Civil society concerns forces Centre to keep Etalin on hold temporarily
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Guwahati: Opposition from civil society groups has forced the Indian government to temporarily put on hold the 3097 MW Etalin hydel project in Arunachal Pradesh – the country’s largest hydroelectric project.

The Forest Advisory Committee (FAC) of the Union Ministry of Environment Forests and Climate Change, which held a meeting last month on the project, states that there are a large number of representations expressing concerns against the project. The FAC stated that “to resolve the issues raised in various representations, the Arunachal Pradesh government may constitute a high-level empowered committee to look into the various concerns received and come up with a resolution.”

The project in the Dibang Valley district involves the felling of 2,78,038 trees over an area of 1,165 hectares, raising concerns among civil society groups. Interestingly, the project is being built on the same river, the Dibang, where the 2,880 MW Dibang Multipurpose Project was recently commissioned.

The Wildlife Institute of India, in its study, has pointed out that the area where the project is being constructed shows a record of 413 plant species, 159 species of butterflies, 113 species of spiders, 11 species of odonates, 14 species of amphibians, 31 species of reptiles, 230 bird species, and 21 mammalian species.

An organization named Idu Mishmi Youth, in its representation to the FAC, said that these projects will have severe, irreversible, and potentially catastrophic consequences for the people, rivers, and mountains of the twin Dibang Valley districts. They stated that decision-making on India’s largest hydroelectric project should not be rushed and must be done in a transparent and inclusive manner, considering local sentiment, safety, and scientific evidence. They also emphasized that free, prior, and informed consent must be sought from all affected communities upstream, downstream, and elsewhere where the project’s various components are located, including mitigative and ameliorative measures.

It said the viability of the project must be re-examined in light of the rapidly changing river hydrology due to accelerating climate change, which puts the safety of the Idu-Mishimi people of Dibang Valley and millions of others downstream of the project at grave risk.

The proposal for the Etalin Hydel project was first moved by the Arunachal Pradesh government in 2014 and is being constructed by Etalin Hydro Electric Power Company Limited. On the other hand, the Indian government is concerned about delays in commissioning hydroelectric projects.

The FAC has stated that the current proposal cannot be considered in its current form and that a revised proposal should be submitted for further consideration by the state government.

“It was highlighted that in earlier approved projects where Forest Clearance has been granted, there is a poor record of compliance with reference to the conditions stipulated by the FAC while granting the forest clearance. Additionally, the FAC took note of the submission made by the State Nodal Officer that there are a lot of representations objecting to the current proposal and with regard to already approved projects as well. Due to this, already approved projects have not yet started and certain projects are not yet being completed. In view of this, the FAC requested the state government to review the status of all approved projects (operationalization/execution of the projects, commencing, and completion of the project, and thereafter, compliance with regard to Stage-I and Stage-II conditions) and submit a status report to this Ministry at the earliest,” the committee said in its report.

The Ministry of Power has recommended the Etalin Hydel project, and the Impact Assessment Division of the Ministry has also recommended the project. The Wildlife Institute of India and the National Tiger Conservation Authority have suggested taking into account certain safeguards and mitigating measures for better conservation and protection of wildlife in the area while considering the approval of the project.

Meanwhile, the government of Arunachal Pradesh has informed the committee that it is inclined to proceed with the project.

The nodal officer of the Arunachal Pradesh government, who was present at the meeting, also highlighted the remoteness of the area where the proposed project is located, in the eastern part of Arunachal Pradesh close to the international border areas. He also mentioned that there have been many objections to the present proposal and to already approved projects, which has caused delays in the start and completion of some projects.

The state government has already finalised an action plan to unlock the hydel potential and has decided to hand over projects with Independent Power Producers to Central Public Sector Undertakings for development.

Also read | School enrollment in Arunachal at 96.9% in 2022: Education report

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