The dams to make Arunachal Pradesh India’s future hydro-powerhouse are being built on ecological lies. This is what activists have pointed out to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh while panning joint hydroelectric projects in Bhutan.
In a memorandum to the PM on September 7, various organizations and individuals in the dams’ downstream impact areas said at least 36 dams cleared for environment impact assessment (EIA) studies aren’t “environmentally benign”, as claimed by the government.
“We are being assured that most of these dams are run-of-the-river (RoR) projects and hence environmentally benign. This is an ecological lie by the government,” said RTI activist Akhil Gogoi, also the secretary of Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti.
Signatories to the memorandum cited NHPC’s 2000 MW Lower Subansiri project in Arunachal Pradesh to underscore this lie. “Your office (PMO) did ask for downstream impact studies to be done in the project in 2006, but only after the construction work had begun. Downstream impact concerns were raised since 2001, but ignored when the project was cleared in 2003.”
The second phase of the project’s downstream impact study was commissioned to an expert committee comprising members from Gauhati and Dibrugarh universities and IIT Guwahati. This committee in its February 2009 interim report raised concern about the very location and foundation of the dam on geological grounds and asked for all work to be stopped on the project till the full downstream study has been completed. “But this has been ignored by NHPC and work continues.”
Moreover, the memorandum read, “the government seems to deny that a river flows downstream”. This is evident from terms of reference for EIA studies granted by the Ministry of Environment & Forests (MoEF) for large dams in the Northeast in the last two years seeking analysis of downstream impacts to be “restricted between the dam and powerhouse” only. This, it pointed out, is in contravention of a general clause under EIA notification requiring baseline data to be collected in a 10 km radius of a project (including downstream).
The authorities, activists said, has also ignored the cumulative impact of a series of mega hydropower projects in a region. “The government failed to implement an April 2007 order of the National Environmental Appellate Authority (NEAA) seeking advance cumulative study of a series of different dams coming up in a river basin. This is of great significance in the downstream areas of Assam owing to at least 135 projects for 57,000 MW proposed in Arunachal Pradesh alone,” said Neeraj Vagholikar of Pune-based Kalpavriksh.
One of these projects is the 3000 MW Dibang Hydel. This is estimated to involve the extraction of 32 lakh truckloads of boulders from the river Dibang and its tributaries, identified as an Important Bird Area and a potential Ramsar site (wetland of international importance).
The Manas Tiger Reserve in Assam, ecologists asserted, would bear the brunt of the 720 MW Mangdechhu Hydroelectric project on the upstream of river Manas in Bhutan. This is among several mega hydro projects India is pursuing jointly with Bhutan.