Himachal Pradesh is foremost among Indian states in pushing large hydropower projects. Himachal Pradesh’s hydropower generation potential is 27,436 MW, or about 25% of India’s total hydropower potential. 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. Himachal Pradesh 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.
Government push for more hydropower
For the present financial year, Himachal Pradesh commission is planning to come up with three more state-run mega hydropower projects with a combined generation capacity of 265 MW. Power generation is expected to start from 65 MW Kashang, 100 MW Sainj and 100 MW Uhal hydel power projects.
In order to avoid the delays in getting clearances for hydropower projects, the state government has fixed timelines under the Himachal Pradesh Public Services Guarantee Act. Official statement noted that the state has so far harnessed 10,264 MW electricity in government and private sectors out of which 830 MW was tapped during 2015-16.
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 same year, the 800 MW Kol Dam project was commissioned, however the project faced large number of serious problems and continues to face them even post commissioning.
In the past three years, Rs 600 crores have been invested by the electricity board to improve distribution system and a total of 4,200 transformers were set up during this period. To conserve energy, the government has launched an LED (light-emitting diode) promotion programme under which LED bulbs are being made available to 22 lakh domestic consumers at subsidized rates. Himachal Pradesh State Electricity Board Ltd has procured the LED bulbs through Energy Efficiency Services Ltd, a central government undertaking.
The hydropower projects in Himachal Pradesh are mostly run of the river projects. The river water is diverted through an underground headrace tunnel which provides the head for water to fall through. With time, the river dries up as its water is diverted over long stretches and landslides are caused as the hill is blasted, thereby causing damage to the forests, houses, roads, farmland in villages and water sources.
Even after witnessing numerous disasters caused by hydropower projects in Himachal Pradesh, the government has not taken any steps to ensure that such events do not repeat in the future. The only acts of the government have been to promote hydropower projects and attract investments by relaxing norms. For every large hydropower project, a detailed project report is prepared and clearances are required from various government agencies.
If these upcoming projects are not taken care of then what will happen in Himachal Pradesh is surely a recipe for a disaster bigger than what happened in neighbouring Uttarakhand in June 2013.