Shimla: Having sold out nearly all viable hydropower potential sites on rivers and streams to power companies, both private and government; a sharp drop in per unit electricity sale prices is proving a boon for a battered Himalayan environment as projects are rendered unviable and many companies fail to achieve financial closures.
Since the 1980s, the politicians in Himachal banked heavily to achieve financial self-sufficiency by tapping all available 23,000 MW of power potential but dreams are beginning to sour.
Putting the states plight before the YV Reddy headed 14th Finance Commission, on Tuesday chief minister Virbhadra Singh said that over 95 percent of states power potential had been allotted.
Onetime revenue as ‘upfront premium had been received’, he said. This premium is levied either by a competitive bidding or by way of fixed amounts charged on a per megawatt generation potential for any given site where the state surrendered its rights.
“Sale rate of power Rs 7 per unit, five years ago, had drastically dropped to Rs 2-3 per unit. This has dampened interest of power producers as they are unable to attain financial closure,” said Virbhadra With projected revenues as royalty from power generation evaporating into thin air, he revived a long pending demand for imposition of generation tax.
Only at its last cabinet meeting held on 31st July, the government for lack of interest by entrepreneurs had cancelled allotment of ten small hydro projects that have a total potential of 20.5 MW and involve about Rs 200 Cr of investments.
While the government looks for means to buffer up revenues to meet runaway expenditures on salaries, pensions and interest payments on a mountain of debt, environmentalists have upped the ante, demanding a moratorium on more hydel projects.
“Enough is enough. The Uttarakhand disaster is a wakeup call for Himachal Pradesh,” says Ghuman Singh, convener of Himalayan Nithi Abhiyan. “What the government is unable to do, it appears the market forces are proving a saviour of the environment,” he says.
Keen trekker, environmentalist and former senior bureaucrat Avay Shukla says, “There is no such thing as an eco-friendly hydel project in mountain terrain.”
As a one man commission appointed by HP High Court, Shukla had visited all major projects in Saltuj, Beas and Ravi basins. He says, “the largest single contributor to the rape of Himachal’s environment are the hydel projects, and successive BJP and Congress governments since the early nineties have to take the blame for it.”
He adds “they (political parties) have been blinded by the lure of revenues, the discretion, patronage and rent seeking that comes with big money. It is not that they are unaware of the consequences of such massive degradation – there are constant protests from affected villagers, NGOs and even find mention in the reports of various agencies. But the lure of money and the arrogance of power and the ineptitude of the higher bureaucracy have ensured that these concerns are ignored.”
With there being more than 150 big or small projects, operating or under construction, Shukla says that since the 1980s more than 750,000 trees have been felled by hydel projects and their transmission lines in Himachal alone.
With 103 Km of river length of Satluj from Khab, after it enters India from the Tibetan plateau, to Bilaspur expected to disappear into underground tunnels for driving hydropower plants, Shukla questions, “what are we doing to our rivers? Are we converting them all into mythical Saraswatis?”