Assam's Congress-led coalition government has been hit by a wave of protests barely 48 hours after it endorsed the construction of a mega dam on river Subansiri in Arunachal Pradesh.
The National Hydroelectric Power Corporation (NHPC) is erecting the dam for the 2000 MW Lower Subansiri Hydro Project. Experts have warned of irreparable damage to the Brahmaputura floodplain in Assam besides harming aquatic life forms if the project is commissioned.
After a seven-hour debate in the Assembly on Thursday, the Assam government brushed Opposition concerns aside to back the mega dams with certain conditions. They include seeking 12% free power from NHPC for absorbing the ecological impact of the dam.
A host state, Arunachal Pradesh in this case, is entitled to 12% free power from any power project.
The Assam government's stand inevitably irked anti-dam and green activists other than potent social and students' organization. More than 5,000 such protestors took to the streets in Guwahati on Saturday.
"We will not allow the construction of big dams,: said Sankar Prasad Roy, president of the influential All Assam Students' Union (AASU).
He, however, said his organization was not averse to the construction of micro dams.
"We don't need big dams at the cost of people and environment. The demand of electricity can be met with micro dams."
The Aasu had asked the government to put on hold the construction work of the Lower Subansiri Project – it is more than 70% through – till a newly-constituted expert committee comes up with its final report.
Taking note of the government's decision to rope in more experts to study the dam's downstream impact, AASU leaders said the move could not change the scientific facts.
The Krishak Mukti Sangram Samity (KMSS) also castigated the government on the issue.
"It is laughable that the chief minister (Tarun Gogoi) claimed the dam will help moderate floods. That the flood moderation component is negligible has been admitted by none other than NHPC itself," said KMSS secretary and RTI activist Akhil Gogoi.
He pointed out that the NHPC had admitted this to the Standing Committee of the National Board for Wildlife in December 2008.
"They said that sufficient flood moderation maybe possible if Upper, Middle and Lower Subansiri are operated in tandem," he added.
Upper and Middle Subansiri projects, smaller than Lower, are also in the pipeline.
The Expert Committee the government had constituted earlier had raised some key issues such as inappropriate location and height of the dam.
It recommended that the height of the dam should be suitably reduced to minimize downstream impact.