water level of the reservoir has created many complications for the local communities. The dangerous change in water levels has prevented or limited access to the riverbed and fresh water sources. This causes many impacts such as an increase in accidents along the edge of the water. People have drowned due to the sudden changes in water level (Suyal, 2012).  Furthermore, without access to the river, people no longer have access to use the riverside for traditional cremation ceremonies. This is a widespread tradition of the Hindu religion. Now people are traveling to Rishikesh or Haridwar for these ceremonies (Bhatt, 2012).

Conclusion & Way Forward

The Tehri dam may been seen as a catalyst of dam development in the Himalaya’s of Uttarakhand and continues a pattern of decreased access to natural resources from the local communities over the surrounding resources (Painuly, 2012). As this state addresses the future of development in the Himalaya’s, it is absolutely critical to facilitate the creation of new livelihoods for displaced people. In situations of large-scale development, and especially in the case of the Tehri dam, the functionality of the local region is greatly altered. The Tehri district is attempting to adapt in order to provide for their communities again, now that the environment and landscape of this region has changed immensely. Communities that are still located in the Tehri district, and specifically around the reservoir, are attempting to reconstruct their livelihoods. Project affected people who have resettled in the other locations are also struggling with their new environments and way of life. In the event of development projects compensation in the form of money and land is not enough.

Photo: The erosion at the banks of dam site

Well-planned and implemented methods of adaptation, and assistance in the creation of new sustainable livelihoods should be provided to project affected people. A longer-term perspective is required to successfully assist communities to adapt in the face of development projects. Many communities may become dangerously dependent on outside sources for assistance, especially the local and national government, if their methods of livelihood are no longer viable.

It is suggested that the resettlement and rehabilitation policies should facilitate the creation of new self-sustaining livelihoods. If this strategy were to be implemented the government would not have to address an increasing demand to fulfill the needs of project affected people. In order to have a successful policy, all stakeholders must be involved and engaged in the development process.

Often times the stakeholders who are left out of development conversations are the local people who are directly impacted by development. Instead, local stakeholders need to be integrated into the policymaking and implementation processes. The traditional livelihoods and culture need to be taken into consideration when development plans are being created. Project affected people require long-term policies and support to protect them when government supported development impacts their livelihoods. Development plans should be made that will directly benefit the local communities and improve communication and connectivity, health and education facilities, and livelihood opportunities that are sustainable for future generations.

All photos by Taylor Wilmot.


Primary Sources

During the study a number of individuals and institutions were contacted for their inputs and views. The study team also did personal interviews with the people those either were associated in someway with Tehri Dam project or are among the affected from this project. Following people were interviewed:

Mr. Devraj Bhatt, Mr. Shanti Prasad Bhatt, Mr. Sundar Lal Bahuguna and Mrs. Vimla Bahuguna, Mr. Lalita Prasad Ghildiyal, Dr. N D Jayal, Mr. Premdutt Jayal, Mr. Madan Negi, Dr. Verendra Penuly, Mr. Jai Prakash Panwar, Mr. Narendra Singh Rana, Mrs. Parvati Devi, Mr. Vikram Singh Rana, Mrs. Kalawati Rawat, Mr. Vinod Suyal, Mr. Chandra Mohan Thapliyal.

Secondary Sources

  1. Gaur, Vinod K. Preface by N.D. Jayal. “Earthquake Hazard and Large Dams in the Himalaya”. INTACH. New Delhi: 1995
  2. Indian Institute for Technology Roorkee. “Impact of the Tehri Dam and Lessons Learnt”. 2008
  3. Jain, Pratibha. “An Alternative Model of Development: The Gandhian Perspective”
  4. Gandhian Scholar and Professor, Rajasthan University, Jaipur. 2 April 2012.
  5. Jayal, N. D. “Himalaya: Our Fragile Heritage”. The INTACH Environmental Series. 1991
  6. Joint Expert Committee (JEC). “Report of the Joint Expert Committee: Formed by the Government of Uttarakhand on Study of Damages to Different Villages After Filling in Reservoir of Tehri Dam Above Elevation 830M”. Dehradun. 18 April 2011
  7. Joy, K. J., Biksham Gujja, et al. “Water Conflicts in India: A Million Revolts in the Making”. New Delhi. 2008
  8. Kandari, O. P., and Gusain, O. P. “Garhwal Himalaya: Nature, Culture, and Society”. Srinagar: 2001
  9. Khagram, Sanjeev. “Dams and Development: Transnational Struggles for Water and Power”. New Delhi: Oxford University Press 2005
  10. Newton, Jason. “Displacement and Development: The Paradoxes of India’s Tehri Dam” University of Louisville  2008
  11. NIC Uttarakhand State Unit. “Uttarakhand Government Portal”. Dehradun. 2012. Website:
  12. Pawar, Abhay. Professor. Cummins College of Engineering for Women, Personal phone interview, Pune, Maharastra, 27 March 2012
  13. Rawat, M.S.S. “Central Himalaya Environment and Development: Potentials, Actions, and Challenges”. Vol. 2. Srinagar: 2003
  14. Rao Hanumantha, C. H. & Members of the Expert Committee. “Report of Expert Committee On Rehabilitation & Environmental Aspects of Tehri Hydro-Electric Project”. Vol. I & II. New Delhi: October 1997.
  15. Shridharan L., Sravan Kumar D., & Ramesh K. S. Administrative Staff College of India (ASCI) & THDC: New Delhi. “An Appraisal of Rehabilitation and Resettlement: A Study of Tehri Hydro Development Project, UP and Sardar Sarvar Narmada Project, Gujarat”.  Sponsored by THDC: New Delhi. March 1993.
  16. Shiva, Vandana. “Water Wars: Privatization, Pollution, and Profit”. Cambridge: 2002.
  17. THDC India Limited. “2012 Planner”. THDC HRD Centre: Rishikesh. 2012.
  18. Tehri Hydro Development Corporation Limited. “Rehabilitation Policy: December 1998”

Dedication :  This study is dedicated to the people of Tehri Garhwal. Your stories have touched my heart and opened my eyes. Your generosity and willingness to share your life experiences will stay with me for the rest of my life, and continue to inspire and motivate me in the days to come.


Author:  Taylor Wilmot was born and raised in the state of New Jersey, on the east coast of the USA. She is currently attending the last year of her undergraduate studies at Dickinson College, Pennsylvania, USA. She expects to receive her Bachelor of Science degree in Environmental Science in May of 2013. In the spring of 2012 she spent a semester abroad in India with the SIT: World Learning program. Taylor studied in Jaipur with the program entitled, Sustainable Development and Social Change. During this semester she completed an independent study project in Uttarakhand state of India. This article is adapted from her study, entitled: Post-Resettlement: Sustaining the Livelihoods of Tehri Dam Affected People.  Taylor could be reached at


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5 Comments to “Project Affected Population And Livelihood Issues In Indian Himalayan Region”

  1. ashish pandey says:

    a very touching article and definitely an eye opener………..
    thnx for sharing you views

    ashish pandey

  2. the study hace focused on maximum possibel factors and impacts. .. what i am bring in to notice of the researcher, that the bridge whic is most imporatnt to make people abel to be connect with outer worrd and facility center -name is Dobra -Chanti, is still incomepletted and no prgress is seems. Since 2004, this brige was start and now 2013, it is not just incomeplete also facing technical difficulties in comletion…..and still no authority is addressing the issue correctely and taking responsibilty for quick completion…..So, the changes in rehabilataion policies can’t make enough change in authorities workstyle ….more regulations and transperancy in governece are required to make developmental displacement productive and constructive.

  3. Dear Wilmot, Hi … your academic research paper / article is so knowledgeable and helpful for students and researchers. I am also making plane for the study of social and environmental impact of Tehri dam or others large dam. I need your help for making a research proposal for the submission to University grant Commission of India or may be for other agencies. will you you help me . and one more quire city is that when you have done study on Tehri dam because I have completed My research on Tehri Dam in 2002.

    Thank you so much Have a nice day…… Jai Prakash Bhatt

  4. Dear Wilmot, Hiiii, I would like to give you thanks for this article/ study. I m also doing research on livelihood opportunities for the Project affected Families (PAFs) of Tehri dam. and your article will give me some support to know about the status of Tehri dam and there living people can contact me through may mail.

    Thanks a lot for the same..take care and waiting for your reply. :-)

  5. Taylor Willmot from Dickinson College, University of Pensylvania, USA was an intern with Channel Mountain who came up with this brainstorming research paper. She spent more then one month at Channel Mountain’s study circle and visited Tehri and around. Feel proud to be her local mentor and guide. I wish her bright and successful endeavor. Thanks to SIT team Jaipur and Mr. Kashi Kashinath Vajpai, Climate Himalaya for sharing this story for Himalayan interest.

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