FAC to power ministry: Is Dibang hydropower project financially viable?

Published on May 13, 2020 12:01 AM IST
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HT Image
ByJayashree Nandi

New Delhi: The environment ministry’s Forest Advisory Committee (FAC) has deferred its decision on granting forest clearance to two controversial projects --- the 3,097 MW Etalin Hydropower Project in Arunachal Pradesh’s Dibang Valley, and the exploration of Uranium in Telangana’s Amrabad Tiger Reserve by Atomic Minerals Directorate for Exploration and Research.

A FAC subcommittee report on April 21 recommended that the Etalin Hydroelectric Project, which will involve clearing 270,000 trees be allowed with a condition that the developer deposits money for wildlife conservation in the area, as first reported by HT.

The FAC met on April 23 to take a call on it.

According to the minutes of FAC’s meeting on April 23, which were finally uploaded on the Parivesh website late on Monday, FAC has sought comments from the power ministry on the Etalin Hydropower Project in view of the following: the project is delayed by six years and the country’s energy plan may have changed during the period; a large number of hydro-electric projects are pending due to environmental and forest clearance concerns; and the tariff structure of the project was already high when proposed in 2014.

FAC has asked the power ministry to comment whether the project is viable in its current form. “It may be clarified that the ministry of power wishes to consider the project for approval in its present form or some other decision on the project has been taken,” the minutes said.

FAC also directed Arunachal Pradesh to submit a cost-benefit analysis of the project and to review if trees marked for felling can be left as is because of high diversity of bird species supported by them. FAC asked the impact assessment division of the environment ministry to check if the environmental impact of the project has been assessed and sought inputs from the National Tiger Conservation Authority on this.

However, the FAC panel accepted the findings of a controversial Wildlife Institute of India study titled “Wildlife Conservation Plan for Impact Zone of Etalin HEP” and said its findings need to be implemented.

Earlier this month, several scientists and wildlife biologists wrote to FAC, warning about the massive loss of biodiversity if Etalin Hydropower Project were allowed to come up. The Idu Mishmi community from various parts of Dibang Valley have also opposed the Etalin project.

Twenty-six scientists from 16 scientific institutions in a 58-page peer review of the WII study also flagged that the report has several “scientific biases” and doesn’t reflect a true picture of the biodiversity of Dibang Valley, where the Etalin Hydropower Project of 3,097 MW is planned.

But FAC said the representations it got are all similar in content and add no new “scientific, economic or sociological evidence.”

“We are shocked to see that the FAC has accepted ‘in toto’ the report of WII by accepting the recommendations of its subcommittee. Besides the seriously problematic parts of the report which our peer review points out, the decision that was based on this study does not even meet the basic mandate prescribed by the FAC in its earlier meetings. It is a truncated study of a few months instead of a ‘multiple seasonal replicate study’. Multiple reports indicate that this is both ecologically destructive and a techno-economically questionable project. From my study, I found that there are also serious threats to human well-being from natural hazards that cannot be stopped by such hydro-electric projects,” said Chintan Sheth, former research fellow with National Centre for Biological Sciences who was part of the peer-review.

The Etalin Hydropower Project will involve clearing of at least 270,000 trees in subtropical evergreen and rain forests and in a vital tiger area according to FAC’s own fact sheet.

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). The total cost of the project is about Rs 25,296.95 crore, according to the FAC fact sheet. A senior executive of JPL said the company didn’t want to comment because the matter is being considered by the government.

“People who are opposing the project are from other districts of Arunachal Pradesh. Land acquisition of the project is complete but we haven’t received compensation yet. Over 250 families here don’t have basic facilities like healthcare and education. Why is the government delaying this important project? It’s a source of revenue for Arunachal Pradesh. Researchers and NGOs have delayed it for six years,” said Rohit Mele, Project Affected People Forum.

On the uranium exploration in Amrabad Tiger Reserve, FAC said it wants a clear view from the state.

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