The controversial 1,750MW Demwe mega-dam project in Arunachal Pradesh could be in for more trouble with the Assam government stating that the project needed clearance from the State wildlife authorities as it would impact the Dibru-Saikhowa National Park.
The project on Lohit river got a wildlife clearance from the Environment Ministry in February 2012 and has been challenged in the National Green Tribunal at present.
The Assam government, in its affidavit before the tribunal, has contended that the project in the upper riparian State will alter the riverine ecology of the national park and therefore under the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 requires a clearance from the Chief Wildlife Warden of the State.
The Assam government has also said that the impact of the project further downstream of the Kaziranga National Park too requires an assessment by experts.
While Demwe itself may be hit by this late reaction from the Assam government, a precedent in this case is likely to impact many other dams in Arunachal Pradesh.
Earlier too a report of the National Board for Wildlife (NBWL) had contended that the Demwe hydroelectric project should not be permitted due to the impact of the flow fluctuations in the Lohit river on the national park and the river ecology downstream in Assam.
The report, authored by non-official member and conservationist Asad Rehmani, had also noted that the project anyway required clearance from the Assam wildlife authorities under law.
But the Environment Ministry ignored it with a bureaucratic jargon stating, “Any decision of the standing committee [of the NBWL] is subject to fulfilment of legal requirements.”
Mr. Rehmani also noted that the existing downstream water flow studies were inadequate to assess the damage and that was another reason to reject the project.
The other report for the board on the same project, prepared by the Chief Wildlife Warden of Arunachal Pradesh, Pratap Singh, said that it was not the mandate of the standing committee of the NBWL to get into legal issues and that should be left to the concerned States.
He said: “The legal requirement is not the mandate of the SC in present case.” Now the Assam government has done as much before the tribunal.
File notings with The Hindu show that the Environment Secretary suggested that the cumulative impact assessment studies on the river basin could be done after clearing the project, which precluded any chance of rejecting the project if the assessment showed serious damage.
The Ministry in its orders completely ignored the legal question of requiring clearance from the Assam authorities. The Ministry cited a study which had not in fact assessed the damage to the national park till then.