New Delhi: The biodiversity of north-east India, especially Arunachal Pradesh, is under threat from hydropower projects.

A study titled Perspective Plan for Development of the TRB assessed the impact of 13 proposed hydropower projects in the ecologically sensitive Tawang River Basin (TRB) in Arunachal Pradesh and recommended that authorities, while giving the go-ahead to hydropower projects, look at the entire river basin with all the proposed projects on it rather than follow a single-project approach. The study proposed a 20-year perspective plan for the cumulative development of the region.

The study, which looked at the cumulative impact of all the proposed projects in TRB, the basin’s carrying capacity and biodiversity management plan, was prepared by the North-Eastern Hill University, Shillong, in collaboration with the Indian Institute of Technology Guwahati, WWF India (an environmental non-governmental organization) and Bengaluru-based Foundation for Revitalisation of Local Health Traditions.

Commissioned by the Arunachal Pradesh government on the suggestion of the forest panel of the Union environment ministry, the study, in addition to assessing the impact of the 13 hydropower projects planned in TRB, looked at ancillary industries, the influx of migrant workers, the displacement of the local population and the effect on the local ecology.

The report said that although hydropower projects are essential for generating electricity to power north-east India’s development, their prime victims will be “biodiversity-rich forests and mountain ecosystems".

It held that the “destruction of habitats of the threatened and endemic flora and fauna of the basin may have a detrimental impact on the already dwindling populations of these floral and faunal elements".

“...the developmental needs of the region, which have been hitherto neglected, might be taken care of as an ancillary benefit if these projects are taken up. However, the environmental damage to be caused by such projects cannot be undermined. Therefore, a balanced approach needs to be worked out with an aim to optimize power production with minimum environmental damage", the study recommended.

The 13 proposed hydropower projects will have a total capacity of 2,809 megawatts.

To minimize the adverse impact of the hydropower projects, the report suggested the implementation of mitigation measures such as strict regulations for pollution, proper disposal of waste, usage of high-tech equipment to minimize noise levels, regulation of traffic to minimize the death of wild animals, an afforestation programme using dominant native tree species and designing barrages to tackle possible impact due to seismicity.

Activists have repeatedly pointed out that due to unabated and environmentally unsustainable development, the biodiversity-rich North-East could suffer irreversible environmental damage.

“No one is against hydropower projects, but the way we are going ahead sanctioning projects without considering their overall impact is something which is very problematic. It seems the environment ministry is not bothered to take all necessary precautions," said Parineeta Dandekar, environmental researcher at the South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People, an environmental NGO.

According to official estimates, north-east India has a hydropower potential of over 65,645 megawatts, which is more than 50% of the country’s total hydropower potential. Of this, less than 2% has so far been harnessed.

Close