Poor Governance And The Dibang Dam
August 2009: In yet another show of constitutional disrespect, NHPC Ltd.(earlier National Hydroelectric Power Corporation) and the Arunachal Pradesh State Govt. are again subverting environmental norms. In the belief that massive dams are the only option for the Northeast, NHPC has been pushing for the clearance of the 288 m.high, 3,000 MW Dibang Multipurpose Hydroelectric Project in the ecologically and culturally-sensitive Dibang Valley in Arunachal Pradesh.
On May 28, 2009, NHPC applied for the first stage in the environmental clearance process (called ‘scoping’) under the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) notification 2006. This notification states that if a site is deemed inappropriate on environmental and social grounds, the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF), based on recommendations of the Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC), can reject a project at this stage itself. The MoEF could also choose to give detailed Terms of Reference (ToR) for conducting EIA studies and a clearance for pre-construction activities. Further steps such as ‘Public Consultation’ may be scheduled only if the MoEF chooses the second option stated above. That too only after the decision is conveyed to the project authority, necessary studies have been conducted as per the ToR and placed in the public domain for atleast 30 days.
The MoEF website states that the Dibang proposal was considered by the EAC on June 16, 2009 and will be reconsidered in its subsequent meeting on July 29, 2009. This clearly implies that the earliest the EAC and MoEF can finish the ‘scoping’ process is the end of July 2009. Yet, the NHPC got the Arunachal Pradesh State Pollution Control Board (APSPCB) to issue an advertisement for a public hearing of the Dibang project on June 23rd itself. The hearing was scheduled for July 29, 2009 (later postponed to August 6). The power company seemed confident that the MoEF would rubber stamp its approval in due course.
This is a serious breach of governance and one that should worry the new minister, Jairam Ramesh, who has a tough job ahead of him to reform the MoEF, which has suffered all manner of political interference for almost two decades.
The Dibang Valley is home to the Idu Mishmis, a tribe that cherishes the ecological value of their homeland. It is also a crucial habitat that supports Asiatic black bear, capped langur, hoolock gibbon, clouded leopard, takin, tiger and many endemic bird species. The people of the valley are opposed to the project, but the authorities seem not to care. The Idu Mishmi people worry that their ethnicity and the integrity of their communities will be compromised by the influx of thousands of labourers trucked in to build the dam that is destroying their home. Perhaps around 25,000 people will migrate into the area. This is twice the total Idu population!
More than 5,000 ha. of biodiverse forests will be directly lost due to the project and the road to the dam site cuts through the Mehao Sanctuary. Approximately 32 lakh truck loads of boulders and 16 lakh truckloads of sand will be mined from the ill-fated Dibang river bed and its tributaries – demarcated an Important Bird Area (IBA) and a potential Ramsar site by the Bombay Natural History Society.
Compensatory afforestation continues to be used as a fig leaf to destroy pristine forested habitats. No credible plan exists to safeguard the biodiversity. As for downstream impacts, these will harm fisheries, ruin beels (wetlands) and leave downstream areas vulnerable to flash floods. Important riverine Protected Areas such as D’ering Sanctuary and Dibru Saikhowa National Park are in the impact zone downstream.
Ironically, comprehensive river flow data, so crucial to the public in whose name the dam is being built, has not been put in the public domain. The worry is that climate change will invariably alter weather patterns and the monsoon, thereby affecting river flow, and making a serious dent in the already inflated benefit claims made to justify the Dibang Project by NHPC. The huge reservoir will itself be a source of major greenhouse emissions as recent evidence in tropical countries indicates.
The Dibang Valley and the Idu Mishmis need your support. Future generations of Indians will pay the price because without the ecological integrity of this region, we have little chance of countering the impacts of climate change – droughts, floods and food famines.
Write to the Minister of Environment and Forests, Jairam Ramesh and ask him to review this project. Make the following points:
1. The MoEF should use a precautionary principle approach and reject the 3,000 MW Dibang Multipurpose project, which will affect both wildlife and tribals in the Dibang Valley as well as people living downstream in Assam.
2. The Dibang Valley must be declared as ecologically sensitive under the Environmental Protection Act as demanded by local Idu Mishmis.
3. The current EIA process is extremely suspect and is being systematically misused by large-project proponents.
Hon. Minister of State (Independent Charge), Environment and Forests,
Paryavaran Bhavan, CGO Complex,
Lodi Road, New Delhi 110003.