Disquiet in Dibang

  • 14/05/2008


Project overlooks many issues, miffs people

Resentment is brewing over the Dibang Multipurpose Project in Lower Dibang Valley. People complain their voice was suppressed at a public hearing in Roing in January this year. When the prime minister laid the foundation stone of the 3,000 mw project on January 28 some 600 km away in Itanagar, it further angered them because the project is yet to get clearance from the union Ministry of Environment and Forests. They blocked the road to the venue of the next public hearing on March 12, New Anaya near the project's submergence area, removed a portion of the bridge over the Dibang and clashed with officials.

Raju Mimi, member of the Idu Mishmi Students Union, asks what's the point of consulting them when the government has already decided to give the project its clearance."There are major deficiencies in the Environment Impact Assessment (eia) and the Detailed Project Report (dpr), and yet the prime minister decided to inaugurate the project,' he says.

A joke called EIA
According to Mitai Lingi, president, Idu Cultural and Literary Society, eia is replete with factual mistakes about the vegetation and wildlife of the area, and is based on improper rainfall data and incomplete geological studies.

Environmental activist Anwaruddin Choudhury, who has studied eia chapters related to biodiversity, says although the world knows only one tiger species, the report claims that different species of tigers are sighted in the area. The list of avifauna borders the ludicrous. Thrush is written as thrash, woodpecker as wood packer, flycatchers have become flying catchers, fantail has became fanter and tesia is spelt as testia/tortia. eia also talks about an unheard of bird species, Brown Pied Hornbill, two unknown species of king cobra Ophiophagus acula and Naja hanah, and a new species of python, Python aculetes.

eias of Kameng and Subansiri (Lower) are also full of such mistakes. One reason behind these shoddy reports is that the biodiversity of the area is hardly explored and documented. Ipre Mekhola, wildlife warden of Ezengpo village, says over 60 per cent of the forest in the area are under community reserve. "The state forest department has no idea about the biodiversity there. Most of the area, including the submergence zone, remains unexplored. Only local people know the faunal diversity, but they have not been consulted,' Mekola says.

Saroj Barik, professor of botany at the North Eastern Hill University, Shillong, has found similar inaccuracies. He says the value index of tree species, indicating the economic importance of forest, has been calculated using wrong methods and the list of algae is full of errors. "Sargassum is a marine algae. I am surprised to find it in the list for the Dibang river,' he says.

Losing land
The project will destroy 5056.5 ha of forest. According to a forest department official in Roing, Lower Dibang Valley has only 1743.5 ha of degraded forest which can be taken up for afforestation. Less than 40 per cent of the forest in the district is with the forest department, the rest are termed unclassified forests and are controlled by the community. "There is no other land in the Dibang valley for compensatory afforestation,' he said, adding that the government is planning to take up community forest land for afforestation on the lines of joint forest management.

Classification of land in Arunachal Pradesh is virtually non-existent. So much so that the communities control not just forest but also rivers. Lingi says the hydroelectric projects would mean the government will start gaining a control of resources hitherto managed by the people.

Downstream discontent
Sirang, a village 35 km downstream of the dam, is also opposing the project. Sirang has 356 ha under paddy cultivation and 25 families with average landholding of 15 ha each. These families are demanding that eia should include a compensation package for them in case of a dam break or floods caused by the dam. Muluku Tacho, chairperson, Sirang Village Committee, wrote to nhpc regarding their demand but the corporation did not agree to it. Senior nhpc manager J C Sarkar, in his reply on August 14, 2007, said the people living downstream could not be compensated because their property had not been acquired. According to Dhiman Pareja, general manager projects, nhpc, it is for the state government to ensure that downstream people are removed from the banks.

Those living in the submergence zone also feel shortchanged by the project. According to Paha Mimi, chairperson, Dam Affected Citizen"s Committee, six rope suspension bridges and a steel arch bridge across the river will be submerged once the reservoir attains the level of 545 metres. "These bridges are our lifeline, but find no mention in either dpr or eia," Mihi says. He claims that the Environment Management Plan has shown 10 villages, which will be fully affected, as partially affected.

Flawed Approach

In its headlong rush to float "hydro dollars", Arunachal Pradesh has invested little in planning and risk assessment. When there are several dams coming up on a river, their impacts cannot be studied in isolation-one project will definitely disturb the other"s calculations. The governments, both in the state and at the centre, must consider the cumulative impact of all the projects on the people and the environment. And for any meaningful assessment it should first document its wealth of wildlife and glaciers. Instead what the government has done is put the cart before the horse-it has told the project developers to go ahead before any comprehensive basin-wise study is done. And this in a state which is geologically fragile. The impacts of the Arunachal Pradesh government"s grandiose hydel aspirations are likely to resonate through the entire region. People in downstream Assam have already made their displeasure evident.

An ill-planned approach to harnessing hydropower potential can have disastrous results. It is the people who will have to bear the brunt. While their risks are maximized, there is no assurance that the revenue generated by hydroelectric projects will be channelled back to them. Without distribution of benefits development is but hogwash.