Centre identifies Arunachal as powerhouse of the country

Even as anti-mega dam groups and organisations in Assam have intensified their agitation, demanding halt to the ongoing 2,000-MW Lower Subonsiri hydroelectric project of NHPC Limited at Gerukamukh on the Assam-Arunachal Pradesh border, the Union government is pushing for 157 hydro power schemes with an installed capacity of 57,672 MW in the northeast, including Sikkim, for meeting the shortfall in the country's power generation.

Of these, 114 schemes, with an aggregate installed capacity of 35,257.5 MW, have been allotted to the private sector. The central public sector undertakings have got 13 schemes (8,977 MW).

The Centre has identified the ecologically fragile Arunachal Pradesh as the powerhouse of the country. According to an estimate of the Central Electricity Authority (CEA) and private power developers, this State bordering China has the potential to generate over 57,000 MW of hydro power.

Of the 133 projects already allotted to the State, 125, with an installed capacity of 32,883.40 MW, have been given to private developers. The central public sector undertakings have got eight projects (8,735 MW).

Of the total 133 projects, 36 are mega ones, with each having an installed capacity 350 MW and above. The rest (25 MW and above) involve construction of large dams. So far, only four projects have got the final clearance and are in various stages of construction.

The Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) has granted pre-construction (scoping) clearances to over 50 projects under the EIA notification 2006. Final environmental clearance has been given to 13 projects.

Revenue collection

Arunachal will get 12 per cent free power from each project. The State government collected revenue in terms of processing fee and upfront premium to the tune of Rs. 1320 crore (as on September 30, 2010) from the allottee owner-developers.

“Once the companies pay the upfront premium and sign the MoU for a particular project, they are not concerned about public hearing and are under the impression that even if there is 100 per cent opposition in the public hearing they would still get all necessary clearance for construction of the project. The State government should let the people know as to what it has done with upfront money so collected,” Vijay Taram of the Forum for Siang Dialogue told The Hindu. His organisation has been opposing the construction of dams on the Siang river.

Student and youth organisations of the State have been alleging that public hearings were conducted without proper information to people and in the presence of the police and paramilitary forces.

The ongoing and the allotted hydropower projects in Arunachal have triggered anti-mega dam movements as the State falls in Seismic Zone V. The agitating groups have been raising concern, also over a possible adverse impact on the ecology and livelihood in downstream areas, primarily in Dhemaji and Lakhimpur districts and the Majuli river island in Assam.

The All Assam Students' Union, RTI activist and peasant leader Akhil Gogoi-led Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti, the Asom Jatiyatabadi Yuba Chatra Parishad and their allies have been demanding a halt to the construction of the Lower Subonsiri project.

They have alleged that construction was taken up without conducting a comprehensive scientific study on downstream impact of the dam in the form of flood, erosion, environment and bio-diversity, livelihood.

An expert group constituted to study the downstream impact of the project came out with a recommendation against construction of a mega dam at the present site. From the geological, tectonic and seismological points of view, it suggested in its report not to consider the Himalayan foothills, south of the Main Boundary Thrust (MBT), for any mega hydro project.

The group also recommended redesigning the project by sufficiently reducing the dam height and production capacity. It alleged that various seismic parameters considered by NHPC Limited for designing the dam were not correct and the dam structure be redesigned to ensure safety and stability.

However, NHPC Limited authorities rejected the observations and claimed that the dam structure is safe and stable.

“Set up technical team”

Faced with stiff opposition that which intensified after the expert group's report, Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi impressed upon Prime Minister Manmohan Singh that the Centre or the NHPC Limited set up a “Technical Team” consisting of internationally acclaimed seismologists, experts on river dams to examine the technical parameters for the safety and stability of the dam.

However, the Gogoi government is opposed to the demand for halting the construction work and has adopted a tough stand against agitation programmes aimed at blocking transportation of construction material to the project site.

It constituted a Group of Ministers (GoM) to hold consultations with the agitating groups and the expert committee. The GoM submitted a report to the Chief Minister and the organisations are demanding that the report be made public.

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