Hydro Disaster

2022: Accidents & Damages related to Hydro projects in India

In this annual review, SANDRP compiles the hydro power related accidents, disasters and damages in North West and North East Himalayan states during 2022. It also covers relevant reports revealing gradual decline in power generation by hydro power projects amid growing concerns over physical and financial viabilities of new projects. There are also reports highlighting the looming climatic and geological threats over these projects. It is good to see that taking lessons from Chamoli disaster in Feb. 2021, NDMA has officially asked central govt not to rely on hydro power.

In previous parts of yearend roundups, we have covered (1) Dam induced floods & damages, (2) Fly ash dam breach incidents, (3) Impact of floods on Polavaram project, (4) People’s resistance against dams and hydro projects. Please see links for reports tracking hydro power projects related accidents and disasters in 2021 and 2020.

Uttarakhand NDMA says not to rely on hydropower It is good to see the report of the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), incidentally chaired by the PM of India mincing no words regarding the Chamoli disaster of 2021, holding the hydropower project authorities (again basically central agencies including Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF), Central Water Commission (CWC), Central Electricity Authority (CEA) and also NDMA itself), district disaster administrationand lack of early warning systems.

The stark conclusion of the NDMA that the govt needs to pursue alternative sources of. Energy rather than hydropower projects in what it calls environmentally fragile area has many implications, but the first one is to stop pursuing more hydropower projects all across the Himalayas. But in the same week we also get the reports that the central govt, pushed by vested interests of hydropower lobby, is going for clearing the disastrous Etalin Hydropower project in Dibang Valley in Arunachal Pradesh. The Forest Advisory Committee of the same MoEF is indulging in all kinds of manipulations to clear the Etalin project.

One only hopes that the NDMA will fearlessly take this report to its logical conclusion in terms of practical impact on the norms, policies, practices and projects at the earliest. One expects NDMA to fearlessly achieve these objectives and also work towards reducing the future disasters and their impacts. https://sandrp.in/2022/06/06/drp-nb-060622-ndma-says-not-to-rely-on-hydropower-central-lobby-pushes-disaster-called-etalin-hep/  (06 June 2022)

Destruction at Rishiganga HEP site during Feb. 2021 Chamoli disaster. Vikas Chaudhary, DTE

The NDMA has said that, among other reasons, a lack of predictive thinking by the district administration and project proponents, as well as a dearth of early warning systems, led to the disaster taking on massive proportions. It also says that as an immediate measure, no houses, buildings, or infrastructure projects should be constructed at a high flood level — historically the highest level a flood — without a site-specific study being conducted first. Impending risks remain, the report says, with debris from the disaster forming an artificial lake and dam in the Raunthi Gadhera valley. The report warns that if the water level rises too much, there could be a breach.  https://theprint.in/environment/cant-rely-on-hydropower-in-long-run-says-ndma-in-report-examining-chamoli-disaster/954792/  (01 June 2022)

The State Disaster Management officials have been served a show cause notice for highlighting lack of early warning system as major reason behind human casualties during Feb 2021 Chamoli Disaster. https://www.etvbharat.com/hindi/uttarakhand/state/chamoli/notice-issued-to-research-team-for-citing-weak-weather-early-warning-system-as-reason-for-raini-disaster/uttarakhand20211229182251914  (29 Dec. 2020)

2nd body found in Tapovan HEP tunnel The body was recovered during the ongoing muck removal exercise inside the silt-flushing tunnel of the 520MW hydel project. Identified as 22-year-old Rohit Bhandari, resident of Kimada village, Joshimath, the victim was an employee of Ritwik company- a firm hired by NTPC for the hydro project. Shweta Choubey, SP, Chamoli said that 91 bodies have been recovered till date and more are likely to be found as the muck-removal work inside the tunnel is ongoing. 206 people are believed to have died, including 140 employees of firms hired by NTPC as a result of the disaster. The bodies of several of the victims have still not been found. A few days ago, the body of an engineer from Rishikesh, who also worked for the Ritwik company, was recovered from the slush-filled tunnel. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/dehradun/uttarakhand-2nd-body-found-in-a-week-in-slush-filled-chamoli-tunnel/articleshow/89739310.cms  (22 Feb. 2022) https://www.zerogroundnews.com/uttarakhand-news/body-found-from-tapovan-ntpc-tunnel-not-identified/ 

Raini: Forgotten victims of Chamoli disaster Dave Petley on the situation in Raini village after the one year anniversary of the Chamoli disaster that originated in the upstream of the village and how the village is facing unstable slopes in the aftermath. The 2022 monsoon could create more problems. https://blogs.agu.org/landslideblog/2022/03/08/raini-1/  (8 March 2022)

The Grove Karl Gilbert Award for Excellence in Geomorphological Research is presented to the author(s) of a single significant contribution to the published research literature in geomorphology during the past three years. In this case it was awarded for a paper published in Science (Shugar et al., 2021) on the Uttarakhand ice-rock avalanche and flood, of which SJ Cook was one of 53 authors. https://discovery.dundee.ac.uk/en/prizes/the-grove-karl-gilbert-award-for-excellence-in-geomorphological-r  (28 Feb. 2022)  https://www.hindusthansamachar.in/Encyc/2022/3/9/Chamoli-Aapda-par-shodh-ko-International-award.php  (09 March 2022)

Tehri Dam Is the hill in the upper area of Tehri lake sinking? The villagers say that the villages which were never visible before, are now visible. Experts appealed for in-depth study.  https://www.downtoearth.org.in/hindistory/river/dam/is-the-hill-in-the-upper-area-of-the-tehri-dam-lake-sinking-80955  (03 Jan. 2022) The mastic on the country’s first single suspension Dobra-Chanthi bridge has once again started cracking raising questions on its quality. This is third incident of the bridge built over the Tehri lake developing since 2020. It took a full 15 years for this bridge to take shape, but just a few months after its inauguration, such pictures of this bridge have come to the fore. https://www.rajyasameeksha.com/uttarakhand/20714-crack-in-mastic-of-dobra-chanthi-bridge   (29 Dec. 2021)

Vyasi HEP Homes, farms, memories drowned Initially the project failed to produce electricity due to lack of adequate pondage and also killed native fish in large numbers. https://www.downtoearth.org.in/hindistory/energy/hydropower/uttarakhand-why-is-electricity-not-being-generated-according-to-capacity-from-vyasi-project-82843  (14 May 2022)

Bageshwar Collapse of land above hydro tunnel On July 1 2022 night, the ground over the tunnel of Ghughulekh (Kharbagad) Hydro Power Company of Kapkot caved in forming a tunnel-like pit in a very long area inside the ground. Flowing water was visible inside it. Worried over safety threats to Nachti, Kharbagad areas in case of increase in caved in area, local people demanded to fill this pit. https://www.amarujala.com/uttarakhand/bageshwar/landslide-like-situation-in-tunnel-bageshwar-news-hld467816313  (03 July 2022) Villagers said that a lot of water was leaking in forming a big tunnel made under the road and sinking of adjoining land thus causing danger for about 60 families living in Kharbagad village. As per villagers the problem of water seepage from the tunnel was happening for a long time, but the tunnel-like pit was made a few days back. https://hindi.news18.com/news/uttarakhand/bageshwar-kapkot-in-danger-of-chamoli-like-disaster-north-india-hydro-power-tunnel-started-leaking-4366068.html  (04 July 2022) As per Govind Bisht, President Nagar Panchayat the under construction Varuk-Baret road is close to the caved in place where landslides are happening continuously. Hydropower official Kamlesh Jaishi said that the tunnel was built in 2016 and there may not be any problem of landslide. https://www.jagran.com/uttarakhand/nainital-land-above-the-tunnel-of-uttar-bharat-hydro-power-in-kapkot-submerged-22856414.html  (02 July 2022) Harish Aithani, Former District Panchayat President, Bageshwar said it was a serious issue and if North India Hydro Power Company had not used blast at the time of construction of the project, the problem would not have come to the fore today. https://www.abplive.com/states/up-uk/bageshwar-landslide-like-situation-above-the-tunnel-of-uttar-bharat-hydro-power-in-kapkot-ann-2160182  (03 July 2022)

On the night of July 6, the Jakheda, Lamchula, Ganigaon, Bhagdanu, Clue, Parkoti villages faced destruction due to excessive rain. The feeder of the main pipeline belonging to Parvatiya hydro power company developed a burst disrupting power supply in Garud block.  https://www.jagran.com/uttarakhand/dehradun-city-two-thousand-passengers-stranded-on-badrinath-highway-due-to-landslide-22877449.html  (09 July 2022)

Himachal Pradesh Cloudburst damages Malana II HEP in July 2022 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.

This image by Web Kharistan shows extent of damages to Malana II HEP project building and associated infrastructure.

In the latest such incident, the 100 MW Malana II Hydro Electric Project (HEP) in Parbati Valley has been affected by flash floods following cloud burst in Malana village 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 govt 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. https://sandrp.in/2022/07/14/himachal-pradesh-july-2022-cloudburst-at-malana-ii-hep-in-parbati-valley/  (14 July 2022)

Two weeks after a cloudburst triggered flashfloods and damaged roads leading to the hydel power project near Malana village, residents have reported an acute shortage of ration supplies. The remote village was on July 6 cut from the rest of the district following a flashflood, which caused heavy damage to the hydel power plant built on Malana nullah, a tributary of Parvati river. The road link to the Malana power project, which further connects the remote village, was snapped causing difficulties for the villages. The road is damaged close to a tunnel of the 109MW hydel power project. https://www.hindustantimes.com/cities/chandigarh-news/himachal-malana-faces-ration-shortage-as-flashfloods-snap-road-links-101658166184741.html  (18 July 2022)

The Urni landslide: a recurring slope failure DAVE PETLEY ON KINNAUR LANDSLIDE, QUOTES SANDRP: On Monday 19 December 2022 a significant slope failure occurred at the Urni Landslide in Kinnaur, in northern India on the banks of Sutlej River.  This event was notable for the fact that it was caught on camera by users of National Highway 5, which passes close to the landslide site. Of interest at this site is the ongoing works to construct the Karcham Wangtoo Hydro Power Project – some elements of this are visible in the image above.  It has long been asserted that these works have led to an increase in the occurrence of landslides in this area.  For example, the South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People has an article from 2014 documenting some of the impacts.  Construction started in 2005.

– Of course, of immediate concern is the potential risk to the houses upslope of the Urni landslide.  In October 2022 the crown of the landslide was perilously close to the houses.  A major failure could exacerbate this situation. https://blogs.agu.org/landslideblog/2022/12/21/urni-landslide-1/  (21 Dec. 2022)

Massive fire near glaciated area of Parvati Valley Massive forest fire in Parbati valley very close to glaciated area. Scientists say this is unprecedented. The glaciologists said the fire will enhance melting of snow and leave the glacier exposed and appealed to extinguish it at the earliest. A team of glaciologists from the Divecha Centre for Climate Change of the Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru, who are in the Parvati Valley for their project work, were alarmed to see a massive forest fire on March 29-30, 2022 here.

After noticing the huge forest fire, the team travelled up to Pulga closer to the fire affected region. “We went up to the Parbati Hydroelectric project. The fire is affecting a very large forest area near the glaciated region. Parvati Valley has 279 glaciers and 396 sqkm of glaciated area. The fire is adjacent to Sara Ugma glacier,” said Anil Kulkarni, a distinguished scientist at the Divecha Center for Climate Change. “I have never seen anything like this in such high altitudes in the past 40 years of my career. The soot or black carbon from the fire will definitely get deposited on the glaciers. It will reduce the albedo effect of the glaciated area and enhance melting of snow. This will leave the glacier exposed. The fire should be extinguished at the earliest,” he added.

The Hindu Kush Himalayas recorded a temperature rise of about 1.3 degree C during 1951-2014 compared to an average temperature rise of around 0.7 degree C during 1901-2018 over the country. https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/massive-fire-near-glaciated-area-of-parvati-valley-glaciologists-sound-alarm-101648667326223-amp.html (31 Mar 2022)

Parbati 2 Tunnel ingress with water and slush. https://www.tribuneindia.com/news/himachal/work-on-kullu-nhpc-tunnel-halts-after-slush-ingress-386963  (17 April 2022)

Fatal Disaster at Shongtong Hydro in June 2022 Two workers of 450 MW Shongtong hydropower Project were killed when the trolley they were using overturned inside the tunnel of the under-construction project near Ralli in Kalpa Tehsil of Kinnaur district of Himachal Pradesh on June 21, 2022. The police have registered a case in connection with the incident. https://sandrp.in/2022/06/22/fatal-disaster-at-shongtong-hydro-in-himachal-pradesh-in-june-2022/   (22 June 2022)

Disaster at Tidong Hydropower project kills 2 in May 2022 Early morning around 5.45 am on 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 in Murang Tehsil of Kinnaur district when debris fell into the tunnel (according to one report) and the lift in which the 5 labourers were coming out over turned.

Rescue operation at Tidong HEP tunnel. Image source: Divya Himachal

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. https://sandrp.in/2022/05/08/disaster-at-tidong-hydropower-project-kills-2-in-may-2022/ (8 May 2022)

Tunnel testing menace of Bajoli Holi HEP cotinues A fact-finding report by Himdhara Environment Research and Action Collective on the recent hazards: 180MW Bajoli Holi Hydropower Project in Bharmour Tehsil, Chamba. http://www.himdhara.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/01/Increased-risk-and-tunnel-testing-menace-by-180MW-Bajoli-Holi-HEP_Finalfinal1.pdf  (January 2022) The fact finding report stated that villagers had warned of poor geology during project planning and this is not a first of its kind incident, these hazards are occurring at every stage of the project – during the construction, due to intensive blasting, during the testing and then long after commissioning. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/shimla/green-activists-now-raise-red-flag-over-hydel-power-project-in-chamba-dist/articleshow/88924178.cms  (16 Jan. 2022) Villagers affected from leakages of Bajoli Holi HEP tunnel demand administration to address the issue. https://bit.ly/3GrPFIQ  (27 Dec. 2022)

As per the HIMDHARA report the incidents of water leakage started around Dec 17 to 19.  After about two weeks, the leakage and landslide continued and the local people alleged that the administration and the company management did not take any concrete steps. “The purpose of our visit was to collect evidence and opinion from the residents of Jadhota villagers located near the project tunnel site regarding cracks in residential houses and private/forest land”. Vivek Negi, a member of the fact-finding team, said. https://himachalscape.com/tunnel-leakage-in-holi-project-looms-landslide-danger-report/  (15 Jan. 2022)

The villagers have been protesting against the project for more than 15 years. The protest is due to the unscientific shift of the tunnel site from the barren right bank to the forested and heavily populated left bank of Ravi. The project has allegedly heavily impacted the local ecology, houses, fields, health and the Gaddi tribe in Himachal Pradesh. The project proponent has cut nearly 4,000 oak trees in the last 10 years making it difficult for grazing and dry wood collection. https://india.mongabay.com/2022/03/hydropower-project-nudges-a-tribal-community-out-of-their-land-in-himachal-pradesh/  (03 March 2022) Angry Jharauta residents demanded that the project work be immediately shut down and a team of safety experts be sent to the area. https://www.hindustantimes.com/cities/chandigarh-news/tunnel-testing-triggered-seepage-landslides-in-chamba-village-report-101642280235273-amp.html  (16 Jan. 2022) Citing a 2015 study of the State Disaster Management Authority, Vivek Negi said that 56 % of the power projects in Himachal faced a serious threat of landslide hazards. https://www.tribuneindia.com/news/himachal/send-safety-team-to-tunnel-seepage-site-govt-urged-361659  (16 Jan. 2022) Video and Hindi reports.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9PpUy6uvDNQ (3 Jan 2022) https://www.divyahimachal.com/2021/12/ground-cracks-due-to-leakage-in-tunnel-panic-among-villagers-due-to-testing-of-bajoli-holi-hydro-project-in-bharmour/  (29 Dec. 2021) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oHHk2yohUA4  (21 March 2022)

Shanan HEP in bad shape Shanan hydropower project at Jogindernagar, is in a shambles due to the apathy of the Punjab Govt. The 99-year lease of the project on Uhl river will expire in 2024, after which it will be handed over to the Himachal Govt. It was set up in 1925. The Punjab Govt has failed to maintain the buildings, ropeway trolley service & equipment. After the reorganisation of the states in 1966, the Shanan powerhouse was given to Punjab by the Central Govt as the lease agreement. https://www.tribuneindia.com/news/himachal/british-era-shanan-hydropower-project-in-bad-shape-367469  (06 Feb. 2022)

Tribal’ rights compromised for corporate power project? A privately-owned hydroelectric project, worth over Rs 1,000 crore, has threatened the very existence of a tribal hamlet in Chamba district with landslides and earth subsidence. Locals had staged protest demonstrations against the hydropower project 7 years ago; their houses have been damaged now – allegedly from the impact of the same project. https://www.newsclick.in/were-tribal-communities-rights-compromised-corporate-power-project-himachal  (06 March 2022)

Kishau dam project could drown livelihoods & biodiversity Under Kishau Dam project, 2,950 ha will be submerged, 2.5 million trees, many of medicinal value, are likely to be submerged & 5,498 people will have to be relocated. The project has faced rejections for over 50 years for reasons including active seismic zone, absence of established economic viability etc. A fresh Detailed Project Report is now expected in 2024. https://india.mongabay.com/2022/04/a-twin-state-hydropower-project-could-drown-livelihoods-and-biodiversity/  (27 April 2022)

Chamera Power Station Dam authorities issue water advisory This means every river on which a hydropower station exists becomes out of bounds for the people? Is this cost of loss of access to river even considered while proposing the hydropower projects? Is there any assessment of what this means in terms of loss to the specific people & society? Who authorises such use of rivers, under what law? https://www.tribuneindia.com/news/himachal/dam-authorities-issue-water-advisory-404523  (17 June 2022)

Incessant rains, reservoir-induced seismicity, HEPs Bharat Dogra: The cumulative impact of several such disasters has led to a situation in which a large number of families have been devastated over the years and another significant number live with increasing fear in danger zones. A recent report by the state govt has stated that Himachal Pradesh is vulnerable to 25 out of 33 hazards identified by the Govt of India. Overall, the districts of Chamba, Kinnaur and Kullu, as well as parts of Kangra and Shimla fall in the ‘ very high’ vulnerable status.

When looked at in the context of earthquakes, the districts of Kangra, Hamirpur and Mandi fall in the ‘very high’ vulnerability category. The extent to which risks can be aggravated by the location of several hydropower projects in high-risk areas & high seismicity areas has been frequently debated.  https://www.counterview.net/2022/08/of-himachals-incessant-rains-reservoir.html  (23 Aug. 2022)

J&K Landslide Disaster at Ratle HEP in Oct 2022 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.

An excavator trapped in landslide at Drabshalla area of district Kishtwar. —Excelsior/Tilak Raj

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.  https://sandrp.in/2022/11/07/landslide-disaster-at-ratle-hydro-project-in-jammu-kashmir-in-oct-2022/  (07 Nov. 2022)

Hydro Projects in Chenab valley ‘ticking time bombs’ Nearly, a dozen hydropower projects have either been constructed or are in various phases of development on the Chenab River. Geologists and environmentalists have been sounding the alarm about the terrible effects of this ‘thirst for power’ on the area and have urged an immediate reassessment.

“No study has been conducted so far. But as a geologist, I understand there is a relationship between these mountains and gorges. These deep valleys and high mountains are already vulnerable and prone to cloudbursts. If there’s a huge body of water in between, it will definitely hit [the dams],” GM Bhat, a geologist at Jammu University said. “An earthquake of around 8.4 is anticipated to strike the entire Jammu and Kashmir region,” he said. In a study ‘Kashmir Valley mega earthquakes: Estimates of the magnitudes of past seismic events foretell a very shaky future for this pastoral valley’, leading American geologists Roger Hulium, SE Hough, and Ismail Bhat predicted that an earthquake of 8.6 magnitude in J&K will kill about 3 lakh people. The experts believe that these dams will amplify the devastation caused by an earthquake of such a magnitude. The reason for the higher devastation, as per the experts, is that these dams are either located on or near the fault lines. https://www.newsclick.in/photo-essay-hydropower-projects-chenab-valley-ticking-time-bombs  (06 Sept. 2022)

Environmental, human cost of new hydro projects Aimed at generating 5,190 MW of power, these projects will, however, affect the lives of over 20,000 locals, including members of Indigenous communities who depend on the forest for survival.

Resettlement, downstream hydrology, muck generation & disposal, the cumulative impact of submergence, loss of forest land and habitats, and impact on fish such as the famous Chenab Trout are a few of the issues arising from these hydropower projects. These dams also impact the region’s seismicity, silt discharge into the river, transport and road construction, ambient air quality, local water sources, groundwater, and the region’s overall water security. https://thediplomat.com/2022/10/indias-grand-plan-for-kashmir-dams/ (15 Oct 2022)

NHPC asks people not to venture near Chenab for 2 days The management of Dulhasti Power Station NHPC Ltd has asked people of Doda and Kishtwar in general and the inhabitants of villages Dul, Benzwar, Cherhar, Bhandarkot, Hasti, Kandani, Prem Nagar and Pul Doda in particular, to not to move near river Chenab on July 5 and 6. Warning has been issued as the gates of Dulhasti Power Station dam will be opened for reservoir flushing during this period. https://www.greaterkashmir.com/todays-paper/state/nhpc-asks-people-not-to-venture-near-chenab-river-for-2-days-from-july-5  (03 July 2022)

Labour laws for migrant workers violated The extremely tragic death of 10 workers at a tunnel construction site in Ramban on Jammu-Srinagar highway has again drawn attention to the serious hazards faced by workers employed in highways and dams in Himalayan region, several of them in very remote areas. Numerous cases of landslides and accidents in the course of construction and widening work on highways have been reported from the Himalayan region. The work on dams & hydro projects in the Himalayan region has involved increasing risks for workers, generally migrant workers from remote areas with hardly any local resource base. https://www.counterview.net/2022/05/himalayan-tragedy-labour-laws-for.html  (27 May 2022)

Arunachal Pradesh Repeated Disasters at Subansiri Hydro project in 2022 Over the course of past two years, series of disasters and accidents have taken place at construction site of the controversial 2000 MW Lower Subansiri Hydro Power Project resulting in damages to project structure and death of construction workers thus raising questions over its safety and sustainability. Since 2005-06, the largest ever under-construction hydropower project is being developed by NHPC Ltd (formerly known as the National Hydro Power Corp Ltd), a central govt company in geologically fragile, seismically vulnerable and biodiversity rich area in the face of pending judicial case and very strong opposition from people across Assam.

Massive landslide at SLHEP in Oct. 2022. NET

What is clear from the list of incident mentioned below is that in each of the last three years (2020, 2021 and 2022), both in monsoon and pre monsoon months, there has been series of disasters and accidents happening at the project. In fact in an unprecedented event, the Central Electricity Authority, the highest technical body under the Union Power Ministry had submitted a report dated April 2022, titled “Tour Report of Subansiri Lower Hydro Electric Project” raising fundamental questions about the safety situation at the project. https://sandrp.in/2022/11/08/repeated-disasters-at-subansiri-hydro-project-in-2022/  (08 Nov. 2022) Notably, water overflowed the under construction LSHEP main dam from June 17 to June 24. This again happened from June 28 night to 12 hrs on June 29, creating havoc in the downstream area. It is not known what damage it has done. https://www.sentinelassam.com/north-east-india-news/assam-news/overflowing-water-again-rolls-over-main-dam-of-lower-subansiri-project-599893  (30 June 2022)

Etalin hydel: Experts warn of biodiversity loss Wildlife scientists and conservationists flagged threats to local biodiversity from the proposed Etalin hydroelectric project in a letter to the Forest Advisory Committee (FAC) under the MoEF&CC. https://www.downtoearth.org.in/news/wildlife-biodiversity/etalin-hydel-experts-warn-of-biodiversity-loss-in-dibang-valley-in-letter-to-forest-advisory-panel-83087  (31 May 2022) Conservationists have urged the FAC under the Union environment ministry to “unanimously reject” clearance for the Etalin Hydroelectric Project in Arunachal Pradesh’s Dibang Valley. In a letter to the Committee on May 27, they wrote that apart from the ecological and environmental threats the project poses, there is also a “lack of transparency” in the approval process. Other conservationists have also written separately to the FAC with similar concerns. https://thewire.in/environment/reject-clearance-for-etalin-dam-in-arunachal-pradesh-conservationists-urge-govt-again  (30 May 2022)

SIC imposes penalties on EEs The State Information Commissioner (SIC) on Sept 22 2022 imposed a penalty of Rs 25,000 on the Geku (Upper Siang) Hydropower Division Executive Engineer (EE) for failing to furnish information sought by appellants Rajesh Paron and Isaac Ejing and also directed the EE to pay Rs 5,000 as compensation to the appellants. Disciplinary action under Section 20 (2) of the RTI Act, 2005, will be initiated if the EEs fail to comply with the orders, the SIC said. https://arunachaltimes.in/index.php/2022/09/23/sic-imposes-penalties-on-ees/ (23 Sep 2022)

Hydro disaster The author concludes about the controversial proposed Dibang Multipurpose Project and The Etalin projects in Dibang Valley and Lower Dibang Valley districts: “But with the rise of younger voices opposing government plans to build large dams, those voices have been growing louder.” https://www.thequint.com/climate-change/in-arunachals-dibang-valley-chasing-hydropower-projects-could-end-in-disaster  (15 Oct. 2022)

Kameng HEP Turns mighty Bichom River Into a mere Stream The Kameng hydroelectric project of the NEEPCO is affecting the villages downstream of Bichom river in Arunachal Pradesh. The 600 MW project has reportedly turned the once mighty river to a mere stream now. Villagers residing in the downstream areas of the river said that the aquatic life is getting adversely affected by the NEEPCO’s hydroelectric project. The fish have almost disappeared from the Bichom river as the flow has reduced to an extreme level. People are facing extreme water scarcity. The horticulture and agricultural activities are gradually diminishing because of water shortage in the downstream areas. This eventually is impacting the people of the region financially. The KaHEP Downstream People’s Affected Forum, (KDPAF) has urged government intervention into the matter. The organisation has also approached NEEPCO to take steps on the issue. The villagers has asked for compensation for their losses to the govt through KDPAF. It has also advised NEEPCO to maintain the flow of Bichom river. https://www.sentinelassam.com/north-east-india-news/arunachal-news/arunachal-pradesh-kameng-hydroelectric-project-turns-bichom-river-into-a-stream-628343 (16 Dec 2022)

Assam Major Disaster at Kopili Dam of NEEPCO The 275 MW Kopili Hydropower Dam of NEEPCO (a Union Power Ministry organisation, now under NTPC) has again faced a major disaster on March 26, 2022.

Large portion of Kopili hydel project damaged due to burst in pen stock pipe in March 2022. The Meghalayan

Earlier, the same project had suffered disaster in October 2019. The penstock pipe that takes water at high flow rates and speed from the Umrangso dam to the hydropower house burst during early hours of March 26 in Assam’s Dima Hasao (earlier called North Cachar Hill) district. https://sandrp.in/2022/03/27/major-disaster-again-at-kopili-dam-of-neepco-in-assam/   (27 March 2022)

Sikkim Vimal Khawas:- NH10 that connects North Bengal and Sikkim. The first and second pictures show the portion taken down by impounded Tista at 29th mile. Its part of over 8 km pondage of TLDP-III. https://twitter.com/vimalkhawas/status/1570421034503016452?s=20&t=osc6siJWHpNnhvkeGuDmlA  (15 Sept. 2022)

Meghalaya TMC flags threat to Umiam dam The opposition Trinamool Congress (TMC) on Sept. 12 2022 raised concern over the safety of the Umiam bridge due to the plying of overloading trucks. Moving a short duration discussion in the Assembly, the TMC’s Umroi MLA George B Lyngdoh referred to the state govt’s contention that the vibration levels of the vehicles crossing Umiam are safe enough for the longevity of the dam. Lyngdoh wondered if the right materials were used to construct the dam bridge. “The dam is under constant pressure. The government needs to ensure that it is safe and not subjected to overloading. Overloaded vehicles have been a major concern,” he said.

In his reply, Transport Minister Dasakhiatbha Lamare said the state govt is concerned about the condition of the Umiam bridge. “We have deployed our officers to ensure overloaded trucks do not damage the bridge. We are trying to find the best solution to this issue,” he said, adding that a consultant has been engaged to study the feasibility of constructing a new 500-m dam. https://theshillongtimes.com/2022/09/13/tmc-flags-threat-to-umiam-dam/  (13 Sept. 2022)

AITC for periodic release of water through Umiam dam The floodgates of Umiam dam must be opened periodically to release the accumulated water and not in one go as it would affect the farming community residing downstream, according to Opposition chief whip and Umroi MLA George B Lyngdoh.  https://theshillongtimes.com/2022/06/19/aitc-for-periodic-release-of-water-through-umiam-dam/  (19 June 2022)

Odisha Declining dam level leaves Upper Kolab HEP officials in a tizzy Power generation from the Upper Kolab Hydro Electric Project has plunged below 80 Mw against the capacity of 240 Mw due to deficient rain in the catchment areas. Besides, rising temperature has also dried up the water body.  At present, the water level of the reservoir stands at 846.32 m which is close to the minimum reserve level of 845.82 m. Last year, the cumulative rainfall was about 880 mm in the corresponding period while it is 835 mm this year.

While in the past years, it rained for at least 10 days in the reservoir’s catchment areas in Koraput, Semiliguda, Nandapur blocks in Koraput district in March and April, this year it has been a long dry spell. The Kolab Irrigation Project engineers have proposed to reduce power generation to 5 MW daily from May 10 onwards to maintain the reservoir water level for kharif. Meanwhile, the district administration has also advised the project authorities to maintain water level for Rabi irrigation.  https://www.newindianexpress.com/states/odisha/2022/may/01/odisha-water-level-in-reservoir-leaves-upper-kolab-hydro-electric-project-officials-in-a-tizzy-2448507.html (1 May 2022)

Declining Hydro Power Generation   

INDIA’S HYDRO GENERATION CONTRIBUTION AROUND 10% for SIX YEARS India needs to pay attention to optimizing generation from existing hydro and explore the possibilities of installing hydro projects at 97% of India’s existing large dams where there is no hydro component. We also need to first manage our peak hours’ power demand and optimize generation from existing hydro during peak hours, only after assessing and addressing the social and environmental impacts of peaking hour power generation from large hydro projects. Else we will be destroying more rivers and their biodiversity and livelihoods of people dependent on such rivers, while throwing more money into the pockets of consultants, contractors, equipment suppliers, cement companies and other vested interests. The Ministry of Environment and Forests and its Expert Appraisal Committee on River Valley Projects too needs to take this opportunity to improve their pathetic environmental governance rather than keep pushing more clearances for projects through corruption, manipulations & violations. https://sandrp.in/2022/11/15/indias-hydro-generation-remains-around-10-for-six-years/ (15 Nov 2022)

Hydro capacity addition remains sluggish Hydro capacity addition in India has remained sluggish with the significant execution challenges, capacity addition being 22GW since 2000. Incremental hydro power generation capacity requirement is estimated to be 18 GW by 2030 as per projected Hydro purchase obligation trajectory, but that is clearly unlikely. HPO norms have been notified in a few states only. There is much better tariff competitiveness of solar and wind compared to hydro. Those suggesting here that hydro is required for peaking supply have clearly not asked why existing hydro is not being used for optimum peaking supply. https://energy.economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/renewable/india-has-to-add-18000-mw-of-hydro-power-capacity-in-9-years-to-meet-hpo-norms-icra/89087673   (24 Jan. 2022)

Hydro power generation likely to go down According to International Energy Outlook by US Energy Information Administration, Share of hydropower in total generation in India is likely to go down from 10% in 2020 to 5% in 2050. In reality, share was already below 10% in 2020. To achieve even 5% share in 2050, the hydro generation would have to more than double from 2020 generation, which is clearly unlikely. https://www.eia.gov/outlooks/ieo/IIF_coal/  (7 Feb 2022)

Hydro power generation down by 2.2% in 2021 According to Renewables 2022 Global Status Report, India saw reduction in generation from large hydro in 2021 by 2.2%. Global Hydropower Installed capacity increased by 26 GW to 1197 GW, an increase by about 2.1%, but global hydropower generation in 2021 fell by 3.5%. India stood sixth globally in hydropower capacity addition in 2021.

“India added 843 MW of hydropower capacity in 2021, raising the total to 45.3 GW. Among project completions were the last two 150 MW turbines at the 600 MW Kameng project in Arunachal Pradesh, two 50 MW units at Sorang, 113 MW at Rongnichu and three 60 MW units ready for service by year’s end at the Bajoli Holi plant. As of the end of 2021, India had more than 12 GW of hydropower capacity under development… Although India’s hydroelectricity generation fell slightly during 2021 (-2.2%) to 168.4 TWh, the overall trend in recent years has been a large increase in output, driven mainly by the melting of glacial icecaps. In the five years since 2016, hydropower generation rose 31% while installed capacity increased only 9.2%. Glacial melting in the Himalayas contributes to increased river flow, as the mountain range has lost an estimated half metre of ice (8 billion tonnes of water) on average per year over the last two decades. In early 2021, the Rishi Ganga River in Uttarakhand swelled more than 15 m in an avalanche-induced flash flood of glacial meltwater. In additions to the many lives lost, the torrent destroyed the 13.2 MW Rishi Ganga plant and damaged the 520 MW Tapovan-Vishnugad plant under construction.”  https://www.ren21.net/reports/global-status-report/ 

Decline in hydro capacity addition & generation The authors agree: “the share of hydropower capacity and its share in a total generation is in terminal decline”, share of private sector in hydro installed capacity is lowest at less than 10%, “both capacity addition and generation (of hydropower projects) fell to about 1 percent in 2007-2019.”. Its claim that share of hydropower in total generation is over 11% is wrong. It paddles a lot of misconceptions about Run of River Hydropower projects. The attempt to push private sector role is unlikely to succeed, the report doesn’t even mention the economic non-viability of the hydro projects. https://www.orfonline.org/expert-speak/growth-of-hydropower-in-india/ (24 Jun 2022)

Physical-Financial Viabilities Remain Major Concerns

Hydel’s Viability Is in Question India’s BJP government wants to hike India’s installed hydel capacity to 70,000 MW by 2030 – a 50% jump from the current 45,700 Mw – and is also readying pumped storage. The catch: this push coincides with a time when batteries and electrolysers are evolving rapidly, and when the cost of green hydrogen is expected to plummet as well. New hydel projects are expected to go live by 2030, but their viability hinges on an external variable: the price of battery and electrolyser storage by then. https://science.thewire.in/environment/india-three-way-energy-storage-race-hydel-viability/  (7 May 2022) The NDA govt is looking at hydroelectric power to balance the grid as it moves away from coal, but as past attempts have proven, this will be easier said than done. The government has announced new and/or expanded dams in Uttarakhand, Himachal, Sikkim, Kashmir and – most of all – Arunachal. But hidden underneath all these announcements is a state-financed gamble over hydel’s role in India’s decarbonisation, and the fact of its price. https://science.thewire.in/environment/hydroelectric-power-role-india-decarbonisation/ (5 May 2022) 12 Under construction hydro projects have collective time overrun of over 100 yrs & cost overrun of over Rs 31530 cr. https://energy.economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/power/most-hydel-thermal-power-projects-wallowing-in-time-overruns/94291284  (19 Sept. 2022)

Question marks over viability of pump hydro projects The question marks over viability of huge number of pump storage hydro projects (PSHP) being pushed forward in India currently were flowing in the rivers for long. This week, Moody’s investors Service (MIS) seems to have strengthened this after it downgraded Greenko Energy Holdings’ corporate family rating. It may be noted that Greenko is the biggest investor in PSHPs in India from private sector and a major part of Greenko’s new investments are in PSHP.

This makes the implications of MIS’s downgrade all the more interesting. MIS has noted that PHSPs are capital intensive and each PHSP will generate cash flow only after at least 2-3 years of construction (in reality it can be much longer than 2-3 years, the operative phrase here is at least). It also noted that the additional debt to be raised from Greenko’s capital spending, coupled with a rising interest environment will put further pressure on “GEH’s already weak financial metrics” and that Greenko’s high financial leverage due to its substantial capital spending program will keep its financial metrics below its downgrade trigger “for an extended period of time”.

This is particularly relevant as in India, the tariff of peaking power, the USP of PSHP, is not higher than base load power, putting a question mark on economic viability of PSHP, particularly those in private sector. This because a PSHP typically consumes 20% more power than it generates during peak hours, to pump back the water back to upper reservoir. Moreover most of the even existing PSHPs in India are not finding it viable to operate in PSHP mode. Are the regulators listening? https://sandrp.in/2022/12/19/drp-nb-191222-question-marks-over-viability-of-pump-hydro-projects/  (19 Dec. 2022)

On the contrary: NHPC Ltd plans to set up 20.8 Gw of pumped storage plants at an investment of around ₹62,400 crore in Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, Jammu & Kashmir, Jharkhand and Mizoram to aid the country’s energy transition, according to the top executive at India’s largest hydropower firm. Of the planned pumped storage plants, 9.05 GW will be in Maharashtra and 6.6GW in Andhra Pradesh. Odisha, Jammu & Kashmir and Mizoram have a proposed capacity of 2.5GW, 1.65GW and 1GW, respectively. https://www.livemint.com/industry/energy/nhpc-in-talks-with-states-for-62-4k-cr-storage-plants-push-11653245954062.html  (23 May 2022)

Hydro Projects Highly Prone to Climatic, Geological Threats

Hydro, dam projects facing permafrost thaw threat Permafrost thaw, one of the changes to the mountain cryosphere in the Himalayas triggered by global warming, is causing irreparable damage to the region. Permafrost or permanently frozen ground is defined as the ground (soil or rock and the included ice and organic material) that remains at or below zero degrees Celsius for at least two consecutive years. In the Himalayas, permafrost is “discontinuous” and is found at an elevation of (and above) 4,000 m above sea level, and in warmer places, it is located above 6,000 m above sea level. Permafrost is overlain by a layer of seasonally frozen and thawing ground known as “the active layer”. Under the active layer, permafrost can be from three feet to 4,900 feet thick. Scientists estimate that the world’s permafrost holds 1,600 billion tonnes of carbon, almost double the amount of carbon that is currently in the atmosphere. It is thawing, hence, could release more planet-heating carbon than any other emissions in the world.

– “Compound extreme events, such as the Chamoli disaster in India and Melamchi disaster in Nepal in 2021, could be potentially linked to permafrost thawing,” said Prashant Baral, a permafrost research consultant at The International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development in Nepal.

John Mohd Wani, a researcher who studies permafrost in the Western Himalayas, said that preliminary investigation into the Chamoli disaster showed a temperature increase between 2012 & 2016 that warmed at least 40 m below the ground. “This most likely thawed permafrost in the region, which led to the event along with other processes such as precipitation increase,” he said. “Chamoli disaster is a combination of complex processes involving local geology, snow, glacier, permafrost processes & recent warming of the local climate.”

Some of the other impacts of permafrost thawing include changed frequency and unexpected location of landslides and changes to vegetation, run-off patterns, and water quality.

“So, even if we limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, deep inside the mountains, it will continue to thaw over many hundreds of years,” Simon Keith Allen, senior scientist, Institute for Environmental Sciences at University of Geneva who studied permafrost in the Indian Himalayas in 2015  said. “So large rock avalanches (like what happened in Chamoli) potentially linked to thawing permafrost are a long-term problem and need to be considered under risk assessment strategies for infrastructure in the Himalayas.”

“Permafrost characteristics and its distribution is a crucial knowledge gap in the cryospheric system studies of the Indian Himalayan Region,” said Wani. “There is no information or literature about the engineering challenges of permafrost in the region. Furthermore, a detailed permafrost distribution map and its characteristics are missing from the region.”

Dams and hydropower stations in these regions are at the risk of being damaged if the thawing of permafrost intensifies. Allen said that dam structures hold back water, but dams can slump due to melting and causing damage. https://scroll.in/article/1026302/an-underground-phenomenon-driven-by-climate-change-is-damaging-the-himalayas  (17 June 2022)

The climate risk for hydropower “The idea that hydro is clean makes sense in New Zealand – it does not make as much sense in India, particularly if you’re not doing maintenance,” Sydney based director of Climate Energy Finance, Tim Buckley says. “You’ve got to dredge dams every year & obviously a country as poor as India can’t always afford to do the dredging, so not only does the capacity progressively decline but the methane goes up over time.”

“Building new hydropower generation projects is expensive and challenging,” sums up Roxana Munoz, an assistant vice-president analyst for Latin America at credit ratings agency Moody’s in Mexico City. “You have environmental risks and you have social risks.”

But, like all power sources, there are challenges associated with hydropower. Land use, displacement of communities, and biodiversity loss pose major social risks for hydro, while climate change threatens the twin extremes of severe storms – overwhelming dams – and extended periods of drought.

“Modernisation is critical for the hydropower fleet globally,” says Campbell from the IHA. “Quite a lot of the assets are now quite old – around 50%, 600GW, is now 30 years or older, & something like 400GW, or around a third of the fleet, is 40 years or older. You can usually increase your generation … by about 5–10% with a basic modernisation programme,” he adds. https://www.energymonitor.ai/tech/renewables/the-climate-risk-for-hydropower (13 Apr 2022)

The hydropower projects not only increase the disaster potential of the Himalayan areas in terms of increasing the frequency, intensity, spread and types of disasters, they also work as force multipliers whenever disaster strikes in these regions, we have already seen this on numerous occasions in 2013 and again 2021, for example. This situation becomes worse when we consider that no confidence inspiring impact assessments are done, without these there can be no proper mitigation plans and there is absolutely no genuine consultation with the local people. There is no confidence inspiring disaster management system in place, not any accountability of what happens during the disasters, nor any attempt to learn lessons. These projects are even economically no viable and there are much better, cheaper, faster and less impactful options available. Why is the govt pushing such projects in spite of these known realities is a moot question. The answer lies in political economy of these projects. These projects provide huge centralised power over huge sums of money, that also provides avenues of all kinds of corruption, including political kick backs. https://hindi.newsclick.in/Uttarakhand-2022-Crisis-increased-due-to-big-dams-many-villages-landed-on-the-roads  (27 Dec. 2022)

Increasingly deadlier landslides imperil hydel hopes The study predicts that a quarter of the 274 hydropower projects in operation, under construction or being planned in India, Nepal and Bhutan are likely to face severe damage from quake-triggered landslides. In Nepal, the Independent Power Producers are building projects totalling 2,781 MW while the Nepal Electricity Authority is undertaking projects with a total capacity of 943 MW, according to a recent World Bank report.

Dave Petley, an earth scientist and vice-chancellor at the University of Hull in the United Kingdom, said he is worried about the wave of hydroelectric projects being constructed in the steep river systems of Nepal (and elsewhere).

“I am also worried that sites being impacted by large landslides and debris flows haven’t been properly considered,” he said. “There is also the threat of a major earthquake, which would impact the facilities directly, but, more worryingly, would trigger landslides upstream that would threaten the facilities over the long term.”

But seismic hazards aside, the rise in landslide events would be significant in the border regions of Nepal and China, according to a 2020 NASA report, which projects a surge anywhere between 30 percent to 70 percent.

Landslides would occur in areas covered by glaciers and glacial lakes, according to the study.

Glacial lake outburst floods are imminent threats not just in Nepal but also upstream in China, like the most recent one in 2016 when the small Gongbatongsha glacier lake outburst flood, triggered by heavy precipitation, resulted in a massive transborder flooding and debris flow which swept parts of the Arniko Highway and severely damaged the Upper Bhotekoshi HEP.  https://kathmandupost.com/climate-environment/2022/11/13/increasingly-deadlier-landslides-imperil-nepal-s-hydel-hopes (13 Nov 2022)

Green Hydrogen from Hydropower is false solution A section of the hydro lobby has been trying to push hydropower in the name of producing green hydrogen as an alternative energy source. However, it has been known for a long time that this is a false solution. There cannot be green hydrogen when sourced from hydropower as not only hydropower projects have huge social and environmental footprint, they also have huge carbon footprint as the following article shows. It would be best to out rightly reject any such claim of green hydrogen when sourced from hydropower project.  https://sandrp.in/2022/12/12/drp-nb-121222-green-hydrogen-from-hydropower-is-false-solution/  (12 Dec. 2022)

Bhim Singh Rawat (bhim.sandrp@gmail.com)

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