Home / Industry / Arunachal hydropower project up for forest clearance

New Delhi: An environment ministry panel has given the go-ahead for the 780 megawatt (MW) Nyamjang Chu hydropower project in the Tawang region of Arunachal Pradesh to be taken up for forest clearance, despite it posing a threat to one of two wintering sites of the black-necked crane in India.

The decision by the expert appraisal committee (EAC) for river valley and hydroelectric projects comes despite a letter from the ministry’s regional office in Shillong, written in August 2014, revealing illegal felling of trees in Tawang by NJC Hydro Power Ltd, the company behind the project.

The regional office asked the ministry to deny the 7,000-crore project the final forest clearance and also sought levy of a penalty on the developer for violation of the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980.

The environment ministry has not taken any action on the issue as yet. A query to the ministry seeking information on action taken against the company remained unanswered.

The black-necked crane is a protected species under Schedule I of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, and is also considered sacred by locals. Schedule I accords the highest protection under the law to endangered species.

Its numbers in India are a mere 15-20 breeding pairs, found in Ladakh.

A wintering site is a lower altitude area to which the birds migrate during the harsh winter months. The other such site is the Sangti valley in West Kameng of Arunachal Pradesh.

The project got environmental clearance and in-principle forest clearance in April 2012. It is awaiting final forest clearance.

Incidentally, the environmental impact assessment report on the basis of which clearance was given makes no mention of the bird or the fact that the barrage is right in the middle of its wintering ground.

Construction of Nyamjang Chu involves diversion of around 90 hectares of forest. Activists, however, are of the opinion that the project should be appraised afresh as a site inspection has revealed that the total requirement of forest land will be nearly 200 hectares.

“Based on cumulative impact assessment, assessed environmental flow and outcome carrying capacity studies conducted, the following projects are recommended to be implemented in Tawang river basin subject to the statutory clearance of the individual projects—Nykcharong Chu (96 MW), Tawang–I (600 MW), Tawang–II (800 MW), Nyamjang Chu (780 MW)..." read the minutes of the 24-25 August 2015 meeting of the EAC.

The EAC also proposed mitigation measures such as maintaining prescribed environmental flow, restricting construction activities during winter months and minimizing noise pollution to tackle the impact of the project on endangered species. It also sought a study by the Wildlife Institute of India for protection of the black-necked crane’s habitat.

Nyamjang Chu, a run-of-the river project, also involves construction of two small hydropower projects—Khangteng (7.5 MW) and Shyaro (3 MW)—to provide power for construction.

The regional office’s site inspection report revealed that the Khangteng and Shyaro hydroelectric projects had been constructed without prior forest clearance. This was the reason for it seeking imposition of a penalty on the project developer and withholding of final forest clearance.

The EAC, in its minutes, noted that it would take up the issue relating to Khangteng and Shyaro projects when the cases are presented to the committee in future.

Environmentalists, however, are unhappy with the move.

“The EAC’s comment about non-inclusion of two hydel projects—Khanteng and Shyaro—is unacceptable. The EAC should know that projects below 50 MW do not come to EAC and those below 25 MW do not require environmental clearance, erroneously though. This shows how callous the EAC is," said a letter dated 22 September sent to EAC by a group of environmentalists.

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