Development is not possible without keeping a balance with the environment. The central government’s decision to build a 3000 MW Dibang Hydroelectric Project in Arunachal Pradesh without any public consultation comes as a surprise, in wake of Narendra Modi’s assurance to voters that he will not support mega-dams in the region, during his election campaign rally on 22nd Feb 2014, in Pasighat here, before Lok Sabha elections.
The foundation stone for the dam was laid by Manmohan Singh in 2008. Six years on and two denials later, the project has been cleared by the Forest Advisory Committee (FAC). On 28th August 2014 the FAC had concluded the “ecological and social costs of destroying a vast tract of forest land which is a major source of livelihood for the state’s tribal population would far outweigh the benefit likely to accrue from the project.”This was followed by a letter from Nripendra Mishra, Principal Secretary to the PM to “clear the project expeditiously” on 3rd September. Less than a month later, the project has been approved.
It will be India’s largest dam and the world’s tallest concrete gravity dam (previously 288 metres, now to be reduced by 20 ft). The electricity generated by the Rs 1,600 crore National Hydroelectric Power Corporation (NHPC) project will be mostly transmitted to other parts of India. A proper study of its potential impacts in downstream Assam, seismic parameters, and on climate change has not been done.
The Dibru-Saikhowa National Park and Biosphere Reserve downstream would be affected by the fluctuations in the flow of the river. It is a potential Ramsar site, for wetlands.The Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) has said that it should be declared a Bengal Florican National Park because it supports the population of the endangered bustard species.
The constitutionally protected indigenous communities like Idu Mishmis, Adis and others would be demographically and socio-culturally impacted by project construction as there would be a large influx of migrant workers who would outnumber the indigenous communities.
During its completion, around 3.24 lakh trees will be cut and more than 45 Sq Km of land will be submerged. The amount of boulder required for the construction of this project is 193 lakh cubic meter as stated in the project document. Mining on such scale on the river bed and nearby areas will be cataclysmic, considering the fragility of the Himalayan mountain range.
In other parts of the world, mostly US and Europe, a reverse process of dam removal has started. Old dams which have damaged riverine ecosystems, outlived their usefulness, are expensive to maintain, or have become a safety hazard are being gradually removed through various processes. The World Commission on Dams has said that big dams have only marginal economic value.
We need to diversify power generation away from large dams, more so because of the change in rainfall patterns due to climate change. Solar power, wind power and other alternative sources of energy could be tapped increasingly. Smaller dams to generate hydroelectricity is an option with lesser damage.
The brazen indifference shown by Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF), to the environmental issues under the pretext of ‘development’ is unprecedented. Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar has cleared a backlog of most the 298 projects by June 2014 without much analysis. These include salt manufacturing plants in Gujarat close to a marine national park, a road running near the Pakistan border through “Flamingo City”, Asia’s biggest breeding ground for flamingos, and a cement plant close to the Majathal Wildlife Sanctuary (HP), home of the endangered cheer pheasant. Several environmental rules have also been relaxed.
Groups like the North East Dialogue Forum, People’s Platform Secretariat, Village Women Coordinating Committee, People’s Action for Development, Social Action Committee are protesting against Dibang dam. Their voices need to be joined by citizens all over the country. Nature is priceless, no money can buy it once it’s lost.
By: Manasi Gandhi