Aspen Partnerships in Parvati Valley – Manikaran

Manikaran (pictured below), is famous for its hot-springs. Tourists and backpackers are a common presence here but it is pilgrims, both Sikh and Hindu, who visit in the greatest numbers. Spiritual significance is ascribed to the waters: according to legend, the Goddess Parvati whilst walking in the valley with her husband Lord Shiva lost one of her earrings in the waters. In an attempt to retrieve it, the Serpent God Shesha-Nag hissed causing the waters of Manikaran to boil.

The Pilgrimage town of Manikaran. Image: Ewan Tennant

The experimental geothermal-energy plant is directly adjacent to these boiling waters, nestled amidst the white domes of temples, balcony-laden hostels, and a cluster of souvenir shops. It  is a joint Indian-Norwegian venture, intended to exploit some of the potential 10,000 MW of untapped Indian geothermal power. The Manikaran plant is one of a number of sites being explored in Parvati and Kullu valleys and one of 150 high-potential sites across the Indian Himalayas.

It is true that such sites have enormous potential. IIT Mandi researcher Vijay Chauhan predicts that the site at Manikaran can generate 30 kW of power, otherwise difficult to achieve in such a remote and high-altitude area, and ear-marked it as enough power to install and operate a 30 tonne capacity fruit processing plant.

Readily-available cheap energy that is not reliant on fossil fuels is a strong incentive for locals to support the development of these sites.  The Chief Minister of Himachal Pradesh, Prem Kumar Dhumal, has advocated the scheme, asserting that “[geothermal energy] would enable us to adopt clean development mechanisms and reduce dependency on conventional power sources”.

Although the promise of further employment is undoubtedly positive, what ventures are developed within such a sensitive location need to be carefully considered.  When there is no reliable infrastructure or waste-management strategies in the town, the appropriateness of a fruit-processing plant, which offers little more than a few-dozen menial jobs and relies upon importing goods into the town only to export them, is questionable. Sustainable development needs to address specific local needs at a community-level, as well as wider national goals.

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