From serving as a telephone operator at the state electricity board and later as a junior engineer, Himachal Pradesh MP and Power Minister Sukhram Chaudhary has come a long way to head the department where he took up his first job in 1982. Chaudhary’s portfolio is important as Himachal is considered to be naturally most suitable for hydro power generation. The state can generate 25,000 MW which is 25.9 per cent of India’s total hydropower potential.
Recent natural calamities in power project areas, especially in Kinnaur district, have triggered unrest among environmentalists who are protesting against new projects. The protests in Kinnaur have spiralled to the neighbouring tribal district of Lahaul Spiti, especially after the Nigulsari landslide that resulted in the deaths of 28 people in August last year.
In an interview with Sajeev Kumar, Chaudhary expressed his views on various issues concerning the hydro power sector in the hilly state and dismissed suggestions that the power projects were responsible for natural calamities.
Q. What were the achievements and initiatives of MPP and Power Departments since you took charge of the portfolio in August 2020?
A: Himachal Pradesh has a huge power potential and the state government is looking to exploit it by constructing more and more hydroelectric projects in the state. But there have been instances where projects were sanctioned but couldn’t get functional. There were hundreds of such projects so we started reevaluation of these and granted amnesty so that a new Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) could be signed. The PPAs of many power projects were signed 20 years ago which made them unviable in present times, hence there was the need to sign new PPAs.
As far as hydro-electric scenario is considered, we have started the provision of power banking. When we have surplus power during monsoons, we sell it to other states of the country through this mode and in open pool too. We buy back power from this pool when the state faces shortage of power in winters. At present, Himachal is generating 10,700 MW with a potential of generating 25,000 MW. We are looking to exploit the hydro power potential to make the state economically stronger.
Q. The resentment against hydro power projects is growing in the state with tribal population, especially in Kinnaur district, alleging that these projects were responsible for natural calamities due to unscientific construction?
A: This is not the case as the construction of hydro projects is being done on scientific methods, latest techniques and according to set rules and regulations. The state has witnessed many landslides in areas where there are no hydro-power projects so solely blaming these projects would not be accurate. In addition, many areas of the state have witnessed development due to hydro projects and these projects have led to connecting many remote and geographically tough regions by road. These hydro power projects also have a major contribution in connecting remote areas with roads as in some
areas, the project authorities have themselves constructed such roads. Also, the state government is ensuring that the hydro projects are constructed with the latest technology so that ecology and natural beauty of these areas don’t get affected.
Q. Is the state government planning to pacify protesting locals given the fact that some panchayats in Kinnaur district had boycotted bypolls that were held in October 2021?
A: Holding protests is a fundamental right of the people but if Himachal Pradesh wants to become a financially viable state, hydro projects are the necessity of the time. The state government always keeps interests of the locals in mind and engages with them from time to time to redress their grievances.
Q. Is the government planning to move from hydro power to renewable energy as solar power?
A: Yes. The state government is planning to exploit the solar power potential and has even come out with a new solar power policy in which many investors have evinced keen interest. We are promoting rooftop solar power plants in the state to harness solar energy and have now invited proposals for setting up ground mounted solar power projects with a target of generating 20 MW in coming years. These solar power plants will be allotted to individuals on a ‘First Come, First Serve’ basis. All bonafide Himachalis can apply for setting up such solar power projects with a capacity ranging from 250 KW to 1 MW.
Q. There was a proposal for a solar power park in Spiti but it is still in limbo. Is the government planning to go ahead with the plan?
A: Yes. It is a big solar power project (880 MW) which is aided by the Central government and it has been allotted to Satluj Jal Vidyut Nigam (SJVN) Ltd. We are working on transmission lines to evacuate power from the cold desert of Lahaul Spiti.