Arunachal Pradesh chief minister Dorjee Khandu’s death in a chopper crash could bury a ‘hydro project signing scam’, dealing a fiscal blow to several corporate houses.
Between 2006, the year before Khandu replaced Gegong Apang as CM, and December 2009, the Arunachal Pradesh government signed more than 150 pacts with hydropower developers to generate 63,000 megawatt (mw) of power.
As per a clause in the agreement, the developers — many without power sector experience — paid an upfront premium per megawatt the government had fixed arbitrarily.The ‘MoU virus’— as union environment minister Jairam Ramesh calls it — saw private players paying a premium of R1.5 lakh per mw for projects of 100-499mw capacity, R2 lakh per mw for 500-999 mw projects and R3 lakh per mw for 1,000mw or bigger projects.
However, the projects were far from transparent and only 12% of them were allotted through competitive bidding. A Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India report cast doubts over the project-signing spree and pointed out that the advance processing fee deprived the government of interest income of R3.12 crore.
Assam, fearing downstream impact of most of these projects, has been critical of the MoUs under Khandu and Apang. “There is no accountability vis-à-vis deals signed by the Arunachal Pradesh government with questionable operators,” Assam power minister Pradyut Bordoloi said a few months ago.
Khandu’s “dream” of making Arunachal Pradesh “India’s power capital” had met with resistance at home too. “The government under him played with nature,” said Vijay Taram of Forum for Siang Dialogue, an anti-dam NGO.
Other anti-dam NGOs also accused the Khandu government of ensuring a kickback of R2-5 lakh per project for every legislator (in whose constituency a power project is planned) to eliminate political opposition.
Green activists said documents on the ‘hydropower scam’ in Arunachal Pradesh ran into 400 pages. An activist opposing the NHPC’s Lower Subansiri dam said, “We have written letters to the CBI and NIA seeking a thorough probe, but they have been unresponsive.”