India’s efforts to accelerate development in the North-East, especially generating electricity in Arunachal Pradesh, have started hitting potholes.
The 3,000MW Dibang hydropower project, the foundation stone of which was laid by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in January, is yet to hold a public hearing mandated by Indian laws for an environmental impact assessment report.
The Arunachal Pradesh government and state-owned NHPC Ltd, earlier known as National Hydroelectric Power Corp. Ltd, which is building the project, are blaming each other for the delay.
This comes in the back of the Prime Minister releasing a vision document for the North-East, which sets an ambitious strategy to eradicate poverty, and bring in investment and development in the next decade.
While the state government blames NHPC for being lax, the company counters that the state is not doing enough on to maintain law and order.
“The project to be executed by us doesn’t have any detailed project implementation planning done in spite of it being a standard practice for large-size projects. The public hearing issue is being tossed between the state government and the public sector unit,” said an NHPC executive, who asked not to be named.
NHPC chief executive S.K. Garg did not respond to phone calls or to the message left on his cellphone.
Hydropower projects take a significant toll on local environment and people, and results in displacement. A public hearing is necessary for such a project to be awarded environmental clearance.
Following that, final clearances are awarded by the Central Electricity Authority, or CEA, the apex power sector planning body in the country, along with the Public Investment Board, or PIB, which approves investments by public sector firms.
“The hearing for one of the districts, Lower Dibang, has already been done two months ago. There was some disturbance in the other district, Dibang, when while holding these hearings,” said Arunachal Pradesh power secretary Tenzing Norbu over the phone.
“This time APPCB (Arunachal Pradesh Pollution Control Board) and NHPC officials will get some police protection from the state government,” he added .
Public hearings for the Dibang project have been postponed thrice. At a hearing on 29 January at Roing, district headquarters of Lower Dibang, a majority of the residents opposed the project. Mint had reported on 1 Februray and 11 February on problems related to public hearings. Mint had also reported on 1 February that the Prime Minister laid the foundation stone although the project was yet to get a clearance from the environment and forests ministry.
APPCB has now fixed the next public hearing for 30 July.
“The Dibang project delay has become more of a political issue,” said a Delhi-based power sector analyst, who did not wish to be identified. “There is a lot of pressure from different quarters to showcase India inching close towards achieving the targeted capacity in the hydropower sector. This is the reason why the foundation stones are laid even before a proper ground work is done,” he said.
Arunachal Pradesh boasts the highest potential for hydropower generation in the country. The total hydropower generation potential of the north-eastern states and Bhutan is about 58,000MW. Of this, Arunachal Pradesh alone accounts for 50,328MW, and has attracted several private sector hydroelectric project developers such as Reliance Power Ltd, Jaiprakash Associates Ltd and DS Constructions Ltd.
Padmaparna Ghosh contributed to this story.