Govt shelves Etalin hydropower project in Arunachal Pradesh
Environment ministry’s move halts felling of about 280,000 trees for the time being
NEW DELHI, MARCH 10
The forest panel of the Union ministry of environment and forest (MoEF) has shelved the 3,097 megawatt (MW) Etalin Hydro Electric Project (HEP) in Arunachal Pradesh, pending the completion of an environment impact assessment study of the state’s Dibang river basin.
The Rs.25,000 crore Etalin HEP is a run-of-the-river project—where little water storage is required—and would have been one of the biggest in India in terms of installed capacity. The ministry’s move stops the felling of around 280,000 trees, for the time being, for the project, located on the Dri and Tangon rivers in the Dibang Valley. The move comes despite Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently speaking of Arunachal Pradesh as a state capable of providing hydropower for the entire country.
The project’s requirement for 1,165 hectares of forest land to be cleared was discussed by the environment ministry’s forest advisory committee (FAC) at a meeting on 28 January, following which the panel decided to shelve it.
“Etalin HEP is one of the many HEPs in the Dibang river basin. As per the policy adopted by the government of India, one project in the river basin can be approved without insisting on the Cumulative Environment Impact Assessment Study (river basin study). Dibang HEP has already been recommended by the FAC for the approval,” the committee noted in its decision.
The 3,000MW Dibang HEP was cleared by MoEF last year, even though the project was rejected twice during the previous United Progressive Alliance government’s tenure. “After detailed discussion, the FAC recommended that the proposal will be considered after completion of the Cumulative Environment Impact Assessment Study (river basin study) and its acceptance by the ministry,” the FAC noted.
But interestingly, according to a senior MoEF official, “the study is yet to start and if everything goes smoothly, would require at least two more years before completion”. “Environment ministry had issued terms of reference for the Dibang basin study in November 2013, to the Central Water Commission but study is yet to commence as the process of awarding study is still underway. It would take at least around two years’ time to complete the study and then it needs to be accepted as well,” said the official, who declined to be named.
It was observed by the forest advisory committee that the areas adjacent to the project site are “habitat of some of the rare, endangered, unique species of flora and fauna and therefore, their presence is not ruled out”.
The FAC has asked the Arunachal Pradesh government to take several measures such as implementing the provisions of the Forest Rights Act, an environment plan of the area and a rehabilitation plan for families that may be affected by the project.
In its inspection report, the environment ministry’s regional office noted that the Arunachal government should consider locations of quarries and dumping sites and redoing the enumeration of trees, as the present enumeration list misses out larger trees because of sampling mistakes. The FAC asked the state to study recommendations made by the regional office, modify the proposal, if required, and submit it again.
The Arunachal Pradesh government has been focusing on harnessing its enormous natural resources, such as forests and hydropower, and exploiting its mineral wealth.