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The latest crisis has been the Kosi flood situation in Bihar that has led to the evacuation of around 65,000 people. Photo: PTI
The latest crisis has been the Kosi flood situation in Bihar that has led to the evacuation of around 65,000 people. Photo: PTI

India plans safety protocol for dam water discharge

Govt working on plan to implement safeguards to protect riverbanks, project areas from emergencies

New Delhi: With hydropower dam disasters repeatedly posing a threat to lives, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government is working on an action plan to implement safeguards that will protect riverbanks and project areas from emergencies.

This comes in the backdrop of disasters such as the one in Himachal Pradesh that claimed the lives of 24 students from Hyderabad and the flooding of parts of Uttarakhand by the Alaknanda river that left at least 6,000 dead or missing in its worst flooding in decades. The latest crisis has been the Kosi flood situation in Bihar that has led to the evacuation of around 65,000 people. The issue was discussed at a presentation made to power minister Piyush Goyal earlier last month.

The power ministry has instructed all state-owned hydropower generation firms such as NHPC Ltd, THDC India Ltd, SJVN Ltd and North Eastern Electric Power Corp. Ltd (Neepco) to prepare an “action plan for safeguarding the banks and dam area from people so that the same are protected in case of emergencies such as sudden release of water due to various emergent conditions". This protocol, apart from being adopted by the central public sector units (CPSUs), will also be shared with the states.

In the case of the Himachal Pradesh tragedy this year, it was found that the engineering students died because of poor safety practices of the Larji Dam authority and its negligence.

A top power ministry functionary, requesting anonymity, confirmed the development and said, “A protocol is being worked upon. There have been several unfortunate incidents. The idea is to put one in place and then put it forward to the states as well for being adopted."

While mismanaged debris is the ugliest facet of hydroelectric projects, it remains largely unreported. There have also been concerns raised about faltering hydropower generation in the country and delays in project execution. India has a power generation capacity of 249,488.31 megawatts (MW), of which 16.3%, or 40,730.09MW, is hydropower. Hydropower is the ideal solution for meeting peak demand as it is relatively easier to switch on and off, compared with thermal sources.

According to the contours of the plan in the works, “The action plan should be such so as to completely implement the same by 31 December. It should contain ISO (International Organization for Standardization) based system of monitoring with more than adequate warning boards."

Questions have been raised on the future of India’s hydropower development in the ecologically fragile and earthquake-prone Himalayan region even as hydropower’s share in the country’s energy mix has been decreasing. The total hydropower generation potential of India’s north-eastern states and Bhutan is about 58,000MW. Of this, Arunachal Pradesh alone accounts for 50,328MW. Sikkim, as well as most of north India, falls in seismic zones 4 and 5, regions classified as highly vulnerable to high-intensity quakes.

The Kosi flood situation is a perennial issue with efforts to control floods on both sides of the India-Nepal border yet to bear results. The Kosi river breached its embankments in early August 2008, resulting in massive floods that left several people dead and thousands homeless in both countries.

India’s home ministry played down the current scare in a statement on Monday and said: “In view of the steady release of water from the artificially pounded area on river Bhutakoshi in Nepal and the absence of any significant rainfall in the upstream region, there appears to be no immediate danger to the poundage area. Besides this, the water level at Bahrabise, Pachuwrghat and Chatara in Nepal is below the danger level. Looking further at the water level at Birpur, Basua, Baltara and Kursela on the Indian side, it appears that there is no immediate threat of the flooding in the Kosi river."

The Sikkim earthquake in 2011 had also raised questions on the future of India’s hydropower development. The 18 September 6.8 magnitude earthquake on the Sikkim-Nepal border wreaked havoc in the Himalayan country and the Indian state.

Hydropower projects come with their own set of problems. Executing a hydropower project is a time-consuming and tedious process. It includes a thorough survey and investigation, detailed project report preparation, relocation and resettlement of the affected population and infrastructure development.

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