(Feature Image:- कुल्लू की मणिकर्ण घाटी के चोज गांव में बादल फटा है. मलाणा डेम साइट के पास से भागता युवक. Source: News 18 Himachal Pradesh)
Hydropower projects are force multipliers when cloud burst happens close to them. In 2021 at least 11 HEPs (4 each in Uttarakhand & Himachal, 2 in J&K and 1 in Ladakh) projects had faced cloud burst induced deluge and damages in lesser or greater degree.
In the latest such incident, the 100 MW Malana II Hydro Electric Project (HEP) in Parbati Valley in Himachal Pradesh has been affected by flash floods following cloud burst in Malana village area in early hours of July 6, 2022. The operational project is located on Malana stream, a tributary of Parbati river in Kullu district. This incident seemingly coincided with another devastating cloud burst near Choj village in Parvati valley located about 15 km south west from Malana.
As usual, details of damages to the project are not put in public domain by respective government agencies. Various media reports too have briefly mentioned about the incident which are not of much help to figure out extent of destruction. The available information in media suggests that the flash flood has damaged the project dam site. About 25-30 staff of project were trapped in project building due to sudden flash flood. They were later rescued by the locals.
Quoting State Disaster Management brief, media reports have reported about flash flood damaging the project building. The employees had to run for their lives when informed about the deluge. They had to climb-up 300 metres to take refuse inside the project tunnel. Apart from damage to project office, 4 tin sheds for security staff were washed away mentioned Divya Himachal report.
The Times of India report reads. “In another incident of cloudburst near Malana village a woman was drowned near the dam site of Malana hydel project. The flood water and debris caused damages to the project site. Some sheds and an ambulance were washed away. The road to Malana was also damaged at some places. Some domestic animals are also reported to have been drowned in the flood…. Parvati valley is very prone to cloudbursts and flash floods. 4 persons were washed away in a cloudburst in Brahmaganga rivulet of Parvati valley last year. The roads in the valley are very dangerous and prone to landslides.” However, the media reports do not mention how the ecological destruction due to the hydropower project increased the impact of cloudburst.
Besides the cloud burst, the Malana II HEP has suffered losses wroth Rs. 15 lakhs after an 11 room shed belonging to the project was gutted in forest fire in April 2022. The losses could have gone up to Rs. 50 lakh if it had not been for the efforts by forest department team who managed to protect other properties of the project including a diesel generator set, power panels, wires and 10 sheds.
Even before its inauguration, the project witnessed fatal accident in August 2014 raising questions on its construction quality. At that time the pressure shaft of the project developed sudden burst following cracks in the hill. As a result the gushing water rushed 600 metre downhill with muck, debris and trees reaching close to project switch yard. The accident affected power generation from Malana-I causing financial losses worth lakhs to both HEP projects. Flash flood alert was issued upto Larji dam.
This time, it seems a case of multiple cloudbursts causing wide spread destruction in Parbati Valley. In 2021 monsoon season also, there were two cloud burst incidents one near Manikaran impacting Brahmaganga HEP and second one near Raskot nullah.
While these disasters also involving flash floods, landslides have been increasingly causing significant damages to human lives, infrastructures and HEP projects in inherently vulnerable Himalayan areas, it seems complete secrecy being exercised by government agencies in divulging the critical information with general public. There is also no attempt to analyze how the hydropower projects have worsened the disaster potential in these areas. This clearly shows that government is not even acknowledging the imminent threats of cloudbursts on and due to ill-conceived HEPs, let alone learning crucial lessons to mitigate and minimize ensuing impacts, preparing disaster management plans, fixing accountability or taking informed decisions related to future HEPs.
Bhim Singh Rawat (firstname.lastname@example.org)