ABOVE: Rangit River in Sikkim Downstream of Jorethang Loop Hydropower Project (Photo: Mona Chettri)
Indian government continues to have very ambitious hydropower targets, even though all the evidence suggests why we should be reviewing the way we are taking decisions about hydropower projects. As per Central Electricity Authority, India has 42641 MW of installed capacity from large hydropower projects at the end of Dec 2015. The installed capacity from projects below 25 MW is not included in this figure.
CAPACITY ADDITION IN 2015: Troubled projects
During 2015, India added 1824 MW of large hydropower capacity. Some of the important projects commissioned during the year include: 800 MW Kol Dam in Himachal Pradesh (one unit each on 30.03, 31.03, 10.04, 12.06), 450 MW Baglihar II in Jammu and Kashmir, 80 MW at Lower Jurala Project in Telangana, 330 MW Srinagar HEP in Uttarakhand and 96 MW Jorethang Loop Project in Sikkim. The first project is in Central Sector, next two in state sector and the last two in private sector. Except for the 80 MW from Lower Jurala, rest of the capacity is all in Himalayan states.
If we look closely, all of these projects have had a very troubled track record and most continue to face serious problems even after commissioning.
KOL DAM: Serious problems at every level
Appraisal blunders NTPC’s Kol Dam, the largest of the commissioned projects this year on Sutlej river, came up flouting the repeated directions of the National Board of Wildlife, since the project developers had forgotten during appraisal that it was submerging Majathal wildlife sanctuary, and no clearances were taken for this before starting work! That long drawn episode ended with Supreme Court granting approval.
Affected people oppose displacement Large number of people to be displaced by the project have been protesting in various ways including indefinite fast. The project affects areas of Mandi, Solan, Shimla and Bilaspur districts of Himachal Pradesh. In Feb 2013, the oustees from the sulphur bath springs and the pilgrimage centre at Tattapani urged the government to let vendors operate this tourist season as filling of the dam would not take place before November 2013. The project for which MOU was signed in 2001, rehabilitation could not be completed even till 2013. Work at the dam site had to be stopped for several days in Feb 2013. In January 2016, farmers started opposing the irregularities in the Kol Dam Transmission lines.
Time and Cost Over runs The project was sanctioned in 2002 to be commissioned in 2008-09, but it took double the stipulated time to finish finally commissioned in 2015. Its initial cost was Rs 4527.15 crores, but by June 2014, the cost had already reached Rs 7220 crores and the final cost is likely to be double the original cost. The report of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India, in their audit of NTPC in 2010 had made scathing remarks in this regard: “However, it was observed that the Company had taken inordinate time ranging from 18 months (in case of Kol Dam) for awarding of first package of main civil works from the date of TEC… We find it difficult to agree with the reply (about the delay)… Management’s anticipation of commissioning the project in April 2012 is doubtful in view of poor progress of main dam contractor…”
Serious accidents and causalities at the Dam There were a number of serious accidents during project construction in which workers have lost their lives. For Example on March 7, 2006, four laborers were killed and three were injured at the Kol dam site.
Repeated Leakages during testing The project also saw repeated leakages. Central Electricity Authority, in itse monthly updates had noted, “Impounding of Reservoir started w.e.f. 19-12-2013, however reservoir emptied due to leakage in diversion tunnel.” This process had to be repeated several times, each time, problems cropping up at one place or another.
Poor quality work and faulty design leads to Plunge pool erosion during commissioning Towards the end of Oct 2015, part of the river bank by the side of the plunge pool, in immediate downstream of the tail race water release point of Kol Dam project collapsed, creating serious risk for the project. The Tribune report was revealing: “The construction of 800 mw Kol Dam has come under scanner as both sides of the “plunge pool” have been damaged in a few months of operation which not only shows the poor quality of construction but also the faulty design. The Kol Dam has not been inaugurated formally but its structure has started eroding… To control the speed of water a plunge pool had been constructed at the bottom of spillway in the bed of the river. According to sources from the Kol Dam, they have stopped releasing water since the first week of September. A visit to site revealed that the much damage has been caused to the sides of plunge pool… On the other hand, an official said it was not just a case of poor quality of construction, but also faulty design that the plunge pool was damaged even with the less flow of water. Venod Chaudhary, GM of the Kol Dam, said some damage had been caused to both ends of the plunge pool and estimate was being prepared for its repairs which would exceed Rs 5 crore and the repair would take around four to five months.”
The official explanation was not very convincing: “The left and right bank of plunge pool have got some erosions. The erosion of side slope of plunge pool is an inevitable phenomenon which occurs during initial years of operation”.
LOWER JURALA HEP Two 40 MW units of Lower Jurala project (total installed capacity of 240 MW) in Telangana commissioned in Oct 2015, generated 8.78 million units power in October 2015, and no power in November and December 2015. This project was to be commissioned in 2011-12, but the first units were commissioned four years letter, with cost overrun of over 110% with latest available cost estimate of Rs 1969 crores.
Disasters This project also faced disasters in consecutive years in 2009-2014, as CEA has noted in their monthly updates: “Floods in October, 2009. Floods in 2010. Flooding in Aug., 2012… Weir work front inundated with flood water during July-2013. … units 4,5,6 which are under different stages of erection are completely submerged in water on 30.07.2014 due to sudden gush of water through the upstream gate of Unit No.4. It was dewatered by 03.09.2014.” The reason for the disaster was changed in latest CEA report in Nov 2015: “Power House flooded on 30.07.2014 during synchronization process for Unit# 1 to Unit# 3.”
Opposition CEA also noted that project faced an agitation: “Weir works hampered due to agitation by villagers. Works stopped since May 9, 2011… Works resumed on 1.12.2012… Local agitation against raising the weir height upto crest level (2014).”
BAGLIHAR II HEP 450 MW Baglihar Hydropower project was inaugurated at Ramban in Jammu and Kashmir by the Prime Minister of India Shri Narendra Modi on Nov 7, 2015.
No power generation: However, within days of inauguration, the project stopped generating power. A report in Rising Kashmir raised a question on Nov 17, 2015, quoting officials: “We don’t understand why PM inaugurated the project when it has not benefited the state”.
No transmission line: The project inaugurated by the Prime Minister did not even have transmission line, the same report said: ““The project was inaugurated despite the fact that work on an alternate transmission line to supply power to Kashmir from the second phase of Baglihar project is still not complete,” said an official.”
Workers agitation: Another report in Rising Kashmir on Nov 17, 2015 said: “Over 3,000 workers of Baglihar Power Project have been protesting against the company management for a week, now, demanding release of payment of Rs 65 crores.”
Worst ever Disaster? Baglihar project faced possibly the worst ever disaster that any hydropower project in India has faced, it was so severe that at one stage there was serious talk about abandoning the project. But that is a long story requiring a separate blog. This is how a paper presented at International Conference on Hydropower for Sustainable Development in Feb 2015 described this event: “A similar situation was faced during construction of Baglihar Hydro Electric Project in J&K – India, when a minimum height of 65m out of 143m high Dam was achieved and a high discharge varying from 3000 – 6250 cumecs, against designed diversion discharge of 3000 cumecs, was consistently received at Dam Site from June to August -2005 with repeated rapid fluctuations in discharge causing several drawdowns, developing huge negative pore pressures and disturbing the hill slopes near Diversion Tunnels , thus blocking both Diversion Tunnels, one after the other, in a period of one month. This caused huge impounding and triggered overtopping of the Dam till a temporary outlet was punctured through the main Dam for the first time in history & was followed by construction of four gated construction sluices in the Dam to cater to summer discharges. Due to overtopping consecutively during two monsoon seasons of 2005 & 2006, followed by operation of 4 high level construction sluices during next two monsoon seasons of 2007 & 2008, with huge water column falling from a minimum height of 65 m, about 20m – 30m scouring of bed rock below the Dam foundation was caused along with large scale damages to side slopes, developing a deep crater on the right bank, which finally required about 7 lac cum of concrete & other works for restoration at an approximate cost of INR 1200 Cr and delaying the commissioning of project by about 22 months.”
SRINAGAR HEP This 330 MW project of private company GVK in Uttarakhand has seen multiple disasters and was a source of a massive disaster in downstream area in June 2013, as concluded by Supreme Court appointed Ravi Chopra Committee based on scientific analysis and investigation. Even post-commissioning there have been repeated news of massive leakages. Earlier, the project faced major agitation, also due to the submergence of the Dhari Devi Temple, among other reasons. The project has faced long drawn litigation and opposition. It is universally seen as one of the most controversial hydropower projects in India.
JORETHANG LOOP HEP Both the 48 MW units of this Dans Energy’s 96 MW project on Rangit river in Sikkim were commissioned on 22 and 23 Sept, 2015. It was scheduled to be commissioned in 2012-13, so it has seen almost three years of time over run. It is part of the cascade of five projects, but there has been no cumulative impact assessment of these five projects on the Rangit River. The affected people had to file a petition in the High Court against the project developer and the High Court order in 2014, while awarding higher compensation, noted, “The Respondent No.6 having thus taken over possession carried out callous and random construction activities causing landslides and slips through the entire length of the road, damaging even the un-acquired land of the Petitioners… The stand and conduct of the Respondent No.6, appear to be quite unreasonable, unfair and rather defiant… From the sequence of events alluded to above the indifferent and defiant attitude of the Respondent No.6 appear to be obvious. The Petitioners most of whom are poor farmers and tillers of the land which had been acquired, were deprived of the use of their land since the year 2007 or soon thereafter”. The post commissioning photos of the project shows the disaster the project has meant for the immediate downstream areas.
What does all this show? The above narrative shows how seriously problematic are each of the hydropower projects that were commissioned in 2015. The reason for going into above details about projects commissioned in 2015 is to illustrate how seriously problematic our decision-making has been, even currently. Evidently, there is a need to overhaul decision making surrounding hydropower projects. Are we paying any attention to this? Unfortunately, no.
Himanshu Thakkar, SANDRP (firstname.lastname@example.org)