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‘Small hydel plants affecting river lengths’

Saturday, 15 June 2013 | PNS | Dehradun | in Dehradun

Small hydro power plants are mushrooming in the country with one plant coming up every week in the past seven years.

Though such small hydro power (SHP) plants are touted as ‘green energy’ by the Government, they are being constructed without environmental safeguards which is exerting a negative impact on the environment as in Uttarakhand where they could result in rivers like Bhagirathi and Alaknanda being restricted to tunnels or reservoirs for about 70 per cent of their length. This was revealed in a report released by the Centre for Science and Environment at a conference on green norms for small hydro power in Dehradun on Friday.

The CSE report titled Green Norms for Green Energy: Small Hydro Power revealed that in the last seven years, 366 SHP plants worth 1,600 MW have been installed in the country which amounts to one SHP plant every week. There are more than 300 projects under various stages of implementation with a capacity 1,250 MW.

Analysing the hydro power projects in Uttarakhand, the report states that the State has a SHP potential of 1,710 MW. The report says that there are 70 hydro projects under various stages of development on the Bhagirathi and Alaknanda basins in Uttarakhand. Out of these, 40 (worth 180 MW) fall under the small hydro category.

Together, these projects could ‘affect’ about 70 per cent of the length of two rivers. This means that for 70 per cent of its length, the river will either flow through a tunnel or be impounded as a reservoir.

CSE deputy director general Chandra Bhushan said, “We are looking at deforestation done to construct project facilities such as roads, power houses and transmission lines, increased soil erosion, disruption of local fauna and flora and disturbance of mountain slopes. The SHP plants can leave long stretches of a river dry and affect fish and other aquatic populations adversely.”

Based on energy and tariff analysis, CSE has recommended ‘ecological flow’ norms for all hydropower projects, including SHP in Uttarakhand. “Our analysis shows that it is economically viable to have uninterrupted ecological flow of 30 per cent during monsoons and 50 per cent during lean season. This will allow our rivers to flow as well as allow sustainable development of SHP,” said Bhushan.

CSE report has also found that the SHP projects are not even adhering to the minimum environmental norms as many project developers do not even obtain a ‘consent to establish/consent to operate’ from the State Pollution Control Board. The regulations for muck disposal and afforestation are never followed.

Columnist and environmentalist Bharat Jhunjhunwala stressed on the need to lower energy consumption, examine sustainability of SHP and fragmentation of habitats. SHP (UJVNL) general manager Arvind Kumar said that issue of ecological flow is a governance problem and a monitoring agency is needed to monitor this issue.

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