Himachal NGO demands strict safety norms in hydro projects

Shimla, Dec 2 (IANS) The policy of promoting hydropower projects in Himachal Pradesh’s fragile and eco-sensitive zones will have geological and hydrological impacts and there is need for strict compliance with environmental and safety norms by project authorities, an environmental group said on Wednesday.

Two days after two workers were killed in an accident in the state-run upcoming 450 MW Shongtong-Karcham project in Kinnaur district, the Himdhara Environment Research and Action Collective said it was a sheer negligence by the project authorities that was claiming lives.

This is the second accident in the hydropower project in the state in less than a fortnight.

Three people were killed at 100-MW Sorang power project, owned by Abu Dhabi National Energy Company PJSC (TAQA), in Kinnaur district when an inlet valve – controlling water supply to the turbine – burst on November 18.

In the last two weeks, five lives have been lost in the Kinnaur region alone in three incidents that have one thing in common — accidents at hydropower project sites, said the environmental group in a statement.

Even now more lives are at stake. Four days after the Sorang power project disaster on November 22 a massive landslide occurred in Chagaon village, located on the alignment of the Karcham Wangtoo hydro project’s tunnel.

While houses and property were damaged, fortunately there were no fatalities, it said.

More of the area is likely to slide soon.

Residents of the Panvi panchayat from Kinnaur staged a demonstration last week in Shimla protesting the cracks in their houses allegedly caused due to the underground construction by the 9 MW Ralla-Taranda project.

“It’s time the state government wakes up from its long slumber, because these events are not freak accidents, they are the result of sheer negligence in the construction of hydropower projects in the state,” it said.

According to Himdhara, this negligence is evident at two levels — firstly, the failure in ensuring compliance with environmental and safety norms by project authorities and the government, and secondly, the negligence towards the very impacts of unregulated hydropower development.

In both cases the project authorities have shown sheer callousness, continuously ignoring the issues raised by local people and environmentalists, it said.

The seepage in the Chamera III project that washed off Mokhar village in Chamba district, the bursting of reservoir of Aleo-II project in Kullu district at its first testing, and the seepages in the Karchham Wangtoo tunnel in 2011 are indicators of a disaster waiting to happen, it warned.

In June this year, three engineers were killed while fixing a new turbine at the 2 MW Rongtong hydroelectric plant near Kaza town in Lahaul-Spiti district.

A total of 559 run-of-river hydro projects with an aggregate generation capacity of 10,131 MW were allotted to independent power producers from November 1991 to January 2012, the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) found in its 2013 report.

According to forest department estimates, over 9,000 hectares of forest land have so far been diverted to non-forest use. Of this, 7,000 hectares were used for hydel projects.

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