Shankar Sharma: Why Gundia Hydro Electric Project Is Not Needed

An analysis of its deleterious impacts and benign alternatives for Karnataka

Synopsis: Karnataka Power Corporation Limited, Bangalore, a state govt. owned generating company, has submitted the Detailed Project Report (DPR) on Gundia Hydro Electric Project ( 2 * 200 MW capacity) for concurrence of Central Electricity Authority (CEA). While the Project Affected Families (PAFs) are strongly protesting the proposed project because of the serious impact on flora. Fauna and humans in that area, the state govt. has indicated that it will go ahead with the project against peoples’ concerns.  This article throws light on those issues which seem to have been conveniently omitted in the DPR.

Salient features of the project:

  • The project is planned in the rain forests, thick in vegetation, with very heavy rainfall area of Western Ghats of Hassan and Dakshina Kannada districts of Karnataka.
  • Not a multipurpose project: no flood control or irrigation. Only electricity generation proposed.
  • A high head power station (90 mts) of capacity 2 X 200 MW Units.
  • Anticipated generation: 1136 MU per year on a 90% dependable year.
  • Total cost of the project: Rs.1200 Crores; excluding that of R&R and forest land
  • Levellised tariff indicated: Rs.1.27/Unit.

Phase 1: Pooling up of water by linking smaller rivers Yettinahole, Kerihle, Hongadahalla and Bettakumeri through tunnels.  Water to be taken from the balancing reservoir to underground power house through a 7.8 kM underground headrace tunnel.  Water after generation of power goes back to Gondia River through a 3.1 kM long tailrace tunnel. Storage dam of 90 M height across Hongadahalla with a capacity of 132 million cum; 653 MU of electricity in the first phase.

Phase 2: Construction of two more tunnels bringing water from three more rivers through a 15 kM long tunnel. Additional 136 MU of electricity in the second phase.

Submersion of land: 489 Hectares of forest land; 10.2 hectares of garden land; 107.2 hectares of grass land; 101.6 hectares of agricultural land. Total 708 hectares. This is in addition to the forest land required for transmission lines, roads, quarries etc. required during the construction.  78 % of the total land required for the project is forest land, of which most is reserve forest land.

Controversial Statements in the DPR:

Few statements, which are not the correct reflection of the situation on the ground, are as follows: 

  • DPR states that the area is of thick forests with very heavy rainfall, but also says that the environmental impact of drowning 489 Hectares of forest land, 10.2 hectares of garden land, 107.2 hectares of grass land and 101.6 hectares of fertile agricultural land. is negligible.  
  • DPR talks of a run-off-river project in one section of the report, and also indicates that the project is conceptualized for peaking assistance in another section. The project envisages 100 % generation in July, less than 70% in June and August, less than 44% in Sept. and less than 20% in the remaining 8 months. It also proposes two reasonably big size dams for water storage. It is not clear as to how the same project can be envisaged to meet the role of both a run-off-river project and peaking station. The monthly generation indicated tells that this is envisaged basically as a peaking power station for a small percentage of time.
  • The DPR says that the degree of public participation and co-operation is as good. There has been continuous and stiff opposition to the project from the locals to such an extent that all the relevant Village Panchayats are known to have passed resolution against the project, and detailed survey of the land by the project proponents has not been allowed.
  • Details of transmission system and forest destruction due to it are not shown, and that data from Karnataka State Remote Sensing Applications Centre have been used. This may indicate that detailed survey on land has not been conducted.
  • DPR says that the forest land does not contain any rare or endangered species of plants. It is very strange that thick forests with very heavy rainfall in threatened Western Ghats do not contain any rare or endangered species of plants or animals.
  • 78 % of the total land required for the project is forest land, of which most is reserve forest land.  How can reserve forest land in a depleted forest region can be sought for the project? 

Why the project is not in the best interest of the state:

  1. As per the norms the no cost benefit analysis of this project has been shown by KPCL.  Without such an analysis the DPR has failed to demonstrate that the proposed project is the best solution available to the society in the present circumstances. 
  2. As a cursory look at the costs mentioned in the DPR indicates that the real costs to the society are very high compared to the meager benefits of 400 MW of peak load and annual energy of 1,136 MU at annual Load Factor of only 32.42%.  The costs of forest destruction and that of R&R of the Project Affected Families, which have not been included in the cost estimate, themselves may push the overall cost of the project to a high level.
  3. The value of the thick rain forests of highly sensitive Western Ghats alone, which are proposed to be submerged itself, may be many times more than the project cost of Rs. 1,200 Crores.
  4. The annual revenue to the forest department from this forest itself may be more than the monitory value of the energy estimated from the project. In addition, the real value of the livelihood it is providing to the locals, the value of herbs, of water source etc. will be very huge.
  5. Some of the value additions the thick rain forests of Western Ghats provide are: Production of oxygen; Control of soil erosion & maintenance of soil fertility; Recycling of water and control of humidity; Sheltering of animals, birds, insects & plants; Control of air pollution.
  6. It is reported that as per an indirect estimate of value of forests by Mathur and Soni in 1983 it is about 1.27 Crores per hectare per year. With about 490 Hectare of forests to be submerged under this project, the total value loss per year itself would work out to be about Rs. 620 Crore per year.      
  7. The value of annual energy production by this project @Rs. 1.27 per unit works out to Rs. 144 Crores. Even if we consider the replacement value of hydel energy by gas energy @ Rs. 4.00 per unit, the value of annual energy production by this project works out to be about Rs. 450 Crores.
  8. Whereas the revenue from a live forest is much more than that quantified above and is perpetual, the energy production from the proposed hydel station is only for a limited period say, maximum 50 years.
  9. Because of this simple economic analysis alone the project appears to be unviable when we take societal costs objectively.
  10. The project proponents have not considered any alternative to this project in order to meet the electricity demand of the state. Without deliberating on the alternatives, how do the project proponents know that this project is the most suited for the state at this juncture of time? Even if we agree for a minute that there is electricity shortage in the state, the first thing any company /organization would do under such a situation is to analyse the situation. One should ask the question why there has been shortage. If the officials care to analyse the situation objectively the following issues will become crystal clear.
  • The Transmission and Distribution losses in Karnataka have been very high of the order of about 30 against the international norms of less than 10%; if these losses are brought down to 10% there will be virtual addition of more than a thousand MW to the available power; this will be more than treble the capacity addition possible through the proposed project;
  • As of today the total available power for the state from various sources, including the share from the central sector is about 7,700 MW (as per MoP website).   If this capacity is used to the optimal level, (as per CEA norms about 10% is allowed for auxiliary consumption and unplanned outages), a peak hour demand of more than 6,500 MW can be easily met. But the peak hour demand met for the year 2005-06 was reported as 5,600 MW only. This shows that the infrastructure including the generating stations is not being put to maximum use.
  • Similarly, the annual energy deficit reported for the year 2005-06 was less than 1%.  Even if we take the unrestricted demand into consideration, which was not very high during 2005-06, the same for the reason mentioned above was easily avoidable;
  • In Karnataka there is huge scope for adopting various efficiency improvement measures like Demand Side Management (DSM) and utilization at users’ end.  As per the Planning Commission the peak load can be reduced by more than 10% at the national level. The replacement of even 50% of all the incandescent lamps in the state by CFL can result in the reduction of about 1,000 MW of peak hour demand, and about 1,500 MU of energy demand per year. This can be achieved without any expenditure to the state if the cost of replacement is passed on to the consumers in small installments.
  • The agricultural loads in the state, which are consuming about 40% of the total electrical energy of the state, are known to be wasting about 50% of this consumption which is techno-economically avoidable. Efficiency improvement in this sector alone can release about 20% of the total energy of the state for productive purposes, which is hidden in the system.
  • It is also a well known fact that the potential for the saving in non- agricultural loads in the state is huge. As per the Planning Commission such savings can be more than 20% of the total energy being consumed in the country.  At the state level this comes to about 15 to 20 % of the total energy of the state.
  • The potential available in the state for harnessing the new and renewable energy sources is immense. As per conservative estimates provided by the Ministry of new and renewable energy sources, more than 5,000 MW of production capacity is feasible from these sources.  The estimated potential of some of these measures are as in the table below.
  • In summary, an objective analysis of the present scenario of the electricity industry in the state will reveal that the deficit that has been experienced in the state for many decades is just due to the gross inefficiency in the system, and generally not due to the shortage in generating capacity.
  • Without objectively analyzing all these issues and taking the best course of action most suitable to our state, if the state encourages additional dam based stations it will not only lead to gross wastage of our resources, but will also lead to serious environmental and social issues.
  • A simulation study of the projected load pattern and the generation available in the state along with the already committed generation schemes has revealed that there would be surplus base load generating capacity by 2015, and such a situation would lead to an average PLF of the thermal power stations of about 30%.
  • The state is already having about 50% of the total power availability through hydro capacity. So even from the system operation point of view this additional hydro power station is not essential.
  • All these issues clearly establish that the ideal solution to the artificial power deficit being faced by the state is not going to be the blind addition of dam based power stations.

 The best solution of relevance to our state is a good combination of measures like peak industry efficiency, optimal Demand Side Management, practical level of energy conservation, and maximum deployment of new and renewable energy technologies.  These measures, some of which are enumerated in the table in section 10 above, will ensure the electricity supply security on a sustainable basis at the least overall cost to the society.

 Forestry and Environmental Issues

The following are additional concerns expressed by a retired officer of the Indian Forest Service on Rapid Environmental Impact Assessment (REIA) / Environmental Management Plan (EMP) submitted by KPCL. 

  • The legal status of forest land (774.26 ha) and grass land (107.21ha) as stated in the DPR are not clear. It should be mentioned either as Reserved Forests or as Revenue lands. Land value differs for each category. If it is a RF then compensatory afforestation has to be done in non- forest lands of equal extent identified by government. The cost per ha is about Rs. 50,000-00 per ha. This has to be paid by KPCL to Forest department.
  • In addition, environment value at the rate of Rs. 124.00 lakhs per hactare has to be paid by the beneficiary to government.
  • Supreme Court has fixed forest value/growth (Net present value) for tropical Evergreen forests like that of Gundia Reserve Forests at Rs. 9.20 lakhs per ha and has to be paid by the beneficiary to government.  
  • No forest land will be released for rehabilitation purposes (KPCL has earmarked 5 hectare for this purpose) as per recent guidelines of GoI.
  • There is no identified safe site for land fill, as it is expected to dump about 36.00 lakh cum of rock muck and there is no comment on their impact. 40 ha of forest area are indicated as required but the government of India has made it clear that no forest land should be used for such activity.
  • The project site is covered on all sides by protected areas, like Pushpagiri, Brahmagiri and Kudremukh sanctuaries and therefore movement of wild animals like elephants will be expected. If their corridors are blocked, the man animal conflict, crop damage etc will increase. Therefore it is not insignificant as indicated in the REIA.
  • Rehabilitation and Resettlement cost has to be included in the project cost for calculating Benefit / Cost ratio. The project affected families may accept money as compensation but may encroach other forested areas and therefore equal extent of land from non forest areas may be considered for resettlement. 
  • Green felling in forest areas are banned by government and therefore it is not possible to earmark 1 ha of forest every year for fuelwood, as indicated in DPR. The contractor has to provide alternate energy sources like gas, fuelwood depot, bio gas, wind energy etc. It is difficult to assess the real impact of labours as several other activities like shops, houses etc are bound to increase in the project area.
  • The loss of forest cover as stated in DPR, is 1.93% in Sakaleshapur taluk only, and not the total forest cover after release.
  • During the floral studies, only economically important timber species are considered and listed. The area is important for non-timber forest products including medicinal plants and detailed floral and faunal studies should be carried out.
  • Western Ghats is an important and sensitive ecological area in the world, and already several hydro electric projects, mining, road and rail have destroyed these unique forest ecosystems reducing the natural forests. It is very pertinent to note that any EMP will not be able to compensate the loss of bio diversity.


Additional power options available for Karnataka system

        Technique         Basis of savings     Estimated Potential for


R, M & U of existing

Hydro generating stations

5-8% of 2,300 MW of hydro capacity 160 MW / 800 MU
T&D loss reduction Present loss level is about 30%; can be

reduced to 10%; 20% of a base of

5,500 MW and 34,300 MU energy 

1,100 MW /  7,000 MU
Utilisation loss reduction –


20% savings assumed feasible on a

base of 5,500 MW and 21,600 MU

(63% of energy demand met in

2005-06 ie. 34,300 MU)

1,100 MW / 4,300 MU
Utilisation loss reduction –


40% energy consumption savings

deemed feasible in each of the 50%

of the IP sets; on energy base of

12,700 MU (37% of 34,300 MU)

Nil peak demand savings

and 2,500 MU energy

Wind energy 600 MW from the potential of 1,180

MW assumed feasible; PLF of 40%


600 MW /2,100 MU
Biomass 50% of estimated potential of 950 MW is assumed feasible at a PLF of 50%. 480 MW / 2,000 MU
Solar – Water heating Assumed 75% of 14 lakh installations

can be fed at average load of 2kW; at an average use of 1.5 hour a day assumed

2,100 MW during morning

Peak and 1050 MW during

Evening peak / 1,100 MU

Solar –residential lighting Assumed 25% of 81 lakh installations can be fed; average load of 160 Watts and

average 5 hrs a day energy consumption

300 MW / 600 MU
Solar – water pumping for

IP sets

Assumed 25% of 15 lakh installations

can be fed; at 3 kW average load this

comes to about 1199 MW; 25% of the

total savings in demand assumed for

evening peak hours;

1100 MW /

3,200 MU energy

Solar – Public and



Assumed 40% of 11 lakh installations (with 1,600 MU annual consumption) can be fed; average load of 100 Watts


40 MW / 640 MU


Taking all these facts into consideration the energy experts of the state are of the view that such dam based power stations are not in the best interest of the state, and hence should be rejected.  The Western Ghats in the state, which are identified as 18 most important bio-diversity hotspots in the world by UN, have already been subjected to massive abuse in the name of various so called ‘developmental projects’.  Most of the hydro electric projects of the state (about 3,000 MW out of the installed hydel capacity of about 3,500 MW) are in Western Ghats. The destruction, submersion and fragmentation of the Western Ghats due to hydel projects alone have been so massive so far that its sensitive ecology has been irreversible damaged.

 The Western Ghats in Karnataka are the source of about 30 small and major rivers including Cauvery, Tunga, Bhadra, Sharavaty, Netravthy, Hemavathy etc. and are the main sources of water in the plains, in addition to being the life line of people of the state.  In this scenario any more destruction, submersion and fragmentation of the Western Ghats will be suicidal, and hence the proposed Gundia hydro electric project is not in the best interest of the people of not only Karnataka but also of the entire South India.

 Without optimally utilizing the existing generation and transmission capacity in the state, to pour money into such high impact projects at a time when there any number of expert reports providing early warning on Global Warming (recent ones are the ‘Economics of Climate Change’ by British Parliament, and an economic review of the same by Sir. Nicholas Stern) will be a disaster for our society.  Such unsubstantiated spending will be seen by many people as misuse of the public fund, especially when other priority sectors like poverty alleviation, health, education etc. are crying for more budgetary support.

 The Integrated Energy Policy by the Planning Commission says: “From a longer term perspective we need to relentlessly pursue the energy efficiency and energy conservation as the most important virtual source of domestic energy”.  Energy efficiency is one of the EU’s answers to the double challenge of global warming and increasing energy dependency on oil and gas. As per WorldWatch Institute alternative ways of generating energy with little or no carbon emissions, improvements in energy efficiency and using less energy overall will all be needed on a massive scale.

 There is a clear need for adopting a paradigm shift on our energy policy.  KPCL should consider investing judiciously in more advantageous and benign alternatives to meet the power/energy demand of the state.  It will be in the overall interest of the state and the region as a whole that such high impact project proposals such as hydel project across rivers Gundia, Bedthi, Aghanashini, Barapole etc. or coal fired power station proposals in Nandikur, Tadadi, Mysore, Hassan etc. are viewed objectively in this background, and discontinued with.

 The all important and sensitive Western Ghats, pristine coastal Karnataka, and serene plains of Karnataka must be protected adequately for a sustainable living not only for the present generation but also for future generations.  The present generation has a vast responsibility in this regard.

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