Panel push to save heritage hydel project

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By VIVEK CHHETRI in Sidrapong
  • Published 30.12.03
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Sidrapong, Nov. 30: Villagers here have joined hands to save the forgotten hydel project that heralded the era of electrical energy in India 106 years ago.

Though the Centre declared it a heritage project in its centenary year in 1997, it has done little to restore the Sidrapong Heritage Hydel Project Station to its former glory.

Nestled in the undulating mountain folds around 12 km from Darjeeling, the hydel project, reportedly the oldest even in Asia, was commissioned on November 10, 1897, by Charles Cecil Stevens, acting lieutenant-governor of Bengal.

That was an epoch-making day. But 106 years on, the silent turbines and the rundown project tell a tale of disrepair. Saddened by the fall from grace, despite being a heritage site, residents of Sidrapong, Risheehat, Arya and Bloomflied today formed a committee to preserve the historic hydel project.

General secretary of the newly-formed committee Jiwan Bhandari said: “There was a time when the project employed more than 50 workers. The turbines helped light up Raj Bhawan and the hospital, jail and the neighbouring tea gardens in Darjeeling. Today, there are only four employees. Without upkeep, the station is withering away rapidly.”

The hydel project was under the jurisdiction of Darjeeling Municipality till 1978. Then it was taken over by the West Bengal State Electricity Board. In 1997, when the station completed 100 years, it was declared a heritage project.

Kumar Lakhantri, one of the employees, said: “Renovation continued for two years after the centenary celebrations, but the turbines stopped working after six months. Repair work has been started once again.”

The last time renovation had taken place on a large scale was in 1931, following which, the station generated 500 kw in its “de-rated capacity”.

“Things have to change. People of these areas protected the station from those trying to burn down the building during the Gorkhaland agitation. This is our property and we will do something for it,” said G.D. Gurung, gram panchayat member of the area and the newly-elected president of the people’s forum.

The villagers, during today’s meeting, decided to hold a weeklong festival in the first week of January to bring the who’s who of Darjeeling and the power board to draw their attention to the project. “The government might have forgotten the importance of this project, but we will restore it back to its days of glory,” said Bhandari.