These are rather ominous signs. As per the latest reservoir storage bulletin of Central Water Commission dated May 14, 2020, the 123 reservoirs monitored by CWC has massive, 64.6 BCM (Billion Cubic Meters) in live storage capacity, which is about 165% of the capacity on same date last year and average of last ten years, even as monsoon is just weeks away. Most dams known to create DAM INDUCED FLOODS in the past, including Bhakra dams (we wrote about it earlier this month: https://sandrp.in/2020/05/07/are-we-ready-to-use-more-water-from-snow-melt-in-indus-basin-this-year/), Narmada dams, Odisha and W Bengal dams (Cyclone AMPHAN is going to bring a lot of water here in next few days, even before the monsoon), Krishna basin dams, Cauvery basin dams, Bansagar and Gandhi Sagar Dams, and Kerala dams among others. All these dams have above average storage situation.
In the ongoing debate on forest clearance for the controversial Etalin Hydropower project in Dibang Valley in Arunachal Pradesh between the Forest Advisory Committee, The Hindustan Times’s consistent reporting and Sanctuary magazine launching a campaign along with others, one (of the many) key question that remains unanswered is: for whom this economically (in addition to socially, environmentally and from climate change perspective) unviable, massively expensive project being pushed in a power surplus country?
Electricity from hydropower projects is no longer economically viable, since cheaper options are available. Some misguided people are claiming virtue in hydropower project claiming it provides peaking power. The fact is India is today not only power surplus, the peak power deficit has been just around 1% or less for long time. This when there is no attempt to either monitor as to how much of the electricity produced from existing hydropower projects provides peaking power, nor is there any attempt to achieve optimisation of operation of existing hydro projects to produce maximum possible hydropower. Nor is there any attempt to even manage the peaks either through pricing or other policy measures. In such a situation there is clearly no justification for more hydro for peaking. Moreover, the storage option is becoming increasingly cost effective, reducing the peaking power needs. So then for whom this project whose cost won’t be less than Rs 30000 crores at most conservative estimates, being pushed? The contractors, the equipment suppliers, the hydro lobby, the consultants, the timber lobby, the dam lobby, or the kickbacks?
PROJECT UNABLE TO SUBMIT SATISFACTORY PROPOSAL EVEN SIX YEARS AFTER PM LAID FOUNDATION STONE!
In a remarkable decision, the Forest Advisory Committee (FAC) of MoEF has rejected the forest clearance to 3000 MW Dibang multipurpose project for the second time in its meeting held on 29 -30 April 2014. In that meeting FAC considered the Dibang multipurpose project for diversion of massive 4577.84 ha of biodiversity rich forest land which would lead to cutting down of huge 3.24 lac trees.
The foundation stone of 3000 MW Dibang Multipurpose Dam was laid on 31st January 2008, by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Six years have passed since then but the project is yet to get the necessary forest and environment clearances. This in a way reflects the state of environment governance in India where the foundation stone of mega dam is laid without getting any necessary clearance.
This project was considered for forest clearance in the FAC meeting held on July 11th and 12th 2013. The FAC meeting minutes noted “Felling of more than 3.5 lakh trees most likely to have adverse impact on general eco-system of the area, recovery of which may be very difficult through any type of mitigate measures”.
The Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) on River valley and Hydroelectric projects considered Dibang multipurpose project in its 68th meeting on September 23rd 2013 for environment clearance but this was in complete violation of norms. Following the “Lafarge vs Union of India and others” case of 2011, the Supreme Court of India had said that a project without forest clearance cannot be considered for environment clearance. SANDRP had pointed this out in our submission to EAC dated 20/09/2013. But EAC seemed to take no account of that.
Out of the 168 projects proposed for Arunachal Pradesh, this is the only multipurpose project. The minutes of 68th EAC meeting states that this project has dual objectives. The primary objective is flood moderation while electricity generation is its secondary objective. This is highly doubtful though since the project does not have the adequate storage capacity. On the other hand, the installed capacity of the project i.e. 3000 MW is also one of the highest among 168 hydropower projects.
The Dibang multipurpose dam is located 1.5 km upstream of confluence of Ashu Pani with Dibang river at Munli village in Lower Dibang Valley district. Construction of this dam involves two districts of Arunachal Pradesh viz. Lower Dibang Valley and Dibang Valley districts. All the project components e.g. dam, power house will be are located in Lower Dibang Valley District while reservoir which will submerge 43 km length of the river will fall in both districts. The total land requirement for this dam is 5794.142 ha out of the 5022.842 is forest area with very rich bio-diversity. Submergence of such a huge forest is one of the major concerns associated with this dam and that is why the Forest Advisory Committee (FAC) has refused forest clearance to this project.
The Dibang multipurpose project plans to construct 288 meter high concrete gravity dam with an underground dam toe power house. The reservoir of this project will submerge 40.09 sq km area. The total cost of the project at November 2007 price level was estimated at 15886.39 crores.
It is important to note that the public hearing for the project faced vehement opposition of the local people. The public hearing of the project has been halted for several times. The local people expressed serious concern regarding Dibang multipurpose project and feared that influx of outsiders for dam building will lead to a demographic imbalance in the Dibang valley. This is a serious issue since the primary inhabitants of Dibang valley are Mishmi (Idu) which is a very small community with a population of 11,023 according to 2001 census. According to NHPC estimation a workforce of 5800 people (labour and technical staff) would be needed for the Dibang multipurpose project. But All Idu Mishmi Students Union (AIMSU) has contested this figure and opined that a single project would bring about 15,000 people into the region. It is also reported that NHPC claim that the project will cause ‘negligible human displacement’ grossly undermines its harmful impacts on smaller ethnic community such as Idu Mishmis. A video of the protest by local people can be seen here – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m8TCUKh2hQY
No cumulative impact assessment of dams in Dibang valley has been conducted e even though 17 projects have been proposed for this region. The TOR clearance had been given to 86 MW Ithum and 3097MW Etalin HEP in the basin by EAC. Without any cumulative impact assessment study of the basin no project should be given environment clearance. People from Dibang valley has also written to previous EAC on demanding cumulative impact assessment study. A letter to EAC from a local person Raju Mimi, dated January 31st 2013 stated “Since the 3097 MW Etalin project is on agenda again for the 64th EAC meeting to be held on Feb 1st – 2nd 2013, we re-iterate our demand to have prior cumulative impact assessment of multiple hydropower projects by urgently commissioning a Dibang river basin study.”
Other Glaring Issues of Dibang Multipurpose Along with the above mentioned issues SANDRP had made detailed submission to EAC pointing to some of the glaring concerns associated with the project. Some of these issues are –
Incomplete and Shoddy Downstream Impact Assessment: The downstream impact assessment done for the Dibang multipurpose does not take into account impacts of the dam in Assam. The downstream impact assessment study does no assessment beyond Dibru-Saikhowa and whatever has been done is also very much inadequate.
No Public Hearing Held in Assam: Even though the Dibang multipurpose will have severe impacts in downstream Assam, there was no public hearing held for the project in Assam.
Mining for the Dibang Multipurpose will lead to Catastrophes: Mining of boulder, sand and other construction material for the Dibang multipurpose project will have very severe impacts on the river as well as on the local environment. The amount of boulder required for the construction of this project is 193 lakh cubic meter as stated in the project document. This is really astonishing figure and impact of such mining on the river bed and nearby areas will be catastrophic. The fragility of the Himalayan mountain range is not unknown to anyone and mining in such a sensitive hilly area will area will only increase the risk of landslide and disaster. The catastrophe of Uttarakhand floods is a clear example of this.
No Climate Change Assessment Impact of climate change on the project and impact of the project on the local climate. No attempt has been made to assess the impact of green house gas emissions from the reservoir of the dam which extends to 43 km.
No assessment impacts of peaking power operations Impacts Detail assessment of impacts of peaking power operation during non-monsoon months not done. Impacts on the flow characters of the river due to this dam, what will be the changes and how these will impact downstream areas.
No Assessment of Disaster Potential Impact of the project on disaster potential in the project area as well in the downstream including Assam due to construction and also operation at various stages, say on landslides, flash floods, etc.
No Assessment of Silt Flushing Impact of changing silt flows downstream from desilting chamber and from silt flushing in monsoon on the downstream areas not analyzed. A detail account of how the silt from the dam would be flushed out annually and what would be the impact of this in the downstream as well as on the geo morphology, erosion, stability of structures etc was not done.
What did the EAC say in 68th Meeting The EAC in its 68th meeting did not recommend environment clearance to the project and instead pointed out several issues in the EIA – EMP report. Some of the important issue pointed out by EAC are –
1. Attempts may be made to avoid submergence of huge area of rich forest land. It merits mention that due to the very high forest land submergence, forest clearance has not yet been accorded by FAC.
2. Environmental Flow in the diverted portion of about 1.2 km i.e. between dam and TWL of dam toe PH is to be reassessed and a suitable quantity is to be proposed for release as per extant norms. 4% flow as suggested was found to be inadequate.
3. Numbers of Fish species reported was found to be on lower side and NHPC was asked to verify this and report accurately.
4. Number of plant species reported also appeared to be on lower side and to be rechecked by NHPC.
5.At this altitude of the project (about 3000m), snow leopard should have been sighted. It may be erroneous to report that leopard was not found in the study area. Therefore, this may be relooked.
6. Study area in back water/ submergence is also to be extended for proper inventory of both flora, fauna/bio-diversity.
The impacts of the Dibang multipurpose project are going to severe on the river, people and overall ecology of Dibang river basin. But sad part is that no proper assessment of these impacts has been done till now. Looking back at the six years since the laying foundation stone for the project we reiterate what Forest Advisory Committee said about the project “ecological, environmental and social costs of diversion of such a vast tract of forest land, which is a major source of livelihood of the tribal population of the State, will far outweigh the benefits likely to accrue from the project.”
Parag Jyoti Saikia