Projects above an elevation of 2,200 metres recipe for disaster, say experts


The hydropower projects in Uttarakhand are particularly vulnerable to damage by extreme flooding events such as the deluge in the Rishiganga river on Sunday that damaged at least two plants.

The 13.2-MW Rishiganga project is classified as a “small hydropower” project (<25 MW) and there are seven such projects under various stages of development in Uttarakhand, according to a response to a question in the Lok Sabha in July 2019. There are eight projects above 25 MW and the damaged Tapovan-Vishnugadh project being developed by the National Thermal Power Corporation falls into this category, according to a reply to a question last September.

In the aftermath of the cloudburst in June 2013 that killed at least 5,000 and destroyed several large projects, experts have pointed out that those above an elevation of 2,200 metres were a recipe for disaster. “We had warned about this,” said Ravi Chopra of the People’s Science Institute who in 2013 submitted a report to the Supreme Court in 2013 on the role of the projects in floods. “This is a para-glacial zone and a combination of snow, water and ice is a deadly combination that wreaks everything in its path. Unless officials who allow commissioning of such projects are held accountable, this will continue,” he told The Hindu.

Eight major projects

The eight major projects in Uttarakhand are the 171-Mw Lata Tapovan (NTPC) Central; 520-Mw Tapovan Vishnugad (NTPC), 1000-Mw Tehri PSS (THDC) Central, 444-Mw Vishnugad Pipalkoti (THDC); 60-Mw Naitwar Mori (SJVNL); 120-Mw Vyasi (UJVNL), 76-Mw Phata Byung (LANCO) a private company commissioned project and the 99-Mw Singoli Bhatwari (L&T).

GD Agrawal, a former scientist who’d become a hermit and crusader for the Ganga, had fasted for over a 100 days and ultimately died in October, 2018. Among the reasons for his fast was a stop to the projects such as the Vishnugad Pipalkoti on the Alaknanda; the Singoli Bhatwari and Phata Byung projects on the Mandakini and all projects on the Alaknanda and its tributaries.

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