By Rituparna Borah
It was during my college trip to Mawlynnong, a village at the Indo-Bangladesh border when I was exposed to the magnificence of another natural resource of Northeast India, besides the mighty Brahmaputra River, its tributaries, tropical forests, fossil fuel reserves and tea gardens. And these were the waterfalls.
Even if I had my share of admiring the beauty of a few famous waterfalls in India, during my travels, I hadn’t had a view such as the one I am going to describe:
They were a bunch of waterfalls. You won’t believe the existence of the others, if you go closer to one for they existed miles apart, separated by the mighty walls of one hill from the others in a range but they existed nonetheless and this I could witness during my drive to Mawlynnong. It’s unfortunate that I didn’t own a camera during those days.
During the first phase of my journey, until I reached the point where roads forked with one going towards Mawlynnong and other towards Dawki, my whole attention was riveted by these numerous waterfalls in the distant Khasi and Jaintia hill ranges. They were visible from the high altitudes of the Shillong to Dawki road towards southern Meghalaya and they appeared toy like miniatures of real waterfalls from the great distance. In short, such beauty was beyond my wildest imaginations and didn’t feel real, although I could faintly hear the force of the gushing waters.
Some of these waterfalls are already declared as tourist attractions by the Meghalaya Government Tourism Department but from what I noticed, there must be innumerable others which survive their naturalness far away from human habitations and which are not easily accessible.
Even if I do not support causing damage to such beauties by exposing their naturalness to the manipulation of technology for harnessing energy, yet they seem plausible alternative sources of energy in a place where rivers are seen as sole sources for hydro-electricity production.
When seen from the point of view of Physics, the more vertical the fall, the faster the conversion of potential energy (stored gravitational energy) into kinetic energy, which can thereby be used for spinning the turbines or any other similar mechanism for generating electricity. Therefore, it is granted that any source of water flowing from higher elevations than those flowing from angular or lower elevations where the potential energy (stored gravitational energy) has already been released as kinetic energy is a more suitable source for generating hydroelectricity in lesser time.
Water from waterfalls with accessible water course can be channelized and stored in reservoirs and can be manipulated using the same mechanism as that of dams built in river bodies to produce electricity. This ensures a continuous production of energy for industrial as well as domestic purposes and at the same time does not hold any of those fears that building dams in a river pose. For instance, there is no question of erosion of river banks, lack of sedimentation downstream and thereby flash floods. Moreover few people settle down near waterfalls, thereby expunging any threat of displacing settlers or of encountering land disputes between two contending parties, for hilly terrains can seldom be sought by people for permanent settlement.
Of course, there is this foremost problem to be solved: that of figuring out how to properly channelize the water or build reservoirs in hilly terrains; how to avoid/utilize gorges and ravines, which is much difficult than building dams over rivers. Nevertheless, it won’t be any feat for present day technology which is achieving unimaginable wonders across the world.
The Government of India, having already used technology for harnessing energy from waterfalls like the Shivanasamudra and Jog falls, can venture out to these lesser known places with numerous potential energy sources for development instead of jostling for control over river water with unwilling indigenous people and wasting time. If it is not for political or strategic reasons and for the developmental purpose of people, there are ample of alternative natural resources waiting to be used.
Note of Regret: Since I didn’t have a camera with me while I was on the trip, I couldn’t collect photographs personally and hence the wiki links to the places.
Rituparna Borah is a research fellow at Madras Institute of Development Studies (MIDS), Chennai where she is pursuing research on eco-tourism. Her areas of research include political ecology, natural resources management, and community participation. Apart from these, cinema, cultural studies, and Indian philosophy also appeals her.