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Expert panel gives green nod for Etalin hydel project in Arunachal Pradesh

LiveMint logoLiveMint 22-02-2017 Mayank Aggarwal

New Delhi: In line with Indian government’s push for using water as a strategic resource, an expert panel of the Union environment ministry has recommended environment clearance for the 3,097 mega watt (MW) Etalin hydropower project in Arunachal Pradesh.

The decision is also in accordance with government’s push to establish prior use rights on water of rivers, which have their origins in China. It also fits well with the government’s push for fast-tracking projects in the north-east region. The project is proposed to be completed in seven years.

Post Uri attack in September 2016 where 18 soldiers were killed by terrorists, Indian government had decided to step up exploitation of India’s share of water in the Indus Water Treaty with Pakistan.

Similarly, it has also seriously considered overriding environmental concerns to fastrack 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 project could be disastrous for local ecology as it involves largescale forest diversion and felling of around 280,000 trees.

The green nod to the project, whose estimated cost is expected to be Rs 25,296.95 crore and is located in Dibang river basin in Arunachal Pradesh, came during latest meeting of the environment ministry’s Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) for River Valley and Hydroelectric Projects on 30-31 January.

The panel also gave green nod to 1,856 MW Sawalkote hydropower project on the Chenab river in Jammu & Kashmir during the same meeting.

The Etalin project is a run-of-the-river project—where little water storage is required—and it would be one of the biggest in India in terms of the installed capacity.

It envisages construction of two dams—a 101.5 metre high dam on the Dir river near Yuron village about 22 km from Etalin and a 80-metre high dam on Tangon river. The Dri and Tangon rivers are tributaries of Dibang river. An underground powerhouse is proposed with 10 units of 307 MW each.

The total land requirement for the project is 1,155.11 hectare. A total of 18 villages consisting of 285 project affected families (PAFs) are to be affected by the proposed project.

The project was first identified in 2003 and was granted Terms of Reference (ToRs) by environment ministry in 2009. ToRs are guidelines for conducting EIA studies of projects, based on which the environment ministry grants or rejects green clearance to a project.

Interestingly, it is not the first time that the project was considered by EAC. Seeking environment clearance, the project was submitted to MoEFCC in January 2015.

According to the minutes of the EAC’s meeting, which were reviewed by Mint, it was earlier considered five times by the EAC—in February 2015, April 2015, June 2015, August 2015 and December 2016.

It was earlier shelved as Cumulative Environment Impact Assessment Study (river basin study) of the Dibang river basin was not completed.

According to Indian government’s policy, one project in the river basin can be approved without insisting on the river basin study and as 3,000 MW Dibang hydropower project was already cleared, 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 River Basin 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”.

“After detailed deliberations and considering all the facts of the project as presented by the PP, the EAC recommends for grant of Environmental Clearance for the project,” said the minutes.

It, however, stipulated several conditions like plastic waste shall be disposed of by recycling and not by land filling, local indigenous varieties of plants to be grown and maintained till their full growth, skill mapping be undertaken for the youths of the affected project area and based on the skill mapping, the trainings to the youths be incorporated for their appropriate engagements in the project.

The Central government is bullish on exploiting hydropower potential of north-east region. According to official estimates, the north-east region has a hydropower potential of around 63,000 MW, of which about 50,000 MW is in Arunachal Pradesh alone.

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