FAC members are in favour of hydropower project in Dibang Valley: Environment ministry
The environment ministry’s forest advisory committee (FAC) on Thursday discussed the issue of forest clearance for the Etalin Hydroelectric Project of 3097 MW which will involve clearing of 2.7 lakh trees in what is described as a “subtropical evergreen broad-leaved forest and subtropical rain forests” in FAC’s documents.
A senior member of the FAC who didn’t want to be named said though a decision on granting forest clearance to the project has not been taken yet, most members had a favourable view of the project because it is a large “clean energy project” which could replace dirty energy, he said. “We had a long discussion and all views of members have been taken on record. Most members had a favourable view, so did the sub-committee that visited the site,” he added.
HT had reported on April 23 that a sub-committee of the FAC which visited the site in February has recommended in their report dated April 21 that Etalin Hydroelectric Project of 3097 MW be allowed with a condition that the developer deposit money for wildlife conservation in the area.
Meanwhile, scientists who have worked in Dibang Valley wrote to the environment ministry on April 22 after they came across the FAC’s sub-committee report on the Parivesh website. Umesh Sreenivasan, assistant professor at Indian Institute of Science (IISc) and Nandini Velho, wildlife biologist cited scientific studies that established that tigers are present outside the Dibang Wildlife Sanctuary in Dibang Valley and they are at risk from the Etalin project.
The sub-committee report submitted on April 21 was of the view that there are no tigers in the project area. Based on a Wildlife Institute of India multi seasonal study which had deployed 78 cameras during a four month survey, no tiger image was captured. “Further no pugmarks or scats of tigers during this survey were found. Therefore, the tiger presence in study area was not established,” the sub-committee report has said.
But scientists pointed out that this observation contradicts FAC’s earlier observations where they have referred to an independent study by a wildlife researcher captured 12 individual tigers and 8 individual clouded leopards at various locations in Dibang Valley.
“A large majority, above 60%, of the camera traps were placed outside Dibang Wildlife Sanctuary which shows that both species are not only abundant but also very widespread in the district,” FAC had noted. The project area also falls under “vital tiger area” in ministry’s documents.
Velho and Sreenivasan also point out in their letter that the sub-committee failed to take note of peer-reviewed studies showing that Dibang Valley’s outstanding rich biological diversity. “The most notable are the six different colour variations of the Asian golden cat (Schedule I) which are found throughout the district. Dibang Valley hosts the highest colour variation of any wild cat species in the world, making it a globally significant area both for conservation, and to study ecological adaptability and evolution,” they write referring to a study published on the Asiatic Golden Cat in the Ecological Society of America’s ‘The Scientific Natural’ journal last year.
Scientists working in the area told HT that the Idu Mishmi community (the dominant population in the valley) had written to the National Tiger Conservation Authority in 2018 about tiger presence across the valley. According to a local news report cited by United Nations on its website the Idu Mishmi Cultural & Literary Society (IMCLS) had written to the NTCA, stating that the community wishes to be consulted during deliberations on the Dibang tigers as the organization has forwarded a cultural model of tiger conservation.
“Based on years of empirical research on ecological and social aspects of tigers in Dibang Valley, we strongly believe that the right strategy for Dibang tigers would be to develop a new kind of tiger reserve that is built not with fences and armed patrol guards, but around a cultural model, a culture which has so far proven to be effective in saving the tiger,” the representation had read.