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Joshimath sinking: Delayed by a decade, cost of Tapovan Vishnugad Hydroelectric Power Project increased by 138%

Despite two SC-appointed committee reports stating that such hydroelectric power projects could have significant environmental impact, the government in 2015 set up yet another committee which gave the go-ahead for at least six hydropower projects.

January 10, 2023 / 05:41 PM IST
A glacier broke off in Uttarakhand's Joshimath in 2021 .(Picture Credits: IANS)

A glacier broke off in Uttarakhand's Joshimath in 2021 .(Picture Credits: IANS)

Joshimath in Uttarakhand is facing the worst land subsidence in its history and experts say the reasons are multiple, ranging from rampant infrastructure development to fragile ecosystem and seismic zone. But, at the centre of all the discussion and debate of the 'sinking Joshimath' story is the Tapovan Vishnugad hydroelectric power project, which is being built by state-run NTPC Limited.

Construction of this 520 MW hydroelectric power (HEP) project began in 2006 and was scheduled to be completed in March 2013. But, almost 10 years later, the project is still 'under construction'.  Besides, the project has also undergone a major cost escalation from the initial approved investment of Rs 2,978.5 crore to now an anticipated Rs 7,103 crore, which is an increase of 138.4 percent. In between, the cost of the project was revised to Rs 5,867.38 crore.

The Tapovan Vishnugad HEP project has had a chequered history, which also is partially the reason for its delay. On February 7, 2021, the entire Chamoli district of Uttarakhand, which also houses Joshimath, was hit by unprecedented floods caused by an avalanche, damaging two hydropower projects and leaving more than 200 people dead or missing. One of the two HEP projects was Tapovan Vishnugad, while the other was Rishiganga HEP project. Both the projects were majorly damaged during the floods.

After the Chamoli disaster, the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) in a report pointed to inadequate prevention and mitigation measures for hydroelectric power projects during the construction stage. The apex disaster management authority also found that there was “no functional early warning system” in the region. Now, the project only has a manual flood warning system. On December 27 last year, the power ministry said it tied up with Defence Research and Development Organisation for implementation of an early warning system at vulnerable HEP projects.