In a temporary relief for local communities and conservationists, the Forestry Advisory Committee (FAC) has scrapped a proposal to establish the Etalin hydroelectric project in Arunachal Pradesh’s Dibang Valley.
The Forestry Advisory Committee (FAC) of the Union Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change, which held a meeting last month on the project, says there are a large number of representations expressing concerns against the project.
The FAC suggested the constitution of a high-level empowered committee to look into the various concerns raised by the large representation against the project.
The Etalin hydro project
Known as the ‘Land of Dawn-lit-Mountains’, Arunachal Pradesh is India’s remotest state and the first Indian soil to greet the rising sun. The state is located on the northeastern tip of India and shares a border with China, Bhutan, and Burma. Additionally, the state is rich in biodiversity consisting of 216 species of mammals, 119 species of reptiles, 53 species of amphibians, 218 species of Pisces, and 770 species of birds. The state has the second highest forest cover in the country with 79.33% of the geographical area covered in forests.
According to the Ministry of Development of the North Eastern Region, there are 86 hydropower projects in Arunachal Pradesh among which 4 schemes are under center, 8 under state, and 74 under private ventures.
In November 2022, the Prime Minister dedicated to the nation the 600 MW Kameng Hydropower station implemented by North-Eastern Electric Power Corporation Limited (NEEPCO) under the Ministry of Power. The project is also a part of the projected hydro capacity addition of 30,000 MW by 2030.
Impact on biodiversity
Arunachal has a vast potential for hydropower. Simultaneously, the large-scale development of hydropower will overcome the shortage of energy in the country. Although, these plants will also lead to the development of infrastructure, industrialization, and improvement in living standards. But, the severe impact these powers have on biodiversity and the local communities cannot be ignored.
Many concerns have been raised by local people and conservationists against the lack of transparency in the approval process for some of the projects.
One of the examples is the Etalin hydropower project in the Dibang valley of Arunachal Pradesh which is expected to be one of the biggest hydropower projects in India in terms of installed capacity. Ever since the project was proposed in 2008, it has faced severe opposition.
In May 2022, seven conservationists including former members of the National Board for Wildlife as well as some members from the state wildlife board wrote a letter to the Forest Advisory Committee (FAC) highlighting the negative impact of Etalin project on the biodiversity of Dibang Valley and the diverse ecosystem. It states that the project is located in a high biodiversity-rich area. Hence, it will cause the destruction of at least 2,80,000 trees in the biodiversity hotspot.
Seismic active zone
Another concern raised was the project was based in a seismically active zone. That is, it is prone to frequent landslides and earthquakes as a result of its unique and complex geological ecosystem, weather, and climatic conditions.
Protests from the Idu-Mishmi community were done both in the streets and online. Hashtags such as #SaveArunachalBiodiversity trend on Twitter as citizens hold tweet storms to protest against the project. The Dibang valley is the homeland of the Idu-Mishmi community which is hard of 13000 population as per the 2011 census. They fear that the dam will threaten their culture, and rob them of their homeland and livelihood. In addition, it will also bring ecological degradation.
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