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Country's first hydroelectric project in Himachal going down drain

PUNJAB NEWS LINE | December 05, 2022 05:23 PM

SHIMLA: With the 99-year lease agreement of the country's first hydroelectric project presently under the control of the Punjab State Power Corporation Ltd (PSPCL) in Himachal Pradesh ending in 2024, the maintenance of the 110 MW British-era power plant, which stands amidst the lush green dense deodar forests in the Barot Valley, is going down the drain.

Commissioned in 1932, the Shanan hydroelectric plant was constructed under a 99-year lease deed executed between Jogendra Sen, the then Mandi ruler, and Col. B.C. Batty, the then Chief Engineer of the Punjab government, in 1925.

The project in Jogindernagar in Mandi district has been facing a public outcry for long as locals say it is located in the state and using the state's water for generating power while another state is earning revenue from it by selling the electricity.

Also they are expressing concern over the deplorable condition of the powerhouse.

The people, including politicians, have been demanding the project should be handed over the state before the lease expiry.

State officials admit to IANS that as the lease expiry is ending nearer the PSPCL authorities have almost stopped its upkeep and maintenance.

"For over a decade and a half, the Punjab government has stopped taking care of the project machinery and is on the verge of shut down," a senior official, requesting anonymity, told IANS. "When the project would be handed over to the state government, it might be of no use for the state."

As per the PSPCL, the Shanan hydel project has achieved the record generation of 637.18 million units (MUs) in year 1998-99 since its commissioning, the milestone in its history.

It produced 597.98 MUs in 2010-11, which is a record generation in the last 10 years. In 2020-21, it produced 508.488 MUs.

The Shanan Project came in to being based on an agreement made on March 3, 1925.

During reorganization of Punjab, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh in 1966, the Shanan Power House was allocated to Punjab by the Union Ministry of Irrigation and Power.

As per the PSPCL, the objection raised by Himachal Pradesh in this regard stands clarified by the government of India vide letter dated March 2, 1972, reaffirming the allotment of Shanan Power House in favour of Punjab.

The 48 MW Stage-I project was constructed at the initial cost of Rs 2,53,43,709 and commissioned in 1932 and was officially opened by the Viceroy of India at Shalimar Receiving Station in Lahore on March 10, 1933.

The project originally was of 48 MW capacity, but the Punjab government enhanced its capacity to 60 MW in 1982. Later, 50 MW more was added to make its capacity 110 MW.

Even a delegation of BJP MPs from Himachal Pradesh in 2015 met Prime Minister Narendra Modi and sought possession of the British-era utility.

At that time, a four-member CEA team inspected the buildings, machinery and other equipment of the Shanan power house.

Even a petition was filed recently in the Himachal Pradesh High Court to demand handing over of the project, generating a revenue of Rs 100 crore annually, to the hill state.

The petitioner said the then British government had proposed the project to supply electricity to Punjab.

It was agreed that the Mandi state will provide the land and water of the Uhl, a tributary of the Beas river, in lieu of which the state will get 500 KW free electricity.

Praying for the quashing of agreements and notifications relating to the project by the government of India, he said Himachal is a small state with limited income sources while the project's revenue is more than Rs 100 crore per year. If the project is handed over to Himachal Pradesh and its general public, it will strengthen the state economy.

The main attraction of the hydro project is the four-stage haulage trolley service. It was basically constructed for carrying construction material of Shanan powerhouse from Jogindernagar to Barot. It is a unique type of trolley based on pulley system with no engine, steering wheel or no gears or brakes.

Since fallen on bad times, the trolley is defunct owing to poor maintenance with tracks now covered in vegetation.

Locals rue the trolley can be used for tourism purpose, besides its national historical tag. They say it is marvel to see the steep ascent of the trolley track.

Barot, which was not linked to a road till late 1970's, is world famous for angling of trout fish and is the gateway to the Nargu Wildlife Sanctuary which lies across the Uhl.

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