First mini-hydel project of India.
Many may not know that Sidrapong Hydel Power Station or Sidrapong Hydroelectric Power Station is the oldest power station in India.Many people are not aware that this power station holds the distinction of being India’s first Hydel project and is also one of Asia’s oldest power stations.
Sidrapong, a cultural heritage site.
The central government has granted a cultural heritage site status to it. Situated just 12 kilometers from Darjeeling Town, in the foothills of Arya Tea Estate in Darjeeling District, it occupies a prominent location. Initially constructed in the late 80s with a capacity of 2×65 kW, it underwent phased expansions to meet the growing demand for electricity, ultimately reaching a capacity of 1000 kW.
In 1916, 19 years after its commission on 10 November 1897, it underwent a machinery replacement to enable a more efficient triple-phase transmission. This upgrade was necessary as the power station had reached the limit of its water supply.
This power station operates by utilizing the water brought in from three streams or Jhoras (Nepali for streams) known as Kotwali, Hospital, and Barbotia. To channel the water, they employ flumes constructed from 1.3 mm thick black metal sheets, as well as masonry duct and concrete lining.
In order to establish this power station back in the 80s, the Darjeeling Municipality Commissioners borrowed INR 1 Lakh from the government. The Maharaja of Burdwan owned the selected site for the construction of the power station.
Historical Significance and Challenges Faced in Establishing the Power Station
Recognizing the project’s public interest, the Maharaja willingly handed over his orchard to the municipality. All the machinery and materials for the project were imported from Britain, and individuals had to manually transport them due to the lack of any other convenient means of transportation.
Until 1978, the Darjeeling Municipality supervised the power station from its establishment. However, on January 30 of the same year, the West Bengal State Board of Electricity took over the power station as they absorbed the Darjeeling Electric Supply Undertaking. The Sidrapong Power Station was close to reaching a century of providing electricity when a landslide in the 1980s inflicted severe damage upon the station.
The closure of the antique power station for nearly a decade resulted from this eventIn 1997, the power station underwent revival to celebrate its 100-year milestone, and it has since been recognized and acknowledged as a cultural heritage site. The restoration of Sidrapong had been an ardent desire of the Darjeeling natives.
The residents of Sidrapong, Risheehat, Arya, and Bloomfield established a committee in 2003 to revive the power station. Central government granted Rs. 8 crore to Gorkha Territorial Administration (GTA) in 2014 for renovating historic monument following residents’ initiative. Presently, out of the three installed turbines, only one unit is operational for electricity generation.
How to reach Sidrapong Hydel Power Station
Airport: The closest airport to Sidrapong is Bagdogra Airport.
Railway Station: New Jalpaiguri Railway Station serves as the closest inter-state railway station to Sidrapong.
Both the airport and railway stations are conveniently located near Siliguri, a prominent city in West Bengal. To reach Sidrapong from Siliguri, the initial destination would be Darjeeling town, which is approximately 62.7 km away via road and takes approximately two and a half hours to drive.
From Darjeeling, there are two routes to reach Sidrapong. The first route is through Arya Tea Estate, which is located 6 km away from Darjeeling. From there, it requires a 3 km journey on foot to reach the Sidrapong forebay.
Furthermore, an alternative route to access the Sidrapong forebay is by traversing through the Bloomfield tea factory. This route involves an 11 km drive up to the factory, followed by a foot journey along a graveled path.