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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 7 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 world around him in his DSLR lens.

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Environment

Himachal to launch Polythene Hatao Paryavaran Bachao Campaign along with plantation of 15 lakh plants

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Plastic Hatao Paryavaran bachao campaign

Shimla: While the two Municipal Corporations of Himachal Pradesh and Municipal Councils of various towns are nowhere near the solid waste segregation and proper disposal, the State Environment, Science and Technology will be launching a week-long ‘Polythene Hatao Paryavaran Bachao Campaign’ from May 27 to June 2, 2018, across the State to motivate people for the elimination of polythene and protection of the environment, Director D.C. Rana informed on Friday.

He said that this campaign would be coordinated in each district by urban local bodies and PRIs under the supervision of Deputy Commissioner.

Cooperation of all government offices, NGO’s would also be sought. Public representatives, MLA’s, Ministers would also be approached for motivating people towards shunning polythene and protecting the environment.

Efforts would also be made for cleaning of water bodies, areas near water sources, tourist places etc, during the campaign, he added.

Plantation Drive during HP Van Mahotsava

The Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (PCCF) G.S. Goraya on Friday informed that 15 lakh plants would be planted in the state during three days plantation campaign after holding of State Level Van Mahotsava between 9 to July 15 this year.

A plantation campaign would be taken up throughout the state for three days starting two days after holding of State level Van Mahotsava between the said dates. In addition to the local communities, all members of H.P. Vidhan Sabha would also be requested to participate in the planting campaign at any of the sites on the date convenient to them.

The matter regarding the implementation of Reward Scheme for the staff of the Forest department, communities, and schools, which are doing good work in nursery raising, carrying out plantations, and forest protection work, was also discussed.

Fields officers were requested to send their suggestions on criteria to be fixed to judge good performances for purpose of nominating and finalizing the recipients of the proposed rewards.

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Creative Corner

Mulakaat: A candid video shot in Manali dedicated to Mother Nature

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Mothers-Day-Video-by-4play

Kullu: A Manali-based startup, 4Play, has offered perhaps the most wonderful tribute to the mother- nature on this Mother’s day. In just four days, a team of youths at 4Play prepared a video, which includes some very well shot scenes and fresh glimpses of marvellous landscapes of Manali.

Watch Video

The video features Praveen Ghanghas (29), a nomadic mountain lover, who can be seen climbing up a high deodar tree and standing at the top of it like an eagle. No need to say, the view was breathtaking.

Manali video by 4play 4

Praveen Ghanghas in action

The 4Play shared some pictures of Praveen, who is definitely a fitness freak, with Himachal Watcher (HW).

He is a professional mountaineer with specialization in mountain search & rescue along with being a certified wilderness medical first aid responder. He is a part of the 4Play team and leads operations of all technical shoots at 4Play.

Praveen Ghanghas

Praveen Ghanghas in action

Nature has been depicted as a caring mother, who’s always willing to give without complaining. Similarly, Mother Nature does not a complaint about the wrath that the humankind has unleashed on it. So, we owe an apology to it for irreversible damage human developmental activities have done to nature.

Manali video by 4play 3

Human flag by Praveen Ghanghas

Ironically, the Manali, like rest of the tourist towns, is overburdened with ever increasing tourist flow, and the resources of the place are falling victim to over-exploitation. The ecology is heading towards its doom while the government and the people are thinking only about exploiting the beauty of Manali for money.

We have been lately trying to bring forth the subject how the weight on the mountains is increasing and how the growing tourism is only making it worse. We have lately done stories on the same line. So on the occasion of Mother’s Day, we wanted to send out this video as an acknowledgement to all mothers (even mother nature) who never complain and continue to take care of us despite everything

, Shantanu Negi of 4Play told Himachal Watcher.

Is not it an excellent way to tell people to spend more time with nature and care-back for it?

Manali video by 4play

The video came from the same team that was behind ‘Bawali Booch’ – a short musical and adventurous tour of Manali town. It’s worth your time.

About 4Play

4Play is a start-up that is catering exclusively to the Extreme, Adventure and Action sports communities in India. Curating stories from the Indian outdoors, the group is currently weaving Eastern Hemisphere’s first content network for extreme and action sports. The team is looking forward to getting into the international arena so that athletes could gain mainstream attention.

Initially, the three founders of the start-up set, Anuj, Kshitij and Sukrit, set up their own shop in a rented apartment in a shady alley of New Delhi. However, they soon realised that metropolis was way unaffordable compared to their meagre investment. That is when they made the decision to move the operations to a quaint place, away from the much-crowded Tier 1 & 2 cities.

Very recently, the start-up launched an incubation program at Indian Institute of Technology IIIT), Mandi – Catalyst. The founders say that being one of the few startups in the region, 4Play enrolled for the program to lay the foundation of a community to spearhead enterprise in the region.

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Environment

Taxi operators cheer after Manali-Rohtang ‘electric bus service’ cancelled ahead of peak tourist season

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Electric bus service in Rohtang cancelled

Shimla: The Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur was supposed to flag-off the much awaited electric bus service on April 30, 2018, from Manali to Rohtang for the tourists.  However, it was cancelled at the last moment. 

It doesn’t sound like a co-incident that the members of the Him Anchal Taxi Union, Manali, had approached the minister urging him to not to begin the service as it was hitting their livelihood. Otherwise, a protest was already planned ahead of the CM’s visit to Kullu.

However, the ceremony was cancelled suddenly.

The peak tourist season beings in May, therefore, the taxi operators are cheering as the tourists won’t have any other option but to hire expensive services of the cabs.  

Himachal Pradesh had not only become the first state to commission 100 percent battery-powered electric buses but also the first in the world to ply them at an altitude of 3, 978 meters (13,000 feet) on mountainous terrain of Pir Panjal ranges of the eastern Himalayas when Transport Minister GS Bali flagged off the first bus on September 22, 2017.

The decision had faced protest from the local cab operators back then too.

However, it was on November 14, 2018, that two of the newly commissioned electric buses on Manali-Rohtang Pass stretch begun ferrying passengers on a regular basis. The HRTC was charging Rs. 600 per seat for a two-way trip starting from Manali to the Rohtang snowline.

The electric buses are manufactured in a tie-up with Chinese firm BYD Auto Industry Co Ltd. Each bus costs 1.70 crores and Himachal had bought 25 of them at that time. The total cost of this deal was Rs. 48 crores.  

The CM, however, said he was not under any pressure and some unfinished formalities caused the cancellation.  He did not mention anything specific about the period for which the introduction of the e-buses would remain pending.

The CM also contradicted his statements given to media in which it was suggested that the government was looking to find a middle-path to provide relief to the taxi operators. Also, the taxi union said the operators were ensured that the e-bus service would be put on hold. 

 The decision was taken by the previous government after the National Green Tribunal had lashed out at it for unchecked environmental degradation around Rohtang Pass due to increasing load of domestic and international tourism.

The taxi operators had been protesting against the NGT orders as well as the plying of electric buses. The previous government could not ignore the orders despite the protests.

In 2014, taking note of research works pointing out fastening of glacier melting in the vicinity to Rohtang and blacking of the snow due to heavy vehicular emissions, the NGT had restricted the entry of vehicles to only 1,000 including both diesel and petrol.

The transport minister is also of the view that the developmental works would be taken up only after considering the interests of the people first.

Though the decision would benefit the local taxi operators and the hospitality industry, it can’t be done at the cost of environmental degradation. It must not be forgotten that the tourism industry exists because of the natural beauty and purity of the air in Rohtang Pass.

Therefore, we should hope that the government would not take such crucial decision to temporarily please a section of the hospitality industry.  The environmental protection lies at the root of human survival and delay in taking measures to avert it will only make it worse.

We hope that the government would actually come out with some productive solution to ensure the protection of both – the interests of the locals as well as environmental protection.    

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