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Heavy leakage in Parbati hydro-project tunnel forces villagers to abandon homes, puts 400 families and agricultural land at risk

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leakage in parbati hydropower project in Kullu

KULLU- The leakage in NHPC’s Parbati Hydro Power Project in Sainj, Kullu, Himachal Pradesh, continues to threaten lives and property of nearly 400 families of over a dozen of villages. Several families are already forced to abandon their houses and grab their valuables. Administration had to shift villagers to safer place as destruction almost seems inevitable. Bhenbal (भेंबल) village residents spent their night under open sky for the fear of landslide. The leakage has also destroyed crops of the villagers. The 800 MW capacity project, which was to be commissioned in next few days, has already proved that the run-of-the river hydro power technology is highly risky considering fragile Himalayan Mountains. In fact, access drilling of mountains in Himachal has been cited as a blunder by environmentalists and organization like Himdhara that had been raising alarm over catastrophic consequences that’ll follow it.

In the current case, villagers first reported seepage from the headrace tunnel on April 12 but neither the power corporation nor the administration took it seriously. The National Hydroelectric Power Corporation reportedly didn’t stop water supply to the tunnel. Rather, the corporation, in a written reply, assured the administration that everything was just fine. The leakage continued to increase over the week. As long as 200 meters long cracks appeared on the mountain. On Monday night, villagers were shook by sound of landslide right above their villages. The villagers were forced to spend the night under open sky for the fear of possible, massive landslide. The boulders continue to roll-down the mountain along with erosion of soil. 

The NHPC was forced to block the water-supply only after the landslide. However, the flow of leakage is only increasing despite NHPC’s claim of blocking water supply. The cultivation lands of the villagers are almost drowned due to leaking tunnel. It’s ridiculous that NHPC didn’t stop the water-supply when the leakage was first reported to it.  

The administration also stepped in after the landslide and visible erosion of soil. As much as 30 families were evacuated from their homes. If the landslide of greater scale occurs, it’s estimated to wipe out as much as half of the Rella Panchayat villages including Dahra, Khadoa, Jeeva and two other villages.

Meanwhile, the Chief Engineer, Parbati Project Stage-II, SK Yadav, claimed that there is no more water in the tunnel now and close vigil is being kept on the tunnel. A team of the geologists is also on the way from Delhi, he said. The Deputy Commissioner, Kullu, Yunus Khan, also visited the spot on Wednesday and reviewed the situation. He assured that corporation is directed to take preventive measures to fix the leakage.

Parbati Hydroelectric Project (Stage-II) is a run-of-the-river scheme that proposes to harness hydro potential of the lower reaches of the river Parbati. The river is proposed to be diverted with a Concrete Gravity Dam at Village Pulga in Parbati valley through 31.52 Km long Head Race Tunnel. Power Houses are located at village Suind in Sainj valley.

It’s not the first instance where drilling of mountains and leakage in man-made tunnels have posed risk to the human habitation and their cultivation lands. Earlier, the Central Water Commission, Department of Energy and Central Electricity Authority, during an inspection, had found profuse leakages in the surge shaft of the 17 km long tunnel of Karcham Wangtoo hydro power project. It was assumed that cracks and fissures may have developed over the course of time.

Later, Himdhara, an environment research and action collective based in Himachal, extracted some information through Right to Information (RTI) Act. Surprisingly, there were no details like exact nature and extent of the said leakage. Local communities from the villages around the Karchham Wangtoo tunnel still report leakages in the tunnel. Then, there were reports of leakage from the head race tunnel of Chamera III Hydroelectric Project in 2012. In this case, the residents of an outlying Mokhar village had to live in the imminent danger of soil erosion.

As a matter of concern, the state hardly monitors the safety and water flows in these hydro-projects. In other words, monitoring authority is totally absent and construction of new power projects is being allowed blindly. Even the
Environment Impact Assessment studies reportedly do not mention villages located on the mountainside through which the tunnel passes as affected villages.

According to a article published in the Economic and Political Weekly in 2013,

In response to a series of RTI applications filed by Himdhara, the Irrigation and Public Health department has revealed that in villages located in the area affected by the Karchham Wangtoo project, by 2009 almost 43 out of 167, i.e. almost 26% of water sources had dried up and in 67 sources, i.e. almost 40%, the discharge had reduced.

The article further added,

imilar data has been provided for four other project sites in different parts of the state ‒all revealing that villages located above the tunnel are indeed being affected by the construction of these hydropower projects.

The government need to review its policy before blindly encouraging construction of more and more power projects despite imminent risk to villagers and thousands of lives.

Madan has studied English Literature and Journalism from HP University and lives in Shimla. He is an amateur photographer and has been writing on topics ranging from environmental, socio-economic, development programs, education, eco-tourism, eco-friendly lifestyle and to green technologies for over 9 years now. He has an inclination for all things green, wonderful and loves to live in solitude. When not writing, he can be seen wandering, trying to capture the world around him in his DSLR lens.

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HIMCOSTE ENVIS HUB Training on “Securing High Range Himalayan Ecosystems” Begins Today

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HIMCOSTE ENVIS HUB Training

Shimla- HP ENVIS HUB at Himachal Pradesh Council for Science, Technology and Environment (HIMCOSTE), Shimla, today kicked off its one-month training program on Para-taxonomy under the GoI-UNDP-GEF Project “Securing Livelihoods, Conservation, Sustainable use and Restoration of high range Himalayan Ecosystems” (SECURE Himalaya).

This program is being conducted in collaboration with HP Forest Department and State Biodiversity Board for Lahaul, Pangi and Kinnaur landscapes of the State. Under this program, selected youth would be trained for documentation of local biodiversity in the form of People’s Biodiversity Registers (PBRs).

The Chief Guest of the inaugural function was Dr Savita, Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (Wildlife). Sh. Anil Thakur, CCF (Wildlife) and Dr S.P. Bhardwaj, Retd Associate Director, Regional Fruit Research Station, UHF, Nauni were special guests on the occasion.

Speaking on the inaugural function today, Dr Savita, PCCF (Wildlife) said that snow leopard is the iconic animal of high Himalayas. A good number of these apex predators denote a healthy ecosystem. To ensure the survival of these beautiful animals, sustainable use of forest resources and generation of alternative livelihood opportunities is pertinent.

The initial step to conserving local biodiversity is its documentation as Peoples Biodiversity Registers (PBRs). She lauded the efforts of ENVIS Hub in implementation of Green Skill Development Program (GSDP) last year and now training students in SECURE Project.

Dr Aparna Sharma, Coordinator, HP ENVIS Hub, informed that under this course, selected students would be imparted theoretical and practical knowledge by eminent experts in the fields of botany, zoology, forestry, wildlife, importance and conservation of Biodiversity, waste management, remote sensing & GIS. In association with State Biodiversity Board, field visits would be carried out to prominent Universities, Research Institutions and conservation areas of Himachal Pradesh for exposure to local flora, fauna and its documentation in PBRs.

A total of nine students have been selected for the training program: six from Pangi, two from Lahaul and one from Shimla. The best of trained youth would be involved in making PBRs in selected landscapes by the HP State Biodiversity Board.

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Video: CM Jairam Urges People to Celebrate Green Diwali After Setting Cracker Laden Effigies on Fire

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CM Jairam burns effigy laden with crackers

Shimla-Chief Minister Jairam Thakur on the occasion of Dussehra set ablaze the effigy of Ravana, Meghnad, and Kumbhkarana on fire at Jakhu Temple in Shimla. Afterwards, while talking to media persons, the CM talked about the harmful effect of fire-crackers on the environment and urged the people of the state to refrain from using fire-crackers while celebrating Dussehra and Diwali.

He said considering the grieve problem of pollution that the world is currently facing, it’s the need of the hour to take concrete steps towards environmental protection. He said every individual should be encouraged to celebrate green Diwali.

However, it appeared that his government was not practising what it was preaching. The effigies that the CM set ablaze were filled with fire-crackers. Moreover, a round of fireworks was held right before ‘Ravana Dahan’.

There was a suitable opportunity for the CM and the organizers to send out an environment-friendly message on this Dussehra by refraining from using fire-crackers in effigies, which they missed.

On this occasion, the Education Minister Suresh Bhardwaj, Deputy Commissioner Amit Kashyap, Narinder Bragta, chairman, HIMFED, Ganesh Dutt, Deputy Mayor Rakesh Sharma, and SP Omapati Jamwal were also present. All of them appeared to be clueless about sending a “Green” message.

Further, the Chief Minister talked about the victory of good over evil and taking the path of righteousness.

Dussehra festival signifies the victory of good over evil, truth over false and dharma over adharma. The Dussehra festival inspires us to follow the path of dharma (righteousness) and truth as in the end truth always wins,

he said.

He urged the people to work collectively to kill the demon of drug abuse from society. He laid the foundation stone of Nav Grah Mandir to be constructed at a cost of Rs. 15 lakh and also inaugurated a Museum at Jakhu Temple Complex.

Effigies were burnt at various places in Shimla including Summerhill, Chakkar, Kasumpti, Boileauganj, Vikasnagar etc. All the effigies were filled up with fire-crackers, which suggest that the government’s movement to discourage using fire-crackers is not yielding any results.

Similarly, cracker laden effigies were burnt in other districts of the state too.

Apparently, we need to devise innovative ways to make the celebrations of Dusshera and Diwali green. For example, a green celebration of Dusshera was witnessed in Delhi where a Ravana made of balloons was taken down without burning.

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Ignoring Environmental Concerns, HP Govt Signs 10 More MoUs for Hydro Projects Worth Rs. 25,772 Crores

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HP Govt Signs hydro-power mous at power conclave

Shimla- Though environmental groups and activists have been asserting that construction of more hydropower projects in Himachal Pradesh is harmful to the fragile ecology, the State Government continues to sign more MoUs for more projects. The activist groups like Himdhara Collective have been highlighting the plight of the rural population and ecology of the state hit by the construction of hydropower projects.

The group has also challenged the claim that hydro-power is an eco-friendly source of power. The activists also allege that to favour the private investors, the government is keeping the people in dark through its erroneous environmental assessment reports.

In a Power Conclave organised by the Department of MPP and Power, Himachal Pradesh Government today signed 10 MoUs for hydro projects with an investment of Rs. 25,772 crore with a capacity of 2927 MW. The government said these projects have the potential to provide employment to 13,250 persons with NTPC, SJVNL and NHPC for harnessing identified hydro projects in the State.

Chief Minister Jairam Thakur claimed that the State Government has signed 570 MoUs worth about Rs. 75,700 crores.

Chief Minister said that the State has a potential of more than 23,500 MW harnessable hydro energy.

Jai Ram Thakur launched HIMURJA’s online portal Unified Single Window Clearance Portal for processing of Rooftop Solar PV (USRTPV), which will enable the consumers to apply for rooftop solar system online and relevant stakeholders would be able to process applications online through this portal.

Mini Ratna from the State, SJVNL signed MoUs for 7 Hydro Electric Projects (HEP) with a total capacity of 1958 MW; these are Luhri Stage – I, Luhri Stage – II, Dhaulasidh, Jangi Thopan Powari, Purthi, Bardang. MoUs were also signed with NTPC for projects with a total capacity of 520 MW for construction of Miyar HEP and Seli HEP. Apart from it, MoU was signed with NHPC for Dugar HEP project which has a capacity of 449 MW.

Apart from Hydro Power Projects, the department of MPP & Power has also entered MoUs worth Rs 1,040 crore with three private entities in Solar Power Sector which shall generate employment to about 1,500 persons.

Principal Secretary Power Prabodh Saxena informed that during the next two years, 645 MW capacity would be added and two HEP projects of Kutehr and Luhri Stage-I would commence construction.

It’s pertinent to mention that, June 2019, Himdhara Environment Research and Action Collective had released their report titled “The Hidden Cost of Hydropower” to highlight the risks associated with hydropower construction, especially in Himalayan regions like Himachal Pradesh. Over the last few years, increasing evidence has emerged that hydropower production may not be so ‘clean and green’ after all. As per Himdhara, this document compiled primary and secondary pieces of evidence of the impacts triggered by underground construction for the run of the river (ROR) hydropower projects highlighting the issues of environmental hazards and risks involved.

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