Wildlife concerns delay India’s biggest hydel project in Arunachal Pradesh

Roopak Goswami

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Guwahati: India's biggest hydel project in the making - the 3097 MW Etalin in Arunachal Pradesh which was first proposed in 2014 has still not got off the mark due to large forest diversion concerns.

The Centre is already worried on  delays in hydel projects with Arunachal Pradesh having hydel potential of 50,000 MW of which it is being to able to produce only 2 per cent.

The Forest Advisory  ( FAC)  of the Union Ministry of Environment Forests and Climate Change which held a meeting last month on the project in its report says there are a large number  of representations voicing concerns against the project. "To resolve the issues raised in various representations Arunachal Pradesh government may constitute a high level empowered committee to look into the various concerns received and come up with resolution therein" it said.

Opposition by civil society groups to the 3097 MW  Etalin hydel project in Arunachal Pradesh which is the country's largest hydel project has forced the Centre to put on hold the project albeit temporarily.

Etalin hydel project belongs to Jindal Power Limited and a MoU was signed with Arunachal Pradesh government in 2008 and Etalin Hydro Power Company Limited was formed to execute the project. The project is located  in Dibang Valley district of Arunachal Pradesh. The project was proposed before the FAC only  in 2014.  Approval of the FAC has to be taken for diversion of forest land beyond five hectares.

Dibang Valley, Arunachal Pradesh, India, where the proposed Etalin Dam will be built

The reason given for justification of the project was the implementation of the project would help in meeting the hydro power demand of Arunachal Pradesh.

The project is estimated to cost Rs 25,296.95 crores at December 2011 prices and the levellised tariff (with free power to state) has been worked out as Rs 4.32/kwh.

The project in Dibang Valley district  involves felling  2, 78, 038 trees over an area of 1,165 hectares raising concerns among the civil society groups. Interestingly, the project is being built on the same river, Dibang, as the recently commissioned 2880 MW Dibang Multipurpose Project.

FAC opined that the instant proposal cannot be considered in the present form and the revised proposal may be submitted for further consideration by the State Government.

"It was highlighted that in the earlier approved projects where in Forest Clearance has been accorded there is poor record of compliance with reference to the  conditions stipulated by FAC while according the forest clearance. Further, FAC took note of the submission made by the State Nodal Officer that there are lot of representations objecting to the present proposal and with regard to already approved projects as well due to which already approved projects have not yet started and certain project are not yet being completed. In view of the above, the FAC has requested the State Government to review the status of all approved projects (operationalization/execution of the projects, commencing and  completion of the project and there after compliance with regard the Stage-I and Stage-II conditions) and submit a status report to this Ministry at the earliest" the committee said in its report.

The  Ministry of Power has recommended the project and the Impact Assessment  Division of the Ministry has also recommended the project. Similarly, Wildlife Institute of India  and National Tiger Conservation Authority  have suggested to take cognizance of certain safeguards and mitigating measures for the better conservation and protection of wildlife in the area while considering the approval of project.

PROJECT DELAYS: Figures furnished to a parliamentary committte on energy says there are 24 under construction hydel projects( above 25 MW) having aggregate capsacity of 11,342 MW having either time or cost over run in 11 States/Uts. The time over run in these delayed hydel projects ranges from 12 months to 189 months and cost over run up to 472.92 percent. The Committtee noted that main issues involved in execution of the projects are bottlenecks in land acquisition, environment and forest issues, rehabilitation and resettlement isdsues, inadequate infrastructural issues, geological surprises and other issues. The Power Ministrry have taken a number of steps to reduce the delays. 

The 2,000 MW Lower Subansiri hydel project on Assam-Arunachal Pradesh which has been delayed is hoping to get commissioned this year. The project was opposed due to downstream concerns raised by civil society groups.

Union Road Transport and Highways Minister Nitin Gadkari has emphasised the need for maintaining equilibrium between ecology, environment and development.

WILDLIFE CONCERNS: The Wildlife Institute of India in its study has pointed out that the area where the project is being constructed shows record of 413 plant species, 159 species of butterflies, 113 species of spiders, 11 species of odorates, 14 species of amphibians, 31 species of reptiles, 230 bird species and 21 mammalian species.

An organisation named  Idu Mishmi Youth in its representation to the FAC said these projects will have severe, irreveraible, and potentially catastrophic consequences for the people, rivers , mountains of the twin Dibang Valley districts. " Decision making on India's largest hydropower project should not be rushed and must be done in a transparent and inclsuive manner considering local sentiment, safety and scientific evidence. Free, prior and informed consent ss be sought from all affected communities upstream, downstream and elsewhere  where the project's various proponents are located , including mitigative and ameliorative measures"

It said the viability of the project must be reexamined in light of the rapidly changing river hydrology due to acclerating climate change, which puts safety of the Idu-Mishimi people of Dibang Valley and millions of others downstream of the project at grave risk" it said.

The Arunachal Pradesh has  informed the Committee that State Government is inclined to go ahead with the project.

The nodal officer of the Arunachal Pradesh government who was present in the meeting  also highlighted the remoteness of the area and the proposed project fall in eastern part of Arunachal Pradesh which is remote and close to the international border areas.  He also highlighted that there are lot of representations objecting to the present proposal and with regard to already approved projects as well due to which already approved projects have not yet started and certain projects are not yet being completed.

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Roopak Goswami