New Delhi: In an attempt to ensure that India’s efforts to revive work on the long-pending 2,000 megawatts (MW) Lower Subansiri project in Arunachal Pradesh doesn’t get derailed, Assam has constituted a high power state level task force to facilitate work on the strategic project.
Any delay in building hydropower projects in Arunachal Pradesh on rivers originating in China will affect India’s strategy of establishing its prior-use claim over the waters, according to international law.
In addition, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led Assam government has also set up a committee headed by North Assam Division’s commissioner, and comprising of deputy commissioners and superintendent of police (SPs) of the trouble prone districts of Tezpur, Sonitpur, Biswanath, Dhemaji and Lakhimpur to ensure that the project that has already seen investment of upwards of ₹10,000 crore is revived.
India and China have a dispute over the diversion of the Brahmaputra river, which originates in Tibet. Even as India explores a diplomatic option, accelerating hydroelectric projects such as Lower Subansiri would give it user rights.
According to an Assam government order reviewed by Mint, a “state level task force" has been “constituted for law & order purpose in connection with execution of the Lower Subansiri Hydro-Electricial Project."
The project’s progress has been hampered by blockades in Assam that have affected the movement of building material to the site. Over the years, the state has been the site of violence orchestrated by rebel groups such as the United Liberation Front of Asom, the National Democratic Front of Bodoland, the Bodo Liberation Tigers and the Muslim United Liberation Tigers of Assam.
In order to facilitate transportation of equipment to the state run NHPC Ltd’ project, it is imperative that law and order situation is in control in Assam. Of the eight river basins in Arunachal Pradesh, Subansiri, Lohit and Siang are of strategic importance as they are closer to the border with China than are other basins.
“These task force and committee has been set-up to ensure that the project doesn’t face the kind of problems that it had faced earlier. It is a coordinated strategy between the centre and the state," said a senior union government official requesting anonymity.
The renewed focus on India’s largest hydropower project, delayed in the face of local opposition comes in the backdrop of the government’s “Act East" policy and its message of development.
“This is not an easy project to construct given the sensitivities involved," said a second union government official who also did not want to be named.
The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government also plans for passing an Act for setting up the North East Water Management Authority (NEWMA) in the winter session of the Parliament. It will be the apex authority for developing all projects related to hydropower, agriculture, biodiversity conservation, flood control, inland water transport, forestry, fishery, and eco-tourism in the region.
With one of the focus areas being hydropower, the strategy will help establish first-user rights to the waters of the Brahmaputra. The total hydropower generation potential of India’s northeastern states and Bhutan is about 58,000 MW. Of this, Arunachal Pradesh alone accounts for 50,328 MW - the highest in India.
Keeping in mind the future geo-economics of the region, the government has been focusing on developing critical infrastructure in the region. These include the restarting operations at greenfield Pakyong Airport in east Sikkim and the Bogibeel bridge over the Brahmaputra that will boost defence logistics along the China border and reduce travel time for rail passengers and road users.
Japan has also joined hands with India to aggressively develop infrastructure projects in India’s northeastern states. As part of the strategy that is also being viewed as an attempt to contain China, an India-Japan Coordination Forum for Development of North East has been set up to focus on strategic projects such as connectivity and road network development, electricity and disaster management.