(Feature image showing July 24 landslide blocking mouth of NTPC’s main tunnel. Mahadeep Panwar/Atul Sati via social media.)
The 520 MW hydro power project (HPP) Tapovan-Vishnugad having proved a recipe for disaster during Chamoli deluge on February 07, 2021, continues to jeopardize the local environment and play havoc with the lives and livelihoods of people in Joshimath area.
National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC), the developer of the project was seen working round the clock, close to para glacial zone without installing any Early Warning System (EWS) and providing adequate safety equipment to workers before stuck down by the catastrophic event resulting in death of over 200 innocent workers there.
It has been 15 years, since the project was started in November 2006, at an estimated cost of Rs. 2978.48 crore with 2012-2013 as planned commissioning year, however the project is still far from completion.
Full page advertisements in most National newspapers in the national capital and possibly in Jammu & Kashmir announced on July 4, 2014 that India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi will dedicate to the nation the 240 MW URI II hydropower project on Jhelum River near Salamabad village of Uri Tehsil in Baramulla district in J&K, about 18 km upstream from the LOC. The project was aptly described by energylineindia.com in its update on May 27, 2013: “NHPC’s controversial child, Uri has always made the news for all the wrong reasons. Earlier, various natural calamities, law and order problems, frequent bandhs and blockades, and agitation by local residents demanding employment with NHPC” have plagued the project.
The Prime Minister’s dedication of the project to nation has led to a controversy since according to Jammu& Kashmir state government’s minister for health and medical education Taj Mohiuddin, NHPC is operating the project illegally since it does not have consent to operate, which is required as per law. Taj said, “NHPC was supposed to obtain the license under Jammu and Kashmir Water Resources Act but they have not completed the formalities. NHPC authorities have no respect for the local laws.” When asked that what action the state government will take if the NHPC has violated the state laws, Taj said: “The government can close the project.” He added that people of Uri will now approach the High Court through a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) against the NHPC very soon.
Broad Features of the project: (Source: CEA)
Concrete Gravity Dam – 52 m High (43.7 m above riverbed), 172 m long,
Head Race Tunnel – 8.4m diameter; 4.27 km long;
Power House – Underground; 4×60 = 240 MW; net heat 118 m; annual generation 1123 MU in 90% year
Turbine – V. Francis
Tail Race Tunnel (TRT) – 8.4 m dia, 3.78 km Long;
Cost Overrun: Original: 1724.79 Crores; Next: 2081.00 Crores (Rs 8.68 cr per MW, likely to cross Rs 10 Cr per MW); Latest: 2290 as per PIB Press Release on July 4, 2014 after PM dedicated the project to the nation.
Time Overrun: Original commissioning date: 2009-10; actually commissioned: 2014-15.
HCC demands mean cost could go up further The energylineindia.com reported on July 6, 2014: “NHPC involved in Rs 608.99 crore arbitration case with HCC: Civil works contractors HCC has made a claim of an additional Rs 608.99 crore from NHPC over execution of civil works in the Uri-II hydroelectric project in Jammu & Kashmir.
–The demand made by HCC pertains to two claims of Rs 379.30 crore and Rs 229.69 crore.
–The claim for Rs 379.30 crore is sought as compensation for additional time & various costs being incurred on account of various disruptions and deviation from the original contract. For this case, the Arbitral Tribunal has scheduled a series of hearings in August, 2014.
–The second claim made by the contractor is for payment of compensation for un-recovered elements of costs due to reduction in scope of work. The hearing on the case was conducted in May, 2014, however, the final order is yet be given by the Tribunal.”
Alstom Hydro provided turbines for the project claimed, this much delayed project that also suffered from serious flaws in construction and social unrest, “this project is certainly amongst major references for Alstom Hydro in India”!
Major Social unrest The project affects 521 families including 173 displaced families and 348 partially affected families, as per the Sept 2012 six monthly compliance report. Strangely, the project was allowed to acquire 124 ha of private land when EIA had stated need for 83 ha of private land. The project had such severe impacts and local people were so agitated by the non responsible attitude of the developer NHPC that they actually stopped work on the project for months. CEA has reported:
Works stopped on all fronts for 105 days from 19.03.2012 to 30.6.12 due to local unrest for demanding jobs in NHPC. Strike called off by local residents on 30.06.2012.
Major construction problems The project saw major construction problems, some of them, as reported by Government of India’s premier power sector technical body, Central Electricity Authority in their various reports are list below. Very few projects would have suffered so many problems. This also shows how poor were the site selection, appraisal, assessments, management and performance of developer (NHPC), government and contractor:
21.09.2005: Civil works awarded to HCC
March 2007: Flash floods: Coffer dam washed away after river diversion in Jan ‘07
Jan 2008: Massive landslide on right side of dam
Nov 2008: Under construction bridge on Jhelum collapses. HCC and JC Gupta were required to pay a cumulative sum of Rs 4.39 crore against the damage reimbursable from the Contractor All Risk (CAR) policy and the collapse of the Bandi bridge, respectively, but four years later, the NHPC was yet to recover the money from them.
May 2010: Flash floods
17.04.11: Dam overtopped in April due to heavy rains and snowfall!
Sept 2011: Flooding of Tail Race Tunnel due to flash flood, cloud burst on 16.09.2011
Aug 21, 2012: Calling it “civil contractor`s inefficacy”, energylineindia.com blamed HCC for not starting work for 37 days after the agitation against the project was resolved.
Sept 2012: Slush was deposited in D/s portion of Power House and TRT area due to flash flood on Sept. 17, 2012 in Golta Nallah located at the tail race tunnel (TRT) site. This led to excessive flooding of the TRT with water levels reaching up to EL 1,112m. The dewatering pumps, deployed at the TRT outlet, Adit IV and the downstream surge gallery, got submerged in water. The access road to the TRT outlet also got damaged. All this also shows the mismanagement at the project site. This occurrence impacted the completion of the balance invert work in the downstream surge valley and cleaning and finishing work in TRT.
Oct 10, 2012: Energylineindia.com holds “shoddy performance of the involved contractual agencies – HCC and Alstom” for the serious technical flaws in the construction work of the project.
Nov 2012: Contractor HCC claims financial crunch, asks for assistance
April-May-June 2013: Water seepage of 500 litres per minute was observed during filling of Upstream Water Conductor System and Mechanical spinning of units. Seepage was also observed in Power House area: Alstom, the E&M contractor, blamed the civil contractor (HCC) for the seepage in the water conductor system.
July 2013: Cracks in Power Channel have been observed
Sept 2013: After refilling of the water conductor system, high flood occurred in River Jhelum which started erosion of left bank of dam and some cracks were also observed along left bank hill slope downstream of dam.
Dec 2013: Seepage from water conductor system in Power House, Surge shaft area.
Wrong Claims: The industry website energylineindia.com reported on May 14, 2014 that the project achieved “finishing just before the finish line”, when the project was delayed by close to five years! The site was actually contradicted its own repeated earlier updates quoted above.
Environmental noncompliance The project was given environmental clearance on Aug 13, 2004. As per the EIA notification, the project was supposed to submit compliance report to Union Ministry of Environment and Forests every six months. A look at the MoEF website in this regard shows that the latest compliance report available is for Sept 2012, clearly violating the EIA notification. The NHPC website though has the six monthly compliance report of March 2014.
Interestingly, the project has seen an unprecedented five monitoring visits by the regional office of MoEF, that is in April 2007, May 2008, July 2009 and June 2011 (all in summer months, not a bad time to visit Kashmir!) & Dec 10, 2013. However, NONE of these monitoring reports are available on MoEF website, another violation of EIA notification.
The project do not seem to be required to release any environment flows, which will dry the river for long stretch & kill all the biodiversity. The Jhelum basin has about existing, under construction or approved projects, but has no cumulative impact assessment. The project has neither done downstream impact assessment, nor have they done any downstream mitigation plans. The upstream 480 MW URI hydropower project, also of NHPC, and funded by SIDA (Swedish International Development Agency), has a fish ladder on 30 m high dam, but was found to be non functional during site visit. Even if that were to function, now with Uri II in the downstream without any fish ladder or downstream management plan, there is little possibility of the fish in Jhelum or Uri to survive. Local people will also suffer in the process, but there is no possibility of any compensation for their losses.
HCC also has full page Advertisement From all the available accounts, the performance of the civil contractor for the project was far from satisfactory, enegylineindia.com called it shoddy. And yet in a full page advertisement in The Times of India of July 4, 2014, HCC amazingly claimed: “HCC has adhered to its commitment of creating responsible and sustainable infrastructure.”
Facts narrated above, all from official reports and industry websites, speak for themselves, how responsible and sustainable is this infrastructure. It is not for nothing that the project is called NHPC’s controversial child.
Very pertinently, the Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry has appealed to the Prime Minister to dedicate the Uri II project to the people of J&K and also start the process of handing over the Salal, Uri and Dul Hasti hydropower projects, all of NHPC, to J&K so that the people of state can get the benefit from the projects as NHPC has already earned huge revenues from these projects. Going by the PIB press release of July 4, 2014 following dedication of the Uri II project to the nation, the Prime Minister did not agree to the KCCI appeal.
The PIB Press Release of July 4, 2014 (from PMO) also said: “Our objective is to tap maximum hydropower potential, the Prime Minister added… Giving the example of Bhutan, he said the economy of that country was now being built around hydropower. The Prime Minister said sufficient emphasis had not been given to power transmission lines network, and his Government will take this task forward through the PPP model… He said this project was conceived during the Government of Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee, and we have fulfilled that vision.” These are noteworthy words!
Another PIB Press Release on July 5, 2014 (from Power Ministry) described NHPC as “a premier organization in the country in the field of development of hydroelectric projects” & “The technical capabilities of NHPC in executing hydroelectric projects are unmatched in the country.” One wishes Power ministry would have looked at the performance of NHPC in this and other projects before giving that certificate.