(Above: illegal muck dumping by Parbati HEP along the Sainj River in Himachal Pradesh)
The people of Sainj-Parbati valley in Beas basin in Himachal Pradesh’s Kullu disrict’s Banjar Tehsil are living in constant fear of a disaster. Since six days now, the power tunnel of the NHPC’s under construction 800 MW Parbati II hydropower project is heavily leaking, but NHPC refused to stop water release into the tunnel till the leakage led to landslides and displacement of people. Ultimately on the night of April 17, 2017, huge cracks spread over 200 m appeared in the hills, leading to landslide & fall of soil and rocks, immediately threatening eight families of Rahan (Reina) village, though over 400 families of some 12 villages of Rella Panchayat (including Rella, Sharan, Jiva, Sulga, Khadoa, Rahan, Shalah, Bhebal, Bahara, Bagidhar, Khaul, etc) are facing the prospects of disaster as cracks in the hill have appeared just above the villages. People here are spending sleepless nights since several days now. They are afraid that if the leakage continues, these villages will have to be evacuated any moment, else a major catastrophe may result.[i]
The Tribune reported: “Khimdasi Pradhan, Gram Panchayat, Rella said the villagers were living in fear because a massive crack was observed in the hillside, which may trigger a huge landslide. This will cause massive damage to the houses constructed downside in the area.”
The latest episode in this project that has faced several disasters in the past (including leakage of Parbati III tunnel, landslide burying the Tunnel Boring Machine, among many others), reportedly started on April 12, when NHPC started release of water to the power tunnel from Jivanala to Siund Power Station of Parbati II HEP. Local people immediately saw the leakage, and warned NHPC. But it was only on the night of April 17, it seems, NHPC stopped water flow only after the incident of landslide. Had NHPC properly ensured that the tunnel is worthy of testing and also stopped water flow soon after the leakage started and was reported to NHPC on April 13 itself, the disaster could have possibly been averted. As The Tribune reported on April 19, 2017[ii], the project authorities were clearly callous: “Earlier the project authorities were taking it lightly because the seepage was 2.5 km away from project tunnel. However, the landslide last night near Riena village forced the authorities to stop water supply to the tunnel to avoid any danger for the residents of area… People alleged that the use of substandard material for the construction of tunnel was the major cause of the seepage.”
Dainik Jagaran reported on April 19, 2017 that a team of geologists have been called from Delhi to assess the source and implications of the leakage, but it is not known if this is an independent team of a consultant team hired by NHPC for its own project.
The Project The 800 (200 MW X 4) MW project work started in Sept 2002, and was scheduled to be commissioned in 2009-10, but the latest update from Central Electricity Authority says the project would be commissioned at least nine year latter in 2018-19, more than 100% time over run. The original cost was Rs 3920 Crores, which has already gone up to Rs 8399 Cr as per Sept 2016 update, again showing over 100% escalation, which means the cost is over Rs 10.5 Cr per MW. The project involves massive 85 m high concrete gravity dam with over 32 km long Head Run Tunnel, whose geology was very weak as per the CEA report.
Some CEA updates highlight the serious problems project has faced, also showing how poor has the appraisal of the project by NHPC and also by CEA, GSI, MoEF, CWC and other agencies:
March 2011: Slide in Power House area in April, 04 June, 06, & Feb, 07.
March 2012: Rock busting phenomena in Face-III in HRT. Ban on use of aggregate by Hon’ble High Court of H.P. Contractual issues. Flash flood on 16th Aug,11
March 2014: Contract with M/s HJV has been terminated on 09.03.2012 and re-awarded to M/s Gammon-CMC (JV) on 13.8.2013 for TBM portion. & to M/s Valecha Engg. On 21.11.2013 for DBM portion. Jiwa Nallah works affected due to cavity treatment and strike by locals at Sainj site demanding employment. Cash crunch with M/s Patel – SEW & M/s Coastal Project Ltd.
Summing up While an independent probe into the whole incident in required, and pending which the commissioning of the project should be postponed, till it is credibly ascertained that the tunnel is indeed test worthy and till the report of the independent probe is available.
The massive time and cost over run, the costly hydropower, the huge social and environmental impacts, the increased disaster vulnerability of the area, the poor appraisal by various agencies etc implies that the project needs a comprehensive independent review to fix the responsibility for the so many issues that the project and the project area is facing. NHPC is known for poor track record, but this is possibly one of its worst projects.
[i] Dainik Bhaskar, April 15, 2017, April 19, 2017, http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/shimla/leakage-in-nhpcs-tunnel-wreaks-havoc/articleshow/58200954.cms, http://www.tribuneindia.com/news/himachal/water-leakage-from-parbati-tunnel-worries-villagers/392034.html, Dainik Jagran, Amar Ujala, Divya Himachal of April 19, 2017