Power house of NHPC’s 44 MW Chutak hydropower project on Suru River in Kargil in Jammu & Kashmir was submerged on the night of June 28, 2015, two weeks later India’s premier hydropower company is still clueless about the cause. One of the costliest hydropower projects of India, the project in Indus basin was dedicated to the nation by Prime Minister Narendra Modi less than a year back on August 12, 2014. For several hours after the water started filling the powerhouse, the project officials were in the dark and media reported that it was locals who alerted the officials.
Indian Express on July 11, 2015 reported speculation by the NHPC officials: “damage to the bolts of the draft tube which supplies water to the turbine was suspected to be the cause.” But why should the bolts of the draft tube buckle in two years? One hopes that there will be an independent inquiry into the whole episode and guilty will be held accountable. However, if past is any guide, NHPC is not in the habit of instituting independent inquiries into the mishaps its plants face.
The power house of the Chutak project housing 4 units of 11 MW each is located on the right side of Suru River, at the end of 4.78 km long and 5.9 m diameter head race tunnel, followed by surge shaft.
Local Media Kashmir Times reported on June 30, 2015: “Residents alleged that breech takes place every year as the material used in the power station are sub-standard. “Last year in 2014 October, power house had submerged into water as a result, Kargil had reeled under darkness for two weeks” said a group of locals from Baroo Kargil area.”
“Nobody knows how it happened and why the employees didn’t inform the higher up before hand,” Asghar Ali Karbalai, the local legislator was quoted by Leh Times.
Greater Kashmir reported on July 5, 2015: “Sources said the gushing water from River Suru had “suddenly” entered the power house and submerged its all the three floors including turbine floor, shaft floor and generator floor. “Consequent to the sudden increase in the water level in units 3 and 4 on June 28, 2015, the Chutak power station is under complete shut-down,” the NHPC said in a regulatory filing.”
Prime Minister dedicated it less than a year back Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi dedicated the project to the nation on Aug 12, 2014. The PIB press release on the occasion said: “NHPC is today a premier organization in the country in the field of development of hydroelectric projects.” Prime Minister said on the occasion: “it is time to change the old adage-Paani aur jawaani pahaad ke kaam nahin aate. He said through hydropower, the rivers (paani) are being harnessed for the benefit of the mountains.” It is well known, though that such projects never benefit the local communities.
The Government of India Press Release said about the project: “44 MW Chutak hydroelectric Project The 44 MW Chutak hydroelectric Project is located in Kargil District of Jammu & Kashmir. Barrage site is located about 14 km upstream of Kargil near village Sarzhe. The project is a run-off-river scheme on the river Suru, to generate 216 MU in a 90% dependable year having installed capacity of 44 MW (4 x 11 MW) utlising a rated head of 52 m developed by construction of a 15.0 m high barrage and through 4780 m long 5.9 M dia horse shoe shaped Head race tunnel. Chutak Project involves construction of 15 M high and 47.5 M long barrage near village Sarzhe and an underground power house on right bank of river Suru.”
Costly, unproductive project The cost of the project when sanctioned in 2006 was already high at Rs 621.26 crores, the latest sanctioned cost is Rs 893.76 crores, which comes to Rs 20.31 crores per MW. This is almost three times the normal cost of a hydropower project commissioned in 2012-13. Even considering the difficult access, high altitude (Full Reservoir Level at 2781 m) and cold climate, this is a very high cost. To top it, the project is unable to generate to its full capacity since there is no transmission line to evacuate the power! There is no answer as to why there is no transmission line a decade after the project was sanctioned.
It was supposed to generate 216 Million Units of electricity in 90% of years, but it generated paltry 35.49 MU in 2014-15 and 34.18 MU in 2013-14. The project actually needs power in winter as its tariff application said: “Substantial quantum of power is required to maintain working condition for various auxiliary equipment & systems when the units are working and especially when the units are not running” during the six winter months of November to April.
Possibly a combination of some micro hydropower projects combined with solar power projects could have served the remote location faster, at lower cost and in more reliable fashion. At least one hopes that the nation will get to know the real reasons for the disaster that has stuck this expensive, and yet mostly unproductive project.
 See NHPC’s tariff petition of Aug 13, 2014 before the CERC: http://www.nhpcindia.com/writereaddata/Images/pdf/Tariff_Ptition/121%20CHUTAK%20AMENDED%20TARIFF%20PETITION%202009-14%20FULL%20SCANNED.pdf