(Feature image: Rescue operation at Tidong HEP tunnel. Image source: Divya Himachal)
Early morning around 5.45 am on Saturday, May 7, 2022, five labourers were stuck while coming out from the 180 m deep tunnel of the under construction 100 MW Tidong Hydropower project[i] in Murang Tehsil of Kinnaur district of Himachal Pradesh when debris fell into the tunnel (according to one report) and the lift in which the 5 labourers were coming out over turned[ii]. The trolley with 5 workers inside pressure shaft of adit 2 tunnel slipped off its track. The workers were coming out as their shift had ended.
Two of the workers died (one each from Himachal Pradesh (Hamirpur dist) and Jharkhand), the remaining three (two from Bihar and one from Jharkhand) were rescued and hospitalised. The labourers were going up in a lift which broke and fell 70 m downwards[iii]. The project is located at Retakhan between Rispa and Murung on the Tidong river, a tributary of the Satluj River. Himalayan Construction Pvt Limited is doing the construction work here. For more than first two hours the rescue work was done by company management and later by district administration comprising of jawans and officials of police, ITBP’s 50th Battalion, army, disaster response force and health department.
One report[iv] described the incident as: “Five workers of the project were travelling in the trolley when it reportedly slipped from the track and fell inside. The tunnel stretches for hundreds of feet with a 45 to 50 degree slope.” Another report[v] said: “The mechanical system installed for lifting and dropping workers developed a snag and fell back into the under-construction tunnel after coming up for about 20 metres, sources said.” Divya Himachal reports breaking away of ropeway span as reason behind the incident.
ADM Pooh has been asked to conduct magisterial inquiry and submit report in a week. District Superintendent of Police said that strict action will be taken against the company for negligence.
The Probe According to Divisional Commissioner of Kinnaur Abid Hussain Sadiq,[vi] this is a matter of grave concern and which requires to be inquired by way of proper magisterial enquiry. According to the order issued by him, the magisterial inquiry would be conducted by Additional District Magistrate, Pooh, Ashwani Kumar.
The probe will check whether the technical and supervisory protocol adhered at the worksite by the project proponents. Enquiry will check whether there were safety protocols and the necessary arrangements to avoid such untoward incident. It will also find out who was the responsible person for the incident as well as safety of above mentioned workers.
Probe will also find out whether any person had reported about any kind of advisory/report of lapse/complaint of malfunctioning of other equipment/machinery involved in above said incident. It will also check whether there was any calendar/schedule for periodic maintenance of equipments/machinery involved in above said incident.
The enquiry will also find out whether there was any previous history of malfunctioning of equipment/ machinery involved in above said incident and whether there was any such untoward incident reported in past one year or before.
The Project The project has 8 km long head race tunnel, a 110 m high surge shaft, a 1,200 m long pressure shaft and the surface power house. Norwegian state owned company Statekraft had planned to complete it in 2 year’s time in Sept 2018 when Statekraft acquired 100% share in Tidong Power Generation Private Limited (TPGPL) from NSL.
The project was 60 percent complete when Statkraft acquired the project from NSL TPGPL in September 2018. In March 2021 (Physical progress reached 78% from 60% in Sept 2018), while re-affirming the TPGPL’s credit rating, credit rating agency ICRA said the company hopes to commission the 100 MW project by December 2022 and the supplementary 50 MW unit for which agreement with Govt of HP was signed in Jan 2021, by April 2023. ICRA had then noted that further delay cannot be ruled out.
ICRA noted the risks faced by the project: “The company is yet to tie-up power for its entire generation capacity and the permission for grant of long-term open access too is pending. Moreover, with current project cost, the company will require a break-even tariff of above Rs. 4.0/unit, which is on the higher side compared to the prevailing solar and wind tariff.” In addition, there is the interest rate hike risk as it will increase the cost of the project and reduce the profit margins.
Himachal Hydro Disasters The fact that there have been several such avoidable accidents at hydro power project sites killing innocent workers and damaging local environment across the state for years; shows that the project developers and concerned government agencies have learnt no lessons from previous disasters. The inquiries are just formalities making hardly any difference on ground situation. Such reports are not available in public domain and have failed to enforce developers follow the safety protocols and recommendations. The Tidong tunnel accident is latest but not last entry in the long list of hydro power project disasters in the state.