Sorang Hydropower disaster: Will we learn any lessons?

Google Earth Image of the Area 

A burst in penstock pipe of 100 MW Sorang hydro power project (HEP) in Kinnaur, Himachal Pradesh have played havoc with the lives and livelihoods of people of Burang and surrounding villages. On surface it may look like an accident. But deeper look raises doubts about many systemic loopholes that allowed the siutation that led to the disaster. Let us see the shortcomings and negligence exercised by project proponent and state government which finally resulted in the fatal accident. We urge the Himachal Pradesh Govt., other governments where such projects are coming up and Central Electricity Authority,  to constitute a monitoring cell to inspect quality of construction of ongoing HEPs and form adequate safety standards and enusre their strict implementation to prevent such mishaps from becoming a norm.   

Sorang HEP & Developing Companies The 100 (50X2) MW Sorang HEP is a run-of-the-river project, located on the Sorang Khad, a Sutlej River tributary in Kannuar district 170 KM from Shimla. The cost of the project was estimated Rs 568 crores and Himachal Pradesh State Electricity Board (HPSEB) has authorised the Himachal Sorang Power Private Limited, (HSPPL) for implementation of the project.

The Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) of the project was done 2006. In 2007, Nagarjuna Construction Company Limited (NCC) and Infrastructure Leasing and Financial Solutions (IL&FS) company entered a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) with HSPPL to develop the project. The company had 40 years concession to operate and manage the project.

The project missed 2012 completion timeline. Meanwhile in January 2012 Abu Dhabi based Energy Company PJSC (TAQA) and Jyoti Structures Ltd. (JSL) forming TAQA Jyoti joint venture initially acquired 5% stake in Sorang HEP and planned to progressively purchase 100% stake in the project. 

In February 2013, NCC sold its entire SPV equity in HSPPL to TAQA.  Since then TAQA is the main company responsible for developing and running the project.

Detail of the Sorang HEP mishap

Dainik Bhaskar ( 20 Nov 15) (1)

The press clip (Dainik Bhaskar) shows level of destruction

Burang is located in Bhava Nagar sub-division of Kinnaur districts in Himachal Pradesh. The power station of the Sorang HEP lies close to the village on eastern side. From the power house a 500 meter long penstock pipe is connected with project tunnel located uphill. 

On 18 Nov. 2015, the Borang villagers were just retiring to bed for a peaceful sleep. They had no idea that the night will turn out to be a nightmare in their lives.   Around 08:30 PM a bursting sound occurred in the penstock pipe. Before they could make out anything, water started flooding the village. In no time the deluge washed away homes, cattle shades and village farms leaving behind at least 3 people dead, four missing, several injured and hundreds of livestock washed away.

Damage caused As per the latest report, three people have died in the incident and four others are missing and five injured after the deluge. The missing are identified as security guards Panna Lal of Mandi district and Pradeep Kumar of Shimla district, and Rajinder Negi, a resident of Rohru, Shimla district, who was visiting a relative in the area.The four among the five injured have been identified as Khem Raj (42), a driver from Karsog, Deepak Rana (27), Bhoranj in Hamirpur, Ajay Kumar (27), Rupi, Kinnaur, Raju Ram (33), Pitharagarh, Uttarakhand. Company also confirmed 2 workers as missing.  Several persons could save their lives by clinging to pillars. Six homes are destroyed fully and many others have received partial damage. The flood struck down several cattle shelters washing away more than 240 sheep and mules. Many farm lands were also destroyed by water currents. The main bridge of the village has been blown away & disconnected the villagers with rest of the State. The accident have cost losses of crores to Burang villagers & the Himachal Pradesh state. 

Who is responsible for the disaster? Villagers had spotted a leak in the penstock pipe long time back and complained about it many times to the company and district administration. But neither company nor administration paid any heed to it, reports say.

Angry residents of the Rupi panchayat and experts have accused the Nagarjuna Construction Company, executing the 100 mw Sorang power project in Kinnaur, of playing with the lives of the locals. They said neither the company, nor the monitoring cell of the Directorate of Energy had learnt any lesson from the past incidents.

Power project experts said that the company and the monitoring cell do not follow safety norms and standard operating procedure set by the CWC. They further revealed that it is mandatory for the power project to deploy experts in electrical, civil and dam safety fields during the testing and commissioning of the project, but the companies simply tend to ignore the standard operating procedure.

Experts also disclosed that Sorang HEP was being commissioned in absence of “third party testing experts”.

Notably Sorang HEP is still under construction. The incident happened during a trial run. But the owner company TAQA has officially announced selling energy from it even before the trial run is over or is successful. This should also be investigated. 

Also as per the rule NCC could not sell its equity before Commercial Operating Date (COD) of Sorang HEP. The Project is still under-construction then how could NCC managed to do that is a matter of inquiry.

This was the fourth and the biggest accident involving Sorang HEP. Earlier three in last two years were clearly overlooked by project proponent and concerned govt. agency.

On 14 June 2015 too, in a similar incident, the inlet valve of 2MW Rongtong HEP in Spiti valley blasted killing three engineers. The project was under construction and scheduled to be inaugurated a week later by Chief Minister Himachal Pradesh.

HPESB had then set up a four member committee to inquiry into the matter. As a preventive measure HPESP could have extended its inquiry to all under- constructional HEP in the state at that time.

Dam burst in Kinnaur, HP (Pics from Destination Kinnaur Facebook page)

Affected village

Presently in India there is no credible mechanism in place to continuously monitor the quality of construction of ongoing HEPs and put the monitoring report in public domain. This is an invitation to such accidents. It becomes even more relevant when companies that have no experience in building such projects or private companies that are out to cut corners are involved in building such projects. Such companies are being allowed to own, construct and operate hydropower projects all over Himalayas and Western Ghats. The situation becomes even more problematic since the companies know that they can get away with such practices and nobody will be held accountable.

This was also exposed earlier when the surge shaft of the 1000 MW Karcham Wangtoo HEP was accidently found to be heavily leaking, in the same Kinnaur district in Himachal Pradesh. In Uttarakhand flood disaster in June 2013, the wrong operation of Vishnuprayag and Srinagar HEPs increasted the downstream disaster hugely, as Ravi Chopra Committee concluded. When under construction dam collapsed at 99 MW Chuzachen hydropower project in East Sikkim in April 2009, at least 12 workers were washed away. There have been many other fatalities at hydropower projects in India, see for details: https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2014/06/12/nadiya-bairi-bhayi/. 

Government also lacks standard safety measures and the implementation of existing ones inspires no confidence. 

Central Electricity Authority, the highest technical body in power sector in India, who is tasked with monitoring and ensuring proper construction of power projects, including hydropower projects, is clearly found to be wanting and the authority is completely non transparent in these respects. It is supposed to get monthly and quarterly reports from under construciton hydropower projects in India, but none of them are ever put in public domain. CEA used to put up monthly summary of monitoring reports for under construction hydropower projects till Sept 2014, but it has stooped doing that for more than year now.

This is equally true of Central Water Commission, in charge of Dam Safety issues in India.

HEP developers, like in case of Sorang HEP enter and exit a project suiting to their financial interests, without the state government or central government agencies looking to the capacity of these compenies or checking adequacy of what is happening on ground. This again is an invitation to such disasters. This is as much applicable to operation of the projects (e.g. Larji disaster in Himachal Pradesh in June 2014) and construction of the projects.

Conclusion

A search for persons washed away by Sorang HEP mishap is on.  Burang Villagers are still in shock and will take months to return to their normal lives.  District administration has announced monetary compensation and police has lodged an inquiry. The investigation will go on for months and final recommendations will never be out in public domain and mostly remain only on paper.  The incident will be forgotten until a new one struck some other hilly village. How long will this continue? Why are there no reforms to prevent such avoidable man-made disasters?

Prima facie it is a clear example of negligence done by construction Company, project developer, State Government of Himachal Pradesh, Central Electricty Authority and Union Power Ministry. It is right time that the Himachal Pradesh Govt. and all these agencies learnt lessons from this and past accidents and take corrective measures. It should set up a confidence inspiring, transparent and independent  work-quality monitoring panel to periodically inspect the quality of construction of HEPs in Himachal. The State Govt. should also form adequate safety standards and ensure proper implementation of all theses. For this disaster, an independent committee should be set up and report put in public domain. The project should not be allowed to do any further work till this inquiry is over. This is standard operating procedure in United States under its Federal Electricity Regulatory Commission, but no such norms exists in India, though India has the largest number of hydropower projects and dams under construction. 

The project should also be asked to submit their report as to what led to the disaster. CEA also needs to put its house in order and also put in public domain the monthly reports for each hydropower project under construction as also reports of independent monitoring.

Bhim Singh Rawat (we4earth@gmail.com) SANDRP

 Annexure

  1. Various press clips reporting Sorang HEP disaster.

SN

Source Date

Headline

1 Hindustan Times 19 Nov. 15 3 feared dead in pipe burst at Himachal hydel plant
2 The Tribune 20 Nov. 15 3 swept away in Kinnaur power project mishap
3 The Tribune 20 Nov. 15 Angry locals blame company for tragedy
4 Hydro World 19 Nov. 15 Pipe burst at India’s 100-MW Sorang hydropower plant kills three
5 Prasar Bharati 20 Nov. 15 Four dead in pipe burst at Himachal power plant
6 Mail Today 20 Nov. 15 3 missing, 4 injured in Kinnaur hydel power project accident
7 Millennium Post 20 Nov. 15 3 dead in pipe burst at Himachal hydel plant
8 Dainik Bhaskar 20 Nov. 15 शोरंग बिजली प्रोजेक्ट का पेन स्टॉक पाइप फटाए 3 लोग बहे

 तीन लापता, कुछ मुिश्कल से बचे, चार लोग अस्पताल में भर्ती

15 घर प्रभावित, लोग बेघर हुए 250 मवेशी भी बह गए

स्थानीय ग्रामीणों ने कई बार प्रबंधन से की थी शिकायत, लेिकन कंपनी फिर भी लापरवाह

कंपनी प्रबंधन पर गैरइरादतन हत्या का मुकदमा दर्ज  

9 Down to Earth 19 Nov. 15 Three feared dead as dam bursts in Himachal Pradesh 
10 Newswala 19 Nov. 15 Three killed in Himachal’s hydroelectric plant accident
11 Amar Ujala 20 Nov. 15 रायल मं पावर रोजे्ट का पाइप फटाए तीन लोग िह
12 Dainik Jagran 20 Nov. 15 शोरंग प्रोजेक्ट की मुख्य पाइप फटीए तीन लोग बहे  
13 Punjab Kesari 20 Nov. 15 3 washed away in floods caused by Sorang penstock pipe burst
14 Divya Himachal 20 Nov. 15 किन्न्नौर में तीन बहेए करोड़ों का नुकसान  
15 Punjab Kesari 20 Nov. 15 100 मेगावाट की शोरंग हाइड्रो प्रोजेक्ट का पाइप फटाए 3 लोग लापताए कई घर बहे    
16 Times of India 21 Nov. 15 Three killed in Himachal’s hydroelectric plant accident

Post Script

17 Dainik Bhaskar 22 Nov. 15 हिमाचल में सभी जल-विद्युत परियोजनाओं का सेफ्टी-आडिट अनिवार्य

One Comment on “Sorang Hydropower disaster: Will we learn any lessons?

  1. Pingback: Hydro Power Projects – Save Kinnaur –  Preserve the Environment

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