Biggest hydro project in Arunachal inaugurated by PM, killed by his govt -Anil Sasi
Shockingly, Arunachal Pradesh Government Govt shelves Etalin hydropower project in Arunachal Pradesh.The forest panel of the Union ministry of environment and forest (MoEF) has shelved the 3,097 megawatt (MW) Etalin Hydro Electric Project (HEP) in Arunachal Pradesh, pending the completion of an environment impact assessment study of the state’s Dibang river basin.
The Rs.25,000 crore Etalin HEP is a run-of-the-river project—where little water storage is required—and would have been one of the biggest in India in terms of installed capacity.
The ministry’s move stops the felling of around 280,000 trees, for the time being, for the project, located on the Dri and Tangon rivers in the Dibang Valley. The move comes despite Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently speaking of Arunachal Pradesh as a state capable of providing hydropower for the entire country.
The project’s requirement for 1,165 hectares of forest land to be cleared was discussed by the environment ministry’s forest advisory committee (FAC) at a meeting on 28 January, following which the panel decided to shelve it.
“Etalin HEP is one of the many HEPs in the Dibang river basin. As per the policy adopted by the government of India, one project in the river basin can be approved without insisting on the Cumulative Environment Impact Assessment Study (river basin study). Dibang HEP has already been recommended by the FAC for the approval,” the committee noted in its decision.
The 3,000MW Dibang HEP was cleared by MoEF last year, even though the project was rejected twice during the previous United Progressive Alliance government’s tenure.
“After detailed discussion, the FAC recommended that the proposal will be considered after completion of the Cumulative Environment Impact Assessment Study (river basin study) and its acceptance by the ministry,” the FAC noted.
But interestingly, according to a senior MoEF official, “the study is yet to start and if everything goes smoothly, would require at least two more years before completion”.
“Environment ministry had issued terms of reference for the Dibang basin study in November 2013, to the Central Water Commission but study is yet to commence as the process of awarding study is still underway. It would take at least around two years’ time to complete the study and then it needs to be accepted as well,” said the official, who declined to be named.
It was observed by the forest advisory committee that the areas adjacent to the project site are “habitat of some of the rare, endangered, unique species of flora and fauna and therefore, their presence is not ruled out”.
The FAC has asked the Arunachal Pradesh government to take several measures such as implementing the provisions of the Forest Rights Act, an environment plan of the area and a rehabilitation plan for families that may be affected by the project.
In its inspection report, the environment ministry’s regional office noted that the Arunachal government should consider locations of quarries and dumping sites and redoing the enumeration of trees, as the present enumeration list misses out larger trees because of sampling mistakes. The FAC asked the state to study recommendations made by the regional office, modify the proposal, if required, and submit it again.
The Arunachal Pradesh government has been focusing on harnessing its enormous natural resources, such as forests and hydropower, and exploiting its mineral wealth.
Arunachal Pradesh Chief Minister Nabam Tuki is said to have erupted in anger at a recent meeting to underline how the foundation stone for the 3,000 MW Dibang hydro project — billed as the nation’s largest — was laid by no less than Prime Minister Manmohan Singh way back in February 2008 and has yet failed to move an inch.
Reason: red flags raised by just one wing of his government, the environment ministry, that has denied forest clearances to the project being implemented by state-owned NHPC Ltd.
The minutes of the latest hydro task force meeting on September 10record Tuki asking for “necessary steps to be taken by the GoI (government of India) to re-consider forest clearance to the project”. This comes at a time when the Centre is desperate to try and make up for lost time in setting up hydroelectric projects on the Brahmaputra’s Siang basin in Arunachal Pradesh, with the China factor looming large.
Officials who attended the sixth meeting of the task force on hydro project development on September 10 here said the outburst by Tuki had taken the participants, including Power Minister Jyotiraditya Scindia and several chief ministers, by surprise.
The Forest Advisory Committee of the Union environment ministry has held back clearances to the Dibang project on the ground that felling of over 3.5 lakh trees was likely to have an “adverse impact on the general ecosystem of the area” and that the ecological, environmental and social costs of diversion of forest land will “outweigh” the benefits likely to accrue from the project.
Tuki’s exasperation is not restricted to Dibang.
Of the 25 projects totalling over 11,000 MW allotted to developers in Arunachal Pradesh, most of them over the last decade, construction work has not begun on even a single project.
This despite the need for urgency in stepping up the pace of setting up projects in Arunachal Pradesh as India needs to fast-track building dams on the Brahmaputra to establish its “lower riparian right” and create a strong bargaining position to detract China from building mega hydel projects on the upper reaches of the river.
China, on the other hand, is reportedly constructing a 38,000 MW dam at Motuo (Metog in Tibetan) almost on the India border, on the bend of the Yarlung Tsangpo, the Tibetan name for the Brahmaputra.
India’s success rate so far at harnessing hydro potential in Arunachal Pradesh is dismal.
According to analysts, just two projects, state-owned NEEPCO’s 600 MW Kameng and NHPC’s 2,000 MW Lower Subhansiri, have a realistic chance of coming up on the Brahmaputra over the next five years, that too if all roadblocks are ironed out.