More scientists write to FAC about treading carefully on hydropower projects in Dibang Valley
Several scientists have written to the six-member Forest Advisory Committee (FAC) after they came to know that the panel is considering granting forest clearance for the 3,097 mage-watt (MW) Etalin hydroelectric project, which will involve clearing of at least 2.7 lakh trees in Arunachal Pradesh’s Dibang Valley. The area is rich in subtropical evergreen and rain forests and rare flora and fauna.
On Friday, besides Umesh Sreenivasan, assistant professor at Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bengaluru, and Nandini Velho, a wildlife biologist who had written to the FAC on Thursday; Aparajita Datta, a senior scientist at Nature Conservation Foundation (NCF); Anindya Sinha, a professor at National Institute of Advanced Studies; Rohit Naniwadekar, Rohan Menzies and Megha Rao -- all scientists from the NCF -- also wrote to the FAC in two separate letters, seen by HT, citing a number of peer-reviewed studies that highlighted the ecological and biodiversity richness of the Dibang Valley.
One of the letters highlighted that community-managed forests or what is termed as unclassed state forests outside the Dibang Wildlife Sanctuary, which is rich in biodiversity. Earlier, one of the camera trap-based studies referred by the FAC had found that community-managed forests hosted a much higher diversity of mammals than within the wildlife sanctuary.
A 2016 study, titled, “Mitigation of Damage to Wildlife Habitats”, by the Pune-based Indian Institute of Science Education & Research (IISER) found that 24 mammal and 100 bird species recorded during an eight-day survey underestimated the area’s biodiversity. “Actual bird list within a 10 km radius of Etalin-Damro road is more likely to be closer to 300 species, including some rare ones like Blyth’s Tragopan, Rufous-necked Hornbill, Ward’s Trogon, Hodgson’s Frogmouth, Beautiful Nuthatch, Wedge-billed Babbler, Mishmi-Wren-babbler, etc,” the study had said.
Scientists sought a cumulative impact assessment of all the hydropower projects in the region, including the 3,097 MW Etalin and 2,880 MW Dibang multipurpose projects --- two of the country’s biggest hydel ventures in the same region. “We respectfully submit that the impacts of multiple projects placed in close proximity on the same river limb must be assessed together because these impacts will be cumulative and not independent,” they wrote.
They found high diversity and said critically endangered White-bellied Heron and the White-winged Duck were also spotted there by other researchers.
Hydroelectric projects are known to affect the river flow resulting in modifying the habitats of these birds. Dams are known to negatively affect food supply also for riverine birds and alter the sediment dynamics. “We’d like to kindly request you to direct the necessary agencies to conduct systematic studies on assessing the potential cumulative impacts of a run of the river projects on the riverine habitats and riverine birds before these projects are given clearance and before the river systems are permanently and irreversibly altered,” they wrote to the FAC, which is a panel of experts and bureaucrats appointed by the Union Ministry for Environment, Forest, and Climate Change (MoEFCC).
The FAC heard the forest clearance proposal for the project on Thursday. A senior FAC member, who didn’t wish 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 it because it is a large “clean energy project” that could replace dirty energy. “We had a long discussion and all the views of the members have been taken on record. Most members had a favourable view, and also the sub-committee that had visited the site,” he added.
The FAC member also said that the members haven’t received many representations directly but they will check if representations from scientists have been made.
HT had reported on April 23 that a FAC sub-committee, which had visited the site in February, has recommended in their report dated April 21 that Etalin project be allowed on condition that the developer deposits money for wildlife conservation in the area.