(Feature Image:Kishtwar: Rescue operation underway after a landslide at Ratle Power Project site in Kishtwar district, Saturday, Oct. 29, 2022. At least one person was killed and five are feared trapped, according to officials. Photo: PTI/ TIE)
The landslide incident at Ratle HEP in Chenab basin in Jammu & Kashmir in Oct 2022 has again revealed how hydro projects in geologically vulnerable areas have been increasing disaster potential of the already disaster vulnerable areas, killing and injuring the workers and people. The exact reason for the mishap at project site are still unknown. As usual neither NHPC nor JKSPDC have made public information concerning reasons for the tragedy.
Refusing to learn any lessons from such disasters, the administration has set-up routine internal probe under inspector level official. This only shows sheer lack of intention to make the developers accountable and continue to push financially unviable and environmental unsustainable hydro projects at the cost of human lives and tax payers’ money.
The landslide At least two successive landslides[i] at under construction Ratel Hydroelectric Project (HEP) caused death of 4 persons[ii] including a policeman and grievous injuries to 6 others in late evening hours of October 29, 2022 in Kishtwar district of Jammu & Kashmir. This short video[iii] shows the project site just after the landslides.
There was landslide in a tunnel[iv] of the 850 MW project causing collapse of part of the tunnel and trapping a JCB operator and few other workers there. When the rescue team reached there; one more landslide[v] hit the project site trapping the rescuers under the debris.
Quoting officials, reports said that workers were building a link road[vi] near the project site and a JCB machine was at digging when a big boulder rolled down the hill slope, trapping the workers. As the rescue team comprising 6 people rushed to the spot, another landslide hit the area, trapping more people under the debris.
More rescuers and local residents then arrived and pulled out the trapped people. Nine persons were rescued and shifted to Community Health Centre (CHC) Thathri from where four were later referred to District Hospital, Doda for specialized treatment.
The JCB driver died on the spot[vii] while 3 others succumbed to injuries during the rescue operation. The deceased were identified as Manoj Kumar, JCB driver son of Hari Lal resident Gujjar Kothan; Mohd Yakoob resident Mahi Nagni, Thathri; Sachin son of Angrez Singh resident Salana; Moin Ahmed son of M Hafiz Matto resident Drabhshalla.
The work on the project remained suspended[viii] for the two days after the incident. The workers called a meeting to take final call to resume the work. There is no update on resumption of the same so far. A case under section 279 and 304-A IPC was registered regarding the incident at Police Station Kishtwar and an Inspector level officer was appointed to investigate the case.
The Project There are series of hydro power projects operating, under construction and planned on Chenab river in Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir. This May 2014, SANDRP blog has highlighted the shoddy EIAs and staged public hearing[x] of Kwar & Kiru HEPs on Chenab, along with maps showing HEPs on the river.
The controversial Ratle HEP[xi] is also being developed on Chenab near Drabshalla which is downstream of 390 MW Dulhasti HEP and upstream of 450 MW Baglihar HEP. First approved in 2008, the project was initially of 690 MW capacity and later was increased to 850 Mw by the GVK Company[xii]. The foundation stone was laid in June 2013 with December 2017 as completion deadline. This February 2019 report tracks the political and financial disputes[xiii] concerning the long delayed project.
The Union Cabinet approved a budget[xiv] of Rs. 5281.94 crore for the wrongly claimed Run of the River (RoR) project in January 2021 expecting its commissioning within 60 months. In June 2021, Ratle Hydroelectric Power Corporation Limited (RHPCL) a new Joint Venture Company (JVC) was formed[xv] between National Hydroelectric Power Corporation (NHPC) and Jammu & Kashmir State Power Development Corp Ltd (JKSPDC) to develop the project.
The NHPC had floated[xvi] tender for its turnkey execution in July 2021 and awarded[xvii] the work to M/s Megha Engineering & Infrastructures Limited at a cost of Rs. 3485.13 crore in January 2022. It’s only in April, 2022, when the Prime Minister Narendra Modi again laid the foundation stone[xviii] of the project which involves construction of 133 metre high concrete gravity dam.
No disaster potential assessment of the project area without or with the project has been done, so there is no action plan either in this regard.
Bhim Singh Rawat (firstname.lastname@example.org)