The History of the Tehri Dam

Categories: History

The Tehri Dam is the highest dam in India, 2nd highest in Asia and 8th highest in world. It is a multi-purpose rock and earth-fill embankment dam on the Bhagirathi River near Tehri in Uttarakhand, India. It is the primary dam of the THDC India Ltd. and the Tehri hydroelectric complex. Phase 1 was completed in 2006, the Tehri Dam withholds a reservoir for irrigation, municipal water supply and the generation of 1,000 MW of hydroelectricity. One more project of the installed capacity of 1,000 MW pumped storage hydroelectricity are under construction.

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A preliminary investigation for the Tehri Dam Project was completed in 1961 and its design was completed in 1972 with a 600 MW capacity power plant based on the study. Construction began in 1978 after feasibility studies but was delayed due to financial, environmental and social impacts. In 1986, technical and financial assistance was provided by the USSR but this was interrupted years later with political instability. India was forced to take control of the project and at first it was placed under the direction of the Irrigation Department of Uttar Pradesh.

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However, in 1988 the Tehri Hydro Development Corporation was formed to manage the dam and 75% of the funding would be provide by the federal government, 25% by the state. Uttar Pradesh would finance the entire irrigation portion of the project. In 1990, the project was reconsidered and the design changed to its current multi-purpose.[1] Construction of the Tehri Dam was complete in 2006 while the second part of the project, the Koteshwar Dam, is nearly complete with two out of four generators operational.

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The other two are expected to be commissioned in March 2012 while the pumped storage power planned is slated for commissioning in February 2016.[2]

Technical description

The dam is a 260.5 metres (855 ft) high rock and earth-fill embankment dam. Its length is 575 metres (1,886 ft), crest width 20 metres (66 ft), and base width 1,128 metres (3,701 ft). The dam creates a reservoir of 2.6 cubic kilometres (2,100,000 acre·ft) with a surface area of 52 square kilometres (20 sq mi). The installed hydrocapacity is 1,000 MW along with an additional 1,000 MW of pumped storage hydroelectricity. The Tehri Dam and the Tehri Pumped Storage Hydroelectric Power Plant are part of the Tehri Hydropower Complex which also includes the 400 MW Koteshwar Dam downstream.[1] The complex will afford irrigation to an area of 270,000 hectares (670,000 acres), irrigation stabilization to an area of 600,000 hectares (1,500,000 acres), and a supply of 270 million imperial gallons (1.2×106 m3) of drinking water per day to the industrialized areas of Delhi, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand.

Environmental issues

The Tehri Dam has been the object of protests by environmental organizations and local people of the region. In addition to the human rights concerns, the project has spurred concerns about the environmental consequences of locating a large dam in the fragile ecosystem of the Himalayan foothills. There are further concerns regarding the dam’s geological stability. The Tehri dam is located in the Central Himalayan Seismic Gap, a major geologic fault zone. This region was the site of a 6.8 magnitude earthquake in October 1991, with an epicenter 500 kilometres (310 mi) from the location of the dam. Dam proponents claim that the complex is designed to withstand an earthquake of 8.4 magnitude, but some seismologists say that earthquakes with a magnitude of 8.5 or more could occur in this region[citation needed]. Were such a catastrophe to occur, the potentially resulting dam-break would submerge numerous towns downstream, whose populations total near half a million.

The protest message against Tehri dam, which was steered by Sundarlal Bahuguna for years. It says “We don’t want the dam. The dam is the mountain’s destruction.” The relocation of more than 100,000 people from the area has led to protracted legal battles over resettlement rights, and ultimately resulted in the project’s delayed completion. Since 2005, filling of the reservoir has led to the reduced flow of Bhagirathi water from the normal 1,000 cubic feet per second (28 m3/s) to a mere 200 cubic feet per second (5.7 m3/s).

This reduction has been central to local protest against the dam, since the Bhagirathi is considered part of the sacred Ganges whose waters are crucial to Hindu beliefs. At some points during the year, the tampering with Bhagirathi waters means this tributary stops flowing. This has created resentment among many Hindus, as the sanctity of the Ganges has been greatly compromised for the generation of electricity.Though the officials say that when the reservoir is filled to its maximum capacity the flow of the river will again become normal. In spite of concerns and protestation, operation of the Tehri Dam continues.

Scheduling and Generation Despatch

The Scheduling and Despatch of the Tehri Hydro Power plant is done by Northern Regional Load Despatch Centre which is the apex body to ensure the integrated operation of the power system grid in the Northern region and comes under Power System Operation Corporation Limited (POSOCO). At present, THDC India Ltd. is generating around 3000 million Unit of energy annually from this dam.

Tehri Dam Information

Tehri Dam is the biggest dam in Asia. It is situated on Bhagirathi river in Uttarakhand, India. It is rock and earth filled massive water barrier. Tehri Hydro Development Coorporation (THDC) was formed in 1988 to manage the dam. The dam started working in 2006.

Electricity generation

Tehri dam generates 1000 MW of hydroelectricity along with an additional 1000 MW of pumped storage hydroelectricity (to be completed in 2013). The Tehri Hydropower Complex also includes 400 MW Koteshwar dam downstream.

Resettlement of locals

The relocation of more than 100,000 people from the area has led to protracted legal battles over resettlement rights, and ultimately resulted in the project’s delayed completion. People living near the Tehri dam on the Bhagirathi river in Uttarakhand are in trouble. Villages on the slopes overlooking the reservoir are threatened by increasing landslides and those living downstream, once ousted for the building of the dam and rehabilitated, are losing their new homes to an airport expansion project.

Dangers with Tehri Dam

The Tehri Dam has been the object of active protestation by environmental organizations and local people of the region. In addition to the human rights concerns, the project has spurred concerns about the environmental consequences of locating a large dam in the fragile ecosystem of the Himalayan foothills.

There are further concerns regarding the dam’s geological stability. The Tehri dam is located in the Central Himalayan Seismic Gap, a major geologic fault zone. This region was the site of a 6.8 magnitude earthquake in October 1991, with an epicenter 500 km from the location of the dam.

Dam proponents claim that the complex is designed to withstand an earthquake of 8.4 magnitude, but some seismologists say that earthquakes with a magnitude of 8.5 or more could occur in this region. Were such a catastrophe to occur, the potentially resulting dam-break would submerge numerous towns downstream, whose populations total near half a million.

Safety of Tehri Dam

Since Tehri dam is Rock and Earth filled dam, it is strong enough to withstand an earthquake of 8.4 magnitude. Also like other dams, in case of breakage, the Tehri dam will not collapse suddenly.

Construction and controversy

Nearly 20 years after its inception, the controversy over construction of the 2400-megawatt Tehri Dam has finally ended. Or so it seems. There is not even a murmur of protest against the dam. Except, of course, the septuagenarian environmentalist, Sunder Lal Bahuguna, who is continuing with a lonely battle, both in the courts and outside, against it. But residents of Tehri town and adjoining villages which are to be submerged once the reservoir is filled, appear to have deserted him. Of course, there is resentment and anger among the people against the Government. But not on construction of the dam but against the rehabilitation package given to them by the administration. This when over 90 per cent of Tehri evacuees have already been paid compensation, given alternative accommodations and jobs. The Tehri town, with a population of 25,000, which will be submerged with flash floods in the Bhagirathi after completion of the 661-metres high coffer dam, is, however, still bustling with activity. There is no apparent concern among the people about this or for that matter over the inevitable evacuation after the completion of the main dam, three years later.

The emphasis is on the amount of compensation one can extract from the Government. Work on the Tehri dam is almost three-fourths complete. The coffer dam has been constructed by diverting the Bhagirathi and Bhilanga rivers into tunnels. Mountains surrounding the prospective reservoir have been fortified by using steel and cement. Diversion tunnels for power generation too are complete. What now remains to be done is increase the height of the coffer dam to form the main dam and installation of turbines for power generation. The Tehri Hydro Development Corporation’s (THDC) M.P.S. Tyagi hopes to “dedicate the dam to the nation” by the end of 2000. Tyagi, armed with a number of experts’ reports and technical data, claims that construction of the dam would not increase seismic activity in the Himalayan mountains. “If anything, it would be a dampener for seismic activities,” he says. But Bahuguna remains unimpressed: “

They are creating an environmental disaster. I will fight till my last breath against the project.” The initial project cost of Rs 192 crore when work started on it in 1978, has now become Rs 6,000 crore mainly due to the delay caused by anti-dam protests. Each one year delay escalates the dam cost by Rs 300 crore, Tyagi claims. Now with thinning support for the anti-dam lobby led by Bahuguna the cost is not expected to go up further. “Bahugunaji talks only of stopping work on the dam. He doesn’t utter a word about payment of compensation to the evacuees” says a local resident explaining the dwindling support to Bahuguna’s movement. The stress of the people therefore, is not on whether the dam should be built or not but on the amount of compensation. Tehri is a hill town linked to Rishikesh, Gopeshwar and Srinagar, it also serves as a big business centre. Being a district headquarter, it is also home for the working classes.

Though most of the Government offices have been shifted to New Tehri Town (NTT), about 24 kms from Old Tehri, the main business centre is still in the old township. The dam once functional would submerge the homes of 4,551 families in Tehri town, but according to Tyagi most of them have already been rehabilitated. THDC has already provided land to 2,283 families, constructed houses for 1,701 families and shops for 451, leaving only 116 families which are yet to be rehabilitated. Similarly, of the 2,064 families to be displaced from 27 villages, 2,034 have been paid compensation for the land and houses to be submerged, Tyagi says. The dam would affect 9,290 families in 107 villages of which 27 villages will be completely submerged and 80 partially — only the agricultural land of the villagers will be submerged and not the residential localities. The villages, according to Tyagi, are being rehabilitated at 11 different places in Hardwar and Dehradun districts.

Villagers, however, dispute his claim by saying they were being given too little to compensate their land. THDC officials claim that as against only 6.9 per cent irrigated land of the evacuees, they were being provided 100 per cent irrigated land. But the dispute on the area and cost of the land still rages on. Villagers also resent THDC’s definition of `partially affected’ villages. “If our land is submerged, what will we eat,” asks N.S. Gairola. Tehri district administration and THDC officials both contend that they have already paid the compensation as per the survey conducted on June 6, 1985. But, a number of pending litigations in various courts falsify their claims. THDC officials attribute the disputes on the greediness of the local people. Some people still living in their original houses in Tehri town or village, had already sold off the land or house given to them as compensation, only to haggle for more, they contend.

The THDC’s major hurdle in making the dam functional is displacing the original inhabitants. The officials tried to scare away the people in the past two years by raising the bogey of floods due to construction of the coffer dam. “In case of heavy rains in the catchment area or upstream in the river, there is a distinct possibility of once in a century flash floods, thus wiping out the entire Tenri town,” Tyagi warned in a letter to the Uttar Pradesh and the Union Government. Bahuguna calls the threat of floods a hoax meant to scare away the residents of Tehri town. “My residence, Himalaya Kuti, is at the lowest point in the entire valley.

If there are floods I will be the first to get affected. But, I am not running away from such hollow threats. The town is at a height of 700 metres from sea level while the coffer dam is only 661 metres high” he says. The THDC officials hope that Tehri residents will eventually vacate the place before the tunnels are closed and the water level swells in the valley after completion of the dam. “We have got three and a half years to persuade them to vacate the place and we hope to succeed” says an official engaged in rehabilitation work. Tehri dam poses threat to villages in Uttarakhand

Posted on January 16, 2008 by eUttaranchal
Dehradun, 16 Jan 2008

The Tehri dam, one of the largest dams in Asia, is once again in controversy, as its lake is posing threat to a number of adjacent villages in Uttarakhand. The houses in a number of adjacent villages have developed cracks. The villagers say that the cracks are because of the dam, but the local administration says that it is still investigating complains of the villagers. “Cracks have been seen in some places in the village and since the water level is receding, this area is under study. Once the investigation is over, some conclusion will be derived,” said U. D Chaubey, DistrictMagistrate of Tehri. The area was declared sensitive way back in 1989-1990. Around 12 villages are reportedly under serious threat with Kangsali, Nakot, Raulakot and Bhallargaon Villages being the worst affected.

A lot of houses in these villages have developed cracks and the villagers have been spending sleepless nights. “In our village Nakot, there are cracks all over in the houses because of the lake. People have to stay awake in the night. This village is in danger. Everywhere houses have developed cracks,” said Bhau Singh, a resident of Nakot village. Built way back in 1978, the Tehri Dam on India’s Bhagirathi River, is one of the world’s largest and most controversial hydroelectric projects. With a height of 260 meters (855 feet), the reservoir of the dam, the fifth highest in the world completely submerged historic Tehri Town and 40 villages while partially submerging 72 villages affecting around 100,000 people. (ANI)

For the last 12 years construction has continued unabated on India’s Tehri Dam amidst staunch opposition, massive environmental degradation and social upheaval. Even lack of sufficient funds has not stopped this monstrous, concrete Juggernaut; it has been moving along in stages, with money acquired from state and national budgets. At present, the four water diversion tunnels (two on the Bhilangana River and two on the Bhagirathi River) are complete; work is almost finished on the four head-race tunnels that bore deep into the mountainside to where the turbines will be housed, which will eventually generate, according to the Dam Authority, 2,400 megawatts (mw) of power. Construction on the actual dams-the massive Tehri Dam, a coffer dam just upstream of the actual dam site, and the smaller Koteshwar Dam about 20 km downstream-has not yet begun; the Indian government has had difficulty funding the project since its inception.

In the meantime, bulldozers and trucks have been scraping roads out of the mountainsides and building housing colonies for the engineers and workers, churning up rock and dirt and depositing it onto the town of Tehri and its environs. The only apparent purpose for all this commotion is to keep the project alive. The valley is now covered with dirt and rubble, and every living tree and plant is coated with a dried layer of earth, strangling respiration. During Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev’s visit to India in November 1986, a Soviet economic aid package for India’s nuclear program suddenly fell through due to Indian opposition. In an attempt to salvage the prestige of the visit, a project was promptly sought that would win Soviet and Indian approval. As a result, Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and Gorbachev signed an agreement on the Tehri Dam project, which had been smoldering on a back burner for many years.

The project is now heating up once again, its embers fanned by international politics and other business concerns. But the inhabitants of the district of Tehri are coughing to catch their breath. Local opposition, which began in 1978 with the formation of the Tehri Bandh Virodhi Sangarsh Samiti (the Anti-Tehri Dam Struggle Committee), now encompasses the entire valley and beyond. Many successful nonviolent demonstrations have been staged, during which many were arrested and jailed, especially in the early days of the campaign. Since the signing of the agreement between India and the USSR in 1986, international opposition has gained momentum.

Environmental Consequences of the Project

The project proposes to construct one of the five largest rock-and-earth-filled dams in the world about a half-mile downstream from the sacred confluence of the Bhilangana and Bhagirathi (Ganges) rivers. The town of Tehri, the district headquarters for the entire Garhwal region of the Himalaya and home to more than 20,000 people, would lie directly behind it. The dam would rise to a height of 260.5 meters and stretch to 1,100 meters wide at its base. The reservoir behind this formidable wall would stretch over 70 km long, 40 km up the Bhagirathi valley and 35 km up the Bhilangana. The valley contains the region’s best agricultural land. The reservoir would displace over 100,000 people. Mr. V.D. Saklani, lawyer and founder of the Anti-Tehri Dam Struggle Committee, is quick to point out the obvious consequences of such a large project. Fearing heavy siltation due to logging in the Himalayan watershed, he states that the expected life span of the dam will be about 35 years, compared to the 100 years claimed by the Dam Authority.

Is the US $2 billion being spent on the project and the human displacement currently taking place worth only a scant 35 years of electricity? Mr. Saklani also notes that the highly absorbent shale, customary in the valley, makes the slopes susceptible to frequent slides. Once the reservoir fills, landslides from above the submergence line will further heighten and compound the siltation problem. In fact, landslides are already a problem as a result of the deforestation and road-building now in progress. One of the largest technical problems of the Tehri Dam, however, has to do with a little-researched phenomenon known as R.I.S. or Reservoir Induced Seismicity. Data are sorely lacking on the effects of a large body of water on a geologic fault, and the site of the Tehri Dam rests in an area prone to earthquakes. The region’s last major quake occurred in 1935; experts agree that mounting pressure could lead to an earthquake of 8.0 or more on the Richter scale. The government of India recently appointed a working group to investigate these allegations, which submitted its findings in early 1986.

The government committee, headed by Sunil K. Roy, strongly opposed the construction of the dam and offered alternatives. The government has chosen to ignore the findings of its own committee and continues to follow a potentially destructive path. Mr. Saklani and Sunderlal Bahugana of the Chipko Andolan (and one of the recent recipients of 1987’s Right Livelihood Award) are currently fighting the construction in India’s Supreme Court. They are basing their writ petition on the likelihood of a disaster – that the compounded weight of the water in the reservoir will trigger the fault into a devastating earthquake. Mr. Saklani states that a possible earthquake could crack the dam, resulting in a disaster unknown in human history. The downstream populations in the holy cities of Devaprayag, Rishikesh and Haridwar (important sites of Indian learning and pilgrimage) would be wiped off the face of the earth.

Hundreds of thousands of people would be killed; millions more along the banks of the holy Ganges (Ganga) would be directly affected. These “ifs” have not daunted the Dam Authority: the Soviet engineers have just proposed raising the height of the dam and increasing the width at its base to 1,500 meters. Sardar Prem Singh, secretary of the anti-Tehri struggle group, points out that if the dam is constructed and the flow of the sacred river impeded (the Bhagirathi becomes the holy river Ganges when it meets downstream with the Alakananda at Devaprayag), the entire Gangetic valley will suffer as a consequence. Silt, brought down from the upper reaches of the catchment and containing valuable mineral deposits, will be caught behind the dam strangling the holy river. This has enormous consequences for all who live on the Gangetic plain; to halt the flow of this natural fertilizer could cause severe agricultural problems in the foreseeable future, possibly even famine.

Social Consequences of the Project

But what of the social impacts of the dam project? What of the 100,000 people currently being affected by the dam’s construction? The Dam Authority and the Government of India’s Planning Commission have not sufficiently dealt with this problem. Sunderlal Bahugana points out that the dam’s social and humanitarian impacts have been totally ignored. Statistics show that over two-thirds of those to be relocated live in small villages in the valley that fall below or in the vicinity of the submergence line. In their forced relocation, no attention has been given to the breakup of village and family units. Although the government reports state that communities are to be relocated as a whole and adequate land and monetary compensation is to be given, researchers have found that this is not the case. Entire families have been split apart and deprived of their only means of economic support. The cultural survival of these “backward classes,” who have lived and survived without modern technology or electricity for centuries, has been ignored. Those already relocated have received inadequate monetary compensation and unproductive lands.

In the village of Khandal, over half of the original 50 families have accepted government funds and have been relocated to plots near Dehra Dun, a city about a half-day’s journey from the village. Those remaining have refused government money and land – they will stay until the government forces them to leave. The remaining villagers say that those who moved are unsatisfied with their new land and low yields; that water is scarce and the fields poorly irrigated; and that crops are unproductive.

Many of those who moved have given up and fled to the cities in search of jobs. Some have returned to Khandal only to face social ostracism by the remaining villagers. This scene repeats itself in the many villages throughout the valley. The government is now offering compensation to the residents of Tehri. It has already distributed money to about one-sixth of the town’s population, payments that many have accepted because they fear the power of the local authorities. When these people are forced into relocation (scheduled completion of the dam is in 1997), however, the sum they receive now will be of little use when they buy new land or seek new homes.

The Building of New Tehri Town

The government says adequate land is available for all oustees in the neighboring valleys and nearby on the plains. Sunderlal Bahugana states that, as people settle in previously forested areas, further environmental destruction and increased deforestation will result. The Dam Authority has been illegally encroaching upon state and village land in the vicinity of New Tehri Town, the area stated to be the new district headquarters, according to Sardar Prem Singh. Government housing and offices are almost completed. But much of the acquired land for New Tehri has been taken without approval and against the government’s own Forest Conservation Act of 1980. Because the government removed many villagers from their lands to make way for New Tehri Town, it has now redoubled the refugee problem by relocating more people to make way for already relocated people. Where will this vicious cycle end? New Tehri Town is rapidly nearing completion.

Land was acquired on a nearby mountaintop from villages that had been there for centuries. Concrete, box-like structures erected like fort walls in identical pink and blue lines along the steep mountain slopes now stand as brutal monuments to the folly of “modern” Indian architecture. None of the residents of Tehri want to move to the new city. The only ones who will shift will be those whose jobs depend on their moving – the government workers and employees associated with the court and the bureaucracy needed to control an entire district. New Tehri is approximately 4,000 feet above Tehri, which is located at the bottom of the valley. Residents claim they will have trouble adapting to a colder climate, not to mention the steep slopes of the new town. The site for the new town was chosen because no other land was available anywhere in the district. The government courts and offices in Tehri could not be relocated to an existing city in the district because these are all located on mountaintops with limited land. The Tehri valley holds the only flat land and has the best agricultural acreage in the entire Himalayan region of the state of Uttar Pradesh.

All other construction and development projects in Tehri were stopped in 1969, when news of the dam became known. Since then, no new buildings have been constructed, no new projects undertaken and no major repairs made to crumbling buildings and potholed roads. Instead, all money earmarked for the town’s development has gone into the construction of New Tehri. The population of Tehri since 1969 has more than doubled. New schools that were stated for Tehri have instead been built in New Tehri, even though the city has no permanent residents. Children from the old town – children of New Tehri’s future inhabitants – must be bused daily to the schools in New Tehri. The road that currently links the two towns winds a circuitous route from the bottom of the valley up to New Tehri, a mountain journey of about 35 km, almost two hours by bus. The Dam Authority never conceived of local opposition when a shorter connecting road was started a number of years ago.

Villagers in the peaceful hamlets of Baurori and Pipli, land adjacent to New Tehri and through which the shorter road must pass, have refused to release their lands to the developers, despite the fact that this land has been included in the New Tehri Town plan. The villagers have organized their opposition and have succeeded in preventing construction workers from even stepping on their lands. What remains is a completed road from Tehri up the mountain to Baurori and a road from New Tehri down to Baurori’s opposite side – a gap of 4 km in between. Since the villagers have refused to give up their land, the road has been rendered totally useless. All traffic must travel via the longer route, which takes more than an hour than the shorter route, thus increasing transportation and construction costs. The villagers have given no sign of bowing to government pressure. The homes in New Tehri will be sold at a fixed price to government employees and others who will move, according to Sardar Prem Singh. Those in Tehri who have agreed to move have not received enough compensation to afford the prefabricated houses.

How will they be able to afford the new homes if they are being compensated now for a move that will not take place for another 10 years? Shifting the district courts and offices to New Tehri will add a considerable burden on the remaining villagers in the district, who might have to travel to New Tehri to settle land disputes, legal arguments and so on. Tehri, which is down in the bottom of the valley, is easy to reach and does not require an overnight stay or considerable expense. If a villager on the opposite side of the proposed reservoir needs to go to New Tehri Town, however, he or she must travel the added length to go around the reservoir (if the proposed ferry is not installed in time) and up the mountain to New Tehri, a round-trip journey that may take two or three days.

The milk vendors and fruit and vegetable growers on the opposite side of the proposed reservoir complain that the dam will send their transportation costs skyrocketing, inflating prices and making their goods unacceptable to the discerning markets on the plains far below. This would have the ill effect of economically devastating an already depressed region. In the early 1970s, the residents of Tehri were optimistic that the project would bring plentiful jobs and boost the local economy. However, not a single construction worker or engineer comes from Tehri or its environs: the majority of the laborers come from small villages in the state of Bihar, where labor is cheap, and the engineers come from all over north India, with the exclusion of Tehri. Where will all of these outside workers and employees live?

More forests are destroyed and more roads built to make room for them. Many people are fighting this US$2 billion project. Dedicated people such as V.D. Saklani, Sunderlal Bahugana and Sardar Prem Singh will not rest until the project is completely scrapped. World Wildlife Fund-India and a New Delhi-based conservation group called INTACH (Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage) have helped to raise the funds to support a court case. At present, the writ petition filed in India’s Supreme Court is still pending. The apathetic attitude of the courts continues to result in a postponement of the hearing, wearing down the resources of the opposition. The opponents of the dam appear certain of victory, albeit a Pyrrhic victory. Even if construction is halted, what will be done about the environmental destruction and social upheaval that have already occurred? It will take generations to undo the harm already inflicted, but this is work that the opponents await the chance to begin.

Cite this page

The History of the Tehri Dam. (2016, Oct 21). Retrieved from

The History of the Tehri Dam

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