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In New Delhi, a slick team of lawyers is at work. Their job is to convince the National Green Tribunal that faraway in the forests of Arunachal Pradesh, a rare bird known as the black-necked crane is not a regular visitor. And even if it does, that its numbers are not significant enough to stop a dam from being constructed. Messrs. Raj Panjwani and Sanjay Upadhyay are representing the LNJ Bhilwara Group that is building a hydropower dam in the Tawang Valley of Arunachal Pradesh. The legal team has now asked that institutions such as the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and a group of scientists from the Nature Conservation Foundation (NCF) must be summoned to court. The fault of these wildlife groups is that they dared to question the construction of a dam in a wildlife-rich area.

The black-necked crane and the local community opposing the dam are represented in the National Green Tribunal by Ritwick Dutta. The proposed Nyamjang Chhu hydroelectric project is designed as a run-of-the-river project, which will harness the hydropower potential of the Nyamjang Chhu River in Arunachal Pradesh. The project proposes to generate 780 MW by diverting the river through a 20-km-long tunnel to a powerhouse downstream on the river. However wildlife groups such as the WWF and NCF pointed out glaring loopholes in the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) and Environment Management Plan (EMP) reports. The EIA and EMP reports are documents prepared by the company to list the damage to the environment and wildlife and plans to mitigate this. If a document fails to list a species found in that area, it will obviously have no mitigation plan for it.

The NCF conducted a critique of the EIA/EMP reports prepared by the project developer and found glaring mistakes in scientific names and that several species had just not been mentioned. More specifically their critique notes: “While 35 species were confirmed from the entire area, at least 21 mammal species (including 3 endangered and 4 vulnerable species) were recorded either through direct sightings or reliable local evidence in the Lower & Upper Nyamjang Chhu Valley."

Despite this, several species were not listed by the dam developer in its EIA. Those excluded include “otters, Himalayan marmot, orange-bellied squirrel, serow, bharal, and pikas".

The NCF critique further observes that “it is clear that the EIA team had failed to even carry out a proper documentation of secondary data/literature on past ecological work in the area". It adds: “The Nyamjang Chhu river valley (the exact site of the project) is one of the few wintering sites in the world visited by the black-necked crane." Oddly enough the EIA was silent on this.

The WWF also undertook a critique of the report submitted on ‘E-flows’—the minimum flow of river water required to sustain the biodiversity and ecology of a river. A valid demand you would say, given that the Nyamjung Chhu river supports over 16 species of fish and birds that depend on the water for sustenance. The WWF noted factual errors in the report and asked for a more comprehensive study.

The developer has not taken kindly to the critique. Panjwani and Upadhayay in the ongoing case in the National Green Tribunal have asked how an “ambiguous" document by “unnamed" authors can be relied on, why an organization such as the WWF should not be put under “strict scrutiny" for questioning this dam. And that the authors who have conducted the critique should be summoned by the court.

The Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS), too, has not been spared. Its book which identifies Nyamjang Chhu river valley as an “Important Bird Area" crucial for conservation has been rubbished as mere “surmises" which are not “scientifically validated".

Take a look at the credentials of these institutions. The BNHS is over 130 years old, and has been at the forefront of pushing the cause of nature conservation in India. WWF India was set up in 1969 with the mission to protect India’s biodiversity, while the NCF consists of scientists who have been trained in some of the leading universities of the world to promote science-based conservation. But for the company building the dam, their science is not up to the mark. It is a sad day indeed, when the credentials of the oldest wildlife groups in the country are questioned. Not because there is something wrong with their funding patterns or their science, but simply because they chose to raise their voice in favour of wildlife.

Bahar Dutt is a conservation biologist and author of Green Wars-Dispatches from a Vanishing world.

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