Why Vishnuprayag and other Uttarakhand Hydro Projects continue to affect two years after the June 2013 disaster

In the last week of June 2015, there were widespread rains in Uttarakhand, accompanied by warning by the Dehradun Met Department. The pilgrimage to Kedarnath and Badrinath was affected with massive landslides damaging roads and bridges. But strangely there was little news about the hydropower projects. It was only when Vimalbhai informed me y’day that power generation at Vishnuprayag hydropower project has stopped that I decided to dig deeper into this issue.

Vishnuprayag HEP is shut down since June 26: I soon discovered from the daily outage reports of the Northern Regional Load Despatch Centre[1] that indeed, the power generation at the 400 MW Vishnuprayag hydropower project has come to a halt at 11.30 hours on June 26, 2015 due to “silt and stone deposited in River” as reported by NRLDC outage report of that date. It had a date when the project will restart generation: July 12, 2015. This stoppage means daily loss of at least 10 million units (MU) of power. This massive loss by any standards, but there is no reporting of this anywhere in the media! Vimalbhai says that people are unable to go near the project to ascertain what is going on there. This seems to suggest an attempt to hide what is going on at the project site? Let us see if they can keep that date. But the Vishnuprayag project authorities and the Uttarakhand government have certainly succeeded in keeping this big news under wrap!

Other HEPs also suffered in North India: I wondered, was it only the Vishnuprayag HEP that was affected by the heavy rains and landlsides on June 26, 2015? So I checked the daily power generation reports of Uttarakhand Jal Vidyut Nigam Limited[2]. Here too I found that the power generation of UJVNL’s 13 hydro projects with total capacity of 1284.85 MW had dropped to 10.5 MU, which was about half of the power that these projects were expected to generate. UJVNL power generation picked back to normal in a couple of days.

There were other projects that had suffered in early monsoon days in Uttarakhand, Jammu & Kashmir and Himachal:

  • Vishnuprayag: units 2,3 & 4 were stopped for 6 hours for “silt problem” on June 20.
  • Nathpa Jakhri: all six units of this 1500 MW project stopped for 3.5 hours on June 19 for High Silt in the river.
  • Rampur: Since 412 MW Rampur is fed by Nathpa Jakhri, the power generation here to stopped on June 19.
  • Salal: All six units were shut down for 12 hours on June 25 for “High Silt Level”
  • Dehar HEP: Five units of 165 MW each were shut down on June 5-6 for about 26 hours for “High silt level”.

This list does not contain the projects that are down for  reasons other than high silt or flooding.

Why the impacts are most severe at Vishnuprayag What is clear from the above is that while many other projects suffered the impacts of initial monsoon weeks in North India this year, the impacts are most prolonged and severe at Vishnuprayag. This is because the silt and boulders that have entered the reservoir and tunnels of the VHEP are those that have been left behind by the flood disaster of June 2013 in the upstream. And the VHEP’s wrong operation in June 2013 is partly responsible for this debris still remaining on the upstream riverbed, since the closed gates of the dam during the disaster ensured that not only the VHEP reservoir was filled up with the boulders, but a large part of the debris remained in the riverbed upstream. As a petition filed in the National Green Tribunal by Vimalbhai has contended, the VHEP authorities were actually dumping the debris back into the riverbed in the downstream after the June 2013 disaster, which would not only affect the river and its carrying capacity, it would invite disaster for future. They are likely to be doing the same again. Unfortunately, since NGT or MoEF or Uttarakhand govt did not take ANY steps to deter the VHEP owners in 2013 from dumping the debris in the riverbed, they would be doing the same again this time.

The Vishnuprayag project stopped generating power on June 16, 2013. It restarted generating power only on April 12, 2014. It again had to be stopped a couple of times in 2014. In Financial year 2013-14, it generated 437.9 MU power, down from 1877.38 MU the previous year. In 2014-15 the generation bounced back to 1816.31 MU in spite of lower than normal generation in April and May 2014. The project owner has been trying to sell the project, but is not getting any buyers. At one stage even UJVNL toyed with the idea of buying it, but decided against it for lack of finances. The project must be made to release environment flows on the lines of the environment flows assessed by March 2015 report of MoWR and MoEF (for details see: https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2015/04/15/mowr-report-on-assessment-of-e-flows-is-welcome-needs-urgent-implementation/).

VHEP in fact is a strange project. It is a project that has destroyed one of the five pious prayags (prayag means confluence) of India’s National River Ganga, but no one seems to be raising that issue. It releases no environment flows, completely drying up the river in post monsoon season, but no one seems bothered!

And top of it, there seems to be strange myths being spread about the project. I encountered this recently when I met a senior official in the Union Ministry of New and Renewable Energy to discuss the problems related to so called small hydro projects, he told me that he knows projects of even 400 MW installed capacity that have do dam! I was aghast. When I asked him to name one, he named Vishnuprayag! This project was once opposed by the famous Chipko movement leader Shri Chandi Prasad Bhat in his letter to the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. I then told this official that the height of the dam even as per the CWC’s National Register of Large Dams is 23 meters[3], almost equal to the height of a ten story building! Since any dam above 15 m height is considered large dam by India’s Central Water Commission, the World Commission on Dams and also the International Commission on Large Dams, there should be no doubt that Vishnupayag is a large dam. The mischief, I assume is created since the developers have decided to call it a barrage, which is just another functional name for a dam!

While the Vishnuprayag developers are certainly suffering due to their own blunders and will continue to suffer in future  too, the loss is also that the of the Alaknanda and Ganga river and all those who use the river in various ways. The loss is also that of Uttarakhand people and the state. The whole exercise of keeping the latest disaster at Vishnuprayag under wraps may have the purpose of not intensifying the bad image that big hydro has got recently, but that objective is unlikely to succeed even as the Uttarakhand and the Union Government keep trying to push more hydropower projects in Alaknanda Baghirathi basin in the ongoing case in Supreme Court[4] and also elsewhere in Uttarakhand like in Yamuna basin[5].

Himanshu Thakkar, SANDRP

Destroyed 400 MW Vishnuprayag HEP on Alaknanda. Photo: Matu Jan Sangathan

Destroyed 400 MW Vishnuprayag HEP on Alaknanda. Photo: Matu Jan Sangathan

END NOTES:

[1] http://nrldc.in/

[2] http://www.uttarakhandjalvidyut.com/

[3] http://www.cwc.nic.in/main/downloads/New%20NRLD.pdf

[4] https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2015/06/18/two-years-of-uttarakhand-flood-disaster-of-june-2013-why-is-state-centre-gambling-with-the-himalayas-the-ganga-lives-of-millions/

[5] https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2015/07/09/yamuna-fighting-existential-battle-in-the-homeland-as-govt-speeds-up-construction-of-dams/

9 Comments on “Why Vishnuprayag and other Uttarakhand Hydro Projects continue to affect two years after the June 2013 disaster

  1. Dear. …

    You have any constructive proposals anywhere in India for solving water supply and hydro power problems. Please highlight those instead of become ing simply critisizer.

    S b Kulkarni.

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  2. Yes, it will be very convenient for the hydropower lobby to not have any criticisms raised. The main problem such critiques are too less.

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  3. You will recall that the Expert Body report submitted to the Supreme Court last year had observed that the river bed profiles at the Vishnuprayag, Phata-Byung, Singoli-Bhatwari and Srinagar HEPs had changed significantly. “This requires fresh analysis of the project hydrology and redesigning them if necessary,” it said. “All projects must undertake restoration works after prior clearance from MoEF. It was noticed that project developers were engaged in projects restoration only. MoEF needs to conduct a formal review of the environmental damages at all the HEPs in Uttarakhand and prepare guidelines for restoration. Till then none of the projects should begin power production.” But did anybody give a damn? Neither the Court nor the governments — UPA or NDA!

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  4. In Himalayan rivers with such an unstable river morphology and continuing disasters, every single power project should undergo periodic performance reviews, design reviews and river hydrology and ecological changes assessments. it is time we had such a system in place as a norm and precondition.

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    • Dams can potentially help mitigate floods provided there is a transparent, accountable and participatory mechanism to achieve that and when consequences follow when dams create avoidable flood disaster. Unfortunately no such mechanism exists and on the contrary, there are many instances where dams have created avoidable flood disasters.

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  5. Pingback: (Special Report)Anti-Dam Protests in Northeast: Voices are going unheard due to crony capitalism and ignorance of media – The Analysis

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