|Three Hydro Development Projects in Kullu (Himachal Pradesh)|
This study focuses on the Kullu District in the Upper Beas River Watershed, Pir Panjal Range of the Western Himalaya, Himachal Pradesh. The Beas River is the central axis and focus of the Kullu Valley, which extends some 70 kilometers from Bajaura in the south to the Manali area in the north. The area is a typical high mountain environment with valley bottom elevation in the Manali area of about 2,000 meters with valley side slopes rising another 2,500 meters in elevation. Set back from these slopes are the major summits of the region that rise to 6,500 meters. The Kullu District, along with much of Himachal Pradesh, has vast potential for hydroelectric development. Steeped sloped valleys that rise above 4,500 meters result in fast moving glacial fed rivers and nallahs (streams). In spite of the potential, there has been little hydropower development in the district.
However, in recent years the demand for power in India has exceeded supply, especially in the northern region. This has resulted in the "rapid exploitation of the hydro power potential of Himachal Pradesh" (Himachal Pradesh State Electricity Board 1998a). The Beas River is currently dammed near the border of Kullu and Mandi Districts by the Pandoh dam and several other major power developments are proposed for the district including the: Beas Satluj Link, which involves a diversion of the Beas River; three stages of the Parbati project, which has 1,900 MW potential in total; three stages of the Larji project (1,200 MW in total), which involves a 6 km tunnel to an underground power plant; and 86 MW Malana project. In addition to these larger projects, there are a number of micro scale hydro projects ranging in size from 200 to 1,000 KW that are either under construction or proposed for the Kullu District. It is estimated that there are 319 small-scale hydro sites proposed for development in Himachal Pradesh (Government of Himachal Pradesh 1998). There is currently no such estimate for the Kullu District, but the Himachal government is reported to be "modifying its power policy in order to speed up the process of development of micro power projects"
Parbati Hydro Electric Project Stage II (800 MW)
The Parbati River is a main tributary of the Beas River. The Parbati Hydroelectric Project proposes to harness the river in three stages: Stage I -750 MW, Stage II - 800 MW, and Stage III - 501 MW. The Himachal Pradesh State Electricity Board (SEB), a statutory public utility responsible for the development of power potential in the state, is the project proponent (Himachal Pradesh State Electricity Board 1996; 1997). During the research and at the time of writing, only plans for stages II and III had been completed. Stage II is envisioned as a run of the river project comprising a 91-meterconcrete-gravity dam on the Parbati. The dam would be located just downstream from the confluence of the Tosh Nallah. The project includes a spillway section that is 39 meters long with four bays controlled by four radial gates, two 4.5-meter intake tunnels, and a 6-meter headrace tunnel. The summary project report indicates that "the project area is sparsely populated and there is little habitation at the diversion site and the power house" (Himachal Pradesh State Electricity Board 1998b, 4). It is noted further that the area of the storage reservoir is small "and as such there will be no rehabilitation problem, as no family is affected by submergence". A detailed description of the potential impacts of the project is not publicly available but the summary report indicates that only a small area of forestland (8.1861 hectares) will be submerged. The report further notes that the following steps will be taken to "maintain the environmental and ecological balance of the project area": Adequate fuel arrangements for workers to prevent felling of trees for fuel; no grazing around reservoir to prevent soil erosion; enforcement of anti-poaching laws to protect wildlife attracted to reservoir; development of pisciculture in the reservoir; proper slope stabilization; and, afforestation activities in the catchments area.
The Parbati Stage III hydroelectric project is proposed for the Sainj River, a tributary of the Beas that will receive water from the tailrace of Parbati Stage II. Stage III is envisioned as a run of the river development. The project comprises a concrete gravity dam 75 meters high, a spillway section 59 meters long having four bays controlled by radial gates, two 5.8-meter intake tunnels, and a 7.5-meter headrace tunnel. The powerhouse will be further downstream and will be combined with a powerhouse from a separate hydro project, namely the Larji development. Reports indicate that the peak labor force for Parbati Stage III will be14,000 workers. As with Stage II, a detailed description of the potential impacts of Parbati Stage III is not available to the public. Moreover, the summary project report for Stage III is nearly identical to that of Stage II, including the mitigation measures listed above (Himachal Pradesh State Electricity Board 1998a). It is difficult, therefore, to get an accurate and trustworthy description of the potential impacts of Parbati Stage III. One distinction between the two projects that is evident is that in StageIII a small area of cultivated land (5 hectares) will be submerged, rather than forestland.
Malana Hydro Electric Project (2X43 MW)
The Malana Hydro Electric Project is a private sector development, proposed by Rajasthan Spinning and Weaving Mills Limited. The project is proposed for the Malana Nallah, which is a tributary of the Parbati River. The proposed site is approximately 33 kilometers from the town of Kullu. By one account, the proposed project is to provide 86 MW of electricity "to meet the power shortages in Himachal Pradesh/Northern Region"(Rajasthan Spinning and Weaving Mills Limited 1996). According to the site manager, however, the power is to be used by the proponent at its factories in Rajasthan. This disparity is interesting given that the Central and HP governments are promoting hydro projects in the Kullu District based on the power shortages in the north. The project consists of a diversion barrage, diversion channel, reservoir, underground tunnel and pressure shaft, and powerhouse and tailrace channel.
This design will redirect the flow of the nallah to two tunnels where the water will drop to a powerhouse and eventually through the tailrace channel to the Parbati River. According to the Environmental Clearance plan developed by the proponent, the negative impacts of the project include loss of forest, loss of land, soil erosion at the construction site, pollution by construction spoils, health risks, cultural hazards, water-borne diseases, and vector-borne diseases. The positive impacts include power generation, employment potential, recreation and tourism potential, and additional habitat for aquatic wildlife.
Public hearings into the Parbati stage II project were held on December 21and 22, 1998. The Himachal Pradesh State Pollution Control Board (HPPCB) convened the hearings in the villages of Barshaini and Sainj. The proponent then made a presentation of the main features of the project indicating that it "finally expected to get approval and that the work may start in the very near future". Two meetings raised the following issues: timely compensation for land damaged by blasting or expropriated for construction of roads and colonies for workers (the public requested land for land compensation); employment opportunities, especially for youth from the local area, and training for those who might require it; conflicts between local people and migrant workers; compensation for damage to link roads caused by construction machinery; and, investment in local infrastructure projects such a hospitals, schools, telephones, and new link roads to currently inaccessible villages.
The proceedings of the Parbati Stage III public hearings were preservation of the Lakshmi Narayan Temple in the village Raila; prompt assessment and disbursement of compensation for land and property expropriated for the project; the type and number of local opportunities for employment; road alignments and maintenance; compensation for downstream windmill operators; safety of the public during blasting operations; proper management of construction debris to avoid damage to land and adverse impacts on water quality; and, local access to new civic infrastructure such as roads, schools and hospitals constructed by the project authorities (Himachal Pradesh State Pollution Control Board 1998b).
The proceedings of the Malana hearings were adequate safety provisions during blasting and in storage of explosives; adequate compensation for land including provisions to ensure that people are not rendered landless; adequacy of geological investigations with respect to proposed structures; compensatory afforestation to mitigate impacts outside the catchments area; development and propagation of suitable flora species, including herbal species, in the catchments area (it was noted that, besides controlling soil erosion, due consideration must be given to soil quality and landslides); socio-economic benefits for local residents such as employment, training and access to civic infrastructure including the construction of a local college ;impacts on wildlife and pisciculture and the mitigation of adverse impacts, especially in the downstream diversion barrage where the water flow shall be drastically reduced; the potential threat to the cultural heritage of Malana village, which is known for its unique cultural traditions and social systems; and, adequate provision for the proper disposal of debris to prevent spillage into nallahs and rivers (Himachal Pradesh State Pollution Control Board1998a).
The Union Government made a decision to execute the Power project in Himachal Pradesh showing that despite the rapid pace of development in general, and for hydro development specifically, elements of the environmental approvals process namely environmental assessment is still in its nascent stage.