Arunachal declines to share cost benefit analysis of mega hydro project
The Arunachal Pradesh government has refused to answer a query under the Right To Information (RTI) Act about cost-benefit ratio analysis of the Etalin Hydroelectric Project in Dibang Valley, saying it did not have the consent of the developer to do so. The 3907 MW project, if cleared, will involve clearing at least 270,000 trees in sub-tropical evergreen and rain forests in a vital tiger area, according to the fact sheet of the Union environment ministry’s Forest Advisory Committee (FAC).
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) at the cost of about ₹25,296.95 crore, according to the fact sheet.
In response to a conservationist’s RTI query about the cost-benefit ratio on June 21, the state government said the information pertains to a third party and consent for disclosure was sought. “M/S Etalin Hydro Electric Power Company Limited does not want to disclose information till FAC reconsiders it.”
HT reached out to JPL for a response via email on June 27 but there has been no response yet.
Ritwick Dutta, an environmental lawyer, said the cost-benefit ratio analysis is mandatory under the National Forest Policy and the Forest Conservation Act. “Whatever diversion of forest area takes place on account of a project (cost-benefit ratio analysis) is done by the government and not by the project developer. So, the application for forest clearance is normally done by the state government to the Centre... it is their (state government)’s job to do the cost-benefit analysis.”
Dutta said the analysis is not third-party information. “It is a public document for the benefit of the public at large. So, denial of information is illegal,” said Dutta. “Some information can be the third party such as those involving patents or design of the project, but the ratio analysis can never be third party information. The state should make it public. They do not need the company’s permission to do that.”
The FAC examined the project last year and sought key details related to the ecological impact and economic viability of the project. It sought the power ministry’s response on the economic feasibility. FAC referred to the delay in the project by six years and said the country’s energy plan may have changed during the period. It noted a large number of hydroelectric projects were pending due to environmental and forest clearance concerns.
The FAC directed Arunachal Pradesh to submit a cost-benefit ratio analysis for the project as per the latest guidelines of the Union environment ministry, which was directed to monitor the exercise.
Environmentalists working in the region said the analysis is an important document based on which a recommendation is made by the FAC, and the Union environment ministry takes the decision on a project. The application forms for forest clearance are public documents available on the ministry’s website when the FAC examines a matter. The environmentalists say this also enables members of the public to make informed submissions to the FAC when it takes up specific projects for forest clearance.
In a February 29, 2012, order, the Central Information Commission said documents related to the forest clearance process be uploaded online. It said in case any additional documents/reports/studies are sought by the FAC or it undertakes any site visit, then such information should also be uploaded on the ministry’s website within 10 days of receipt of information.
The ministry guidelines on cost-benefit analysis say: “While considering a proposal for diversion of forest land for non-forestry use, it is essential that ecological and environmental losses and eco-economic distress caused to the people who are displaced are weighted against economic and social gains.”
The RTI applicant first sought information from the environment ministry, which shared the relevant information. The application was transferred to the state public information officer as the document related to the analysis is with the Arunachal Pradesh government. The applicant can file a complaint with the state appellate authority.