Home / Industry / Energy /  With an eye on Pakistan, India steps up efforts on Chenab hydropower projects

New Delhi: As part of India’s plan to expedite strategically important hydropower projects, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) ruled Himachal Pradesh on Wednesday inked agreements entailing an investment of Rs25,000 crore with central public sector units (PSU) for setting up hydropower projects on Chenab river.

The move will provide a fresh push to hydropower in India’s energy mix, and will also help fully utilize its share of water under the Indus Waters Treaty. The treaty sets out a mechanism for cooperation and information exchange between the two countries regarding their use of rivers and was inked after nine years of negotiations, with the World Bank being a signatory.

While state-run NHPC Ltd signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the Himachal Pradesh state government for developing 449 megawatt (MW) Duggar project, India’s largest power generation utility -- NTPC Ltd -- inked MoUs for Seli (400 MW) and Miyar(120 MW) projects.

Chenab is a western river that originates from India and flows into Pakistan. According to the Indus Waters Treaty of 1960, “India shall be under an obligation to let flow all the waters of the western rivers, and shall not permit any interference with these waters, except for the following uses," such as—domestic use, non-consumptive use, agricultural use, and generation of hydro-electric power.

“The Duggar project is a run of the river scheme on Chenab river and will require an investment of Rs4,112 crore. It will provide Himachal Pradesh free power, local area development and employment opportunity," Balraj Joshi, chairman and managing director NHPC told Mint.

Developing hydropower projects has been a recurring theme of India’s strategic play in the border areas, specifically with China and Pakistan in mind. A case in point being the 330 MW Kishanganga hydro power project in Jammu and Kashmir that was commissioned last May on the river Kishanganga, a tributary of Jhelum. While Pakistan had challenged the project under the Indus Waters Treaty of 1960, the International Court of Arbitration at The Hague ruled in India’s favour in 2013. Pakistan had also raised objections on the 1,000 MW Pakal Dul and 48 MW Lower Kalnai hydroelectric projects on River Chenab.

State-run NHPC Ltd is India’s largest hydro power producer, with a power generation capacity of 7,071 MW through its 22 operational hydro projects and two wind and solar projects. It also has four hydro projects totalling 4,424 MW under construction and 10 projects totalling 7,321 MW awaiting clearance.

“NTPC Ltd, India’s largest power producer, today signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Himachal Pradesh government to set up two hydro projects totalling 520 MW in the state," the utility said in a statement.

India now also looks at expediting strategically important hydropower projects in Jammu and Kashmir to fully utilize its share of water under the Indus Waters Treaty. State-run NHPC Ltd plans to construct these hydropower projects in the context of China developing the controversial China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).

With nearly 100 gigawatts (GW) of electricity potential in India’s rivers lying untapped because of high tariffs, the NDA government has approved a slew of measures under the hydro policy to make it competitive.

Executing a hydropower project is time-consuming and tedious. It involves a thorough survey and investigation, detailed project reports, resettlement of the affected population and infrastructure development.

At present, India has an installed power-generation capacity of 357,875 MW, of which around 13% or 45,399.22 MW is generated through hydroelectric power projects. The other central hydro sector PSUs are Tehri Hydro Development Corp Ltd, North Eastern Electric Power Corp. Ltd (Neepco), and SJVN Ltd.

Hydropower projects, often located in remote regions, are crucial to stabilise the grid as India looks to add 175 GW of renewable capacity. However, given the issues regarding resettlement of the affected population and infrastructure development, many projects have been stuck and delayed leading to a decreasing share of hydropower in the country’s energy mix.

The government’s plan is to add hydro capacities of about 45 GW to the renewable energy basket of existing 80 GW which includes solar, wind and small hydro.

This comes at a time when India has brought 26.4 million new electricity consumers into its fold, which according to Paris-based International Energy Agency (IEA) is the largest expansion of electricity access in the history of mankind. In an indication of growing appetite for electricity in India, the country’s per capita electricity consumption has reached 1189 kilowatt-hour (kWh) as compared to a global average of 3600 kWh.

Utpal Bhaskar
"Utpal Bhaskar leads Mint's policy and economy coverage. He is part of Mint’s launch team, which he joined as a staff writer in 2006. Widely cited by authors and think-tanks, he has reported extensively on the intersection of India’s policy, polity and corporate space.
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