Srinagar, May 16: Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be inaugurating the Kishanganga hydroelectric project in Kashmir’s Bandipora district on May 19 during his visit to the northern state.
The project is constructed on Kishanganga River by the National Hydroelectric Power Corporation (NHPC) and is expected to provide 13 percent free power share to the State of Jammu & Kashmir.
It was for this project that India’s right to divert water of western rivers (Jhelum, Chenab and Indus) for non-consumptive use was upheld by the International Court of Arbitration.
This project is the first run of the river scheme that involves inter-basis transfer of water from the Kishanganga River, a tributary of the Jhelum, in the Gurez Valley to Bonar Nullah n Bandipora through a 23.65 km long head race tunner dug across the major mountain formations.
The head race tunnel is one of the salient features of the project. According to the Chief Engineer of the project the construction of this tunnel involved operation of the tunnel boring machine in the Himalayan region for the first time.
“While doing so, the team successfully overcame several geological, logistical and engineering challenges,” the Chief Engineer said as the PM is set to e-inaugurate the power project from Srinagar on May 19.
“It (inauguration) is indeed a culmination of great efforts put in by many people over the years.” he said.
Once operational, J&K would get 13 per cent of its share of free power from the project and there is always the provision that it can buy electricity to meet the shortfall.
The transportation of the tunnel boring machine and other heavy equipment to the Kishanganga site was a major challenge the project got delayed due to the 2010 unrest and curfew in Kashmir. It could be transported to the project site from the Mumbai port, where it had arrived from Italy in July 2010, only towards the end of the year when the protests subsided.
“The major hurdle was passing the heavy equipment through Jawahar Tunnel as its height at 4.6 metres was just enough to clear the containers. Special trailers with deflated tyres were used,” said an officer associated with Hindustan Construction Company Ltd, which constructed the project with UK-based Halcrow Group.
The project dam site located in the Gurez valley is very close to the Line of Control, around 85 km from Bandipora town. Originally its height was planned at 98 metres but after objections from Pakistan, it was reduced to 37 metres.
The biggest challenge however was the climatic conditions as the area gets heavy snow from mid-November till end of April, with temperature dipping as low as -23 degree Celsius.
Retaining construction workers in such isolated and harsh weather conditions was a major challenge, an HCC official manning the site said, adding that the company adopted the work practices the Russian use in winter to keep the work force moving at Gurez dam site.
One major challenge was witnessed on November 22, 2016, when Pakistani troops shelled the area. Some shells landing near the stone crusher and around 18 rounds of shells fell near the dam.
“We are proud to be associated with this landmark project and kudos to my team that worked relentlessly overcoming geological challenges, extreme weather conditions, avalanches and security threat from across the border to complete the project”, said AI Benny, project manager, HCC Ltd. Luckily, no one was injured as all workers were evacuated within two hours, he said.
India’s right to divert western rivers upheld
Soon after the work on the $ 864-million project began in 2007, it was halted in 2011 as Pakistan appealed to the Hague’s Permanent Court of Arbitration, complaining that the Kishanganga project violated the Indus Water Treaty as it had allegedly increased the catchment of the Jhelum river and was depriving Pakistan of its water rights as the country was constructing Neelum Jhelum Hydropower Project on the same river in its side, where it is called Neelum.
“In February 2013, the Hague’s Court of Arbitration, which visited Kishanganga in India and the Neelum Jhelum project in Pakistan in June 2011, upheld India’s main contention that it has the right to divert waters of western rivers in a non-consumptive manner for optimal generation of power,” says Vikram Tanwer, senior manager, corporate communication, HCC.
While allowing India to go ahead with the construction of the dam, the Hague court in its final award on December 20, 2013, however specified that a 9 cubic metre/second of natural flow of water must be maintained in the Kishanganga river at all times to maintain the environment downstream as the river flows into Pakistan.