Article writer – Arpita Mohanty, M.Sc. Ecology & Environmental Sciences, Pondicherry University
The Forest Advisory Committee (FAC), the apex body of the Indian Government’s Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC), has deferred its decision on the 3097 MW Etalin Hydropower Project in the Dibang valley of Arunachal Pradesh. This decision has brought a much-needed relief to the concerned scientists and environmentalists as it delays the project for over six years.
Constructions of large dams have always been strongly opposed by ecologists, human rights activists, native tribes, and farmers. Save Narmada Movement or Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) is one prime example. While the NBA successfully managed to cut the World Bank’s fund for the controversial Sardar Sarovar Dam, protests against the Dibang valley project have till now lead to significant delays.
The Dibang valley project is a large ‘clean energy’ project being developed by the Etalin Hydro Electric Power Company Limited, which is a joint venture company of Jindal Power and Hydro Power Development Corporation of Arunachal Pradesh Limited. The project is two run-of-the-river projects involving the construction of concrete gravity dams on the Tangon and Dri tributaries of the DibangRiver. The estimated cost of the project is about Rs 25,296.95 crores and once completed it will become India’s largest hydropower project in terms of installed capacity and the world’s tallest concrete gravity dam, standing 288m (945 ft.) tall. The project is in accordance with the government’s push to establish prior user rights on rivers originating from China and an effort to build development projects in the north-east.
The project seems important and necessary, then why all the protests? Because the cons are much heavier than the pros.
The project falls under the richest Himalayan area and comes under one of the world’s mega biodiversity hotspots. The location is the junction of the Paleo-Arctic, Indo-Chinese, and Indo-Malayan bio-geographic regions having subtropical broad-leaved and subtropical evergreen forests and a plethora of flora and fauna. The project will involve diversion of 1150.08 ha of forest land and cutting of 2.7 lakh trees in the valley. A Wildlife Institute of India (WII) study has documented 413 plants, 159 butterflies, 113 spiders, 14 amphibians, 31 reptile, 230 bird, and 21 mammalian species within the project area. The proposed site is a prime habitat for endemic animals such as Hoolock gibbon, elephants, Mishmi Takin, clouded and snow leopard, fishing cat, and Mithun among other species. The region is so rich in diversity that six different color variations of the Asian golden cat is found here and it is the highest color variation of any wild cat species in the world.
Not only biodiversity but the project is also going to affect the indigenous community that has been protecting these forests. The valley’s ‘Idu Mishmi’ community has owned and managed these forests for generations. A total of 18 villages consisting of 285 families are expected to be affected by the project. The natives will be displaced from their community land, which includes both rice fields and forest land that provides them with a source of livelihood. These native tribes are against the project since the day it was proposed. They have been protesting for over 11 years. Surely compensation will be promised to these people by the government. It will either be an ample sum of money or a small piece of land in a city’s slum. None of these will be alluring enough for these communities to give up the land that they have been calling ‘mother’ for centuries.
So, in this time of ongoing climate crisis, is this really the type of development that we all want?