New Delhi: On Thursday, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh participated in a ceremony marking the beginning of work on the 3,000MW Dibang hydroelectric project in Arunachal Pradesh although this is yet to get clearance from the environment and forest ministry.
A spokesperson for the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) said once projects get a clearance from the Public Investment Board which approves investments by public sector firms, the Prime Minister “can lay a foundation stone.”
A senior executive at the state-owned National Hydroelectric Power Corp. Ltd (NHPC), who did not wish to be identified, said the process of acquiring these clearances was on and “taking its due time”. “Would you rather not build the project...?” he asked. NHPC is building the dam at Dibang that will be India’s tallest at 288m and also have the highest capacity in terms of power generation.
Environmental activists claim that the Prime Minister’s participation in a ceremony in Itanagar, during which a foundation stone was laid for the project at Dibang, around 600km away, gives sanctity to a project that is still being opposed by the locals. Public hearings for the project have been postponed thrice. And at the one hearing on 29 January at Roing, the district headquarters of the region, “About 98% of the local population...opposed the project,” said Sunil Mow, a tribal and human rights activist.
“Environmental clearance of projects does not usually lead to rejection of projects. The state government is conducting investigations and has found that there is not (much) wildlife in the area and no environmental damage,” said the spokesperson at PMO.
The environmental impact assessment (EIA) clearance is given by a separate committee in the ministry of environment and forests. In addition, forest clearances also have to go through the Supreme Court.
The EIA for the project says, “Dibang valley has some of the last large contiguous tracts of tropical, subtropical and temperate forests in the country. These forests have potentially large populations of many rare species including hoolock gibbon...and perhaps good tiger population despite poaching.”
“...Such huge projects are mandated to go through an expert appraisal committee on environment as well as the Forest Advisory Committee of the ministry and none of them have scrutinized the project yet,” said Neeraj Vagholikar of Kalpavriksh, an activist group that works on environmental and conservation issues.