This photo is possibly the worst advertisement for a hydropower project with landslide rocks sitting on top of the dam. A massive landslide has severely damaged the 55 m high dam of the 510 MW Teesta Hydropower Project of NHPC, at 00.20 hours on June 27, 2020. This is a major blow to NHPC, considered India’s premier hydropower company. It’s also a major blow to the propaganda of International Hydropower Association, falsely pushing this very project as an example under IHA’s Hydropower Sustainability Assessment Protocol[i].
NHPC PR on June 28 afternoon said the landslide happened “at Dam Axis on left abutment hill side from a height of about 40 meter from Dam top NHPC Teesta-V Dam at Dikchu, East Sikkim. The access to Dam Control Room (DCR) as well as electrical connection to Dam top was cut-off due to this slide.” The electricity supply was restored about 9 hours later. (https://www.facebook.com/1764846020501239/posts/2689927154659783/)
The first news of this came when Central Water Commission’s Flood Forecasting division tweeted at 1120 am on June 27, 2020.
A video post[ii] on FB page of The Voice of Sikkim earlier today said: “Life of Aapdara (village) at risk. NHPC Stage-V Dam lies 90 degree below Aapdara village in which 27 families reside. Long pending demand of public to vacate their land is still pending since 2015. But still unsolved from the sides of NHPC and district administration.”
Another FB post, with a photo from The Voice of Sikkim just before that said: “Lum village of Lower Dzongu of North Sikkim cut off from the rest of the district. Massive landslide occurred at Dam top of NHPC Stage-V below Aapdara, East Sikkim.”
PTI news says dam damaged A PTI report at 7.30 pm on June 27, 2020[iii] said: “A massive landslide caused severe damage to a dam of the NHPC Teesta Stage-V project site at Apdara in East Sikkim, they said.”
At just after 10 pm, East Mojo[iv] reported: “On Friday night, a landslide at NHPC Teesta Stage-V dam on the left bank of the river in Dikchu has cut off Lum and Lingtyang villages of Lower Dzongu, North Sikkim from the rest of the districts. Locals of Jang and Aapdara, however, argue the landslide was due to the negligence of NHPC, and it could have been avoided with proper preventive work on time. Even movement of people now is not possible at the location with boulders and debris stocked at the top of the dam.”
Official NHPC twitter handle[v] had no information about this as I write this (on June 27 late hours), nor any denial. The blog has been updated based on NHPC’s PR on June 28 afternoon and other media reports.
While ongoing heavy rainfall in Sikkim is surely one of the immediate factors, there are a number of others, including the construction and operation of the hydropower project and the way the hydropower company dealing with the key issues over the issues. Only an independent inquiry can lead to right conclusions.
A Telegraph news on June 28 quoted NHPC official denying any damage to dam. It said: ““Mangan received 500 mm rain these past four days. More rain is forecast over the next 48 hours, especially the next 24 hours,” said a Met official. With more rains predicted over the next 48 hours, the situation is expected to worsen.” (https://www.telegraphindia.com/states/west-bengal/landslides-in-north-sikkim-near-border/cid/1784333) A DNA report said: “However, reports suggest that the dam has not suffered significant damages.” (https://www.dnaindia.com/india/report-incessant-rains-trigger-massive-landslide-in-north-sikkim-no-loss-of-life-reported-2829934)
As Gyatso Lepcha wrote on FB (thanks to him for the photos used here): “Landslide over the Dikchu NHPC Stage Stage V – 510 MW Dam: who’s going to assess the damage to the DAM? How are we gonna believe the report, for the sake of downstream community there is need of transparent report on safety of DAM, is it safe to hold back the reservoir? Lot need to be answered , downstream community of Makha Singtam Melli Rangpo should be alerted.”
On June 29, 2020 (Monday), Sikkim Express reported that NHPC came out with a press release that said there is no damage to the dam, but also said that the landslide “had disrupted power supply and access to the dam control room. Immediately, civil and electrical restoration works were geared up by a team of engineers of the power station and electricity was restored by early Saturday morning.” The report added: “According to the power station, the slide clearance work could not be started due to continuous rain and shooting boulders from the top. Once weather condition improves, the slide removal work will start and connectivity to Lum village and other villages in North Sikkim will be restored”. This also implies that for days, site could not be cleared and connectivity to Lum and other villages has been disrupted. (http://www.sikkimexpress.com/news-details/no-damage-to-teesta-v-dam-at-dikchu-nhpc)
Warning for Teesta valley This is yet another wake up call against major interventions in the Teesta Valley including hydropower projects. When a team of us visited Sikkim in May 2008, even then during our review of the Teesta V project showed landslide as a major issue, made worse by the project. The Teesta Carrying Capacity Study that was commissioned as one of the bargains while reluctantly providing approval for the Teesta V project, warned about the inherent landslide risks of the Teesta Valley, which would get worse with every major intervention like dam or tunnel for hydropower project. Now that hydropower is no longer even economically viable, we hope the people and government of Sikkim will wake up to the new reality and stop all ongoing and new hydropower projects.
POST SCRIPT: 1. 28 0620: Video report from the Voice of Sikkim FB page: