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Uncertain future for hydropower projects in Uttarakhand

According to reports, following the declaration of a 130-km stretch of the Bhagirarthi River Valley between Gomukh and Uttarkashi as an eco-sensitive zone by the ministry of environment and forests (MoEF) in December 2012, and the submission of the B K Chaturvedi Committee report in March this year, small hydro power companies in Uttarakhand are facing an uncertain future. Some of them are now looking at diversifying into thermal, solar and wind power.

The B K Chaturvedi Committee was appointed to review existing and ongoing hydroelectric projects on the Ganga and its tributaries. It was also asked to recommend the flow that should be maintained in these rivers, and to suggest how existing power projects should be altered to achieve the required flow. It has suggested certain alterations in existing projects.

The committee’s recommendations have acquired added significance in light of the flash floods and landslides that occurred in parts of Uttarakhand earlier this month.

According to a rough estimate, small hydro power projects totalling 6,000 Mw in the Ganga river basin in Uttarakhand have been affected by the recommendations of the Chaturvedi Committee. The eco-sensitive zone declared by the MoEF has impacted power stations with a total generating capacity of 1,743 Mw.

Companies affected included state-owned Uttarakhand Jai Nigam Ltd (UJVN) and THDC India Ltd. Newly floated subsidiaries of NTPC, GVK and Larsen & Toubro are also affected by the adverse report on the hydropower sector.

A total of 69 hydropower projects with a capacity of more than 9000 Mw were under review by the inter-ministerial group which was set up following an agitation by environmentalists and religious leaders against the development of scores of hydro power projects on the river Bhagirathi.

The committee recommended that no new hydropower projects be taken up beyond these 69 projects. The committee has set certain limitations on these 69 and also stopped the construction of power projects worth 6,000 Mw. The group has recommended the construction of hydropower projects totaling only 3,000 Mw – with tough riders and environmental safeguards.

THDC India Ltd has already ventured into the thermal power business by signing an memorandum of understanding with the Uttar Pradesh government to set up coal-fired power plant at Khurja in the Bulandshahr area. This will be the THDC’s maiden foray into the thermal power business. The Rishikesh-based company, a joint venture between the Centre and the Uttar Pradesh government, recently decided to enter other power businesses like solar and wind power.

R S T Sai, chairman and managing director of THDCIL, said that to mitigate exposure to risks like long gestation periods, environmental and social issues involved in developing hydropower projects, the company would diversify into thermal, solar and wind power projects.

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