HAAT VILLAGE, India: Narmada Devi pointed to an expanse of rubble and dirt, at the spot where her home in the north Indian state of Uttarakhand stood until last year.
The flattened remains of her house and those of her neighbours in Haat village lay scattered around, buried in construction waste from a nearby hydroelectric power plant.
Between the village and the plant, an important Hindu temple stands surrounded by debris.
“This is where the remains of my house lie, under the muck,” Devi told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. “What kind of development is this, when you rob poor people of their homes to supply electricity to others?”
Devi’s family is among the more than 240 households in the village who lost their homes during the construction of the 444-megawatt (MW) hydropower project on the Alaknanda river.
The World Bank-financed power plant is one of dozens of hydroelectric projects either being built or already operating across India’s Himalayan states, in a bid to cut down the country’s carbon emissions.
The government has said hydropower, along with solar and wind, is vital to meeting India’s pledge to get half of its energy from non-fossil fuel sources by 2030.
As countries look for ways to curb global warming, backers of hydropower note that it provides massive amounts of clean electricity and can be ramped up quickly when more weather-dependent solar and wind projects fail to meet demand.
But green groups and communities affected by hydroelectric projects say the high environmental and social costs are hard to justify.
Devi, 63, said that when officials from government-owned power company Tehri Hydro Development Corporation (THDC) came last year asking to buy locals’ land, anyone who refused was “bundled into a truck” and taken to a police station for several hours while their homes were demolished.
Those who had earlier agreed to sell up were given “nominal” compensation of 1 million Indian rupees (US$12,887) each, said homemaker Devi, who now lives with her family in a nearby village.
Sandeep Gupta, assistant general manager of the THDC project, said Haat residents had all agreed to voluntarily resettle themselves and were fairly compensated, adding that the project was being monitored by government agencies for any environmental damage.
“No adverse impact has been reported by the agencies to date,” Gupta said.