New Delhi: Chiming in with a push for using water as a strategic resource, an expert panel of the environment ministry has given the green clearance for the 3,097 mega-watt (MW) Etalin hydropower project in Arunachal Pradesh.
The move is also in accordance with the government’s push to establish prior user rights on rivers that originate in China and an effort to fast-track projects in the north-east. Etalin is proposed to be completed in seven years.
After the Uri terrorist attack in September 2016 where 18 soldiers were killed, India decided to step up exploiting the share of water it is allowed under the Indus Water Treaty with Pakistan.
It has also seriously considered overriding environmental concerns to fast-track stalled hydropower projects in the north-east because of strategic reasons.
The move, however, may not go down well with environmentalists who feel that the Etalin project may spell disaster for local ecology as it involves large scale forest diversion and felling of around 280,000 trees.
The green nod to the Rs25,296.95 crore project on the Dibang river basin came during the last meeting of the environment ministry’s Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) for River Valley and Hydroelectric Projects on 30-31 January.
At the same meeting the panel also gave the green nod to the 1,856MW Sawalkote hydropower project on the Chenab river in Jammu and Kashmir.
Etalin, a run-of-the-river project that will need little water storage, will be one of the biggest hydropower projects in India in terms of installed capacity.
It envisages construction of two dams—a 101.5 metre high dam on the Dir river near Yuron village and a 80-metre high dam on Tangon river. The Dri and Tangon rivers are tributaries of Dibang. An underground powerhouse is proposed with 10 units of 307MW each.
The total land requirement for the project is 1,155.11 hectares. A total of 18 villages consisting of 285 families are expected to be affected by the proposed project.
The project was first identified in 2003 and was granted Terms of Reference (ToRs) by the environment ministry in 2009. ToRs are guidelines for conducting green assessments of projects, based on which the ministry grants or rejects green clearance.
This was not the first time that the project had been considered by the EAC. The project was submitted for green clearance back in January 2015.
According to the minutes of the EAC’s meeting, reviewed by Mint, it was considered five times by the EAC—in February, April, June and August 2015 and December 2016.
It was earlier shelved as the Cumulative Environment Impact Assessment Study (river basin study) of the Dibang river basin had not been completed.
According to government policy, only one project in a river basin can be approved without insisting on the river basin study. As the 3,000MW Dibang hydropower project had already been cleared, the Etalin project could not be cleared without the study.
“The EAC was also informed that the Carrying Capacity Studies & Cumulative Impact Assessment (CCS & CIA) of Dibang RiverBasin Study (RBS) in Arunachal Pradesh has been completed and the report has been accepted by the ministry. Therefore, this project should also abide by the recommendation of Dibang River Basin Study," noted the minutes of EAC’s meeting.
The panel also noted that the project proponent, “committed that adequate free flow of river stretch will be maintained with upstream/downstream projects in both the cases with the provisions of environmental flow recommendation".