Shimla: SJVN, a mini Ratna public sector power producer company, has changed plans for setting up a run of the river project involving construction of a high diameter 38 kilometer long tunnel to a three stage dam reservoir one with a reduced capacity project, but the locals are opposed to setting up any project on the only remaining free flowing stretch of the mighty Himalayan river.
In the revised design SJVN has proposed to construct three reservoir based projects instead of one large project with the tunnel component completely shelved.
Stage I of the revised project design involves constructing of an 86 meter high dam at Nirath village. Stage II is proposed to be a 43 MW dam project at Kepu and the third stage of 330 MW at Khaira. In the new design there is also a reduction in the land area required for the project to less than half of what was required before.
The project proponent on 27th July 2015 submitted a application to the Ministry of Environment and Forests for the issuing of a fresh TOR for the Luhri project, which now has a reduced capacity.
Satluj Bachao Jan Sangharsh Samiti, a platform of representatives of villages to be affected by the Luhri Hydropower project (Kullu, Mandi and Shimla districts) and groups like SANDRP and Himdhara have however raised objections saying that reduction in capacity was no solution and the project should be scrapped.
Opponents to the project have expressed relief that dropping of the 38 km long tunnel was a radical change in the design of the project.
“The project tunnel if built would have been one of the longest for a hydro project in Asia and would have led to the disappearance of the Satluj river for a stretch of 50 kms. Apart from that close to 78 villages would have been affected as a result. The main issues with regard to tunneling have been the detsabilisation of slopes, cracks and damages to houses and drying up natural water springs. So the dropping of the tunnel is certainly a welcome step” said Shyam Singh Chauhan of the Samiti and resident of the affected area.
These villages have been agitating against the project since its inception and have also challenged the Environment Clearance at the National Green Tribunal.
Last year the World Bank, which was to provide a USD 650 million loan to the $ 1150 million project had dropped the financial assistance owing to the environmental impacts of the project and local movement.
Now the change in the design also reiterates the fact that these hydropower projects are not as benign as made out to be, says Manshi Asher, spokesperson Satluj Bachao Jan Sangharsh Samiti
Environmental groups and activists however continue to be sceptical. “The Sutlej basin has seen possibly the highest concentration of bumper to bumper hydropower projects, more than any other basin in India. With three reservoir dams of more than 80 m, upstream of the Bhakra and Kol, ultimately, the river is being obstructed and massive construction activity undertaken on the Satluj. The riverine ecology and fish migration is bound to be disturbed. The Cumulative impacts have to be taken into account because this is now the only stretch of free-flowing Satluj”.
After the Uttarakhand disaster of June 2013 and the recent Nepal earthquake there today is a greater urgency to review all large scale construction projects taken up without proper environmental impact assessment or cumulative impact assessment.
The Cumulative Impact Assessment study undertaken on the Saluj basin by ICFRE is inadequate and requires much more through assessment.
Further, it is also important to acknowledge that apart from environmental issues, there are technical and financial issues as well.
With increasing cost of hydropower and the falling revenues Himachal Pradesh Government needs to seriously reconsider its mad rush for hydropower development in the State