Govt seeks Arunachal’s views on hydro project amid protests by indigenous people
The Union environment ministry has sought the Arunachal Pradesh government’s view on the resistance of indigenous communities to the 3097 MW Etalin Hydroelectric Project, forest clearance for which is pending with the former
The Union environment ministry has sought the Arunachal Pradesh government’s 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 run of the river project which will involve diversion of 1165.66 ha of forest land in the state’s Dibang Valley.
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. A run of the river project channels flowing water from a river through a canal or penstock to spin a turbine. Typically, such a project will have little or no storage facility according to the International Hydropower Association.
Ahead of an FAC meeting which was scheduled on December 9, the Idu Mishmi Youth organisation, the Project Affected People’s Forum (consisting of local people affected by the project), and other groups wrote to it, asking the panel to defer a decision on granting forest clearance to the project until people’s concerns are addressed. On December 20, the ministry wrote to the Arunachal Pradesh government seeking the state government’s view on resistance by local groups. The letter is available on the ministry’s Parivesh website.
In May, FAC appointed a four-member sub-committee to address all apprehensions and representations by various environmental groups on the project’s impact on wildlife and biodiversity. This came after the project was cleared by the power ministry and impact assessment division of the environment ministry .
The sub-committee was directed to submit a report in this regard within three weeks for FAC to decide on the forest clearance for the project, according to minutes of the FAC meeting on May 11 .
According to a letter dated December 8 sent by the Idu Mishmi Youth to FAC, the sub committee held a meeting in Roing (Lower Dibang Valley) on June 9 where several local people shared their concerns with the ecological impact of the project. “However, to our knowledge no such report from the sub committee has been made public. We believe that no further decisions should be taken by FAC regarding the Etalin HEP (hydro electric project) until the sub-committee’s report is made public and various project affected people both upstream and downstream of the project have a chance to review it and share their feedback with FAC,” it added.
“The Etalin HEP will be India’s largest project. It is being built on the same on the same river Dibang as the recently approved Dibang Multipurpose Project (2880 MW) by NHPC (erstwhile National Hydroelectric Power Corporation). These projects combined will have severe, irreversible and potentially catastrophic consequences for people, rivers, mountains and wild animals of the twin Dibang Valley districts. Decision making of India’s largest hydropower project should not be rushed and must be done in a transparent and inclusive manner considering local sentiment, safety and scientific evidence,” the letter added. The Idu Mishmi Youth have also called for free, prior, informed consent on the project be obtained from all affected communities.
The Project Affected People’s Forum of Dibang Valley in their letter dated December 6 said they are deeply concerned that there is no progress in granting stage I and stage II forest clearance to the project. The diversion of land for the project involved 1155.11 ha of community lands which have been officially acquired from 265 families. “After the successful conducting of public hearing, there was no telltale signs of project activity or any large construction works on ground. We are made to understand the project is stalled for now…” They sought the latest status of forest clearance for the project.
The ministry has enclosed both these reports while seeking Arunachal Pradesh government’s view on the matter.
“There has been no proper assessment of how the project will impact people downstream. Those downstream are also affected by the project. We want to understand why they did not consider and assess impacts on people? Tribal lives are heavily dependent on river and forests. Our livelihoods cannot sustain if flow in the river is impacted. We are very disappointed that the sub committee has not put out the report in public for local persons to see,” said Bhanu Tatak, a resident of Roing.
“I am not sure why local communities have started raising concerns at the last minute when the sub committee report on the matter has already submitted to FAC. As members its our job to consider what is the best outcome for the country’s development and the environment. I do not wish to comment on the letters sent by local people,” said an expert member of FAC who asked not to be named.
FAC has heard the proposal four times so far — on January 28, 2015, February 28, 2017, October 17, 2019 and April 23, 2020.
In May, scientists from 16 research institutes wrote to FAC stating that a fresh assessment of the region’s biodiversity must be conducted before the project is given approval.
Based on a camera trapping exercise, the Wildlife Institute of India had earlier concluded that there are no tigers in the project area but recommended continuous monitoring of key fauna including tigers in a 10-km radius of the proposed project area.
Scientists however said the region an important tiger habitat. “Importantly, in the past year, new evidence has emerged of multiple tigers inhabiting forests close to villages in Talõ Valley, one of the two limbs of the river Dibang where the project infrastructure will be located and where WII had asserted there was no evidence of tigers in their Conservation Plan,” the letter by various scientific institutions including Bombay Natural History Society, Nature Conservation Foundation, Salim Ali Centre for Ornithology and Natural History said.
The fact sheet claimed that no rare and endangered species were sighted during the inspection/enumeration period, but admitted that since the adjacent/fringe area is the habitat of some of the rare/endangered/unique species of flora and fauna, their presence is not ruled out. But the diversion will have negligible impact on the species, the WII assessment added.