Sikkim dam collapse will not slow India’s hydropower plans: R.K. Singh

Govt. looking into early warning system that will aid opening of dam gates in time, says Minister

October 20, 2023 12:34 am | Updated 12:34 am IST - NEW DELHI

Flooded Teesta river in north Sikkim, on October 4, 2023.  A sudden cloud burst over Lhonak Lake in North Sikkim resulted in a flash flood in the Teesta River in Lachen valley.

Flooded Teesta river in north Sikkim, on October 4, 2023. A sudden cloud burst over Lhonak Lake in North Sikkim resulted in a flash flood in the Teesta River in Lachen valley. | Photo Credit: PTI

The glacier lake outburst (GLOF) that triggered a flood in Sikkim and destroyed the Chungthang dam will not slow India’s reliance on hydropower, R.K. Singh, Minister for Power and Renewable Energy, has said.

“We didn’t have an early warning system in place that would have allowed the dam’s gates to be opened. We are looking into this. However, hydropower is necessary especially when we need baseload power and a source of electricity that can be quickly ramped up or down. Many countries derive 70%-80% of their power from hydropower... The Green Revolution in India was partly due to the Bhakra Nangal (power project), so we are not going to write off hydropower as yet,” he said at a meeting on Wednesday.

Also read | Flash floods caused ₹233.56 crore expected loss in Teesta-VI hydro project in Sikkim

The Chungthang dam, a key component of the 1,200 MW Sikkim Urja hydel power project, was destroyed along with several highways, villages, and towns in Sikkim. The quantity of water that gushed out following the lake outburst overwhelmed the dam’s spillways in minutes, rendering any attempt at opening its gates futile. Though a proper investigation is pending, early reports say that the dam wasn’t engineered to withstand flow from GLOF events.

Scientists who have been studying the glacier lakes in the Himalayas have warned of such events and the need for early warning systems for over a decade.

The National Disaster Management Agency had in September installed automated weather stations at the South Lhonak lake (which burst) in September but these systems were not designed to warn of a sudden discharge and were only equipped to monitor weather.

India has about 100 large hydropower plants, defined as those with over 25 MW capacity, but their share in the country’s overall electricity mix has been falling and now accounts for around 12%.

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