Above: Entirely destabilised house next to 100 MW Sorang HEP transmission lines Photo: Sumit Mahar
Immediate Press Statement from Himdhara 02/12/15
In the last two weeks a half a dozen lives have been lost in the Kinnaur region alone in three separate incidents that have one thing in common – accidents at hydropower project sites. The first event took place in Burang village on the 18th of November 2015 where a penstock pipe burst of the 100 MW Sorang Hydro-electric project led to the death of three people. On 29th November, two labourers died in blasting operations in the 450 MW Shongthong Karchham project, some others were seriously injured. And on the same day in the Bhabha Valley, a young teacher lost her life in a landslide that occurred in the area.
Even now more lives are at stake – Four days after the Sorang project disaster on 22nd November, a massive landslide occurred in Chagaon Village, located on the alignment of the Karchham Wangtoo project’s tunnel. While houses and property was damaged fortunately there were no fatalities. More of the area is likely to slide soon. Residents of Panvi Panchayat from Kinnaur carried out a demonstration last week at Shimla protesting the cracks in their houses due to the underground construction by the 9 MW Ralla-Taranda project.
It is time that the Himachal government wake up from its long slumber, because these events are not freak accidents, they are the result of sheer negligence in the construction of hydropower projects in the state. This negligence is evident at two levels – firstly the failure in ensuring compliance to environmental and safety norms by project authorities and the government. The second, is the negligence towards the very impacts of unregulated hydropower development. In both cases the project authorities have shown sheer callousness, continuously ignoring the issues raised by local people and environmentalists.
Now the geological, ecological and hydrological impacts of these projects, especially in fragile zones like Kinnaur are emerging clealry. The government has not just overlooked these impacts but justified each and every project making excuses and even trying to cover these impacts. For instance, the issue of slope destabilisation and landlsides in Kinnaur has been blamed on rainfall fluctuations, floods or other natural factors without conducting any independent studies. The project authorities have gone to the stupid extent of saying that these landslides are occurring naturally in the area. If that is the case, is it not all the more reason that the construction in these regions has to be controlled and regulated rather than allowing disastrous projects like Karchham Wangtoo to come up here?
As far as issues of safety regulations and monitoring goes, there are an ample number of incidences vis a vis hydropower projects that have occurred in the last couple of years apart from the ones that happened in the last two weeks in Kinnaur. The seepage in the Chamera III project that washed off Mokhar village’s habitations, the reservoir of the Aleo-II project in Kullu in its first testing, burst washing off the labour camps (with no fatalities); the seepages in the Karchham Wangtoo tunnel which were noticed in 2011 – are indicators of a disaster waiting to happen. Despite it being mandatory as per the Hydropower Policy 2006 that there will be a safety monitoring authority in the state that will look into the safety quality monitoring for hydropower projects, no such authority existed till recently. As late as August 2013, the Department of Power and MPP issued a notification about the creation of such an authority. Now the government should immediately make public all the work that has been done by this authority in the last two years. The people have a right to know, how often this committee convened its meetings, which are the projects it has monitored and what action has been taken in the cases of negligence and accidents. Has any punitive action been taken against power companies for negligence?
It needs to be put on record, in the context of the 100 Mw Sorang Hydro-Electric Project that the villagers had brought to the company’s notice that there were leakages in the penstock pipe at an earlier date on 8th May 2015. This indicates that there was some technical fault in the project despite which the testing was carried out. Further, it needs to be raised that on the night of the testing (when the accident occurred) no warning was issued by the project authorities while carrying out the testing of the penstock pipe.
Today, the Burang village is nothing less than a danger zone with rock and debris just hanging above heads of the residents. We wonder how the company even had the audacity to carry out construction in an area where there was habitation – even if temporary/ for part of the year. In event of heavy rains or tremors of any sort there will be additional damage and fatality which should be avoided at any cost. All families who are residing in Burang need to be protected so that they do not become victims of yet another accident which will be caused due to sheer negligence of the company as well as the administration, who is now responsible for the safety of the people.
The failure is of the central and state monitoring and regulatory authorities who have ignored the several incidents of landslides, massive erosion, drying up of water sources, sudden reappearance of water sources, deforestation leading to soil erosion, illegal muck dumping etc. Despite the impact of these on the horticulture, local vegetable cultivation, day to day life and safety of the people the government has not taken any action whatsoever on project proponents and have been blind to the issues raised by the affected people time and again.
Manshi Asher, Prakash Bhandari and Sumit Mahar
Himdhara Environment Research and Action Collective 8988275737
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