Over 4,000 petition environment ministry on hydropower project in Arunachal Pradesh’s Dibang Valley
Nature conservationists on Wednesday petitioned the environment ministry to reject the 3,097 megawatt Etalin hydropower project in Arunachal Pradesh’s Dibang Valley that will entail the diversion of luxuriant forest land, felling of tens of thousands of trees and pose a threat to the region’s rich biodiversity/
Conservation India, a non-profit website on wildlife and nature conservation, sent a memorandum with 4,305 signatures to the ministry, asking it to deny environmental clearance for the project. The signatures were received only in the past three days, the portal said.
Wildlife biologists and scientists including Nandini Velho; Umesh Sreenivasan, assistant professor at the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore; Aparajita Datta, senior scientist at the Nature Conservation Foundation (NCF); Anindya Sinha, a professor at the National Institute of Advanced Studies, and others wrote at least four letters last week to the ministry’s forest advisory committee (FAC) flagging massive biodiversity loss if large hydropower projects were allowed to go ahead in Dibang Valley.
FAC has considered granting forest clearance to the Etalin hydropower project at a meeting last Thursday; the minutes of the meeting are yet to be released. The project will involve diversion of 1,150.08 ha of forest land and clearing of .270,000 trees in subtropical, evergreen and broad-leaved rainforests.
Dibang Valley is home to a genetically distinct population of tigers, over 75 species of other mammals, and 300+ species of birds, including many endangered ones, Conservation India said in its memorandum. The valley is part of the Eastern Himalayan Global Biodiversity Hotspot, which is one of only 36 such hotspots in the world. In addition to tigers, the greater region of Dibang Valley harbours mammals including the clouded leopard, Asiatic golden cat, Asiatic wild dog, red panda, Mishmi Takin, red goral, and Gongshan Muntjac.
Rapid bird assessments in the region have found endangered species such as the Blyth’s tragopan, Sclater’s monal, rufous-necked hornbill, Ward’s trogon, Hodgson’s frogmouth, beautiful nuthatch, wedge-billed babbler and the recently discovered Mishmi wren-babbler. “There is consensus amongst scientists that the rise in zoonotic diseases (such as Covid 19) and acceleration of climate change is linked to biodiversity and forest destruction,” the memorandum said, adding that the proposal should be scrapped.
According to FAC’s own factsheet, the project falls under the richest biogeographical province of the Himalayan zone and one of the mega biodiversity hotspots of the world. The proposed project location falls at the junction of the Paleoarctic, Indo-Chinese, and Indo-Malayan biogeographic regions with luxuriant forests and rich flora and fauna. It is also a “vital tiger area.”
“We have received some letters and memorandums from people but we don’t know if they are from scientists. They are all in the same format and have similar wording. Some have names signed, others don’t,” said a senior environment ministry official and FAC member. “To be absolutely sure about the project we have asked for some information from agencies on the area. The minutes of the FAC meeting will be out soon. We haven’t taken a decision on the project yet.”
HT reported on April 23 that an FAC subcommittee, which visited the site in February, had recommended in its report dated April 21 that the Etalin project be allowed on condition that the developer deposits money for wildlife conservation in the area.
The project is proposed to be developed by Etalin Hydro Electric Power Company Limited, a joint venture of Hydro Power Development Corporation of Arunachal Pradesh Limited and Jindal Power Limited (JPL). The total cost of the project is about Rs 25,296.95 crore, according to the factsheet.
“We have been eagerly waiting for this clearance which is a must for grant of forest clearance for the project. The proposal for grant of forest clearance to Etalin project was submitted to environment ministry in 2014. The proposal has since been discussed in FAC a couple of times. In the FAC meeting scheduled to be held on April 23, the report and recommendations of sub-committee of FAC will be discussed for final recommendations on grant of FC to the project. We are hopeful that FAC will finally be recommending the proposal for grant of FC,” Bharat Rohra, MD & CEO, Jindal Power Limited, said on April 22 in response to queries from HT.