The dramatic unfolding of the Joshimath crisis in Uttarakhand, India, has brought the world’s attention once again to the Himalaya. The contribution of a 520-megawatt hydropower dam to land subsidence is squarely in the spotlight. River valleys with bumper-to-bumper hydropower dam building, especially in the North Western Himalaya, in the past decade and a half or so, have witnessed frequent slope de-stabilisation, landslides and seepages. Unlike the visible dispossession of rural—often adivasi and dalit— populations in reservoir based dam affected areas, even establishing and ‘scientifically’ correlating cascading hazards with human impacts of the ‘invisible’ activity of run-of-the-river dams in the relatively sparsely populated regions of the Himalaya, has been an uphill battle for impacted mountain people. This article examines the conflict around hydropower development in Himachal Pradesh to understand the trajectory of State policy, dominant narratives and responses of affected communities. Tracing the history of such contestation in the 180 MW Bajoli Holi hydropower project in Chamba’s tribal belt Bharmour, we illustrate the complicity of project proponents, regulatory institutions, political actors, scientists and the judiciary in transferring the project’s risks to local inhabitants and the environment. The burden of building fresh evidence, staking claims and posing counter-narratives lies unfairly with the dispossessed as they struggle for safety and survival.

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