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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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SC’s Forest Diversion Regulation a Blockade on Forest Rights Act Implementation in Himachal: Himdhara

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Supreme Court On Forest Diversion in Himachal Pradesh 2

ShimlaHimdhara Collective, a Himachal-based environment research and action group, has released a report on the implications of the regulation imposed by the Supreme Court on forest diversion under the Forest Rights Act 2006 in Himachal, through a series of orders passed last year. This brought to a screeching halt the implementation of Section 3(2) of the FRA which grants powers to gram sabhas and Divisional Forest Officers to divert upto 1 hectare of forest land for 13 types of village welfare activities like roads, schools, community centres, PDS shops etc. 

The court orders were based on the conclusions drawn by a Supreme Court Monitoring Committee, headed by a retired PCCF, V.P Mohan, that the diversions were leading to green felling and deforestation in the state. Initially, a stay was imposed on all green felling in the state (in a matter of forest diversions under FCA 1980 and FRA 2006) on 11th March 2019. This stay was partially relaxed but the Supreme court sought all FRA proposals to be brought before it for further diversion.

The report titled ‘Missing the forest for Trees’, assesses the ground reality behind the conclusions drawn by the Supreme Court Monitoring Committee based on which these diversions have been restricted.

“We have found that the Supreme court’s orders need to be reviewed because the alarm raised by the V.P Mohan committee with regard to FRA was a false one”,

stated authors of the report which is based on analysis of RTI information as well as field research.

RTI data sought from the Forest department for all cases under section 3(2) of the Forest Rights Act 2006 from 2014 to 2019 (up to January 2019), was analysed to reveal that 17237 trees were felled in an area of 887.56 hectares for 1959 activities in 41 of the 45 forest divisions of the state.

Roads, followed by schools and community centres dominate the type of activities carried out. Of the total land diverted 91% is for roads. It was found that almost 64% of these diversions showed ‘nil’ trees felled. The average number of trees felled per hectare is very low (19.52) and it may be induced that most activities have been carried out in areas with open forest or no trees.

Rohru (Shimla), Nachan(Mandi), Kinnaur and Chopal were some of the divisions which had a large number of diversions, again mostly for roads.

Case studies we carried out in Mandi and Kangra district showed the desperate need for amenities like village link roads and schools. In Himachal, there remain about 41% villages that have no road connectivity which affects access to health, education and market centres.

On the other hand, large development activities like four lane highways, hydropower projects and transmission lines, have had a much larger ecological footprint in terms of tree loss in the state compared to the very minute, incomparable diversions under FRA.

The report also finds that as far as green cover is concerned in the period corresponding to the high number of forest diversions under FRA (2015-2019), the forest survey of India’s statistics show a 333 sq.km increase in the forest cover.

Why development rights under FRA important for Himachal?

1.No Land available with revenue departments and panchayats for ‘welfare activities’ thus forest land only option

The report concludes that given the fact that 2/3rd of the geographical area of the state is recorded ‘forest area’ where strict forest laws have restricted non-forest use, the FRA provides relief for communities to access basic welfare facilities, which should be seen as their fundamental right and therefore should not be hindered.

2.Cumbersome, costly and lengthy process under FCA 1980

Before FRA it was the Forest Conservation Act, 1980 which governed forest diversion even for small local development activities. This required not only permission from the Central Government (MoEFCC Regional or Delhi Office) but also warranted that user agencies deposit funds (Net Present Value of trees) to carry out Compensatory Afforestation. The whole diversion process under FCA was cumbersome, lengthy and costly, and thus a major hurdle in providing the rural areas, especially remote areas, access to basic welfare development facilities.

 “The section 3(2) of the FRA provides relief for both governmental departments and local communities as it overrides the FCA and puts in place a simple and decentralized process for diversion”states the report.

3.FRA is meant to correct the problems that were posed by strict central forest laws

The Forest Rights Act was passed by the parliament of India in 2006 recognising that across the country there are lakhs of communities dependent on land which is legally categorised as ‘forest land’ and are unable to exercise their basic livelihood and development rights due to extremely strict forest laws. Under this act’s Section 3(1), forest-dependent communities can file claims for their individual and community rights exercised before the cut-off date of 13th December 2005.

“As it is Himachal has been sluggish with FRA implementation and only 136 titles have been issued under section 3(1). But atleast the government was proactive with the implementation of section 3(2). With the Supreme court orders regulating this provision, there seems to be an impression amongst the implementing agencies and officials that there is an over-all blockade on FRA in the state”

added members of the collective.

The report has recommended that the state government and nodal agency for the Act – the Central Ministry of Tribal Affairs, put forth the case in favour of section 3(2) of the FRA strongly in front of the Supreme Court and also move swiftly to ensure implementation of all provisions of this law in Himachal.  

 

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HP Govt Exempts Use of Plastic Straws Attached with Beverages for 6 Months

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Plastic straws in himachla pradesh

Shimla: The use of integrated plastic straws attached with tetra pack of beverages are exempted temporarily for a period of six months in Himachal Pradesh, informed a spokesperson of the state government on January 31, 2020.

He informed that the exemption would be a subject to the implementation of Action Plan submitted by M/s Tetra Pack India Pvt. Ltd., AARC under Extended Producer Responsibility.

During the relaxation period, the manufacturers and producers are to come out with an alternative to plastic straw, which is bio-degradable, he informed. A notification in this regard has been issued recently.

He said that other provisions of the notification issued by Department of Environment, Science and Technology of HP on September 20, 2019, which imposes complete ban on plastic cutlery such as spoons, bowls, katories, stirring sticks, forks, knives, straws made of plastic, would remain banned.

He said that this notification will come into force with immediate effect.

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Himachal to Adopt ‘Borehole Resin Extraction’ Method to Minimize Damage to Pine Trees & Maximize Quality

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Pine Resin Trapping in Himachal Pradesh

Solan-In the past decade, intensive resin tapping by rill method has resulted in the drying of thousands of pine trees in Himachal Pradesh. It has also been observed, that the application of higher concentration of acid, used as a freshener, had adversely affected the growth of trees and even the tapped surface area is not healing.

Therefore, the HP State Forest Development Corporation will soon adopt the borehole technique of oleoresin extraction to minimize the damage caused to pine trees by resin tapping and simultaneously increase the quality of the collected resin.

It was informed by Himachal Pradesh Forest Minister Sh. Gobind Singh Thakur during the concluding session of the one-day training of officials from HP State Forest Development Corporation at the Dr YS Parmar University of Horticulture and Forestry (UHF) Nauni. The method has been developed by the scientists of the Forest Products Department of the university. 

Bore hole resin extraction

Borehole Resin Extraction’ Method

The Forest Minister said that the department would adopt the new technique in the coming time so that the twin motives of resin quality and its quantity along with ensuring the good health of the trees can be met. He said that the Forest Department will work in collaboration with the university so that the benefit of the various technologies developed by it can be put to the best use for the development of the state.

BD Suyal, MD State Forest Corporation said that technique is quite encouraging and the corporation will take up setting up 10-15,000 bores in every directorate to assess the results of the method. He added that in the second phase the contractors and the labourers will be also be trained on technique by the university. Earlier, Dr Kulwant Rai Sharma gave a detailed presentation and practical demonstration on the technique to the forest officials. He said that the adoption of the technology can prove to be boon for the forests and the resin industry. 

What is Borehole Method of Resin Extraction  

The new method involves drilling small holes (1 inch wide and 4 inches deep) with the help of simple tools into the tree to open its resin ducts. The holes are drilled with a slight slope towards the opening, so that oleoresin drains freely. Multiple boreholes are arrayed evenly around the tree’s circumference, or clustered in groups of two or three. Spouts are tightly fitted into the opening with polythene bags attached to it with the help of tie for resin collection.

resin trappig method in Himachal Pradesh

Borehole Resin Extraction’ Method

The new technique was developed in an attempt to overcome some of the limitations of other conventional methods. A key feature of the method is that a closed collection apparatus prevents premature solidification of resin acids, thereby maintaining oleoresin flow for an extended period of up to six months. Due to reduced oxidation and contamination, the end product is of higher quality with substantially higher turpentine. The average yield per tree is almost the same if numbers of boreholes on a tree are adjusted as per the maximum carrying capacity of the tree. The method also allows tapping of lower diameter trees depending upon their potential of production without having any impact on their health. The crown fire hazards incidents are also less because there is no hard resin accumulation on the main stem and spread of ground blaze can be easily avoided by removing the bags well in time.

The rosin and turpentine oil obtained from borehole method are of very good quality, which can fetch higher prices in the market. In addition to tackling the problems of tree health, labour requirements and costs for borehole tapping are significantly lower than conventional methods. The borehole wounds cause little damage to the tree bark and since these holes are near the ground level, only a healed scar can be seen in the converted woods. Therefore, there is no damage to the merchantable part of the tree.

Further, the Forest Minister also said that the university and the forest department will look to work together for establishing an eco-tourism model on the university campus. He added that the University Vice-Chancellor will be invited to all the important policy meetings of the state forest department to seek their expertise. The forest minister visited the demonstration block of borehole technique and also planted a tree at the university.

UHF Vice-Chancellor Dr Parvinder Kaushal called for continuous interaction between the university and the forest department. He emphasized on apprising the grass root level workers and train them on the new technique.

The event was attended by  BD Suyal, Managing Director, HP Forest Corporation; KK Kataik Director(South); Dr JN Sharma, Director Research, Dr Kulwant Rai Dean College of Forestry and other officials of the university. Around 30 officers of the rank of Divisional Managers and Assistant Managers from various parts of the state took part in the training.

 

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