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Monday, April 01, 2002 

NHPC gets ready to pull plug on Koel Karo

4,000-crore power project drags on for 21 yrs, relocation of one lakh people sore point


A Rs 4,000-crore hydro power project that has been in the making for 21 years may have finally reached its logical conclusion: the officials in charge of implementing it want it shelved.

Much water — and crores — has flown down the bridge since the 710 MW Koel Karo project was conceived. Originally meant for the benefit of Bihar, the project was to have been implemented in Jharkhand after the state was sliced into two. Not any more, it appears.

Yogendra Prasad, chairman and managing director of the National Hydro Power Corporation (NHPC) confirmed the company’s desire to exit the project. ‘‘We have asked the power ministry to either help us get clearance from the state government and the Centre or give us permission to wind up the project,’’ Prasad told The Indian Express.

‘‘We have been keen on the project, since hydro power is an important source which needs to be harnessed adequately in the country. But delays in various stages of clearances from the state governments and the resulting rise in cost make this project unviable,’’ Prasad added.

The project has acquired a rich history in the two decades that it’s been in the making. It was handed over to the NHPC in 1981, when Indira Gandhi was prime minister. The cost in the less expensive eighties: under Rs 500 crore. The project was to have generated electricity at a rate of a few paise; today, the estimated cost per unit of power is expected to be between Rs six and Rs seven.

Meanwhile, along the way, the NHPC acquired 100 hectares of land, maintained a workforce of 200 people on the project site and ran up an expenditure of around Rs 40-50 crore, almost 15 per cent of its annual profit. Not surprisingly, justifying the project in the NHPC’s account books is getting increasingly tougher.

One roadblock for the project — which resulted in it being stymied by successive state governments — has been the issue of rehabilitation of around one lakh people on the land where the project was to have come up. ‘‘But even after the Supreme Court cleared a rehabilitation package for the displaced in 1989, no headway was made after 12 years,’’ Prasad said.

The Koel Karo project was designed as a novel, daring experiment: a project which would run only for a few hours in the evenings, when the demand is far greater. The project was also expected to bail out the country’s eastern region which relied mainly on thermal sources for power generation.

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