The current ongoing episode of Muddy Siang River water in Arunachal Pradesh is due to landslides in the upstream Tibet, triggered by the earthquakes starting on Nov 17, 2017 or possibly earlier. This is revealed by the satellite pictures and work of two researchers, first published in Arunachal Times on Dec 21, 2017[i]. These landslides are partly blocking the Siang flow and could lead to massive floods in the downstream Arunachal Pradesh and Assam any day.
In a remarkable development, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) on October 24 has suspended the clearances given to the 1750-megawatt (MW) Demwe Lower Hydroelectric Project (HEP) planned on the Lohit river in Arunachal Pradesh.
In its detailed order, released on October 27, the NGT ruled that the Environment Minister as Chairperson of the National Board for Wildlife (NWBL), a statutory body constituted under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, could not “just brush aside” the views of the majority of NBWL standing committee members.
Suspending the clearances given by the Centre and the state govt, the NGT order added that “the decision taken by the Standing Committee is not in accordance with established principles of law and hence the Standing Committee shall reconsider the issue and pass appropriate orders within a period of six months from the date of the judgment”.
Environmental clearance for the project was given by the Union environment ministry’s Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) for river valley and hydroelectric projects back in 2009. An in-principle forest clearance for the Lower project was given in February 2012 and agreed upon in 2013.
However, the in-principle clearance of the project was opposed by a majority of the Standing Committee of the NBWL but subsequently cleared by the then-environment minister of state (independent charge), Jayanthi Natarajan, who was also the chairperson of the Standing Committee.
Natarajan is currently under the CBI’s scanner for alleged anomalies in clearance given for diversion of land in Saranda forest in Singhbhum district, Jharkhand to mining company Electrosteel during the previous UPA regime.
The NGT said that it is “of the view that either the Chairperson (Natarajan) should have given a proper reason for rejecting the objection of the majority of the non-official members or the decision ought to have been arrived at based on the opinion of the majority of the members. Even though the Standing Committee is a recommendatory body, the same being a statutory committee, is bound by the laudable principles of justice and fair play”.
Above: Lohit River, Parshuram Kund on the right. Photo: Parineeta Dandekar
Assam, Arunachal and the North East India, West Bengal and Bangladesh are riverine entities in many ways. Ancient rivers flowing through this landscape have moulded not only the mountains and the silt-heavy banks, but cultural identity of the region itself. Rivers permeate through the literature, folklore, songs, poems, cuisine, even dressing… Bhupen Hazarika, the Bard of the Brahmaputra, likened the red ripples of the Assamese Gamcha (red and white stole) to the braided filigree of the Red River. When Guwahati University opened on the banks of Luit, Hazarika sang “Jilikabo Luiter Paar”..Banks of the Luit will Shine. Rivers stood for revolution as they stood for Love.. Jyoti Prasad Agarwal wrote“Luitar Parore Ami Deka Lora.. Moribole Bhoi Nai.” (“We are the youth from the banks of the Luit/ We are not afraid of death”). Older poets like Parvato Prasad Baruah wrote entire books full of poems of Luit and today modern poets in Assam like Jeeban Narah link their creative processes inextricably to rivers. Continue reading “‘Banks of the Lohit will shine’: Glimpses of a free-flowing river”→
Above: Protest against Lower Subansiri Project in Assam. Basin Study of Lower Subansiri is also a part of intense debate in Assam. Now these studies are under wraps by the MoEF and CC
Non-transparent Environment Governance does not help anyone, neither is it legal. In the upcoming Expert Meeting of the MoEF and CC on River Valley Projects (read dams), documents pertaining to 6 of the 8 projects being considered are not available!
Sudden water discharge from Chamera-II hydro project killed 2 IAF jawansIn the evening of 05 March, 2 Indian Air Force (IAF) personnel posted at the Pathankot airbase were washed away by sudden rise in Ravi’s water level from Chamera-II hydro project in Chamba, Himachal Pradesh while 3 other personnel had a close shave. According to Sudesh Mokhta Deputy Commissioner Chamba the 5 IAF personnel on a weekend holiday trip were clicking pictures on the river bank at the time of the incident when the water of the river rose suddenly after discharge from upstream Chamera-II project. The incident happened around 6.30 pm and due to darkness, the search operation remained unsuccessful. It was only on 06 March that the bodies were fished out. Mokhta further stated that a magisterial probe has been ordered to ascertain if the NHPC authorities, which man the Chamera-II project, followed the guidelines laid down by the high court for the discharge of water. On 08 June 2014 also during a similar accident,24 students from Hyderabad were killed by sudden discharge of water from Larji hydel project dam in Mandi district.
What does it mean when landscapes, riverscapes, ways of life are altered forever? When a mighty, flowing river is plugged and made to stop, flow in tunnel and released as per our whims? For most of us, life and environment are so fundamentally modified that we would hardly question it. But as our worldview and our politics is set to dam some of the last free flowing rivers in the North East India into Hydro-Electricity Banks, what is at stake? Continue reading “India’s Free Flowing Frontier Part I: Dibang at Nizamghat”→
Expert Appraisal Committee on River Valley Projects,
Ministry of Environment and Forests,
Respected Chairman and Members,
We have just seen the minutes of the 86th meeting (uploaded on Sept 14, 2015, but clearance letters in some cases have already been issued even before the EAC minutes are made public or the minutes are finalised at the next EAC meeting) of the Expert Appraisal Committee on River Valley Committee, held on Aug 24-25, 2015.
“We want sacred rivers of Tawang to flow freely, not inside Tunnels!” What makes the assertion on this banner more remarkable is the fact that the people holding it up are not fiery activists, but peace-loving Buddhist monks of the Monpa community, from the farthest corner of Arunachal Pradesh: Tawang (photo by Urmi Bhattacharjee). About 13 hydropower projects are slated to come up on main river stem and tributaries of Tawang Chhu (River) in Tawang in a distance of just 160 kms.
Tawang is a tiny district of Arunachal Pradesh nestled between Tibet and Bhutan. The region has had a troubled past and is home to Monpa Buddhists who practice an ancient form of Buddhism. Monpa culture itself is unique and fragile, with less than 50,000 Monpas in Tawang and less than one lakh globally. The region is famed for Tawang Monastery, Galden Namgey Lhatse (which literally means Celestial Paradise on a Clear Night), which is the 2nd largest monastery in the world. Continue reading “Cumulative Impact Assessment of Tawang Basin: Highlights from the NEHU Study”→
On this Republic Day of India, when the American President Barack Obama joined Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to witness the ever-inspiring Republic Day Parade, 6000 kms away in Rome I heard a Native American woman say, “With colonization, we were alienated from all that we held dear, not only our natural resources but also our legitimate place in decision-making. We are Salmon people. Revitalization and protection of our fish is our sacred duty and we will do it despite the dams.” A fisherman near Farakka Barrage who was hardly making a living due to the barrage had said something similar to me once.