- Hydropower has for long been a subject of controversy in Uttarakhand. The state nestles in the ecologically fragile and earthquake-prone Himalayan region, but has unleashed rapid development, much of it driven by hundreds of hydropower projects
NEW DELHI: Around 178 people are reportedly missing at state-run NTPC Ltd’s 520 MW Tapovan Vishnugad hydropower project site, after a glacier near Raini village above Rishiganga river in Uttarakhand burst on Sunday.
While the flood hit the Rishiganga small hydropower project, with around 40 people reportedly missing there, the flow and debris from the river merged with that from the Dhauliganga river and damaged the under-construction Vishnugad hydropower project of India’s largest power generation utility in the Tapovan area.
“An avalanche near Tapovan in Uttarakhand has damaged a part of our under-construction hydropower project in the region. While rescue operation is on, situation is being monitored continuously with the help of district administration and police,” NTPC Ltd said in a tweet.
Teams from Indo Tibetan Border Police (ITBP), National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) and State Disaster Response Force (SDRF) have been deployed at the disaster site.
“The Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi has spoken to Uttarakhand Chief Minister, Shri Trivendra Singh Rawat, and reviewed the situation in Uttarakhand,” the Prime Minister’ Office said in a statement.
Of India’s installed power-generation capacity of 373.43 GW, hydropower projects account for around 12.23% or 45.69 GW capacity.
“The barrage at the NTPC’s project site has been filled with sediment and around 70% of the barrage’s top bridge has also been damaged. It’s feared that three gates of the spillway have been washed away,” said a person aware of the development, requesting anonymity. “While the civil structure is intact, it is a huge loss.”
The Sunday disaster follows the Sikkim earthquake in September 2011 and Uttarakhand floods in 2013 that had raised questions about India’s hydropower development.
Hydropower has for long been a subject of controversy in Uttarakhand. The state nestles in the ecologically fragile and earthquake-prone Himalayan region, but has unleashed rapid development, much of it driven by hundreds of hydropower projects. In Uttarakhand, as many as 70 hydro projects–existing, under-construction, and proposed dams–are located on two river basins alone – the Bhagirathi and the Alaknanda.
Hydropower projects also come with their own set of problems. Executing them is a time-consuming and tedious process and construction requires thorough survey and investigation, detailed project reports, specialized technology and design, apart from environmental clearances.
Prior to Sunday’s incident, the Uttarakhand government had scrapped 600MW of Loharinag Pala project in 2010, and Arunachal Pradesh in 2007 had taken away the 4,000MW Etalin and 500MW Attunli projects awarded to the utility. With an installed capacity of 62.91 GW, the NTPC group has 70 power stations across the country.
The government plans to add hydro capacities of about 45GW to country’s renewable energy basket as they are ideal for catering to peak load when compared to thermal power plants. These plants can be swiftly turned on and off, helping the grid withstand fluctuations caused by intermittent supplies from solar and wind.