FAC members favourable to hydro project in Dibang Valley
New Delhi: The environment ministry’s forest advisory committee (FAC) on Thursday discussed the issue of forest clearance for the Etalin Hydroelectric Project (3097 MW) which will involve clearing of 2.7 lakh trees in what is described as “subtropical evergreen broad-leaved forest and subtropical rain forests” in the committee’s own documents.
A senior member of FAC who didn’t want to be named said that though a decision on granting forest clearance to the project is yet to be taken, most members have a favourable view of the project because it is a large “clean energy project” which can replace dirty energy. “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 reported on April 23 that a sub-committee of FAC which visited the site in February has recommended in its report dated April 21 that Etalin Hydroelectric Project of 3097 MW be allowed with a condition that the developer deposit money that will g towards 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 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.This was based on a multi-seasonal study by the Wildlife Institute of India , which deployed 78 camera traps during a four-month survey and captured no tiger images. “Further no pugmarks or scat of tigers was found during this survey. Therefore, the tiger presence in study area was not established,” the sub-committee said in its report .
Scientists have pointed out that this observation contradicts FAC’s earlier observations where it referred to an independent study by a wildlife researcher that captured images of 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 noted. The project area also falls under “vital tiger area” in ministry’s own documents.
Velho and Sreenivasan also point out in their letter that the sub-committee failed to take note of peer-reviewed studies showing 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) wrote 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) wrote to 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 said.