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Unscientific mining affecting Kopili hydel project
 SHILLONG, Jan 1 – Unscientific coal mining in Jaintia Hills has claimed a victim, affecting functioning of Kopili Hydel Project, by discharging dangerous toxic waste from the mines and acidifying the project’s reservoir water.

Important machinery and structure of the dam are being corroded due to the acid mine drainage. Kopili hydel project, constructed by North Eastern Electrical Power Corporation (NEEPCO) in 1984, in North Cachar Hills, Assam generates 275 MW electricity. Twelve per cent free electricity is distributed equally between Assam and Meghalaya, besides 17 per cent to other Northeastern States.

Most of the coal mines in Jaintia Hills are abandoned after extracting the mineral and many heavy metals are left exposed which subsequently reacts with oxygen to form different chemicals. Rain and underground water after being contaminated with these chemicals find its way out to fresh water bodies and pollute, in this case the Kopili river.

Environmentalists all along have been raising fingers at the unscientific coal mining practised in Jaintia Hills, unsuccessfully. Most of the coal mines are privately owned and the powerful coal lobby has thwarted all moves to bring in legislation for scientific mining.

“This is a serious problem,” NEEPCO Chairman and Managing Director (CMD) IP Barooah said here recently. That, this is the first case in India of a hydel project being threatened by acidic water has brought together NEEPCO officials and experts to search for an answer to the problem.

“In Japan such reports of acidic water causing damage to dams have been reported, but never in India,” Barooah said. The water level in Kopili river, sources say, has gone down to four from seven, which is the pH level of pure water at 25 degree centigrade. However, NEEPCO officials aren’t willing to share technical details.

Guarded NEEPCO officials are neither willing to share the cost of the damage caused to the equipments and the dam, but again sources peg the loss at about Rs 100 crore annually.

“Different agencies and stakeholders would try raise this matter of unscientific coal mining in Jaintia Hills with the Meghalaya Government. NEEPCO cannot,” SN Phukan former CMD of NEEPCO, now an arbitration and engineering consultant said.

Experts say, Kopili’s closure even for a year for repair works would cause hardship to energy-starved Assam and Meghalaya and the region. “The problem has been identified fairly soon and a solution would be found out,” Murari Ratnam, Director, Central Soil and Material Research Station stated.