Unruly Mountains: Dam building and the problem of “poor” geology in the Indian Himalayas

Authors: Saumya Vaishnava*, Pennsylvania State University
Topics: Human-Environment Geography, Political Geography
Keywords: hydropower, risk, costs, geology, Himalayas
Session Type: Lightning Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

In 2019, the Indian Government announced a slew of measures to promote hydropower, which included categorizing large hydropower projects as "renewable energy" to meet its emissions reduction target under the Paris Climate Agreement. This continues a decades long push to develop what is seen as the vast untapped hydropower potential of Indian Himalayas. Hydropower development is cast as a solution to the problems of energy deficits, grid stability and development in the Himalayas. However, capacity addition has been slow, and delays in project construction have resulted in rising costs making the sale of hydroelectricity difficult. Policy documents cite the “poor” geology of the Himalayas as a major reason for these delays. As an area of heavy tectonic activity and rainfall, landslides and floods are common here. Thus, while the geology of the Himalayas is the basis of hydropower potential, it also threatens the viability of these projects and poses risks for the people in the surrounding areas. My research examines how the “poor” geology of the Indian Himalayas is being negotiated at the local, state and national levels. Through interviews with hydropower professionals, scientists, government and civil society, as well as an analysis of policy and legal documents, I show how these geological risks pull together actors from across the Indian energy landscape and suggest that it is through the techno-social mediation of these risks that hydropower is made saleable to the electricity distribution companies and palatable to the local people.

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