A mega dam being built in Arunachal Pradesh has become a major political issue in Assam, with the opposition making it clear it will use its anti-dam stand as an election plank ahead of 2011's assembly polls.
The row concerns the 2,000 MW Lower Subansiri Hydro Electric Power Project in Arunachal Pradesh that began in 2003. Several environmental and pressure groups in Assam have demanded that its construction be scrapped, citing an adverse ecological impact on the state's downstream areas.
Assam's main opposition parties, including the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), have now jumped into the protest bandwagon.
"Surely the big dam issue would be on top of our agenda and we shall see to it that the project is shelved at any cost," BJP Assam unit president Ranjit Dutta said.
The National Hydroelectric Power Corporation (NHPC), the firm executing the Rs.9,000-crore project, said it would be commissioned by 2012 despite strident protests in Assam with the work at an advanced stage.
The AGP too is maintaining a strident posture on the mega dam issue.
"At no cost shall we allow the Lower Subansiri Hydro Electric Power Project in Arunachal Pradesh to function," AGP leader and former chief minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta said.
The opposition's demand for scrapping the mega dam project has got a fillip with an expert committee constituted by the Assam government expressing concerns of severe flooding if adequate flood control measures and other structural changes were not made in the ongoing project site.
"From a geological point of view, we have suggested reduction of the dam height to prevent flooding, besides other technical recommendations," said Jatin Kalita, a member of the expert committee.
The expert committee report was made public over the weekend.
That the mega dam issue has turned political is evident from the way the opposition and the ruling Congress are locked in a bitter slanging match over it.
"Devoid of any issues to harp on, the opposition is now trying to simply whip up emotions without really going into the crux of the matter," Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi said.
"Our stand is very clear. We are not against dams, but if the Lower Subansiri Hydro Electric Power Project in Arunachal Pradesh leads to adverse environmental impact then we are not going to accept it."
The chief minister said there was no point in simply opposing the project for the sake of opposition. "If the project benefits Assam then why should we oppose it?" Gogoi said.
"The opposition is trying to make it an election issue, but we are sure the people of Assam understand their designs."
The Arunachal Pradesh government has signed MoUs with several private firms for 10 major hydropower projects to generate an estimated 30,000 MW power in 10 years' time.
The state, bordering Myanmar and the Tibet region, has the potential to generate an estimated 50,000 MW of hydropower.
Among the major projects currently being executed in the state are the Ranganadi Project, the Subansari Project and the Taloh Power Project.
But the Arunachal Pradesh government is adamant on continuing with the construction of dams.
"The power projects would change the economic face of the northeast as a whole and there should be no worries as the projects were being constructed with all prior environmental clearances," Arunachal Pradesh MP Takam Sanjay said.