NEEPCO’s ill-prepared shutdown

[ Tongam Rina ]
The North Eastern Electric Power Corporation’s (NEEPCO) 405 mw Ranganadi hydroelectric project (RHEP) on the Panyor river is on a complete shutdown for maintenance since 9 February. However, it appears that the NEEPCO wasn’t at all prepared for the shutdown.
The first blunder of the NEEPCO was that it did not select a site for dumping of the silt. It was only after downstream organizations protested, saying they would not allow the shutdown unless a dumping site was finalized, that the NEEPCO remembered that the silt had to dumped somewhere.
The shutdown went ahead with a promise from the NEEPCO that it would not release silt. But it did release silt, destroying the downstream of the Panyor river.
The Panyor is not a river anymore as it has turned extremely turbid, with its aquatic life turning up dead. Domesticated animals are nowhere to be seen. It is unlikely that the river will ever rejuvenate again. There is also massive silt deposit on the river’s banks.
It is astounding that a PSU like the NEEPCO, which is undertaking several projects in the state, has completely disregarded matters of safety and environmental destruction as it started the shutdown.
The catastrophic results of the shutdown of the RHEP show that the NEEPCO is functioning without a standard operating procedure, and it has been proved beyond doubt that it is not even bothered about the safety of the tribal villagers who live downstream of the project.
The NEEPCO has to pay a price for the destruction it has caused in the downstream areas, even though no compensation will bring back the lost aquatic life, nor will it rejuvenate the river on which the villagers and their animals depend.
This is not the only time that the RHEP has been responsible for such havoc. The project has been blamed for floods in neighbouring Lakhimpur in Assam due to release of excess water during peak monsoon season.
The NEEPCO has continued to deny that it is responsible for the floods. But the Kimin floods of 2013 are a grim reminder of how unprepared the NEEPCO is. The NEEPCO also says it is not responsible for anything that happens downstream. In its shutdown circular, the corporation said that it shall “not take any responsibility for any loss/damage to life and property etc in case of any accident owing to violation of the notice.” This sort of irresponsibility is unacceptable.
The project was signed in August 1990, without conducting a downstream impact assessment. The destruction downstream exposes how the NEEPCO has not been able to coordinate with the state government, and that the government itself is not bothered. For days together, the state government maintained silence, giving a free run to the NEEPCO to destroy the downstream areas. Only on 15 February did the government finally summon the NEEPCO to explain what was happening downstream.
The damage has been done already, but it is important that the downstream impact is addressed by the NEEPCO – and the state government must ensure that it is addressed. It is a crime to make the people downstream live in perpetual fear.