Forest panel to share its views on Etalin Hydropower Project soon
The minutes of environment ministry’s forest advisory committee (FAC) of April 23 when they considered granting forest clearance the contentious Etalin Hydropower project of 3097 MW in Arunachal Pradesh’s Dibang Valley, will be made public next week.
But, senior environment ministry officials said the FAC hasn’t taken a decision on whether to reject or allow the project yet.
The environment ministry’s forest division has been overwhelmed in the past week by letters and submissions on the project which will involve clearing of at least 2.7 lakh trees. After several conservation scientists and researchers wrote to FAC about losing a significant tiger habitat and biodiversity rich sub-tropical evergreen and rainforests, the Idu Mishmi community of Dibang valley has also started petitioning the FAC.
“We have received some letters which are in favour of the project and some which are not. We plan to release the minutes of our discussion in FAC meeting next week but a decision is still not taken. We require more information. We will address the concerns raised by scientists and conservationists at an appropriate time,” said Sanjay Kumar, director general of forests.
Among several petitions received by the ministry, the Project Affected People Forum who are residents of the valley near Tangon and Dri tributaries of Dibang river where concrete gravity dams will be constructed, also wrote to the ministry. The petition said that scientists and researchers with “anti-development mindset” are trying to sabotage the project by running a signature campaign against it.
The members of the forum said that the project will be critical for the remote region which has been neglected by the government. “There are no basic services like proper healthcare services, schools here. When the project comes up people will get jobs. This is a very remote area. The project is also important for Arunachal Pradesh which has no source of revenue generation. There are no big industries here. China across the border has already built several dams on the rivers,” said Rohit Mele, chief advisor of the forum over phone.
More importantly, 250 families have been assured compensation under the land acquisition act which hasn’t come through yet. “Land acquisition has been completed and detailed project report made. All technical formalities are over except forest clearance and environmental clearance. These families are waiting for compensation,” added Mele who said that the project developers (Etalin Hydro Electric Power Company Limited, a joint venture of Hydro Power Development Corporation of Arunachal Pradesh Limited and Jindal Power Limited) have assured that there will be no major environmental or biodiversity impact from the project.
Another group of Idu Mishmi people in a different letter to FAC highlighted that the project threatens the culture and heritage of local people.
Referring to a Wildlife Institute of India (WII) report commissioned by the FAC which found that there are no tigers in the community forests outside the Dibang Wildlife Sanctuary, the letter said: “There are several omissions and contradictions in the findings of WII. Arguing that tigers are not found in the community forest outside of Dibang Wildlife Sanctuary is a total disrespect of our community’s knowledge and traditions. In reality it is a fact that parents and elders of the Mishmi community have always narrated to their children how they have witnessed tigers with their own eyes. It is we the locals who have experienced, known and managed this land for centuries,” the letter by Kera-aa Initiatives for Cultural and Ecological Security, Mishmi Hills said.
Anoko Mega, member of the Arunachal Pradesh Wildlife Board in his letter dated May 2 to FAC said that the Talon river is sacred to the community and the souls of those departed.
“The population of the Idu Mishmi community is less than 15,000 individuals. We are a
minority tribal group and the Dibang Valley is our homeland…despite mass protests from our community, India’s biggest dam – Dibang Multipurpose Project - has already been approved on the Dibang river. Between both dams it is expected that 6 lakh trees will be cut down. With the destruction of the Dibang Valley, where will my community turn and what will be left for our future generations?” he asked.
According to FAC’s own factsheet, the project falls under the richest bio-geographical province of the Himalayan zone and falls under one of the mega biodiversity hotspots of the world. The proposed project location falls at the junction of the Paleoarctic, Indo-Chinese, and Indo-Malayan bio-geographic regions having luxuriant forests and plethora of flora and fauna. It is also a “vital tiger area.”
HT had written to Jindal Power Limited on April 29 about a response on the ecological concerns raised by conservationists but the company hasnt responded to the query yet.