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Arunachal Pradesh: Indigenous groups flag concerns over hydropower project study

ByJayashree Nandi
Jan 02, 2023 08:39 AM IST

The Cumulative Impact and Carrying Capacity Study, which was published in July 2016 and accepted by the Union environment ministry, is guiding the Centre to take a call on the 3,097 MW Etalin Hydropower Project and 16 smaller hydro projects planned in the region

New Delhi: Indigenous communities living downstream of the Dibang Multipurpose Project and proposed Etalin Hydropower Project in Arunachal Pradesh have raised concerns with a 2016 study of the Dibang sub basin in the Brahmaputra Valley, saying it has omitted assessment of impacts on areas immediately downstream of these projects.

Communities living downstream of the Etalin project pointed out that the study has not assessed the impacts on Lower Dibang Valley district. (Dhritiman Mukherjee)
Communities living downstream of the Etalin project pointed out that the study has not assessed the impacts on Lower Dibang Valley district. (Dhritiman Mukherjee)

The Cumulative Impact and Carrying Capacity Study, which was published in July 2016 and accepted by the Union environment ministry, is guiding the Centre to take a call on the 3,097 MW Etalin Hydropower Project and 16 smaller hydro projects planned in the region. Dibang Multipurpose Project has already been approved.

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Communities living downstream of the Etalin project pointed out that the study has not assessed the impacts on Lower Dibang Valley district. The study assessed impacts on downstream only from 45 km to 490 km, residents of Lower Dibang Valley district said in a letter to the environment ministry’s Forest Advisory Committee on December 9.

“We write to you on behalf of our tribal brothers and sisters that will be impacted by the proposed Etalin Hydro Electric Project (EHEP), especially the impact on our livelihoods, safety and the wildlife that we protect in the downstream-affected area,” read the letter.

“An important aspect of cumulative impact assessment is cumulative downstream impact assessment. The Dibang river basin cumulative impact assessment and carrying capacity study report claims to do a cumulative downstream impact assessment of all projects in the river basin up to Guwahati city in Assam, but completely excludes the downstream-affected areas within Lower Dibang Valley itself,” said the letter, seen by HT.

“The study does a modelling of flow simulation due to releases downstream of the 2,880 MW Dibang Multipurpose Project (the lowermost project) due to cumulative operation of all projects in the Dibang river basin. However, the modelling starts only at 45 km downstream of the project near the Assam-Arunachal border,” it added.

HT has seen the Cumulative Impact and Carrying Capacity Study, which in its executive summary has a section on downstream impacts. “There are 18 HE projects proposed in the Dibang basin. Most of the projects are in different stages of planning and development. During the monsoon period there will be significant discharge in the Brahmaputra River. The peaking discharges of these hydroelectric projects which are quite less in comparison to Brahmaputra discharge will hardly have any impact on Brahmaputra,” the study said. “Some impact in form of flow regulation can be expected during the lean season peaking from these projects.”

Flow simulations were also done for the region starting with Arunachal Pradesh-Assam border above the Dibang-Lohit confluence.

“It can be concluded that in general the impact of peaking of hydroelectric projects of Dibang basin on Brahmaputra River is almost NIL in terms of discharge and water level fluctuations from Bokaghat up to Guwahati,” the study said. “This is due to the very wide reach and large discharge carrying capacity of Brahmaputra River. In this reach of the Brahmaputra River the discharge and water level pattern will be approximately close to the natural condition discharge and water level pattern.”

The letter has been sent by Amar Mega of service industry management, Lower Dibang Valley; Bhanu Tatak, researcher of sociology, and others. “It is incredible that the FAC and MoEFCC has accepted the Dibang river basin study despite this glaring omission of absolutely no cumulative downstream impact assessment within Lower Dibang Valley district of Arunachal Pradesh,” the letter said. “Just to clarify that the cumulative downstream impacts as per the Dibang basin study need to be addressed in two categories: the cumulative downstream impacts below the lower-most project, as well as cumulative downstream impacts in the stretches between two consecutive hydropower projects.”

The fact that the carrying capacity report was approved and accepted by the Centre is in a factsheet dated April 23, 2020 available on the environment ministry’s Parivesh website. The factsheet said 18 HEPs with cumulative installed capacity of 9973 MW have been considered in the Dibang river basin study. On the other free stretches of Dibang river including its tributaries, no further HEPs should be planned/allotted in the entire Dibang basin even if they are of smaller capacity (less than 25 MW) and do not fall under the purview of Environment Impact Assessment Notification, 2006, the factsheet said.

It added that adequate free flow river stretch is maintained with upstream and downstream projects in both the cases and with the provision of environmental flow recommendations, impacts of reduced flow in dewatered stretch will also be mitigated. Therefore, no changes are required for these two (Dibang Multipurpose and Etalin HEPs) projects as well.

“That may have been the terms of reference and mandate for the cumulative impacts of the entire valley. Impacts are also assessed of the immediate downstream region in case of smaller project” explained an official from RS Envirolink Technologies Pvt Ltd, the company that carried out the study. “In the case of Dibang Valley, the Dibang Multipurpose Project is very large which can have impacts up to Guwahati and that is why the assessments may have started at the Assam border.”

The study should have assessed impacts between the dam and the Assam border and it is not enough to look at peaking flows or environmental flows, said Himanshu Thakkar, coordinator, South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People (SANDRP).

“Dams have huge impacts on people, biodiversity, siltation etc. This is clearly a major lacuna. Also, it is not enough to assess the impact of the Dibang Multipurpose project because there are several other hydro projects upstream and the study should capture cumulative impacts. Areas in the immediate downstream need to be assessed because the river meanders, the slope changes, the floodplain conditions also change which altogether impact the flow, biodiversity. Also, the assessment is a must for all seasons not only for monsoon,” Thakkar said.

On December 20, the environment ministry had written to the Arunachal Pradesh government seeking its view on the resistance of indigenous communities to the 3097 MW Etalin Hydroelectric Project, forest clearance for which is pending with the former. Conservationists and groups of indigenous people have been extremely critical of this project which will involve diversion of 1165.66 ha of forest land in the state’s Dibang Valley mainly because of its impact on biodiversity.

The project will involve felling of over 2.8 lakh trees in dense subtropical, evergreen, broadleafed- and subtropical rain forest according to a fact sheet submitted to the ministry’s Forest Advisory Committee (which has to sign off on the project) on April 21, 2020.

The project was slotted for discussion on whether to grant forest clearance or not by FAC on December 9 and December 27. But a decision on granting forest clearance is yet to be taken. “A decision has been deferred for the moment. We are waiting for some information and we will take it up again. We are also waiting for a response from Arunachal Pradesh,” said a senior environment ministry official.

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