Himachal Pradesh · Urban Water Sector

Shimla water crisis: How smart are we getting?

“If you love Shimla, please do not visit” is one of the viral messages in social media this season, encapsulating the water crisis in the hill city this summer. The current round of severe water crisis in Shimla possibly had some roots in what happened here in Dec 2015-March 2016. In winter of 2015, Shimla faced severe water quality issue[i], out break of hepatitis lead to huge reduction in water use in Shimla from Ashwini Khad. Thousands suffered from the outbreak and dozens of people died. The poorly functioning Malyana Sewage Treatment Plant, was releasing the effluent in the same Ashwini Khud from where the Hill city was taking a significant part of water. That water supply was then reduced, but nothing has been done to improve the situation. The Himachal Pradesh Chief Secretary has also told media[ii] that water available from Giri and Gumma streams have hugely reduced currently. Continue reading “Shimla water crisis: How smart are we getting?”

Beas · Himachal Pradesh

NHPC negligence leads to man-made disaster in Parbati Valley in Himachal Pradesh

(Above: illegal muck dumping by Parbati HEP along the Sainj River in Himachal Pradesh)

The people of Sainj-Parbati valley in Beas basin in Himachal Pradesh’s Kullu disrict’s Banjar Tehsil are living in constant fear of a disaster. Since six days now, the power tunnel of the NHPC’s under construction 800 MW Parbati II hydropower project is heavily leaking, but NHPC refused to stop water release into the tunnel till the leakage led to landslides and displacement of people. Ultimately on the night of April 17, 2017, huge cracks spread over 200 m appeared in the hills, leading to landslide & fall of soil and rocks, immediately threatening eight families of Rahan (Reina) village, though over 400 families of some 12 villages of Rella Panchayat (including Rella, Sharan, Jiva, Sulga, Khadoa, Rahan, Shalah, Bhebal, Bahara, Bagidhar, Khaul, etc) are facing the prospects of disaster as cracks in the hill have appeared just above the villages. People here are spending sleepless nights since several days now. They are afraid that if the leakage continues, these villages will have to be evacuated any moment, else a major catastrophe may result.[i] Continue reading “NHPC negligence leads to man-made disaster in Parbati Valley in Himachal Pradesh”

Dams · Himachal Pradesh

Lahaul people write to Environment Committee not to clear Reoli Dugli Hydro project

To

The Environment Appraisal Committee

River Valley Projects

Ministry of Environment and Forests

New Delhi

Subject: Submission related to Chenab River and Lahaul Valley  in context of EC for 430 MW Reoli Dugli project

Dear Chairperson,

We have read reports that the expert appraisal committee (EAC) on river valley and hydel projects of the Ministry of Environment has decided “not to take any cognizance of representations” received by its members since such representations are ‘anti-development’. The article appearing in Indian Express on January 14, 2017 stated, “In its December 30 meeting, the committee concluded that once a project proposal reaches the EAC for appraisal, it has crossed the stage of public consultation and “the EAC should not go back in time, and should not reopen it, by entertaining unsubstantiated representations received from the people”. Continue reading “Lahaul people write to Environment Committee not to clear Reoli Dugli Hydro project”

Bhagirath Prayas Samman · Chenab · Dams · Himachal Pradesh · Hydropower · Sutlej

Bhagirath Prayas Samman: Himdhara Collective: Relentless Questioning and Doing

When I talk with Manshi, a friend and co-traveler from Himdhara Collective about Bhagirathh Prayas Samman that the collective received during the India Rivers Week 2016, she is modest, even slightly hesitant. She simply says, “We love the mountains, we want to protect them and help mountain communities fight the unequal battle against unplanned hydropower. That is one motivation of our work. But the other is recognition of the fact that we are privileged… privileged to be able to speak English, to work on a computer, to understand the bureaucratic procedures that alienate a tribal or forest dweller from her land. That understanding also drives us.”

Citation of Bhagirath Prayas Samman given to Himdhara Collective states: Himdhara’s strength is its engagement with communities, movements and organisations. It has created an effective discourse around issues of resource distribution and their ownership and the resultant impacts on ecological spaces of mountain communities, especially vulnerable groups like indigenous people, dalits and women. It is an honor to recognize and celebrate Himdhara Environment Research and Action Collective’s extraordinary Bhagirath efforts in maintaining the integrity of rivers in Himachal Pradesh.”

In their own words, “Himdhara is an autnomous and informal non registered environment research and action collective, extending solidarity and support, in research and action, to people and organisations asserting their rights over their natural resources and agitating against corporatisation of these resources for destructive development in the state.”

IMG_9726
Face of Hydropower in Kinnaur Photo: Himdhara

A collective of young, passionate and questioning minds, Himdhara has been working with communities in far flung areas of Himachal Pradesh include Lahaul and Spiti and Kinnaur in their fight against the onslaught of ill-planned and bumper to bumper hydropower projects in Himachal, amongst other issues. Continue reading “Bhagirath Prayas Samman: Himdhara Collective: Relentless Questioning and Doing”

Arunachal Pradesh · Cumulative Impact Assessment · Dams · Himachal Pradesh · Ministry of Environment and Forests

Cumulative Impact Assessment documents not in public domain anymore? Letter to MoEF and CC

Even as the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change has been sanctioning cascades of hydropower projects on here-to free flowing rivers in the Himalaya and North East India, Cumulative Assessment of the Impacts of these projects became a crucial area of concern. Over 70 dams are planned one after other for the rivers of the Upper Ganga Basin, 44 dams across the Siang Basin in Arunachal Pradesh famed for its pristine forests and biodiversity, 12 dams across the Lohit Basin, 19 for Subansiri basin. These are bumper to bumper projects, one starting where the other ends. Continue reading “Cumulative Impact Assessment documents not in public domain anymore? Letter to MoEF and CC”

Himachal Pradesh

HIMACHAL PRADESH HYDROPOWER PROJECTS IN 2015

Himachal Pradesh in Northern India is foremost among Indian states in pushing large hydropower projects. It has operating hydropower projects with total installed capacity of 7970 MW, under construction hydropower with 2216 MW and largest capacity projects under consideration for clearances. As this review of Hydropower development in Himachal Pradesh in 2015 shows, HP has also started facing the consequences of too many projects, with fragile Kinnaur area facing multiple disasters in 2015, including the penstock burst disaster at Sorang HEP. However, the Expert Appraisal Committee on Union Ministry of Environment and Forests continues to sanction more projects. In 2015, the committee recommended first stage clearance to 219 MW Luhri Project on Sutlej river and 210 MW Purthi Project on Chenab river. During the year, the 800 MW Kol Dam project was commissioned, and as our separate review of hydropower projects commissioned in 2015 shows, the project faced large number of serious problems and continues to face them even post commissioning.

Continue reading “HIMACHAL PRADESH HYDROPOWER PROJECTS IN 2015”

Dam Induced Flood Disaster · Dams · Disasters · Himachal Pradesh · Himalayas

Kinnaur in crisis; Sheer Negligence in hydro projects claiming lives. Who is accountable?

Above: Entirely destabilised house next to 100 MW Sorang HEP transmission lines Photo: Sumit Mahar

Immediate Press Statement from Himdhara 02/12/15

In the last two weeks a half a dozen lives have been lost in the Kinnaur region alone in three separate incidents that have one thing in common – accidents at hydropower project sites. The first event took place in Burang village on the 18th of November 2015 where a penstock pipe burst of the 100 MW Sorang Hydro-electric project led to the death of three people. On 29th November, two labourers died in blasting operations in the 450 MW Shongthong Karchham project, some others were seriously injured. And on the same day in the Bhabha Valley, a young teacher lost her life in a landslide that occurred in the area. Continue reading “Kinnaur in crisis; Sheer Negligence in hydro projects claiming lives. Who is accountable?”

Dams · Himachal Pradesh

Sorang Hydropower disaster: Will we learn any lessons?

Google Earth Image of the Area 

A burst in penstock pipe of 100 MW Sorang hydro power project (HEP) in Kinnaur, Himachal Pradesh have played havoc with the lives and livelihoods of people of Burang and surrounding villages. On surface it may look like an accident. But deeper look raises doubts about many systemic loopholes that allowed the siutation that led to the disaster. Let us see the shortcomings and negligence exercised by project proponent and state government which finally resulted in the fatal accident. We urge the Himachal Pradesh Govt., other governments where such projects are coming up and Central Electricity Authority,  to constitute a monitoring cell to inspect quality of construction of ongoing HEPs and form adequate safety standards and enusre their strict implementation to prevent such mishaps from becoming a norm.    Continue reading “Sorang Hydropower disaster: Will we learn any lessons?”

Beas · Himachal Pradesh

Larji Dam Fishladder: an unlovely trinket, a deceptive ornament

Emmanuel Theophilus[1] (etheophilus@gmail.com)

The 126 MW Larji Hydropower project near Aut on the mainstem of the Beas is run by the Himachal Pradesh State Electricity Board (HPSEB)[2]. The dam is constructed a little downstream of the confluence of the two main tributaries upstream, the Sainj and the Tirthan, at the narrowest part of a spectacular gorge, towering with limestone cliffs. The impounded waters of this dam have, since its construction in 2006, drowned the access road to the entire upper Kullu valley including Manali and the hundreds of villages upstream, including access to the entire Lahul valley and the region of Ladakh over the high passes from this end. The HPSEB then constructed a 3 km long tunnel to enable passage of traffic, and many people have warned of the hazardous nature of the tunnel. The 220 odd gods that descend from different valleys, on the backs of people to the lower Kullu valley every year in autumn however, refuse to use this tunnel. This is what compelled the HPSEB to build and maintain this tunnel, and during autumn to winter, to keep the water-storage in the dam low to enable the passage of gods, who have been traveling this route for over three and a half centuries. It is remark-worthy though, that this dam constructed as recently as 2006, seems to be heavily silted-up already and the dark shadows of sediment-shoals are visible just below the waters of the reservoir[3].

Being among the most recently completed, the Larji dam is the only dam on the Beas that has a fish-ladder, so it was of particular interest to us. Seeing no guard at the security booth, we walk in to the HPSEB dam operating office, and ask to speak to an officer about the fish ladder. To our complete surprise, we are spoken to and even taken on a tour of the ladder by a foreman who has worked on the dam for many years.

Having seen an elaborate fish ladder on the Kuri Chhu river in Bhutan of doubtful effectiveness[4], we could not help but look at this one with hope and excitement. Located at around 1,000 meters altitude, this dam was clearly in the way of a host of migratory species of fish. If this ladder design was effective, then surely the ‘barrier’ problem to seasonal migration for breeding and dispersal would have been addressed. Here though, is what we saw and heard.

  1. For one, the flow through the fish-pass seems too small to create an ‘attraction flow’ for fish. But even more obviously, the downstream entrance of the fish ladder is a steep cascade over a couple of meters of broken masonry and rock, that would clearly be un-negotiable by any fish that does not jump that high[5].
Downstream entrance of Larji fish ladder: The 2 m high jump that fish require to enter the ladder can be seen here
Downstream entrance of Larji fish ladder: The 2 m high jump that fish require to enter the ladder can be seen here (all photos by the author)

2. The outlet from the dam reservoir into the fish ladder is blocked off by a metal grill-mesh that is narrow enough to trap flotsam like Bisleri water-bottles. The mesh seemed too fine to let Mahseer of breeding-age pass through, either upstream or downstream.

3. The fish ladder was in a serious state of disrepair. To our questions about whether the ladder worked or not, the foreman says honestly that it does not. We see the reasons for this when we walk down the ̴100 meter length of the fish-pass channel.

Fishladder can be seen in serious state of disrepair and blocked by broken concrete parts can be seen here
Fishladder can be seen in serious state of disrepair and blocked by broken concrete parts can be seen here

4. The Larji fish ladder seemed to be a hash of different designs of fish passes. There were four different design elements in this one fish-pass. It had a slotted-weir fishway design, a low gradient Denil fishway, a steep-pass Denil fishway and a plain concrete culvert on a grade design. Most of these slotted weirs were clogged with fallen rocks and debris from the slope above, and in places, the pools in them were over-flowing the weir in a vertical fall almost 2 meters high.

Steep-pass Denil fishway part of the fishladder can be seen here, water is flowing too rapidly here for any fish to be able to go upstream
Steep-pass Denil fishway part of the fishladder can be seen here, water is flowing too rapidly here for any fish to be able to go upstream. The water picks up momentum down an extremely steep slope with the baffles at 45 degrees to the flow, not offset to slow the water, but concentrating the force of the water in mid-stream flow. The slope seemed to be at almost 40 degrees angle, and the water was turbulent in the extreme in this section. A workable Denilway slope, even for the strongest of swimmers among fish, is not designed to exceed a slope of 20% at most. This was close to a 100% slope

5. The oblique baffles on a Denil fishway are supposed to be placed in a manner that provides staggered partial-obstructions that slow the water down at variable velocities to make it passable for fish. However, here we saw that the water picks up momentum down an extremely steep slope with the baffles at 45 degrees to the flow, not offset to slow the water, but concentrating the force of the water in mid-stream flow. The slope seemed to be at almost 40 degrees angle, and the water was turbulent in the extreme in this section. A workable Denilway slope, even for the strongest of swimmers among fish, is not designed to exceed a slope of 20% at most. This was close to a 100% slope[6].

This part of fish ladder is less steep Denil
This part of fish ladder is less steep Denil

The last part of the fishway was a plain concrete culvert on a grade channel, essentially a sloping channel, where even the concrete sides of the channel had toppled over into the river-bed, and the final drop was over a two meter fall into the downstream flow. I asked the foreman whether he knew whether fish managed to make it over this extreme gauntlet. He said that they did not, but that he often saw fish gather and concentrate at the bottom of the dam under the sluice gates, and make futile leaps in an attempt to get over the dam. Clearly, the Larji dam fish ladder is just an unlovely trinket, a deceptive ornament.

Watch a 41 seconds video showing how fast the water is moving through the Larji Dam fishladder at: http://youtu.be/grVaxXPdeyY, Video is by the author.

It seemed to me that the dam builders and operators, the HPSEB in this case, both at the design and the executive levels, were not serious about constructing a fish-pass that would work, and neither were they serious about this at the operation and maintenance aspects. Whether they were serious at all even at the conceptual level, to put in place a mitigation measure that actually helped migratory fish bye-pass the barrier of the dam, or was this part of the design merely to obtain environmental clearance, can only be conjectured about. That hydropower projects can devise deceitful strategies for obtaining environmental clearance is one thing, but what does this tell us about the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests, the Expert Appraisal Committee on River Valley Projects appointed by MoEF, the regional office of the MoEF, the state Fisheries Department and also the state pollution Control Board, who are all variously part of the approval processes for hydropower projects, when they get their environmental clearances based on such ‘mitigation measures’?

Larji Dam - about 100 m long fishladder channel can be seen on the right side
Larji Dam – about 100 m long fishladder channel can be seen on the right side

END NOTES:

[1] This article has been extracted from SANDRP’s publication: Headwater Extinctions: Hydropower projects in the Himalayan reaches of the Ganga and the Beas: A closer look at impacts on fish and river ecosystems, authored by Emmanuel Theophilus, for details, see: https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2014/12/16/new-publication-headwater-extinctions-impact-of-hydropower-projects-on-fish-and-river-ecosystems-in-upper-ganga-and-beas-basins/

[2] The 126 MW Larji project is also infamous for being the costliest hydro-power project per unit electricity generated so far in India. Finally built at a cost of R.s 10.27 billion, which was twice the estimated cost, the Vigilance department unearthed major financial misappropriation by HPSEB officials.

[3] The Larji Dam became infamous in June 2014 when 25 students were washed away downstream from the dam due to sudden and unannounced release of water from the dam, see: https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2014/06/12/nadiya-bairi-bhayi/

[4] https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2014/02/02/fish-ladder-at-kurichhu-hydropower-project-bhutan-some-thoughts/

[5] Other than loaches, those tiny finger sized fish that can even climb (squiggle technique) up high waterfalls, provided there is something like a water-slide at the margins of the fall. They however, are not migratory fish.

[6] CIFRI recommends that the speed of flow of water in a fish-pass should not exceed 2 meters per second. Please see ‘Status of fish migration and fish passes with special reference to India’. MK Das and MA Hassan. CIFRI 2008.