Anger after firm assesses own project in Arunachal Pradesh
On June 25, the environment ministry asked the Arunchal Pradesh state government to conduct a cost-benefit analysis of the controversial Etalin hydropower project, and also offered to help.
The state has since submitted the analysis -- done, not by it but by the developer of the project, Etalin Hydro Electric Power Company Limited . Expectedly, the analysis found the project beneficial. And environmentalists are protesting the conflict of interest in getting a project’s developer to effectively decide on the future of the project.
The 3,097-megawatt project being developed in Arunachal Pradesh’s Dibang valley entails the loss of 270,000 trees at the junction of the Paleo-arctic, Indo-Chinese, and Indo-Malayan biogeographic regions with luxuriant forests. After environmentalists protested the loss of habitat that te project would entail, the environment ministry called for the analysis to be conducted by the state government .
A cost-benefit ratio analysis is a process of working out the best return on an investment based on the costs, resources and risks involved in a project. Guidelines framed in 2017 for such an analysis state that ecological and environmental losses and distress caused to the people who are displaced are weighted against economic and social gains.
Senior officials of Arunachal Pradesh’s forest department said they submitted the analysis done by Etalin Hydro Electric Power Company Limited, a joint venture between the Hydro Power Development Corporation of Arunachal Pradesh Limited and Jindal Power Limited, to the Union environment ministry.
“The project proponent...has made a cost-benefit analysis which has been sent to the ministry. We haven’t conducted the analysis,” admitted RK Singh, principal chief conservator of forests, Arunachal Pradesh.
The Etalin Hydropower Project will involve clearing at least 270,000 trees in sub-tropical evergreen and rain forests in a vital tiger habitat, according to a fact sheet prepared by the Forest Advisory Committee (FAC).
In a letter addressed to principal secretary (forests), Arunachal Pradesh dated June 25 (available on the environment ministry’s Parivesh website) the environment ministry asked the state government to submit a cost-benefit ratio analysis and told that the regional office of the ministry in Shillong would assist with the analysis. The state government was also asked to examine all the representations (attached with the letter) thoroughly, take “concrete action” on the matter and submit its response to the ministry.
The ministry also asked the Arunachal government to review if trees marked for felling could be left untouched.
“The area is rich in bird life (230 species recorded by WII, or Wildlife Institute of India). State government will, therefore, review if trees marked for felling could be left as such, at least in the reservoir area, as dried trees could also be used as bird habitat,” the letter said.
Hindustan Times hasn’t seen the cost-benefit analysis.
A spokesperson for Jindal Power said in response to queries from HT: ”As desired by Arunachal Pradesh state government, a cost-benefit analysis report was submitted, which was as per guidelines framed by Ministry of Environment, Forest & Climate Change. As per the Analysis, the project is definitely beneficial to all the stakeholders like local population / state government / government. of India,”
“We expect the cost-benefit ratio analysis to be done by the state government. If not completely, they should be involved in the process. If the state government is satisfied with project developer doing the analysis, we have nothing to say,” said a senior environment ministry official who is communicating with the Arunachal Pradesh government. “We haven’t received the analysis or responses on our queries yet from the state government,” he added, requesting anonymity.
The environment ministry, on the recommendation of the FAC, specifically asked the Arunachal Pradesh state government and the regional office of the ministry of environment, forest & climate change in Shillong to submit a “revised” cost benefit analysis in line with the latest guidelines, said Parvish Pandya, director, conservation and science, Sanctuary Nature Foundation which focuses on wildlife and nature conservation.
The foundation submitted its representation to the environment ministry citing several concerns with the project.
“Jindal, the project proponent, has no role in this process. For a project of this scope and impact it is crucial that this directive is followed, and the previous report prepared by the project proponent is not recycled,” Pandya added.
Anoko Mega, a member of the Arunachal Pradesh Wildlife Advisory Board, has also sent a representation against the Etalin project to the National Tiger Conservation Authority.
“I am very concerned for my region and my community—the Idu Mishmi people. Since we have many tributaries here, if we allow any large hydropower project, more companies will try to enter the area and use our land, rivers and forests. We are strongly connected to our forests. In my personal opinion the community will not allow any dams here,” said Mega.