In a tragic incident, 4 labourers were killed and one was injured after part of an under construction tunnel of NHPC’s Parbati-2 hydropower project collapsed on Friday evening around 4.30 pm, May 21, 2021[i]. This happened at Pancha Nalla in the Garsa (Bhuntar) Valley of Himachal Pradesh’s Kullu district[ii]. The accident happened when the labourers were doing drilling work in the 600m-long diversion tunnel (a sub tunnel of the main 31.52 km long tunnel[iii]). The whole area, where drilling was underway, collapsed. Four bodies were found buried under the debris. This description possibly shows signs of neglect of NHPC and the contractors.[iv]
One of the dead and the injured are from Napal, while another of the dead is from Darjeeling dist of West Bengal. Rest two are from the Himachal Pradesh. Of the six workers that were in the tunnel at the time of disaster, one was rescued.
The 200X4 Mw capacity run of the river project on Parvati river in Sainj valley is being developed by National Hydroelectric Power Corporation (NHPC) costing Rs. 3919.59 Crores at December 2001 price level. The project is expected to be commercially operational by March 2022. More details about the project can be seen here.
The Tribune report reads… “…three diversion tunnels of about 600 metres were under construction in Garsa area. One of the tunnels caved in while drilling works…”
Amar Ujala, Dainik Bhaskar, Dainik Jagran news clips on the incident.
As per Amar Ujala report, the tunnel construction has seen several such accident causing death of workers in past too. The report also quoted Raj Malhotra village headman, Parli Panchayat stating that a cloud burst incident near Shilagarh had killed about a dozen workers few years back.
According to The Times of India report the Garsa valley is notorious for its fragile land and environment. The region frequently witnesses cloudbursts and flash floods in monsoon season. 3 workers of State Forest Development Corporation Ltd were washed away near Pancha nullah on July 16, 2015. At least 150 labourers working for hydroelectric project near Garsa were killed by a cloudburst on July 16, 2003.
A detailed report July 2020 report by Himachal Watcher reveals that there have been recurring water leakage problem by the project tunnel which have been displacing the villagers and destroying the agricultural crops of long raising questions over the lethargy of local administration, NHPC and Central Water Commission (CWC).
NHPC’s Parbati projects have in the past too faced disasters on several occasions. Some of these include:
- July 2015: The Tribune report on the incident mentions that 3 workers of a contractor engaged by the State Forest Development Corporation Ltd were washed away and 6 persons were reportedly trapped in the gushing water in the Garsa valley after a cloudburst struck Pancha Nullah uphill, a feeder tunnel of the under construction Parbati-II hydel project at Shilagarh on the night of July 16, 2015. Parbati GM AK Singh confirmed that the water level rose suddenly in the Pancha Nullah, where work of construction of barriers was being going on. There were also reports of loss of equipment. He said that the exact losses had not yet been assessed by the team of engineers who visited the site.
- It also reports that[i] another cloudburst in Shenshar Nullah in Sainj reportedly damaged some portions of the under-construction 100 MW hydel project undertaken by Himachal Pradesh Power Corporation Ltd (HPPCL). Makhan Singh, GM of Hindustan Construction Company (HCC), a private company engaged in the project, stated that a temporary residential colony at Samba and a crusher were damaged. He said workers fled to the nearby jungle and no loss of life was reported. Flood gates of the Siund dam were opened. The residents of villages downstream had been told to vacate their houses as a precautionary measure.
- April 2017[vi]: https://sandrp.in/2017/04/19/nhpc-negligence-leads-to-man-made-disaster-in-parbati-valley-in-himachal-pradesh/
- July 2020: Machinery damaged in fire at the project: https://www.hindustantimes.com/cities/machinery-damaged-in-fire-at-nhpc-parbati-stage-2-project-in-himachal-s-kullu-district/story-AAX9AkoTNiOgEeeiJpatAL.html
- March 2021: NHPC and BHEL official arrested for Rs 12 million theft at the project. https://energy.economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/power/himachal-pradesh-4-nhpc-bhel-officials-held-for-rs-1-2cr-theft-in-hydel-project/81265599
The Kullu district administration/ police have started a probe into the reasons for the disaster, the likely reasons for disaster has not been made public by NHPC. Possibly only an independent or judicial probe would help bring out the full truth and fix accountability. NHPC is known for poor track record, but this is possibly one of its worst projects.