Dams · Wetlands

North East Wetlands Review 2017: “Remove Ithai Barrage on Loktak Lake”


Loktak lake is the largest freshwater lake near Moirang in Manipur state. In local language Loktak means end of stream. The lake is referred as the “lifeline of Manipur” as it is highly productive and provides habitat to biota and livelihoods to people. The lake is an Important Bird Area (IBA) and is widely famous for the phumdis (heterogeneous mass of vegetation, soil and organic matter at various stages of decomposition) floating over it.

In 1990, the lake was included under Ramsar Convention as a ‘Wetland of International Importance’. But over the years, NHPC’s hydropower projects specially Ithai Barrage have led to severe impact on the lake eco-system and serious disturbance in local community.  Despite this, NHPC has been pushing more hydro projects on the lake streams. As a result, local people and concerned have univocally and repeatedly started protesting against proposed hydro projects and demanding removal of Ithai barrage. And the demand have only grown louder in 2017.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Loktak_Lake

Continue reading “North East Wetlands Review 2017: “Remove Ithai Barrage on Loktak Lake””

Teesta · West Bengal

Retracing Her Path 2: A Journey along the Teesta River in W Bengal

Above: Fabulous view of Rangeet Teesta Confluence (Photo: AJT Johnsingh)

Guest Blog by Gauri Noolkar-Oak

The minute I crossed over the Indo-Bangladesh border into India at Chengrabandha, the atmosphere changed instantly; more briskness, more people and more English and Hindi surrounded me. I also spotted posters of Baahubali 2, and a few flags of Bhartiya Janata Party fluttered at the local bus station of Chengrabandha. I set out for Mainaguri, and through the pitter-patter of a weak drizzle, as the first tea plantations came into view.

My journey in the Teesta basin in North Bengal

Continue reading “Retracing Her Path 2: A Journey along the Teesta River in W Bengal”


India’s hydro generation drops to below 10% for the first time

For the first time in independent India’s history, hydropower generation from large hydropower projects in India in 2016-17 year fell below 10% of total electricity generation and is likely to go further down in years to come. It is well known that hydropower generation as proportion of total power generation has been going down. However, this proportion is generally seen in terms of installed capacity (measured in Mega Watts), and not actual generation (measured as Million or Billion Units[i]). Continue reading “India’s hydro generation drops to below 10% for the first time”

Dams · DRP News Bulletin

DRP News Bulletin 24 April 2017 ( NHPC CMD tells us Dams have no adverse impacts anywhere in the world! Admits that Hydro is no longer viable for private sector)

Centre Getting forest clearance is not a problem now: NHPC Chairman In an interview, taking a dig at its private peers, NHPC chairman KM Singh said that NHPC is the only company in the county that has the capability to execute hydro projects. He also said that in the NDA regime green clearances come easy, while local agitation by NGOs is the biggest threat. He further stated that there has been no negative impact of building a dam, not just in India, but anywhere in the world.

Continue reading “DRP News Bulletin 24 April 2017 ( NHPC CMD tells us Dams have no adverse impacts anywhere in the world! Admits that Hydro is no longer viable for private sector)”

Dams · Hydropeaking · Hydropower

India’s Free Flowing Frontier Part I: Dibang at Nizamghat

What does it mean when landscapes, riverscapes, ways of life are altered forever? When a mighty, flowing river is plugged and made to stop, flow in tunnel and released as per our whims? For most of us, life and environment are so fundamentally modified that we would hardly question it. But as our worldview and our politics is set to dam some of the last free flowing rivers in the North East India into Hydro-Electricity Banks, what is at stake? Continue reading “India’s Free Flowing Frontier Part I: Dibang at Nizamghat”


NHPC’s Chutak power house submerged in Kargil: NHPC clueless two weeks after the disaster

Power house of NHPC’s 44 MW Chutak hydropower project on Suru River in Kargil in Jammu & Kashmir was submerged on the night of June 28, 2015, two weeks later India’s premier hydropower company is still clueless about the cause. One of the costliest hydropower projects of India, the project in Indus basin was dedicated to the nation by Prime Minister Narendra Modi less than a year back on August 12, 2014. For several hours after the water started filling the powerhouse, the project officials were in the dark and media reported that it was locals who alerted the officials. Continue reading “NHPC’s Chutak power house submerged in Kargil: NHPC clueless two weeks after the disaster”


DRP News Update from SANDRP: January 2015

DRP News Update from SANDRP January 2015: The following news stories are about dams, rivers & people, mostly from India but also some from South Asia and rest of the world. This is for the period Jan 1 to Feb 12, 2015, we hope to publish this more frequently in future. These were put up on daily basis on SANDRP Face book page: https://www.facebook.com/sandrp.in. If you want to get it regularly, you can like the FB page.

Feedback on usefulness of this is welcome.  Continue reading “DRP News Update from SANDRP: January 2015”

Jammu and Kashmir

NHPC’s “controversial child” URI II Hydro Project: Some Facts

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.
Layout of the URI II project as given by NHPC website
Layout of the URI II project as given by NHPC website

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[1], 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
  • 8.10.2005: Earthquake
  • 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[2], 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.



[1] http://www.hydroworld.com/articles/2014/05/india-s-240-mw-uri-2-hydropower-plant-in-full-commercial-operation.html

[2] http://environmentclearance.nic.in/writereaddata/Compliance/8_Sept.12_Uri-II_Six_monthly%20PR.pdf

[3] http://www.business-standard.com/article/pti-stories/kcci-asks-pm-to-give-ownership-of-all-nhpc-projects-to-j-k-114070301066_1.html

[4] http://www.kashmirdispatch.com/headlines/040724639-kashmir-minister-s-disclosure-power-project-inaugurated-by-modi-has-no-license-to-operate.htm

[5] http://www.nhpcindia.com/writereaddata/Images/pdf/SMR_URI-II%20PS-March-14.pdf

Post Script: 1. According to Rising Kashmir, two people were washed out due to sudden release of water from the project in Oct 2014, local blamed the power project for the deaths. 

2. Nov 20, 2014 Fire engulfed the project early in the morning at around 4. No deaths reported, but huge damages.

Dams · Hydropower · Ministry of Environment and Forests · Sikkim

Hydro Power Projects Violating SC order in the Greenest State of India

Gangtok, 9 October 2013: Deemed as the greenest state in India, the government of Sikkim has drawn flak of the national board of wildlife (NBWL) for blatant violation of the environmental norms and the standing order of the Supreme Court in implementation of several hydro power projects under different stages of construction.

The background: In its 28th meeting held on 20th March 2013, the proposal for 520 MW Teesta Stage-IV Hydroelectric Power Project, on River Teesta in North Sikkim to be developed by NHPC Ltd, was placed before the SC-NBWL (Standing Committee-National Board of Wild Life) for consideration. The Member Secretary had informed the SC-NBWL that the project location falls 4 km away from the Fambonglho Wildlife Sanctuary and was recommended by the State Board for Wildlife.

photo 1
Photo from SC-NBWL committee report has this caption: Construction of the Teesta III project at Chungthang on the edge of Khangchendzonga National Park proceeding without SC-NBWL clearances. Note the extensive forest cover and large landslides at the site

Following discussions, the SC-NBWL decided that a team comprising Dr M.K.Ranjitsinh, Kishor Rithe, Dr A.J.T Johnsingh and Dr M.D. Madhusudan would carry out site inspection and submit a report to the committee for its consideration. Following this decision, the above committee visited the project site and nearby areas from 15th to 21st May 2013. The committee met the representatives from the Sikkim Government’s Forest, Environment and Wildlife Management Department (FEWMD), the user agency, NHPC Ltd, and people from local citizens’ groups. The report of the committee dated Aug 2013 is now available online (http://envfor.nic.in/division/wl-orders).

The report raises serious concerns about a number of hydropower projects in Sikkim under construction without wildlife clearance in contravention to the Supreme Court order[1] (in the Goa foundation case).  The Chamling government in Sikkim has allowed blatant violation of the Supreme Court order, a situation compared by the report with what had happened in Goa with respect to mines which were operating without wildlife clearance in violation of SC orders (the subject of the Shah Commission report). The Union Ministry of Environment and Forests is equally responsible for allowing continuing construction of these projects without legally mandatory clearances. The decision based on this report in the NBWL Standing Committee is still pending.

map 1
Map with locations of projects and protected areas from the SC-NBWL committee report

Both before and during site inspection, multiple stakeholders brought to the notice of the NBWL team that there were other proposed and ongoing hydel projects in the Teesta Basin located within the eco-sensitive zone (as defined by the Supreme Court in the Goa Foundation case), of the Khangchendzonga NP and Fambonglho WLS, which had not obtained the Supreme Court mandated clearance from the Standing Committee of the National Board for Wildlife.

Besides this,  the team in their journeys saw  two projects under active construction—the Dik Chu[2] and the Teesta III[3]—that were clearly within the Supreme Court mandated eco-sensitive area. For Dik Chu HEP, the report says, “However, the accompanying FEWMD officials informed us that these mandatory wildlife clearances from the SC-NBWL had, apparently, not been obtained.” For Teesta III HEP, FEWMD officials were not aware of the SC-NBWL clearance, and the committee noted, we “must therefore conclude, on the basis of information available with us, that such a clearance was not obtained… we are deeply concerned about the advisability of this project.”

Deeply concerned about the likelihood of various hydel projects coming up in violation of the Supreme Court’s order in the Goa Foundation case, the team has  requested the MoEF to write to the government of Sikkim, seeking a comprehensive list of completed, ongoing and proposed hydroelectric projects within the Supreme Court mandated 10-kilometre zone of the Khangchendzonga National Park (KNP) and Fambonglho Wildlife Sanctuary (FWLS). For each project,  details sought included:  (a) location (latitude-longitude) and distance from KNP and FWLS; (b) current status of the project; and (c) if and when they had obtained the required Environment, Forest and Wildlife Clearances. Even after waiting for 10 weeks, the NBWL team did not receive either an acknowledgment, or a response from the Pawan Chamling government to their query.

The committee, left with no option was compelled to use publicly available information on Environmental Clearances (EC) (http://environmentclearance.nic.in), submissions and information provided by other stakeholders, and to examine minutes from the SC-NBWL’s meetings, to ascertain if there was merit to the allegations made about the violations of the Supreme Court’s order of 12/2006.

Key recommendations Based on examination of available information on legal compliances required for the projects in the Teesta basin, the committee concluded that, with the notable exception of the Teesta IV project (which has currently approached the SC-NBWL for clearance), none of the other projects appear to have sought/obtained this compulsory SC-NBWL clearance, as mandated by the Supreme Court. While the SC-NBWL is fully aware that there are many more proposed/ongoing hydroelectric projects situated within the Supreme Court mandated 10-km eco-sensitive zone of wildlife sanctuaries and national parks in Sikkim, it has not been able to ascertain whether Supreme Court stipulations in their regard are being followed, or being violated, and if latter be the case, the MoEF should take due cognizance of the same urgently.

“We are of the unanimous considered opinion that it is absolutely essential to assess the overall impact of these projects, both from the recent past and those in the pipeline, rather than deal with them in a piecemeal fashion. Hence, we urge the Standing Committee not to consider the Teesta IV project’s request for clearance separately, but treat it as part of a larger set of hydroelectric projects in the Teesta Basin, with vast ecological, social and legal portents”, the committee has recommended.

It further recommend that the Standing Committee direct the MoEF to write to the Government of Sikkim asking them to immediately investigate and submit a detailed report listing hydroelectric projects in Sikkim that are being constructed prima facie in violation of Supreme Court’s order. Based on the list provided by the government of Sikkim, if it is indeed ascertained that the projects are proceeding in violation of the said Supreme Court ruling, it further adds that the MoEF initiate action by asking the State Government to suspend ongoing work on those projects immediately and to direct user agencies to formally seek clearance for these projects from the SC-NBWL. It adds that the MoEF and the Government of Sikkim thoroughly investigate the circumstances under which the seemingly widespread bypassing of Supreme Court orders in the construction of dams within the 10-km ecosensitive zone of Sikkim has taken place, fix responsibility for the transgressions and violations, and punish the guilty.

About Teesta IV proposal from NHPC, for which the committee visited Sikkim, the report recommends, “Finally, in the light of the devastating June 2013 Uttarakhand floods, we are deeply concerned about the wisdom of such large-scale manipulations of mountain river systems that are being implemented, against all reasonable scientific advice (and thedisregard of the CISHME’s recommendation against the construction of Teesta III, is a case in point)… Hence, we urge the Standing Committee not to consider the Teesta IV project’s request for clearance separately, but treat it as part of a larger set of hydroelectric projects in the TeestaBasin, with vast ecological, social and legal portents.”

The report also recommends  that projects already in the pipeline and that may be proposed in future in Sikkim, be placed before the Standing Committee, “chaired by a very senior official of the MoEF, Besides senior officials of the MoEF and the Sikkim Government, this committee must include legal experts as well as experts in hydrology/ geology/ seismology/ social science/ botany/ riverine ecology/wildlife ecology, from reputed research institutions and some representatives of local communities” whenever they fall within the purview of the Supreme Court-mandated 10 km eco-sensitive area around PAs. The committee report adds that much of the summary and recommendations section of Justice Shah’s report (pp. 189-200) is extremely relevant to the case of the hydroelectric dams in Sikkim, and that any committee constituted to examine hydroelectric dams in the eco-sensitive areas of Sikkim, pay close attention to this report.

No ecological flows from NHPC’s Teesta V What the report says about this subject makes disturbing reading: ”On 16th May 2013, driving upstream of the Teesta V powerhouse, we noted extremely low flow in the river, which was particularly so in the stretch of the river directly downstream of the Teesta V dam (Figure 1), where the river was diverted through a tunnel. Such low flows, where River Teesta has been diverted through tunnels, are a cause for serious concern in the context of maintaining the ecological function of a river. We enquired from NHPC officials about how details of ecological flows were determined, and learnt that ecological flow was not a parameter that was optimised in the planning process. We were told that downstream flows were effectively a consequence of maximising hydropower potential of various river basins as determined jointly by the Central Electricity Authority and the Central Water Commission. These values, in turn, were used as the basis for soliciting proposals for hydroelectric power projects. In other words, we learnt to our great dismay that absolutely no ecological consideration whatsoever was used in the process of determining the hydropower potential of river basins.”

Violations galore, government unresponsive In a submission made by Tseten Lepcha in his capacity as the then Honorary Wildlife Warden of North Sikkim to Jayanthi Natarajan in 8th October 2011, Lepcha had contended that how the 1750 MW Demwe Lower by the Athena group is being considered by the SC-NBWL for wildlife clearance, when a project by the same promoters (1200 MW Teesta III) is under construction in violation of Supreme Court orders (without wildlife clearance). The current NBWL report confirms that the 1200 MW Teesta III is under construction illegally, violating SC orders. In an earlier submission he had made to the SC-NBWL on April 19, 2011 he mentioned violation of the WLPA (killing of a Serow – Schedule I species) in the 1200 MW Teesta III project being developed by the Athena group. The developer of the project, Teesta Urja Ltd (a special purpose vehicle of M/S Athena Pvt. Ltd.), through its sub-contractor, SEW Infrastructure Ltd, was involved in the death of a Serow (Capricornis sumanntraensis), a Schedule I animal, at the project site on June 4, 2008.

photo 2
Photo from SC-NBWL com report with this caption: The Teesta V dam showing the virtual absence of flow in the river downstream of the dam, which can have devastating consequences for river-dwelling and river-dependent species

Several attempts by this correspondent, to contact the PCCF –cum-Secretary of the FEWM department of Sikkim Mr. Arvind Kumar on his cell phone, and his official e-mail address to get the Sikkim government’s official version on the controversy, remained unanswered.

How IPPs are cheating by flouting norms Sikkim Bhutia Lepcha Apex Committee (SIBLAC) convenor Tseten Tashi Bhutia, while speaking to this correspondent expressed immense joy at the NBWL report. “We have been protesting cultural and religious genocide being committed by the Sikkim government in the name of developing hydro power, apart from severely degrading the environment, this is a moral boost. I hope GOI takes strong action”, he said. Bhutia added that there are violations of the Places of Worship (special provisions) Act 1991, extended to Sikkim, and the gazette notifications of the Chamling government, in allowing the Tashiding project on holy river Rathong Chu.

SIBLAC along with another apolitical group Save Sikkim on September 28th, 2013 filed FIRs against an IPP, Shiga Energy Pvt ltd, developer of the 97 MW Tashiding hydro power project for alleged cheating, distortion of facts and violation of environmental norms and the SC order. This is in addition to an ongoing PIL at the Sikkim High Court.

The facts revealed by Tseten Tashi Bhutia in his FIR are startling and shocking. As per the requirement of the Environment Ministry (MoEF, Government of India), the executing agency i.e. Shiga Energy Private Limited, is required to submit a Six-monthly compliance report[4] on the status of the 97 MW Tashiding HEP to the stipulated environmental conditions in a prescribed format .However, while going through the latest Six monthly report dated 22.11.2012[5] submitted by the executing agency to the concerned authority i.e. North Eastern Region Office, Ministry of Environment & Forest, Government of India , it is found that as against the IX necessary conditions required in the prescribed format, the executing agency have intentionally deleted Stipulation No. VIII, jumping to the next condition.

The Monitoring report of MEF regional office (signed by DR S C KATIYAR, SCIENTIST ‘D’) dated Oct 2012[6] says about Stipulation VIII: “the proposed site is about 5 Km away from the buffer zone of the Khangchendzonga Biosphere Reserve as per Supreme Court order clearance from NBWL may be obtained (if required).”  Status of Compliance: “Not complied with” and further writes; “the project also falls within 10 Kms from the Fambomgla Wildlife Sanctuary, as such; NBWL clearance needs to be obtained.”

Thus the agency has not complied to nor has obtained NBWL clearance yet as evident from the Monitoring Report on the Implementation Status of Conditions of Environmental Clearance dated Oct 4th, 2012. In other words, the executing agency has simply and swiftly been misleading and cheating the authorities till date by submitting wrong report to Ministry of Environment and Forest, Govt. of India. More surprising is to witness the lack of action by the MoEF on these manipulations and lack of action even after the Monitoring Report clearly reports non compliance.

Rathongchu is a sacred river according to the Denjong Neyig and Nesol texts having its source at various secret and sacred lakes at Khangchendzonga, Sikkim’s supreme guardian deity and runs independently till it meets River Rangit at the lower reaches; This sacred Rathongchu is the source to the annual Tashiding Bumchu ceremony which is held in the first lunar month, corresponding to the months of February and March. In fact, this Bumchu (Sacred Water) ceremony has been continuing for centuries and attracts thousands of devotees and pilgrimages from far across including Bhutan, Nepal, and entire Himalayas.

Ironically, a one-man Professor P S Ramakrishnan committee, of the JNU School of Environmental Sciences, submitted a report titled Ecology and Traditional Wisdom,  on October 9th 1995, to the government of Sikkim where he categorically stated, “on social, cultural, and religious considerations, apart from the rich bio-diversity and fragile ecology of the Yuksom valley region, I strongly recommend that no hydro power or other projects should be allowed on River Rathongchu, deemed extremely sacred by Buddhists”. Under the circumstances, how was the Tashiding HEP allotted to the Shiga Energy Ltd by the Sikkim Government and cleared by the MoEF is moot question.

Some of the other proposed projects that are mentioned in the SC-NBWL committee that are also coming up requiring the SC-NBWL clearance include the 300 MW Panan HEP, the Ting Ting HEP, besides the ones mentioned above, see the accompanying map from the SC-NBWL report. Other hydropower projects of Sikkim that are being considered by the MoEF for clearances and that are also close to the protected areas include: 63 MW Rolep HEP on Rangpo river in E Sikkim (5-6 km from Pangolakha and Kyongnosla WLS), 126 MW Ralong HEP (4.05 km from Kangchendzonga Biosphere Reserve and 1.8 km from Maenam Wildlife Sanctuary), 96 MW Chakung Chu HEP inn North Sikkim district (1.8 km from Kangchendzonga Biosphere Reserve). Other such possible projects include: 71 MW Sada Mangder, 60 MW Rangit III, among others.

Let us hope now following the SC-NBWL report, the MoEF will promptly order stoppage of illegally ongoing construction of the guilty HEPs, not waiting for the SC-NBWL committee to meet, since the new Standing Committee of the NBWL remains to be constituted after the term of the earlier committee ended. The evidence provided by the SC-NBWL committee is sufficient to take prompt action. The fact that the MoEF has not take action yet, weeks after submission of the SC-NBWL report speaks volumes about the possible collusion of the MoEF in this murky affair.

Soumik  Dutta (duttauni@gmail.com, with inputs from SANDRP)


[1] WP 406/2004, Goa Foundation vs. Union of India, Order dated 04/12/2006: “The MoEF would also refer to the Standing Committee of the National Board for Wildlife, under Sections 5 (b) and 5 (c) (ii) of the Wild

Life (Protection) Act, the cases where environment clearance has already been granted where activities are within 10 km. zone

[2] Strangely, the Environment clearance letter for the project does not even mention the need for SC-NBWL clearance, see: http://environmentclearance.nic.in/Auth/openletter.aspx?EC=5766

[3] The Six monthly compliance report for Teesta III dated June 2013 also is quite on the issue of compliance with SC-NBWL clearance, see: http://environmentclearance.nic.in/writereaddata/Compliance/57_Teesta%20HEP-III%20_june2013.pdf, the condition for this was mentioned in the MoEF letter dated 30-04-2010 with additional condition: “Considering the proximity of Khangchendzonga National Park from the project site, clearance from the Standing Committee of theNational Board for Wildlife (NBWL) should be obtained”.

[4] For latest version of the compliance report, see: http://environmentclearance.nic.in/writereaddata/Compliance/34_Tashiding%20Six%20Monthly%20Compliance%20Report_May%202013.pdf. In this report, the column before the condition VIII says: NA (not available).

Dams · Hydropower · Uttarakhand

Uttarakhand Floods of June 2013: Curtain Raiser on the Events at NHPC’s 280 MW Dhauliganga HEP

box 2Days after walking down the Gori, we go to the Sub-Divisional Magistrate of Dharchula sub-division, Pramod Kumar, who is busy coordinating rescue and relief on a war-footing, but still has the courtesy to meet. On being asked by me regarding the sudden release of water by the 280 MW National Hydro-Power Corporation (NHPC) Dhauliganga Hydro-Electric Project (HEP, see below the layout of the project given on NHPC website) at Chirkila and the ensuing damage downstream, he confirms that he received an emergency call on the night of 16th June, 2013 from the NHPC, asking that they be permitted to release the impounded water in their reservoir, because it was in danger of breaching. Under normal circumstances they do not need his permission. He also confirms that he had refused, because the water level in the Mahakali main-stem was already flowing at danger-mark. NHPC went right ahead and opened their gates at full on the night of 16th June, without authorization or any prior warning to anybody[1] but their own office-residence complex 20 km downstream, at Dobat.

Map of Dhauliganga Dam Source: NHPC
Map of Dhauliganga Dam
Source: NHPC

Was this really an emergency, or was this purely opportunistic on the part of NHPC to take this opportunity early in the season to flush their reservoir that had been filled almost to half with bed-load and silt? We went looking for clues and information. I went to the NHPC office complex at Dobat, and met Bhuvan Chand Joshi, their Public Relations Officer. After giving me the spiel on how safe, and how green this so called run-of-the-river (ROR) project was, constructed by no less than the Japanese, the Germans and the Koreans put together[2], he admitted that their underground power-station was entirely flooded. Housed in a gigantic underground cavern about 100 meters long, four-storeys high at 40 meters and about 16 meters wide, river water had filled it right upto the control-room on the fourth floor. I had already been told by Kesar Singh Dhami, taxi owner of Dharchula, that on the 16th June itself, when he was ferrying the first batch of Kailash yatris to the road-head on their way up to Tibet, he had noticed the reservoir was filled high already with flood-waters, with large uprooted trees and other woody debris floating at the damsite. He confirms that water was being released, but only a small release, despite the dam being fuller than he had ever seen it.

I was also told by another employee of NHPC (who did not wish to be named) that what had gone wrong was that despite the high flows on the 15th and 16th June, the power-station continued with production of electricity as usual. In what seems to be an unbelievably short-sighted and poor design, the Tail-race Tunnel, from where water is released back into the river after having turned the turbines, is flushed into a tributary stream, the Ellagad. It was when Ellagad also pulsed, that it sent a train of bed-load debris down its lower reaches, effectively blocking the exit of the Tail-race Tunnel coming out of the powerhouse. The power house continued to take in water from the Head-race Tunnel intake to work their turbines, unaware that the exit for water had been blocked. It is only when the water blocked in the Tail-race Tunnel surged back up, burst through the turbine units and began flooding the powerhouse, that NHPC even know that something was wrong. It was then that the massive curved steel gates of the intake were slid shut, and the powerhouse evacuated. This was further confirmed by Joshi, PRO, who also said that the ‘matter was under investigation’ by their own team for organizational detail. The General Manager and the Chief Engineer of the Dhauliganga HEP had meanwhile been transferred out. It is not clear yet how soon after the powerhouse was flooded, that they opened the sluice gates at the bottom of the reservoir. Draining it was clearly beneficial for NHPC, but catastrophic for roads, bridges and habitations downstream, both in India and Nepal.

Dhauliganga before the disaster, with zero water flow downstream from the dam, killing a perennial river. Source: Author
Dhauliganga before the disaster, with zero water flow downstream from the dam, killing a perennial river. Source: Author

If you look closely enough, there are two separate events here. The flooding of the powerhouse, and the ’emergency’ release of reservoir water. The powerhouse was not flooded because of too much water in the reservoir, but because it was in operation when its tail-race exit seven km downstream, is blocked-off because of poor short-sighted design[3]. They are then forced to close the gates of the intake, and abandon the powerhouse where water has reached the control-room on the fourth floor. The intake gates are now shut, but the flood waters continue to fill the reservoir further. They have already allowed the dam fill to a very high level, and here is the other curious factor.

The design of the Dhauliganga dam, is such that the dam has no provision for water to ‘overflow’ the dam safely, should undesired (even if foreseeable) levels be reached as they did this year. Or say if giant boulders block the narrow sluice gates at the bottom of the reservoir. Or in the real-time situation of what actually happened this year, the blocking of the tail-race tunnel leading to flooding of the powerhouse, hence requiring the shutting off of the intake, and losing the option of reducing reservoir levels more gradually and safely through two simultaneous releases. They then open the flood-gates. Clearly, one of two things have led to this decision:

One, letting the reservoir fill to a very high level is not out of the ordinary for NHPC; they do it every monsoon, as they had done on 16th June as well. It is not for many months in the year that they have enough water to run all four turbines. Despite the run-of-the-river label, Joshi confirmed that they were unable to let any water to continue to flow un-diverted in the river-channel during the winter-spring months (we have photographic evidence of this as well), or they would not have water to turn even one turbine! The mandatory requirement that every hydro-power dam in Uttarakhand be required to release at least 10% of the river’s minimum flows at all times (as greatly insufficient as such a small flow is for downstream life), it seems neither a consideration while justifying the economics of such projects, and neither is it complied to here. The use of the term run-of-the-river here, is plain deception.

The Dhauliganga Hydro-power dam, after being flushed of bed-load sediment Source: Author
The Dhauliganga Hydro-power dam, after being flushed of bed-load sediment
Source: Author

Their regular annual schedule for flushing the reservoir of bed-load and sediment is normally the 15th of July and the 31st of July every year. Here again, when the reservoir is full, and there is enough water to provide the pressure for increased and accelerated flow to flush the reservoir on a twice-annual basis. Both flushing schedules follow each other closely at peak-flow season, so that the flushing is as complete as possible, and there is enough of a monsoon season ahead to fill the reservoir up again before the winter-lean. The probable reason for preponing the flushing could be the chance of flushing some of the unusually high accumulation of bed-load debris that had come down in this years flood. What this meant to the efficiency of the power-station is one thing, but what it means to all life in and along the river, is quite another.

Two, that the faulty design of the dam, both in location of its tail-race exit as well as no provision for over-topping, in combination with the carelessness of allowing the reservoir to fill to such levels at the start of the monsoon, was responsible for the ’emergency’ catastrophic release.

Stitched photo of the bed of the drained Dhauliganga reservoir  Source: Author
Stitched photo of the bed of the drained Dhauliganga reservoir
Source: Author

The Dhauliganga HEP is located on the Darmayangti river, re-christened the Dhauliganga  river, just a couple of kilometers upstream of the confluence with the Mahakali at Tawaghat. In these two kilometers, the rivers flows (twice a year when it is allowed to, for a few hours) down steeply to the confluence which it meets at right-angles. With the Mahakali already in spate, coupled with the sudden release of more than 6 million cubic meters of stored water (Gross Storage Capacity), plus the flow of the river in flood (steadily increasing from 398 cubic meters a second on 15th June), as well as millions of tonnes of bed-load boulders and sediment, the damage downstream is clear to see. If you look at the fresh scour-level on the banks downstream of the dam, it is in places more than 15 meters higher than the flood-level flow of the DhauliRiver. The river added thousands of tonnes of even more debris when, because of the flood level it reached, it tore through, plucking high at the talus-cones on either bank, and at every turn. At the confluence at Tawaghat, there must have been something of a back-flood for some time (a common flood phenomenon where the high-flowing main-stem creates a temporary water-dam), because the water-level seems to have risen very high, taking away the bridge that connects the entire Kuti valley and the trade route to Tibet,   tearing away almost the entire village-market complex at Tawaghat, and destroying the road as well. The flood waters had clearly reached the top of the road because of the deposition of river-sand on it. When I walked this section days later, the river was only less than a meter below danger mark. Even so, it was flowing about 12 meters below the road! Further downstream, the destruction was more serious.

In order to understand the magnitude of this flood event, I ask Joshi of NHPC for flow-data of the Dhauli river between the 12th and the 18th of June. He goes off for some time and returns with a sheet of paper that has hand-scrawled 6 hourly flow volumes from 12th June, but stops short at 15th June. All the flow volumes between the 12th and the 15th were below 150 cubic meters a box 1second (cumecs), and at 12 am, on the night of the 15th June it jumps up to 389.92 cumecs. This is just the start of the flood. Joshi seems to balk right here, and says that they have not received data for the 16th June yet (the day I speak to him was the 8th of July), and that he may get it after a week or so. And anyway, he says, the powerhouse was abandoned from the night of the 16thJune, so getting data beyond that would be out of question. It is clear that Joshi was unwilling to give me flow-data for the duration of the flood-pulse. He had only minutes before informed me of how automated the whole operation was, and that it was possible for them to even operate the power-house sitting in their Dobat office-complex itself. The real scenario will be clear when we get flow data for the 16th and 17th of June.

According to NHPC, the Peak Flood Design for the Dhauliganga HEP is 3,210 cumecs, at a return interval of 100 years. That is the flow volumes that the dam is designed to be able to take without damage, at flood levels expected at least every hundred years. It is unlikely that flow volumes had reached almost 10 times the flow volumes of the flood on the 15th June at the damsite (389.92 cumecs). NHPC gets its flow data from an automated level-gauge at the reservoir, so it did not require anyone to take readings manually, even prior to abandoning the station. If unprecedented levels had indeed been reached, then why had they held on to water in the reservoir right till the night of the 16th June?  Please see the accompanying photographs, of the dam reservoir, empty of water. You can see at least two levels of cut-away terraces. The lower ones are alluvial terraces, consisting clearly of coarser gravels and cobbles deposited by the flowing river. The higher terraces, more visible high on the upper true-left bank in the photo, are remnant lacustrine (lake-bed) terraces, consisting of finer silts and sand, deposited by the stilled waters in the reservoir when it was full. This was the highest point of sediment accumulation in the reservoir prior to being flushed out. Clearly, at least 45% the reservoir was full of debris and sediment before NHPC flushed it. And if you look at the brown line on the concrete face of the dam, you see the level that the reservoir was allowed to fill upto, marked by the ‘bath-tub ring’ of floating bark and woody debris stuck there after draining.

Joshi tells me that when a delegation of people from Nepal came to NHPC to talk about the possible role that NHPC’s sudden release of water might have had on the flood that devastated Khalanga bazar at Darchula, he had told them that to the contrary, the dam had saved Nepal from great damage. “See how much debris is still behind our reservoir!” This was bare-faced misinformation. There are two aspects being denied here. One, that great masses of debris were actually flushed out from the lower-end of the reservoir on the night of 16th June, leading to greatly increased flood levels as well as erosive potential downstream, especially on the Nepal bank at Darchula, which bore the brunt of flushed debris centrifuged on the curve. As is evident from the photo of the dam-site above, most of the debris that has been flushed, is from the front-end of the reservoir only. And two, that all dams and reservoirs, despite some being able to flush out debris from a section of the reservoir, do actually hold back a great deal of bed-load as well as suspended sediment in the upper end of the reservoir. They impede the very essential flow of sediment down to the oceans. Look now at the geometry of bed-load debris in the stitched photo. Distortions from the wide-angle lens apart, it clearly shows a gradual slope, and a filling up of the bed-rock channel to form a wide, sloping flood-plain. Had it not been for the dam, the bed-load would have continued to fill up the bed-rock channel downstream at about the same angle, slowing the entire flow of water and entrained debris. It would not have been washed down catastrophically all the way down to Darchula, without the force of an additional 6 million m³ of stored water released suddenly.

Emmanuel Theophilus (etheophilus@gmail.com)

[1]    NHPC never gives warning of sudden releases. There is a notice painted on a board at Tawaghat, the first river-side habitation downstream, that warns people not to go anywhere near the river, because water may be released anytime.

[2]    Kajima Construction Corporation Ltd of Japan, Daewoo Engineering and Construction Company of Korea, and Bauer Maschinen of Germany.

[3]    How a tail-race exit could be planned on the Ellagad stream which is very steep and unstable, full of debris from a service tunnel, and highly ‘flashy’, is indicative of poor design and of lax design approval mechanisms.