Call to reconsider Etalin hydropower project in Dibang basin of Arunachal Pradesh

NEW DELHI: Citing reasons such as felling of 30,000 trees, location in seismic zone, unscientific studies, and evidence of tiger presence in and around the project area, a group of activists recently demanded reconsideration of the proposed Etalin Hydroelectric Project (HEP) in the Dibang basin of Arunachal Pradesh.

The 3,097 MW Etalin HEP is the largest hydropower project proposed in the country.

The Forum for Policy Dialogue on Water Conflicts in India, a network of about 800 individuals and organizations who are involved in the water sector issues in general and water conflicts in particular since 2004-05, has written a letter to the Forest Advisory Committee (FAC) under the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change to reconsider the project citing multiple, specific reasons.

Drawing attention to what they termed as “destructive content of the proposed Etalin HEP”, the members of the Steering Committee of the Forum said they are “deeply concerned” about the all-round destruction the Etalin project can cause – of the ecology of the region, socio-cultural milieu of the people, especially the indigenous Idu Mishmi communities, and their nature-dependent livelihoods.

The specific reasons included, first and foremost, the proposed destruction of 30,000 trees in old growth forest in a biodiversity hotspot. “The ecosystem services of such a forest cannot be compensated in any way by plantation or compensatory afforestation programmes,” the letter said, and reminded of violations in compensatory measures regarding two similar projects in that State.

The Forum also sought to remind the FAC of how the Dibang Valley is prone to natural hazards “as it lies on a seismically active zone” and also has melting glacial lakes.

The Forum’s letter – addressed to Sanjay Deshmukh, chairperson of the FAC sub-committee for the purpose – drew attention to the fact that 29 scientists from 16 research institutions had poked holes in the Wildlife Institute of India (WII) report that had been the basis of the project proposal.

“It is our hope and plea that as an expert committee, the FAC must not base such an important decision that can have unimaginable consequences on such an error-ridden report.”

It also mentioned how the WII report omitted reference to the presence of tigers in and around the project area.

The minutes of the meetings of the FAC meeting held on May 11 shows that none of the issues raised by experts and local citizens have been addressed either by the sub-committee or the State.

Apart from the technical and scientific issues, the Forum letter also stated how the indigenous Idu Mishmi community that inhibits the Dibang Valley has a population of only about 10,000 people. Etalin is one of the 17 proposed HEPs in the Valley and the possible influx of outsiders can make Idu Mishmis minorities in their own area and impact their way of life, the activists said. (IANS)

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