the Arunachal Pradesh (ap) government has decided not to undertake or allow construction of any new reservoir-based mega-dams in the state, chief minister Geogang Apang announced at the National Development Council meeting at Delhi, held on June 27-28 2005. The state had already conveyed its decision to the Union government through a letter on May 16, 2005. The Centre was shocked; it had no inkling.
The move is also bound to create consternation within the National Hydroelectric Power Corporation (nhpc), which has the mandate to build mega-dams in the state; it is currently in-charge of 25 projects (see table: The unlucky 25). “Huge reservoirs create displacement problems and submerge large tracts of land. Consequently, the rehabilitation process becomes much more complicated,” state chief secretary Ashok Kumar told Down To Earth, adding, “The 20 large projects planned by the central public sector (read nhpc) would be thoroughly reviewed.” A bitter wrangle, involving nhpc, the state government and the Centre is certainly in the offing.
Reactionary That the decision partly stems from the state government’s constant feud with nhpc became clear when Apang further announced that the state’s prior approval would be a must before any hydroelectric project is proposed. The controversy surrounding ap’s first mega project, the 2,000 megawatt Subansiri Lower Project (slp) in Lower Subansiri district, is the most glaring instance of the tussle (see Down To Earth, ‘Truth is more slippery’, May 15, 2005). ap has constantly accused nhpc of keeping it in dark about the project, its progress and also the ongoing litigation on it in the Supreme Court (sc). While allowing diversion of forest areas for the project, the sc has imposed restrictions, including the demand to create a sanctuary or national park over the reserve forests in the river’s watershed. It has also banned any other projects on the river; nhpc has planned eight others, all reservoir based. The state government now accuses nhpc of jeopardising future projects by not contesting the case properly. It also charges it with short-changing the government on its demands of providing employment, small contracts and the statutory 12 per cent free power and undertaking rehabilitation and resettlement of the affected people.
Safeguarding interests The state government has now decided to review detailed project reports before the implementation begins. Currently, only the Central Electricity Authority and the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs review these reports for the financial approval of projects. Also, according to a recent cabinet decision, state government agencies now have be associated with a project at the stage of formulation/ investigation too. Till now, the state ’s role has been limited to granting permission for surveys and investigations for the first level of clearance from the Union ministry of environment and forests. Though it is not a statutory requirement, power project proponents usually sign a Memorandum of Understanding (mou) with the state, delineating the benefit sharing mechanism. In slp’s case, the mou has not been signed till date; the two parties charge each other with procrastination.
Alarmed at the move, the Brahamaputra Board, the statutory body overseeing hydro-projects in the Brahamaputra and Barak Basin, convened a hurried meeting on June 29, 2005. But ap has so far refused to discuss the issue with the board. However, ap civil society groups are delighted. Bamang Anthony of Arunachal Citizen’s Rights says, “The state government has taken a very wise decision. It should explore all sustainable alternatives and options.”
|The unlucky 25|
|Kurung dam - I||Subansiri||200|
|Source: Anon 2003, 50,000 megawatt hydro electric initiative, Union ministry of power, Delhi, May 24, 2003|