Dams · Hydropeaking · Hydropower

India’s Free Flowing Frontier Part I: Dibang at Nizamghat

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”

Arunachal Pradesh · Environment Impact Assessment · Expert Appraisal Committee · Forest Advisory Committee · Himalayas

Dibang Insensitivity Analysis : FAC recommendation can destroy 4577 ha rich Forests

Reaching exasperating lows of environment decision making, the Forest Advisory Committee (FAC is a statutory body of the Ministry of Environment Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC) formed under the Forest Conservation Act of 1980. FAC appraises Forest diversion proposals) has recommended Forest Clearance to the 3000 MW Dibang Project on Dibang river in Arunachal Pradesh.

While we had already written against this recommendation, what is nearly unbelievable is that this recommendation has come at just 10 meters height reduction of the dam from the proposed 288 meters.

This was the very same NHPC proposal which was rejected twice by the FAC in the past,[1] despite this token 10 meter height reduction. In fact in April 2014, the FAC said that 10 mt reduction does not take care of any pertinent impacts for which the proposal was rejected in the first place in July 2013! A 10 m reduction would still mean destruction of 3.24 lakh trees and submergence of 4577.84 hectares, nearly 12000 acres, of rich bio-diverse forest.

Dibang River Photo with thanks from Global Post, Scot Ligare
Dibang River.  Photo with thanks from Global Post, Scot Ligare

The usually reticent MoEFCC (Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change, MoEF earlier) too had issued a strong-worded rejection to this scheme in August 2014, stating that 10 meters reduction is nothing in the face of what is being lost. The rejection letter stated: “Such a marginal reduction in requirement of the forest land (445 hectares reduction, reducing forest requirement from 5056 hectares to 4577 hectares) for the project may not be able to reduce the adverse impact of project on such a biodiversity-rich mature forest ecosystem to the extent which could make the project environmentally as well as socio-economically viable in forest dependent tribal society of Arunachal Pradesh”.

This letter from the same ministry certified that the 10 m reduction proposal still leaves the project environmentally, socio-economically unviable. So an environmentally and socio-economically unviable project has been recommended clearance by the statutory FAC (and also the separate recommendation a week earlier by the same MEFCC’s Expert Appraisal Committee on River Valley Projects)!

This shows that the decision of FAC is devoid of merits, will invite huge opposition from Arunachal Pradesh, Downstream Assam, North East India, and even beyond and will not pass legal scrutiny. The decision seems to have been taken under pressure from the political masters. Union Power Minister Piyush Goyal has been dreaming of clearance to this project, as is clear from his road map published on completion of 100 days of office for the new NDA government[2]. He has also been pressurizing the MoEFCC to clear the project by hook or by crook. The FAC was reconstituted and the reconstituted FAC has obliged the minister in its very first meeting. In the process, the entire FAC has violated its mandate and should be held accountable for this.

Regrettably, MoEFCC seems to have become the willing punching bag of not only above-mentioned ministries, but even unrelated ministries like Ministry of Mines and Minerals, Ministry of Steel ,etc., whose ministers and Secretaries were present for the meeting: “to Expedite Clearances”. (Incidentally, when was the last time we heard MEFCC resisting such arm-twisting, or forthrightly suggesting any pro-environment measures to other ministries?)

Before the minutes of the September FAC meeting were out on Oct 22, 2014 (there was an inordinate delay this time, raising suspicion of negotiated minutes and again breaking all norms of conduct), there was discussion in media that Dibang was cleared, but even the hard-core skeptics believed that this recommendation must have come after a 20 meter or 40 meter height reduction, for obvious reasons.

But the FAC seems to have outdone itself. As stated above, the recommendation has come at 10 mts height decrease, for which the FAC had rejected the project and MoEF had issued a rejection letter in the past.

As we discussed in detail in our last blog on Dibang project, the twice-rejected project was up for discussions again in Sept 2014 only after considerable arm-twisting of the MEFCC by the Cabinet Committee of Investment, Ministry of Power, Project Developer NHPC and Arunachal State Government. This time it was for a supposed sensitivity analysis (done by the developer!) for studying the feasibility of reducing the height of the project upto 40 meters from its original height of 288 meters.

This sensitivity analysis was not shared with anyone, not even the FAC members till the day of the FAC meeting, breaking all codes of conduct of transparency, participation and informed decision making in governance. SANDRP wrote about this to the Minister and Secretary of MoEFCC as well as the Member of the FAC, but received no response.

Looking at the minutes, it is clear that the FAC members have lapped up the logic presented by the developer and the Ministry of Power which in a nutshell says that “10 meters reduction is sufficient as the ratio of forest land required per MW is lowest at 10 meters reduction.” This twisted logic reduces all decision making related to forests, even biodiversity-rich forests supporting endemic, unstudied species, local protests, downstream impacts etc., to mere number crunching of forest per MW. This criteria alone cannot  be the basis for decision for forest appraisal committee.

Dibang Valley Forests Photo: The Telegraph
Dibang Valley Forests Photo: The Telegraph

As per the sensitivity analysis by NHPC, the ratio forest land required per MW for 40 meters reduction is 1.67 MW/ hectare, which is same as no height reduction and 1.78 MW/ hectare in case of 20 meter reduction. In terms of tariff, for 40 meters reduction, the power tariff will be 6.24 Rs./unit while it is 5.66 Rs/unit 10 meters reduction, 5.94 Rs./unit 20 meters reduction and 5.64 Rs. at zero reduction. The installed capacity will reduce by 120 MW (4%) MW for 10 meters reduction, 600 MW (20%) for 20 mt reduction and 780 MW (26%) for a 40 meter reduction.

Height Reduction Forest land required MW capacity per ha Forest lost First Year Tariff: Rs per unit Reduction in installed capacity
Nil (288 m) 5056 Ha 1.67 5.64 None
10 m 4578 Ha 1.59 5.66 120 (2880 MW)
20 m 4284 Ha 1.78 5.94 600 (2400 MW)
40 m 3703 Ha 1.67 6.24 780 (2200 MW)

The proponent said: “Decrease in dam height and consequent sacrifice of power generation beyond 10 mt is not commensurate with saving forest land.”

How did NHPC reach this conclusion? What is the value of the mature, old growth forest land considered by NHPC? Without knowing this, how can this conclusion be acceptable to the FAC? It has to be remembered that Dibang is not an exclusive hydropower project, but a multipurpose project with a flood moderation component and costs have to be borne for this.

While the proponent and Ministry of Power did their best for pushing the project, the FAC did not do its duty of stating that the sensitivity analysis put forth by NHPC is a sham as it does not consider the worth of the forest being lost.

In this sabji-mandi haggling, when FAC had all the watertight justifications for rejecting the project, it did not bat for even a 40 meter reduction, which could have saved nearly 1355 hectares of forests and would have had a marginal impact on other factors. Its unclear why this happened.

Only one of the FAC members tried to battle the case saying that 10-40 meter reduction still does not address the upstream and downstream impacts, especially considering the biodiversity rich area. The minutes do not disclose the name of this member, but it seems the brute majority (majority of FAC members are govt officials) took the official line, alleging “subjectivity” and said that “To reduce subjectivity, it is important to analyse the issue objectively on objective parameters”. Forgetting that this is Forest Appraisal committee, not Power Developer Committee.

This is ironical. It was indeed the duty of the FAC to appraise the project “objectively” based on issues like destruction of 3.24 lakh trees, invaluable forests, unstudied biodiversity, rich wildlife and several Schedule I species, community dependence, traditional rights, downstream impacts, climate change impacts, options assessment, etc. But it did nothing of that and has in fact recommended the project “subjectively”, bowing to pressures outside their ambit.

Clearly, per MW forest land required and per Unit Tariff from a project are anything but objective criteria for FAC. FAC is supposed to apply its mind to a number of issues like the ones above.  If FAC was not supposed to apply its mind to these aspects and its judgment, there was no need for an FAC, Power ministry and developer could have taken the decision independently.

The FAC decision does not address any pertinent issues raised by the same FAC while rejecting the project, it also does not address downstream impacts on Assam or assume any value for a rich forest. There is no discussion why 20 meters or 40 meters reduction is not seriously considered by FAC. Decision-making based on such biased, proponent-driven criteria is bound to be open to legal challenge and public protests.

Sham consideration of Downstream Impacts About Impact of the project on Dibru-Saikhowa National Park, the User Agency said that the issue was considered by EAC in its meeting on the 16th September (Please note this is just 6 days and 5 working days back from FAC meeting. There is no chance of minutes being firmed up by then. They were not in open domain in any case) and the EAC has recommended clearance based on the fact that there is less than 1 meter level fluctuation at DSNP.

This claim in any case is patently incorrect, again a case of project-friendly, anti-environment decision-making. The level fluctuation at DSNP can go way higher than a meter, anywhere from 7-8 feet every day in lean season, according to the studies considered by the EAC of the MEFCC itself. This has been pointed out by SANDRP to the EAC as well. There has been no study of the impacts of this project on downstream Arunachal Pradesh or Assam. The developer seems to assume that Dibru-Saikhowa is the only part of Assam worth considering.

Dibang Valley tribes Photo from go ibibo/dibangvalley
Dibang Valley tribes Photo from go ibibo/dibangvalley

There is no compliance under Forest Rights Act (2006) for such a massive project and despite this, FAC under some supposedly progressive members working on tribal issues, does not bat an eyelid before recommending clearance!

To conclude, pricing mature, biodiversity-rich forests in terms of per MW terms is an insult of those forests, the communities that depend on them and to the mandate of  FAC. Downstream impacts of Dibang project are not studied, the impacts on Dibru-Saikhowa are based on compromised studies.

There is no merit in this decision from the newly appointed FAC which includes members also from reputed environment protection organizations in North East and from Tribal Welfare groups like Friends of Baripada. It is also sad to see that there is no dissenting note from a single member. The unnamed member who expressed dissent in the meeting has not written anything about this in public domain.

Decisions like Dibang lay further foundations for poor, pro-developer, anti-people, anti-environment decisions taken due to pressure from proponent and other ministries. Such decisions will not be legally tenable, nor acceptable to affected communities, nor good for sustainability and equity. In fact, by such reversals, FAC decisions are losing their sanctity. FAC has done this in the past too in case of Kalu Dam in Western Ghats which would submerge 18 villages and 1000 hectares forest.

Isn’t it ironical that the new government changed the name of the MoEF to MoEFCC but is sanctioning massive projects like Dibang which will have far reaching impacts on Climate Change as well as adaption and mitigation abilities of the affected communities? Without even considering these aspects or even mentioning them?

Parineeta Dandekar, parineeta.dandekar@gmail.com

[1] For details see: https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2014/10/06/manipulating-environment-forest-clearances-for-dibang-project-deja-vu-lshp-history-repeated-will-it-be-tragedy-or-comedy/, https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2014/05/17/dibang-project-rejected-forest-clearance-for-the-second-time/

[2] http://www.piyushgoyal.in/uploadedfiles/views/ministry_english_booklet.pdf

[3] http://www.theguardian.com/environment/india-untamed/2014/oct/22/indias-largest-dam-given-clearance-but-still-faces-flood-of-opposition

[4] https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2013/04/25/kalu-dam-in-western-ghats-fac-goes-back-on-its-word-without-any-justification/

Arunachal Pradesh · Environment Impact Assessment · Expert Appraisal Committee · Forest Advisory Committee · Himalayas · Hydropower

Manipulating Environment & Forest Clearances for Dibang Project: Déjà vu: LSHP History repeated: Will it be tragedy or comedy?

Dibang River (Source - EMP)
Dibang River (Source – EMP)

Every possible violation of norms, procedures, law and democratic governance is being committed in pushing clearances for the India’s largest capacity hydropower project, which involves India’s highest dam proposed so far & North East India’s Largest capacity reservoir: the 3000 MW Dibang Multi Purpose Project in Arunachal Pradesh. The players involved in these violations include the Union government of NDA led by BJP (UPA earlier), including its cabinet and Union Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MEFCC), Ministry of Power, State government, the project developer company NHPC Ltd, the Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) and Forest Advisory Committee (FAC).

The project will need more than 4700 hectares of biodiversity rich Forest area with several Schedule I species in Arunachal Pradesh. It will also have significant downstream impacts on the people & environment of Arunachal and Assam and Dibru Saikhowa National Park. Most of its impacts have not been either properly assessed or considered by the developer, EIA agency or the EAC & MEFCC.

Déjà vu: We did the same for Lower Subansiri HEP! It seems the government is indulging in the same blunders that the previous NDA government[1] indulged in over a decade ago while clearing the then-largest capacity hydropower project: the 2000 MW Lower Subansiri Hydropower Project (LSHP), also in Arunachal Pradesh. Environment clearance for LSHP came on July 16, 2003 and stage I forest clearance came on June 10, 2003. Exactly the same set of players were involved in manipulating LSHP clearances over a decade ago. The developer is also the same: NHPC. The government at centre is again led by NDA.

Aaranyak environmental group of Assam, in a letter dated May 16, 2002 to the then-Chief Justice of India had highlighted the violations involved at various stages in the decision making of LSHP including during public hearings, in conducting EIA, in giving environment, forests and wildlife clearances. Almost all the issues that Aranayak letter raised then are applicable in case of Dibang with even greater force. But it seems in the twelve years since 2002 when that letter was written, our environmental governance has only degenerated.

The fate of the LSHP is a lesson in itself. After spending over Rs 5000 crores (Rs 50 Billion), the work on the project came to a standstill in December 2011. It has remained stalled for 34 months since then, following India’s biggest Anti dam People’s movement so far. This is unprecedented in India’s hydropower history. NHPC Ltd has been trying every possible trick to resume the construction work on LSHP, without genuinely trying to address the issues people’s movement has been raising.

Dr Mite Linggi, Representative of Kere A Initiative for Cultural and Ecological Security said exactly that at the public hearing of Dibang Project on March 13, 2013: “It is evident that the 2000 MW Lower Subansiri Project is stalled since Dec 2011 because the technical, environmental and social concerns of the people of Assam were not considered earlier… Ignoring downstream concerns will only ensure that this project to will meet the same fate as Subansiri Lower Project (2000 MW and get stalled by people of Assam.”

It seems none of the players have learnt any lessons from the blunders committed in LSHP’s decision making. If this is how Dibang Project is being pushed down the throat of the people of Dibang Valley, Arunachal Pradesh and the North East India, they will have no option but to oppose the project and the Dibang Project may have the same fate as that of LSHP. Those who have been involved in the decision making now will then be held accountable for the wrong decisions and manipulations.

Dam site and the Dibang River Basin (Source - EMP)
Dam site and the Dibang River Basin (Source – EMP)

THE DIBANG PROJECT

The foundation stone of 3000 MW Dibang Multipurpose Project on Dibang River was laid on 31st January 2008, by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh[2] when the project had no clearances, showing utter disregard the former PM had for statutory clearances or environment or affected people. The project affects Lower Dibang Valley and Dibang Valley districts of Arunachal Pradesh, and significantly, several districts in downstream Assam.

Considering the fact that Dibang has the largest installed capacity for a project in India, involving highest dam in India and biggest reservoir in North East India so far, one expected the EAC to be much more diligent while considering the project and even more so considering the experience of the LSHP. But that, it seems, was expecting too much.

The first thing that would strike any one who goes through the EAC and FAC documents is that the basic parameters of the project are yet unclear even as the EAC and FAC have recommended clearances, within the span of a week, under pressure from their political masters. Unbelievably, these two committees functioning under the same Ministry have recommended clearance for differing capacities, differing heights, differing submergence areas and so on!

This is because the NHPC knowingly misled the EAC in its meetings by presenting the 288 m height (above the deepest foundation level) dam with 545 m elevation at Full Reservoir Level (FRL) and 3.75 Billion Cubic Meters (BCM) of storage capacity at FRL. The same NHPC, in FAC meeting on Sept 22, 2014 provided sensitive analysis with dam height reduced upto 40 m, but this was not even mentioned before the EAC!

Let us review the how the EAC and FAC dealt with the project.

A. ENVIRONMENTAL CLEARNACE FOR THE DIBANG PROJECT:

The Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) of the MoEF, which holds the distinction of having a zero rejection rate for the projects it appraises, recommended Environment Clearance to 3000 MW Dibang Multipurpose Project in its 77th meeting on 16th Sept, 2014.

The Project was given TOR (Terms of Refence) clearance on 17.8.2009. Public hearings in Lower Dibang and Dibang Valley districts were held on 11.3.2013 and 13.3.2013 respectively, with huge protests from affected people. The EAC earlier considered the project in 68th meeting in Sept 2013, in 73rd meeting in March 2014, in 74th meeting in May 2014 and now in 77th meeting in Sept 2014.

Some key questions that arise as to how the EAC arrived at the positive recommendation:

1. Was there any Public Hearing in downstream Assam? Was there proper public hearing in Aruunachal Pradesh?

Although Dibang Multipurpose project will have impacts in the downstream Assam, as accepted by NHPC Ltd, WAPCOS and recorded in EAC minutes, no public hearing has been conducted in Assam, in complete violation of the EIA notification which clearly states that in all affected districts public hearings must be held. The submissions from Assam were not discussed during EAC minutes. The people of Assam have been completely ignored in the decision-making about a project that will affect them. Several people who spoke at the Dibang Public Hearing in Arunachal Pradesh in March 2013 raised this issue, but MEFCC and EAC failed to do anything about this even after SANDRP submissions to EAC also raised this issue.

Even in Arunachal, the public hearing process has seen several violations, leading people to oppose the project and the public hearings, see the quotes from the public hearings given below. Consequently, the public hearings were disrupted by the local people and had to be cancelled several times. The MEFCC, unfortunately, has no concern for the quality of the whole consultation process and sees it as only a box to be tick marked. The EAC does not even look at issues related to public hearings.

View of One of the affected villages show the rich forest that the project will destroy (Source - EIA)
View of One of the affected villages show the rich forest that the project will destroy (Source – EIA)

2. Were the issues raised at public hearing in March 2013 addressed?

No. As is clear from the report of the public hearing for the project held at Roing and New Anaya on March 11 and 13, 2014 respectively, the affected people raised a lot of critical issues about the project, EIA, EMP and Public hearing.

In the Minutes of the 68th meeting of EAC held in Sept 2013 and the 73rd EAC meeting held in March 2014, there is one paragraph (same para in both minutes) on public hearings: “Concerns Raised During Public Hearings It was explained that in general, the people were satisfied with the EIA and EMP reports and proposed R&R plan and community and social development plan. R&R plan has been formulated in line with the State R&R Policy, 2008. They took keen interest in knowing the R&R package and community and social development (CSD) plan. However, during public consultation prior to public hearing and during public hearings of Dibang Multipurpose Project, in addition to community and social development plan more infrastructural development in both Lower Dibang Valley and Dibang Valley Districts were sought viz., up gradation of District Hospitals in both districts, financial assistance for schools, colleges and polytechnic, and construction of cultural museum at Roing and ITI at Anini etc. Besides this for downstream people, the main concern was protection of downstream area in case of dam break / high flood. Keeping this in view, a lump sum provision of Rs. 17100 lakhs has been proposed for consideration of MoEF for mitigative measures at downstream and other infrastructural facilities as raised during public hearings in addition to R&R and CSD plan.”

The claim that “in general, the people were satisfied with the EIA and EMP reports and proposed R&R plan and community and social development plan” is a complete lie, as we see from the quotes from the official public hearing minutes below.

It seems the EAC members have not bothered to read the public hearing report, and they have willingly or unwillingly been misled by the NHPC and EIA agencies. To illustrate the critical issues raised at the public hearings, we are giving below some quotes from the official public hearing report. Most of these reports remain unaddressed in the EIA-EMP submitted to the MEFCC, but MEFCC and EAC has not bothered to check this.

Shri Lokha Elapra, President, All Idu Mshmi Students Union: “Poor planning of mitigation from impacts during construction phase. Mitigation measures fail to address issues of demographic impacts, socio-cultural concerns and preservation of traditional land and livelihood… EMP does not have any provision to address this. EIA and EMP does not have any mitigation measures to preserve nor compeansation for permanent loss of mithun grazing areas, fishing grounds and medicinal plants thus endangering the loss of Mishmi Takin (rare Animal), Mishmi Monal (rare Bird) and Mishmi  Teeta (rare medicinal plant)… Flood control of Eze (Deopani River to protect Roing Township… A cumulative impact study in the Dibang river basin must be undertaken.”

Shri Raju Mimi, Member, Mishmi Scholar’s Association: “NHPC had undermined the seismic design parameters as recommended by the experts of IIT Guwahati, Guwahati University and Dibrugarh University in respect of the Subansiri Dam. In this regard can the community members of the affected  areas be certain that such careless disregard for dam safety be not repeated by NHPC in this case?  All the documents related to dam design and safety be made public. Also, the documents should be peer reviewed by independent group of scientists. Ecological concerns like extraction of boulders from ecologically sensitive Important Bird Area (IBA). No impact assessment made regarding this in the EIA report… Hence a cumulative impact study in the Dibang river basin must be commissioned. Socio-economic concerns like the catchment area treatment (CAT) plan will restrict land use resulting in loss of land and livelihood. NHPC must ascertain such losses and compensate the people affected by CAT… There is possibility of loss of land by destabilization of soil due to the huge reservoir. What mechanisms will be implemented to address these losses? ”

Shri Kelo Pulu, President IMCLS: “Environment Monitoring Cell to assess and review the various mitigation measures as mentioned in the EMP is not convincing. Therefore, the Government of Arunachal Pradesh should immediately notify the formation of an independent Committee consisting of less than 5 members of local Idu Mishmi people.”

Shri Moba Riba: “Conduct Public hearing at Dambuk Sub division.”

Shri Jibi Pulu: “Additional EIA-EMP must be undertaken to ensure the minimum impacts to the ecology of Dibang area. The Community people will lose an area of 10390 ha that will be required for CAT plan. This area being grazing area of Mithun will be lost. The EIA does not have any data or estimate/ valuation of this resource. Without any compensation the livelihood rights cannot be taken away from the community. EIA studies about wildlife conservation is inadequate. EIA studies carried out regarding assessment of economic and medicinal plants is not project specific nor community focused. It does not have any reference, assessment and compensation of economically valuable plants like Piper mellusa and Paris polyphylla. The impact of 1950 earthquake of 8.7 magnitude.. Is the dam axis and reservoir standing along the seismic fault line? The impoundment of the drainage system by building dam will have major effect.. Hence, EIA studies on downstream impact particularly study of Deopani drainage and its siltation status is absolutely necessary.”

Dr Mite Linggi: “As recommended by the Planning Commission Committee we demand for a Dam safety design panel for an independent assessment of safety of Dibang Dam. There are lacunae in EIA-EMP reports. This must be rectified.”

Shri MartinLego: “Resistance capacity of the mountains which fall in the reservoir is not studied. Dam should be able to withstand flashflood. Construction of flood protection works with RCC wall supported by vegetative cover on both banks of Dibang River… Our demands must be fulfilled then only we will support.”

Shri Mibom Pertin, President Adi Bane Kebang (ABK): “Till date no initiative has been taken by the State Government, the district administration or the NHPC to educate the people… the EIA EMP must be modified/ rectified wherein safety measures and actions to be taken in case of dam break… Until and unless the above points are fulfilled the holding of this public hearing is strongly opposed by ABK.”

Shri Jowar Moyang: “Demand to establish a family dossier of the entire downstream people… Downstream not reflected in the EIA/EMP and DRP therefore, a separate guideline be made to include the downstream within the defined local area. The demands placed above must be addressed to within three months of this hearing or else will protest against the  construction of the project.”

Shri Nun Pertin, President, Dibang Adi Students’ Union (DASU): “Downstream people are unaware of the project benefits, impacts and other issues which are mandatory to be known before the commencement of the project. Therefore, public hearing in this regard must be conducted within blocks and subdivision of Lower Dibang Valley. This must be furnished in written assurance form within one week’s time. ”

Shri Anjite Menjo, Zilla Parishad Member, Iduli Anchal Block and Shri Chiliko Meto, ZillaParishad Chairperson: “Environment Monitoring Cell to assess and review the various mitigation measures as mentioned in the EMP is not convincing. Therefore, the Government of Arunachal Pradesh  should immediately notify the formation of an independent Committee consisting of less than 5 members of local Idu Mishmi people… Hence a cumulative impact study in the Dibang river basin must be commissioned.”

Dr Mite Linggi, Representative of Kere A Initiative for Cultural and Ecological Security (KICES): “It is evident that the 2000 MW Lower Subansiri Project is stalled since Dec 2011 because the technical, environmental and social concerns of the people of Assam were not considered earlier. Report of the Planning Commission appointed Committee of Dr C D Thatte and M S Reddy has raised several serious concerns about the downstream impacts of the 2000 MW Subansiri Lower Project. Therefore, keeping this in mind, it is absolutely important that public consultation in Assam is carried out before the Dibang project gets environment clearance. Public consultation in Assam is not only necessary to address the concern of the people, but it is a pre-requisite for the people of Dibang Valley in the upstream… Ignoring downstream concerns will only ensure that this project to will meet the same fate as Subansiri Lower Project (2000 MW and get stalled by people of Assam. Rights of the people to use Catchment Area will be denied. Will compensation be included for them? Is it possible for NHPC Ltd to formulate new criteria for all those villages perched atop to include within affected families?”

Shri Lokha Elapra, President, All Idu Mishmi Students’ Union (AIMSU): Raises most of the critical issues raised above including need for Cumulative Impact Asessment, inadequate EIA-EMP, Impacts of demographic changes, lack of assessment of loss of grazing land, fishing right. “We do not want to be refugees in our land.. We the Idu Mishmi have a way of living where we live independently. Past history is proof of it.  We had never been ruled and can never be ruled under any circumstance or vice versa. The plot which the NHPC Ltd claim giving free of cost is by virtue forcefully asking us to live in that piece of land where the PAFs are not satisfied.”

Shri Athupi Melo, Ex-ZPM, Anelih-Arju Block and Representing New Endoli village: “Public hearing on Dibang Multipurpose Project (3000 MW) was postponed 10-14 times earlier as the consent of the public was not taken before preparing EIA and EMP reports. The NHPC Ltd had cheated the entire affected people by concealing information and letting the awareness remain within the high reach people only. The NHPC Ltd as per their survey has shown 5 villages, 72 families, 243 persons, 938.8 ha of agriculture land as to be affected by the project. Do they know that the storage reservoir will submerge the land mass which belongs to another 34 villages of the valley?”

Shri Kupu Miku-ASM Arzoo and Representative of Apako village: “Had been resisting NHPC Ltd for the last ten years. Nothing was made known as to how much land would go and how much compensation would be provided.”

Shri Rezina Mihu, General Secretary, All Idu Mishmi Students Union (AIMSU): “It has been six yeas of resistance till this morning. The former President of AIMSU sacrificed his life fighting against the Dibang Project… the EIA-EMP is still not upto the mark.”

This selection of quotes from the Public hearing and reading of NHPC response, EIA-EMP and EAC minutes show that not only NHPC has failed to satisfactorily respond to most of these issues, the EAC and MEFCC has not even bothered to check the veracity of the claims of NHPC and uncritically accepted the NHPC claims. Inadequate response to the issues raised at the public hearing means that environmental clearance given to the project is legally untenable.

Anxious afffected people outside the public hearing Hall in March 2013 (Source - PH Report)
Anxious afffected people outside the public hearing Hall in March 2013 (Source – PH Report)

3. Has there been proper Environmental Impact Assessment of the project? Kalpavriksh, SANDRP, affected groups from Assam and Arunachal have made several independent submissions to EAC on the inadequacies of the EIA (Environmental Impact Assessment). SANDRP itself sent four different submissions (dated Sept 20, 2013, April 2014, May 2014 and Sept 12, 2014) highlighting various inadequacies of the EIA including:

  • Lack of compliance with the Terms of Reference of the EIA
  • Lack of basin wide cumulative impact assessment
  • Impact of mining of materials for the project not assessed
  • Lack of downstream impact assessment (more details below)
  • Lack of assessment of how climate change will affect the project and how the project will worsen the climate change impacts.
  • Lack of options assessment
  • Severe Impacts of Migration of Outsider on Local Tribal Community not assessed
  • Impact of the project on disaster potential in the project area as well in the downstream including Assam not assessed
  • Impact of changing silt flows downstream not assessed

As noted above, large number of speakers at the public hearing also pointed out the inadequacies of the EIA-EMP.

4. Are downstream impacts on Assam & Arunachal Pradesh Studied?

No credible study of the impact of the dam, dam break and peaking on Assam and Arunachal Pradesh in the downstream has been done.

Several speakers at the public hearing raised this issue of inadequate downstream impact assessment, as can be seen from the quotes from the public hearing listed above.

It may be mentioned here that the biggest issue plaguing the LSHP is lack of downstream impact assessment, and the EAC, MEFCC, NHPC or the EIA agencies (WAPCOS, which by now is notorious for doing substandard studies and National Productivity Council). Even Assam and Arunachal Pradesh state governments also seem least bothered. Also, it seems no lessons have been learnt after Larji mishap when 25 students were washed away due to demand-driven water releases by upstream hydropower project.

5. Has the impact of Peaking on Downstream Assam & Arunachal Pradesh studied?

NO

This is despite the fact that submissions were sent to the EAC from several organizations and individual also from Assam, drawing their attention to impact of peaking in downstream Assam, especially in lean season (winter) when flow fluctuations will range from 111 cumecs (Cubic meters per second) to about 13 time rise in volume at 1441 cumecs in a single day. Fluctuations can happen twice or thrice in a single day.

6. Has the impact on Dibru Saikhowa National Park in the downstream Assam studied?

NO

The EAC has shown zero application of mid in this respect. There are several hydropower projects being constructed on the three main tributaries of Brahmaputra upstream of Dibru Saikhowa National Park in Assam. All these hydropower projects will undertake peaking operations. EAC has considered these projects separately, as a part of basin studies and as a part of downstream impact studies on Dibru Saikhowa National Park.

In all these studies, the level fluctuation at the National Park when the three major projects in the upstream undertake peaking operations is different, as per the convenience of the project proponent! EAC has considered all these studies without raising any questions about this convenient difference in figures even when the contradictions were brought to EAC’s attention by SANDRP.

The EAC has recommended Clearance to Dibang Multipurpose Project accepting the contention of the NHPC that “water level fluctuation in Dibru Saikhowa National Park (DSNP) will be less than one meter.”

  • However, the same EAC has considered EIA of Lower Siang HEP (by WAPCOS) where the fluctuation at Dibru Saikhowa when all projects are peaking is said to be 8 feet (2.38 meters)
  • The Report on “Effect of Peaking power generation by Siang Lower HEP, Demwe Lower HEP and Dibang Multipurpose HEP on Dibru Saikhowa National Park” also by WAPCOS states that level difference when all three projects are peaking is estimated to be 34 mts i.e. 7.67 feet. (Page 26)

EAC did not question these glaring differences in these models even when a submission highlighting these points was sent to the EAC on 13.09.14, before the 77th EAC meeting. The submission is not mentioned in the minutes, neither discussed, also violating Hon. Delhi High Court Orders (Utkarsh Mandal Case).

7. EAC decision violates its mandate; MEFCC & NHPC guilty of misleading EAC.

During the entire appraisal process, the EAC has failed to pose any difficult questions to NHPC, has not taken a stand supporting Assam, has not even initiated discussion in that direction, has turned blind eye towards submissions it received raising critical concerns, has overlooked contradictions, has overlooked precautionary principle and welfare of people in the downstream Assam and has refused to learn any lessons from the LSHP experience or the Larji Mishap.

While discussion about height reduction of Dibang upto 40 meters were initiated in MEFCC/ NHPC since Feb 2014, the MEFCC or the NHPC has not brought this proposal to the attention of the EAC and the EAC has taken absolutely no notice of this and has not even asked for this 40 m height reduction. The only reference we can find to the height reduction proposal is in the minutes of the 73rd EAC meeting, where too there is reference to only 10 m ht reduction. And yet, there is no mention of this in the minutes of the 77th EAC meeting where the EAC recommended clearance to the project.

This alone is sufficient to make the EAC decision legally untenable and make both MEFCC and NHPC guilty of not informing the EAC about these developments more than six months after they were initiated.

The EAC on its part has not shown the will to ask for a realignment of the project to minimize its downstream impacts, peaking impacts and submergence impacts. Such biased conduct and the decisions of the EAC, sidelining genuine concerns are in complete violation of the mandate given to EAC and extremely damaging to environmental governance of the country and are a reason for increasing conflicts, delays, protests and strife underlining its callousness towards environmental impacts and local resistance.

The issues that FAC raised while rejecting the Forest clearance are the very issues that EAC should be concerned about since they are under their mandate. But not only EAC did not raise them on their own, but even after they were brought to the EAC’s attention by SANDRP, the EAC failed to even discuss those issues.

8. Issues on Dibang raised in earlier EAC meeting remains unanswered

The decision making paragraph of the minutes of the EAC meeting of Sept 16-17, 2014 on Dibang Project reads: “After critically examining the proposal and considering the response to various issues raised in the earlier EAC meetings, the project was recommended by EAC for accord of Environmental Clearance to Dibang Multipurpose Project. However, EAC suggested that 20 cumec flow may be released towards e-flow in the 1.2 km diverted stretch as 15 cumec gives just sufficient quantity. EAC noted that beyond this 1.2 km, adequate flow will be available from TRT which will be minimum in the order of 85 cumec at 80% rated discharge of one turbine.”

It is clear that this paragraph does not reflect any application of mind by EAC if the response provided by NHPC to the various issues raised by EAC and others’ submissions to EAC are adequate. Even in this paragraph, it is not clear what is the basis of EAC decision to recommend 20 cumecs flow downstream of the dam and not the norm that EAC is following for other projects (30% in monsoon, 20% in lean season and 20-25% in non monsoon non lean season). Nor is it clear what is the basis and impact of operation of one of the (there are 12 turbines, each of 250 MW installed capacity in this project) turbine at minimum 80% capacity round the clock. This non application of mind on the part of the EAC is the norm of EAC and not an isolated incident.

In fact, reading through the minutes of all the EAC meetings since Sept 2013 where Dibang EC (Environment Clearance) was discussed, it is clear that while EAC has raised a large no of questions and reported some of the information submitted by NHPC, no where can we find application of mind of the EAC where it is stated that the information/ responses provided by NHPC is adequate or not. The uncritical acceptance by the EAC about the information/ responses provided by the developer is another noteworthy feature of EAC decision.

Let us illustrate this. The minutes of the 73rd EAC meeting held in March 2014 says: “A detailed fisheries (also flora and fauna) survey was conducted by Centre for Inter-Disciplinary Studies for Mountain and Hill Environment (CISMHE), Delhi University in the month of December 2013.” Immediate question than arises is, why were the fisheries and other surveys done only in one month and not across the year as is the normal practice? What were the outcomes of the study? You will find neither critical questions, nor any answers in the EAC proceedings.

Here is another example. The minutes of the 74th EAC meeting held in May 2014 says: “It was informed that fluctuation in the water level at upstream of Dibang-Lohit confluence due to peaking operation will be about 17 cm which is almost negligible considering the size of the river.” Shockingly, the EAC does not even ask: A. If this estimate is sound and if it is consistent with conclusions of other studies; B. What will be the level fluctuation at different points along 60 km stretch of the river upstream from this point to the project site and what will be the impact there of. EAC’s such uncritical acceptance of apparently contradictory and inadequate responses from the developer is the norm and not an isolated incident. Considering that EAC was considering the largest installed capacity project of India, highest dam of India and biggest reservoir in North East India so far, one expected the EAC to be more diligent. This was even more so considering the experience of the LSHP.

To further illustrate, the minutes of the 74th EAC held in May 2014 says: “The point-wise reply to the two representations submitted by Kalpavriksh was submitted to MoEF and EAC members and the same was also presented before EAC during the meeting.” Similarly, the minutes of the 73rd EAC meeting held in March 2014 says: “point-wise replies to the issues raised by Shri Chow Rajib Gogoi, Secretary, All Tai Ahom Student Union, Jorhat and Shri Pushp Jain, Director, EIA Resource and Response Centre (ERC), New Delhi were also given”. But in both cases, there is not even a word as to whether EAC discussed the NHPC response and if they did what was their conclusion about adequacy or acceptability of the NHPC responses.

As far as four separate submissions sent by SANDRP to EAC on Dibang Project are concerned, EAC neither mentioned them, nor did it seek NHPC’s response on them.

Considering all this, the decision of the EAC to recommend EC to the Dibang Project is clearly wrong, based on inadequate appraisal, in the absence of application of mind and legally untenable.

Active Lanslide  zone in submergence area of Dibang Project (Source - EIA)
Active Lanslide zone in submergence area of Dibang Project (Source – EIA)

B. FAC DECISIONS ON DIBANG PROECT

It has been reported[3] that the Forest Advisory Committee of the MoEF has recommended clearance to 3000 MW Dibang Multipurpose project in its meeting on Sept 22, 2014, though the minutes of the FAC meeting are as yet unavailable. This decision is reversal of FAC’s clear rejection to the project twice in past 2 years[4] in addition to MEFCC’s rejection letter to the project as late as on the 28th August 2014.

  • MEFCC was pressurized by the Cabinet Committee on Investment, Ministry of Power and even unrelated Ministries like Ministry of Mine, Ministry of Steel and Ministry of Coal into clearing the Dibang project. FAC itself was under pressure of the MEFCC minister and its highest officials to clear Dibang at any cost.
  • Relevant papers regarding height reduction proposal by NHPC were not uploaded on FAC Website in advance of the Sept 22, 2014 Meeting.
  • It is unclear if even the FAC Members had these documents, which form the basis of project consideration.
  • The height reduction proposal was not available to the EAC members a week earlier before EAC recommended clearance to the project.
  • FAC’s recommendation on Dibang project is clearly an undemocratic and illegal decision in the absence of prior information in public domain for all concerned, and when all the original objections raised by FAC while rejecting the project twice remain unaddressed.

Let us look at the timeline of FAC decision making on Dibang Project:

12.06.13: FAC rejects Dibang FC (Forest Clearance) Proposal. Reasons: “huge forest area with very good forest cover, irreparable and adverse impact on general eco-system of the area by felling of more than 3.5 lakhs of trees, several other HEP have been proposed in the same river valley apart from Dibang HEP, unavailability of study on cumulative impact of all the HEP, etc. The Committee is also of the opinion that ecological, environmental and social costs of diversion of such a vast track 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.”

13.08.2013: Meeting of Secretary, Ministry of Environment and Forests and the Secretary, Ministry of Power held and it was decided that proposal will be considered again after exploring the possibility to reduce the requirement of forest land for the project.

9.12.2013: Project discussed by the Cabinet Committee of Investment which nearly ordered fast clearance for Dibang Project. It stated: “Ministry of Environment and Forests may grant the requisite clearance for diversion of forest land expeditiously.” Such direction from CCI was clearly in violation of the Forest Conservation Act 1980 which clearly defines the process for forest clearance and where CCI has no role.

10.02.14: NHPC revises proposal and submits two alternatives, reducing height by 5 m and 10 meters respectively. Marginal decrease in submerge of forest land due to 10 meters reduction. NHPC Officials say any further reduction will not be possible.

Revised Diversion proposal with reduction of 10 mts height and 445 hectares forest area submitted to MoEF with new proposal for total diversion of 4577.84 hectares.

29th-30th April 2014: Revised proposal discussed in FAC with 10 meters reduction. The revised proposal was incomplete in many basic respects like absence of maps, CAT Pan, FRA compliance, identified land for Compensatory afforestation, etc. In addition, the FAC noted that the region is home to Schedule I species, the reduction in forest loss due to decrease in height in minimal and will not have substantial ameliorative impact, It said “Such a marginal reduction in requirement of the forest land for the project may not be able to reduce the adverse impact of project on such a biodiversity rich mature forest ecosystem to the extent which could make the project environmentally as well as socio-economically viable in forest dependent tribal society of Arunachal Pradesh”. FAC also noted that impact of reduction of dam height on its economic feasibility was not put before the committee.

16.06.2014: Secretary Power writes to Secretary, MEFCC on 16.06.2014 to review the decision of FAC and accord the Stage-I forest clearance. Such direction from letter was clearly in violation of the Forest Conservation Act 1980 which clearly defines the process for forest clearance and where Power Ministry secretary has no role.

19.06.2014: Joint meeting held between Ministry of Mine, Ministry of Steel, Ministry of Environment Forests and Climate Change and Ministry of Coal, attended by the Ministers and Secretaries of the respective Ministries, as well as Secy, Ministry of Power wherein it was decided that a report on sensitivity analysis of dam height reduction by 40 meters shall be submitted to MoEF and action will be taken only after that.

24.06.2014: Secy, Ministry of Power writes to MEFCC & submitted a report on the sensitivity analysis on the dam height reduction upto 20 meters. However, MEFCC maintained that that as decided in the meeting the sensitivity analysis report was not submitted by the project proponent.

28.08.14: MEFCC sends letter rejecting Forest Diversion Proposal of Dibang Multipurpose Project on the basis of 10 meters height reduction, rich forest, social impacts and also downstream impacts on Assam, including Dibru Saikhowa.

5.09.2014: MEFCC writes to (NHPC/ Min of Power) to submit sensitivity analysis of reduction by 40 meters.

08.09.14 (This letter of 08.09.14 was uploaded on MEFCC FAC website on the day of the FAC meeting, 22.09.14): NHPC submits letter to MEFCC about sensitivity analysis for height reduction from 5m-40 meters. While it highlights the loss in installed capacity (780 MW) and loss in revenue due to 40 m reduction, it downplays the fact that 40 mts reduction will bring down forest land requirement by 26%. It concludes, without substantiation that “Decrease in dam height and consequent sacrifice in power generation beyond 10 mts reduction is not commensurate with saving forest land” and further recommends only 10 mts height reduction, which proposal the MEFCC had rejected in its Apr 29-30, 2014 meeting.

21.09.14: No sensitivity Analysis uploaded on MoEF FAC Website. SANDRP sends a submission urging FAC not to consider the project in the absence of this analysis in public domain as it violates CIC orders. People affected by the project have no idea of this analysis which is the basis of decision making in the next day’s meeting.

22.09.14: Day of the Meeting: Suddenly Additional Information document accessed (and downloaded) on 21.09.14 changes, with two additional pages and letter from NHPC about sensitivity analysis is uploaded ON THE DAY OF THE MEETING.

23.09.14: News that FAC has recommended clearance to Dibang was already public.

The affected people stopping the public hearing in 2008. Source: http://www.roingcorrespondent.in/this-circus-should-stop-no-public-hearing/
The affected people stopping the public hearing in 2008. Source: http://www.roingcorrespondent.in/this-circus-should-stop-no-public-hearing/

CONCLUSION As noted earlier, the Dibang Project is the largest capacity hydropower project, the highest proposed dam and largest proposed reservoir of North East India. One expected all concerned to be diligent in taking decisions on such a project. However, it is clear from this narrative that the process of environment and forest clearance for the Dibang Project is fundamentally flawed, inadequate and in violation of all norms of democratic and informed governance. Significantly, it is also illegal and untenable. Such manipulative decision-making has led to flawed decisions of environmental and forest clearances in case of LSHP in 2003, with the project stalled by people’s agitation since 34 months now. If the Dibang Project, which is bigger than LSHP in every respect and with much greater impacts, is pushed in such a manner, it is likely to face the same fate as that of the LSHP. We hope that the final decisions related to Dibang Project will be more informed, diligent, democratic, unbiased and objective. Admittedly, such hope seems rather farfetched at this moment.

Parineeta Dandekar (parineeta.dandekar@gmail.com) & Himanshu Thakkar (ht.sandrp@gmail.com), SANDRP

END NOTES:

[1] This is not to state that the UPA government that ruled India during the 2004-2014 decade was in anyway more sensitive to environment or democratic concerns. In fact part of the EC and FC time line and some of the manipulations happened before May 2014 when the current government took over. However, it is apparent that the current government has indulged in much more  violations and manipulations and pressurized the statutory bodies (including FAC & NBWL reconstitution).

[2] https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2014/01/31/six-years-after-pm-laying-foundation-stone-no-clearance-no-work-for-3000-mw-dibang-dam/

[3] http://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-others/6-years-2-rejections-later-indias-largest-hydro-project-cleared/99/#sthash.vNJo2nAs.dpuf

[4] For details, see: https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2014/05/17/dibang-project-rejected-forest-clearance-for-the-second-time/

[5] A video titled “Dibang Resistance (Arunachal Pradesh)” depicts the protest and blockade by local people against the Dibang dam. The video can be viewed here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m8TCUKh2hQY 

[6] Mimi, R., “The Dibang Multipurpose Project, Resistance of the Idu Mishmi” published in “Water Conflicts in Northeast India – A Compendium of Case Studies” edited by Das, Partha J. et. all, 2013

Arunachal Pradesh · Dams

Dibang Project Rejected Forest Clearance for the Second Time

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 project was previously considered in the FAC meeting of 11-12 July, 2013 for diversion for 5056 ha of forest land which would have led to cutting down of 3.55 lac trees. In that meeting too, FAC had rejected forest clearance to the project. It is important to note that the foundation stone of this project was laid way back on 31st January 2008 by the Prime Minister of India (to know more on this, read our earlier blog on Dibang[1]). At that time the project had neither the environment clearance nor the forest clearance even though these two are most essential for a project to legally have foundation stone.

Over six years later, continuous rejection of forest clearance to this project reflects how government gives little importance to environment while planning for mega development projects such as Dibang. This kind of callous environmental governance, disregarding environmental concerns of large number of people was one of the major reasons for decimation of the UPA government, provided NDA government wants to learn anything from it.

Rejecting the forest clearance to this project, the latest FAC meeting proceedings stated, “In view of the above the committee has recommended for rejection of the proposal and felt that the proposed area is very rich in Bio-diversity aqua sensitive ecosystem being at the edge of hills and flood plains and having large number of endemic and endangered flora and fauna. Moreover, such project is most likely to have considerable downstream impact on the Dibru-Saikhowa NP in Assam which is not yet studied.”

SANDRP has been making submissions to the FAC & other authorities on this project at various points of time. Brief timeline regarding Dibang HEP is given in Annexure 1. Excerpts of our last submission dated 28th April 2014 are given in Annexure 2. The project also does not have environment clearance.

The affected people stopping the public hearing in 2008 since they knew that that was their only chance to be heard. Source: http://www.roingcorrespondent.in/this-circus-should-stop-no-public-hearing/
The affected people stopping the public hearing in 2008 since they knew that that was their only chance to be heard. Source: http://www.roingcorrespondent.in/this-circus-should-stop-no-public-hearing/

FAC Rejected CCI Recommendation to Give Clearance to Dibang Project While considering the forest clearance to Dibang project, the statutory body FAC was under pressure from the Cabinet Committee on Investment (CCI) headed by the Prime Minister of India. In its recommendation to FAC the CCI had stated – “The Committee considered the note dated 25.10.2013 from the Ministry of Power (Vidyut Mantralaya) and in the light of all relevant facts, decided that Ministry of Environment and Forests may grant the requisite clearance for diversion of forest land expeditiously. The Committee further directed that appropriate measures for increasing the environment flow in the 1.2 Km along stretch between the dam and Tail Water Level (TWL) of the dam to Power House be taken and if required, adjustments in the project parameter be made at a later stage keeping in view the report of Water and Power Consultancy Services (India) Ltd.”

The project proponent NHPC Ltd had approached CCI after FAC meeting of 11-12 July, 2013 where the forest clearance to the project was rejected for the first time.[2] It is important to remember here that while rejecting the forest clearance to Dibang the FAC had clearly stated that “ecological, environmental and social costs of diversion of such a vast track 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.” CCI’s intervention in this matter, to push for the forest clearance for the project, was not at all based on merits of the issue. This also reflected a total disregard for the FAC clearance process. The FAC has taken a positive step towards conservation of the rich biodiversity of the Dibang valley, disregarding the CCI suggestion.

Rational for Rejection: FAC’s Observation Regarding Dibang project The FAC has made several significant observations in regard to this project and on the basis of which it has rejected the forest clearance to this project. Some of these observations in order of importance are listed here.

  • “The revised proposal envisages reduction in dam height by 10 meter which will bring down the submergence of the forest area by only 445 ha, a reduction by less than 9%. The number of affected trees is marginally coming down to 3.24 lakhs from 3.5 lakh. Such a marginal reduction in requirement of the forest land may not be able to reduce the adverse impact of project on such a biodiversity rich mature forest ecosystem to the extent which could make the project environmentally as well as socio-economically viable in forest dependent tribal society of Arunachal Pradesh. The revised proposal, therefore, does not address the concerns raised by the FAC in its last meeting where too the project was rejected.”
  • The reduction in power generation due to reduction of the Dam height by 10m it is to the tune of 2.3%. The User Agency has not given any convincing justification for their stand of not reducing the Dam height by more than 10 meter. Impact of reduction of the Dam height on the economic feasibility of the project has not been put forth before the committee.
  • The proposed forest land for Dibang Multipurpose Project is the major habitat of schedule I flora and Fauna. The major Schedule–I species like Elephant, Hollock Gibbon, Mishmi Takin, Clouded Leopard, Tiger, Leopard cat, Fishing cat, Mithun, Slow Loris, Snow Leopard and Himalayan Black Bear etc are found in the area.
  • As per the SIR (Site Inspection Report) of RO (Range Officer) Shillong, there will be significant effect on removal of trees in the general ecosystem of the area. As the proposed diversion site is having a steep slope with patches of Jhum cultivated area, removal of the trees will affect the micro climate of the area and the Wildlife and Flora endemic in the proposed sub-mergence area. The trees and shrubs all along the submergence are to be removed so that they will not be left submerged thereby causing decomposition and lead to the accumulation of the methane gas causing Green House effect. The construction of the dam itself may lead to the increase in the temperature in the submergence area which may also effect the micro aqua habitat.
  • Earlier NHPC had submitted three alternatives directly to the ministry reducing dam height by 10, 30 and 40m. However, these proposals have not been mentioned in the revised proposal of the state government.
  • The FAC also made some observations regarding the revised proposal submitted by the Government of Arunachal Pradesh (vide letter no FOR.10/Cor./2003/VolIV/287) on 13.02.2014. Corresponding details pertaining to the revised proposal such as suitable map (Survey of India topo-sheet, Digital GPS map, forest cover map, etc) have not been submitted by the State Government.
  • Compliance of Schedule Tribe and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 has also not been submitted by the State Government.
  • No clarification about the non-suitability of the land identified for Compensatory Afforestation, as per observation of the Regional Office Shillong made in the site Inspection Report, has been furnished by the state government.
  • CAT plan has not been submitted.
  • Earlier decision of FAC also noted, “Including Dibang HEP, there are several other HEP proposed in the same river valley. However there is no study conducted in to assess the cumulative impact of all these reservoir and it upstream and downstream impacts.”

Welcome decision It is indeed amazing that over six years after the Prime Minister laid foundation stone, the project is unable to submit a satisfactory proposal complete in basic details. How can the cabinet ask that such a proposal be cleared?  This is also a fitting answer to all those who have been blaming MoEF for not clearing projects. How can projects be cleared if the project authorities are not able to provide even basic details as required under the law?

This categorical rejection of the Dibang HEP by FAC on merits is indeed a remarkable decision of the FAC and we hope the new government at the centre with strengthen this decision and learn lessons for the hydropower projects in North East India.

Parag Jyoti Saikia (meandering1800@gmail.com)

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Annexure 1

Brief Timeline of the Dibang Project

Dates Matters Discussed Recommendations/ issues of concern
31 Jan 2008 Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh lays foundation stone for Dibang HEP No clearances, not even public consultations or impact assessments.
18 Aug 2011 State government submits proposal to MoEF MoEF asks Regional office to do site inspection through letter dated Sept 14, 2011. However, the proposal did not have sufficient information. Regional office informed on Aug 1, 2012 that due to lack of sufficient information from state government about the proposal and poor connectivity, site inspection could not happen. Significant part of the project also falls within 10 km radius of the Mehao Wildlife Sanctuary.
11- 12 July 2013 Diversion of 5056.50 ha of forest land in favour of NHPC for Dibang project on Dibang river in Lower Dibang valley of Lower Dibang district of Arunachal Pradesh, after site inspection The committee noted that the project involves huge forest area, having very good forest cover. 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 mitigative measures. Including Dibang HEP, there are several other HEP proposed in the same river valley. However there is no study conducted in to assess the cumulative impact of all these reservoir and it upstream and downstream impacts. The committee is of the opinion that 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/ The committee, therefore, recommended that approval for diversion of said land may not be accorded.
13 Aug 2013 Meeting between Secretary, MoEF & Secretary, Ministry of Power User agency to explore the possibilities of reducing the forest land requirement and send revised proposal to MoEF.
25 Oct 2013 Ministry of Power note to Cabinet Com on Investment Asks CCI to intervene to reverse the FAC decision
9 Dec 2013 Meeting of Cabinet Committee on Investment Cabinet secretariat, through OM dated 13 Dec 2013 sends the minutes to MoEF asking MoEF to clear the project expeditiously
13 Feb 2014 State government sends revised proposal to MoEF for FAC Marginal reduction in forest land required to 4577.84 ha through reduction in dam height by 10m, claiming further reduction is not possible as it will affect power generation of the project.
29 – 30 April 2014 Revised proposal regarding diversion of 4577.84 ha of forest land in favour of NHPC for Dibang project ….the committee has recommended for rejection of the proposal and felt that the proposed area is very rich in Bio-diversity aqua sensitive ecosystem being at the edge of hills and flood plains and having large number of endemic and endangered flora and fauna. Moreover, such project is most likely to have considerable downstream impact on the Dibru-Saikhowa NP in Assam which is not yet studied.

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Annexure 2:

Submission made by SANDRP to the FAC on Dibang Project

SANDRP’s submission of 28th April 2014 which was also endorsed by Keshav Krishna Chatradhara of Peoples’ Movement for Subansiri and Brahmaputra Valley (PMSBV), had mentioned several pressing concerns regarding Dibang project. Some of these mentioned below:

1. Revised Proposal for Dibang HEP is incomplete, FAC cannot Consider on the basis of incomplete proposal – In our submission we had clearly mentioned that the revised proposal which is submitted by Government of Arunachal Pradesh on 13.02.2014 was incomplete which was very clear from the factsheet that was made available on the forest clearance website dated 21st April 2014.

o The revised proposal does not provide the details regarding Compensatory Afforestation (CA). Details such as the non-forest area/degraded forest area identified for CA, its distance from adjoining forest, maps showing the area identified for CA and adjoining forest boundaries, details of CA scheme, total financial outlay for CA have not been provided along with the revised proposal.

o The number of families which needs to be rehabilitated have increased to 115families in the in the revised proposal. In the previous factsheet of July 4th 2013 this was 68 families. The revised proposal also does not have the details of the rehabilitation plan.

o The recommendations from DFO, CCF, Nodal Officer and SG were not available.

o The revised proposal submitted by government of Arunachal Pradesh on 13.02.2014 was clearly incomplete since in the Form A submitted by the state government, the Part-II of the form was not been enclosed.

2. No Details about the Reduction in Land required for the project The proposal stated that the land requirement has been reduced to 4577.84 ha from the 5056.5 ha which implies that 478.56 ha of land has been reduced. But the factsheet mentioned about the reduction of 33.658 ha of area falling under the 10 km radius of Mehao Wildlife Sanctuary. But it has no information about the rest 445 ha of land. The revised proposal should provide detailed breakup of forestland, river bed and non-forest land coming under the revised submergence.

3. FAC concerns remain unresolved While rejecting the forest clearance to Dibang the FAC had clearly stated that “ecological, environmental and social costs of diversion of such a vast track 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.” There is nothing in the fresh proposal to resolve these issues.

4. Huge opposition to the project in Arunachal Pradesh and from downstream Assam: The project faces stiff opposition from Arunachal Pradesh and even more so in downstream Assam and any effort at pushing the project is likely to spark conflicts in this conflict prone region, like we are witnessing in Lower Subansiri HEP. FAC should not go ahead with the project without assessments, studies and participation to save future complications and wastage of resources. A video titled “Dibang Resistance (Arunachal Pradesh)” depicts the protest and blockade by local people against the Dibang dam. The video can be viewed herehttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m8TCUKh2hQY 

video 2

5. Impacts of Climate Change: North East is one of the 4 most vulnerable regions to Climate Change Impacts as identified by the Climate Change and India 4X4 Assessment Report of the MoEF. Detailed studies about the impact of the loss of 4577.84 hectares of forests needs to be conducted on various aspects, including adaptive capacity of the people, biodiversity and so on. Ironically, the Site Inspection Report only mentions that to decrease Green House Gas Emissions, trees surrounding the reservoir should be cut, which highlights the unscientific, misleading and myopic perspective on climate change and its impacts. There should also be assessment of impact of the loss of carbon sink, green house gas emission from the reservoir and local climate impacts. We are already experiencing the effects and impacts of climate change. It should now be obligatory for the FAC to consider climate change in its functioning.

6. 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 and hence it is incomplete and shoddy. The downstream impact assessment study does no assessment except the impact on Dibru-Saikhowa and whatever has been done is also very much inadequate. It is important to note that lack of adequate downstream impacts assessment of the 2000 MW Lower Subansiri HEP of the same developer NHPC Ltd is one of main reasons behind the ongoing anti dam protests in Assam. Due to these protests the work in the said project has been stalled for last 28 months since Dec 2011 after spending over Rs 5000 crores. Dibang multipurpose may also meet the same fate if project is pushed ahead without proper downstream impact assessment, which is also important for the downstream forest and protected areas.

7. 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. This is a clear violation of norms and this should be taken seriously by the FAC.

Similar concerns were resonated in the submission made by Shri Chow Rajib Gogoi, Secretary, All Tai Ahom Student Union, Jorhat on this project to the 68th meeting of Expert Appraisal Committee held on September 23rd-24th, 2013. In that submission it was said “The Dibang project will cause regular havoc in the downstream Assam, not just in terms of forest but also agriculture and livelihood. The EAC / MoEF is also aware of the widespread concerns in Assam about the downstream impact of dams and has respectfully repeatedly received petition on the same. We are disturbed that concerns still remain unaddressed.” But the reply to this by the project proponent reflects lack of seriousness on the part of the proponent. The project proponent stated, “The memorandum has not given the detail as to how Dibang project would cause havoc in the downstream in terms of forest, agriculture and livelihood.” It is surprising to read such a reply since it is the responsibility of the project proponent to get these studies done. But in stead, to cover up, it is asking a local student group to give all these details!

8. Severe Impacts of Migration of Outsider on Local Tribal Community and Fear of Demographic Imbalance Influx of migrant worker for construction of Dibang multipurpose will have severe impacts on the communities living there. 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. Due to this, they fear that influx of outsiders for dam building will lead to a demographic imbalance in the Dibang valley. According to NHPC estimates 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[3]. This is a serious concern regarding Dibang multipurpose project and severe demographic impacts which can be deduced from the figures above cannot be undermined.

Influx of labour at such a massive scale will increase the conflict potential of the region. As it is, the region is scarred with many conflicts and unrest surrounding water. MoEF needs to be sensitive about growing discontent and increasing conflicts in this region.

9. No Cumulative Impacts Assessment study undertaken: 3000 MW Dibang HEP is one of the 17 cascade of hydel projects coming up in the Dibang valley. When this is known, the FAC cannot consider Forest Clearance to 3000 MW Dibang Project in isolation. The FAC should first ask for a cumulative impact assessment study and Basin Study of the Dibang River, to be done by an independent consortium of experts (not agencies with conflict of interest and poor track record like WAPCOS), the study should include carrying capacity assessment and only based on such a study consider individual projects in this region.

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END NOTES:

[1] https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2014/01/31/six-years-after-pm-laying-foundation-stone-no-clearance-no-work-for-3000-mw-dibang-dam/

[2] http://articles.economictimes.indiatimes.com/2013-10-16/news/43107142_1_forest-advisory-committee-dibang-multipurpose-project-nhpc-limited

[3] Mimi, R., “The Dibang Multipurpose Project, Resistance of the Idu Mishmi” published in “Water Conflicts in Northeast India – A Compendium of Case Studies” edited by Das, Partha J. et. all, 2013

Dams

Six years after PM Laying the Foundation Stone: No Clearance, No Work for 3000 MW Dibang Dam

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. 

The affected people stopping the public hearing in 2008 since they knew that that was their only chance to be heard. Source: http://www.roingcorrespondent.in/this-circus-should-stop-no-public-hearing/
The affected people stopping the public hearing in 2008 since they knew that that was their only chance to be heard. Source: http://www.roingcorrespondent.in/this-circus-should-stop-no-public-hearing/

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