Govt may override environment concerns in northeast hydropower projects

Over 100 hydropower projects have been planned in the northeast but many of them have hit environmental snags


The northeast has a hydropower potential of around 63,000MW, of which about 50,000MW is in Arunachal Pradesh, according to government estimates. Photo: Hindustan Times
The northeast has a hydropower potential of around 63,000MW, of which about 50,000MW is in Arunachal Pradesh, according to government estimates. Photo: Hindustan Times

New Delhi: The government is considering overriding environmental concerns with regard to stalled hydropower projects in the northeast because of strategic reasons.

“There have been several discussions with power ministry on the issue. Post the Uri attack, the government is now serious,” said a senior official of the ministry of water resources and river development, who did not wish to be identified. “India has now decided to fully utilize its rights over water of rivers going to Pakistan. It has also been realized that we have lost a lot of time in developing hydropower in the northeast. Tomorrow, if China decides to build big projects on Brahmaputra river, it can seriously compromise our rights.”

The northeast has a hydropower potential of around 63,000MW, of which about 50,000MW is in Arunachal Pradesh, according to government estimates. But less than 10% of the total potential has been harnessed. Over 100 projects have been planned to exploit the huge potential but many of them have hit environmental snags.

To overcome such problems, the official explained, the government is considering easing the process of green clearances and also break bigger projects into smaller ones.

One of the arguments against the projects is that huge hydropower projects like the 2880MW Dibang project and the 3097MW Etalin project will cause serious harm to local ecology. Another problem is displacement of people.

“We need to move fast to establish our right on water from rivers like Brahmaputra that are coming from China. There are some genuine environmental concerns but they are not more important than our country’s strategic concerns. This is the time to take hard decisions,” the water ministry official added.

“Smaller projects would be easier and faster to build. They are also expected to get quick clearances,” said an official of the Union environment ministry who also did not wished to be identified.

Environmentalists are wary of the move.

“No one is against the development in north-eastern region or against the strategic interests of the country. But when you are looking at such big projects in a mega biodiversity hotspot like the northeastern India, one has to be extra careful. You have to be very judicious and ensure decisions are not taken in haste. Such a region warrants strategic environment assessment and cumulative impact assessment,” said Sanjay Upadhyay, an environmental advocate in the Supreme Court and managing partner of Enviro Legal Defence Firm, an environmental law firm that also deals with training, education, publishing and outreach work.

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