After protests, Meghalaya dam project ‘scrapped’

Forum of pressure groups smells a rat as public hearings for the project were called a year after it was said to have been terminated in 2020.

September 01, 2021 11:54 am | Updated 11:54 am IST - GUWAHATI:

Meghalaya Minister James Sangma. Photo: Twitter/@JamesSangma1

Meghalaya Minister James Sangma. Photo: Twitter/@JamesSangma1

The Meghalaya government has “scrapped” an agreement with private power developers to execute the proposed 210 MW Umngot hydroelectric project following protests.

But the Joint Action Committee (JAC) of local pressure groups is wary of the “ambiguity” of the announcement as the government had sought public hearings on the project in April, a year after it was said to have been terminated.

On August 30, the State’s Power Minister James Sangma said the hydropower project on river Umngot was not on the government’s priority list. “We would like to supplement our existing hydropower generation with solar, wind and other renewable sources of energy,” he said.

What planted the seeds of doubt about Umngot was his statement that the government would seek the views of stakeholders if the project was taken up in the future.

“The Power Minister’s statement is ambiguous. He did not specifically say if the Umngot project will be scrapped,” JAC member Treibor Raul Suchen told journalists in the State capital Shillong.

The memorandum of understanding for the Umngot dam was signed with the JP Group in 2007 but the government had in 2020 said the project stood terminated.

“Yet, the government called for a public hearing each in East Khasi Hills and West Jaintia Hills district, indicating some other motive. The government should come up with a clear message to the stakeholders opposing the project about its fate,” Mr. Suchen said.

Tourism forums have also sought clarity from the government.

“We shall not entertain any discussions on the views of stakeholders on any future projects on the Umngot, as the Power Minister said,” Meghalaya Tourism Development Forum (MTDF) president Allan West Kharkongor said.

The Meghalaya government had earlier defended its plan to dam Umngot, arguably India’s clearest river. The dam was proposed to have been executed by the cash-strapped Meghalaya Energy Corporation Limited at a site in the coal-rich East Jaintia Hills district but more than a dozen villages downstream in the West Khasi Hills district opposed it.

According to the villagers and the JAC, the dam would affect the tourism industry in Shnongpdeng, Darrang, Dawki and adjoining areas bordering Bangladesh.

According to the MTDF, Umngot is the reason why Meghalaya became an all-season tourist destination before the COVID-19 pandemic struck.

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