India’s Hydropower Ambitions Under Spotlight After Joshimath Sinking

India has been working hard to increase hydropower output in order to assist fulfill a target of 500 gigatonnes (GW) of total clean energy capacity by 2030. Hydropower now contributes for around 13% of total power generating capacity in the country, or 47 GW.

Cracks are seen on the ground outside of a residential house as State and National Disaster Response forces demolish a hotel after cracks developed on the property, in Joshimath, in the northern state of Uttarakhand, India, January 13, 2023

Uttarakhand, which is prone to flash floods and landslides, has more than ten operational hydropower projects, with another 75 under construction, including NTPC’s Tapovan-Vishnugad plant, which is being blamed for this month’s devastation in Joshimath. Residents’ outraged protests have reignited debate about the construction of hydropower projects in Himalayan areas.

Damaged stairs leading to a residential building and a tilted room are seen in Joshimath, in the northern state of Uttarakhand, India, January 13, 2023

Started in 2008, the 520-megawatt Tapovan-Vishnugad Hydropower Plant on the Dhaulganga River is likely to be completed within a year.

NTPC officials said rampant construction activity in Joshimath had caused the subsidence – the sinking or settling of the ground surface, not the tunnel they were constructing, which was more than a kilometre (0.62 miles) away from the edge of the town, and ran far below the surface.

**EDS: BEST QUALITY AVAILABLE** Chamoli: Washed away barrage of Rishi Ganga power project in Neeti valley, after a glacier broke off in Joshimath in Uttarakhand’s Chamoli district causing a massive flood in the Dhauli Ganga river, Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021. More than 150 labourers working at the Rishi Ganga power project may have been directly affected. (PTI Photo)(PTI02_07_2021_000092B)

For years, experts have warned that large-scale development projects, especially hydropower projects, in and near Joshimath might cause soil subsidence. Officials and geologists investigating the damage in Joshimath believe the 2021 flash floods, which destroyed the Rishiganga mini-hydropower plant and killed over 200 people, were the catalyst for Joshimath’s current problems.

Environmentalists on the other-hand feel that Joshimath’s problems should inspire a reconsideration of new plant construction in mountain locations, and that hydropower projects in the Himalayan region should be halted immediately.

Reference- Al Jazeera stor, National Geographic, Down To Earth, Discovery Magazine