Since 2013, no new hydropower project has been installed in the state of Uttarakhand by the courtesy of landmark judgment passed by the Supreme Court.  A special report by Analysis on the on-going protests in the Northeast against the setting up of large hydro power projects.

Politics related to water and dams is very old in a country like India. The nation has over a period of time witnessed many such water and dam disputes like Cauvery river dispute, Mullaperiyar dam issue, Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA), Ganga river issue and many more. The fact is that the mainstream media and political parties have ignored these movements and disputes completely. Since when the SC passed its judgment on Srinagar Hydro Electric Project (SHEP) in 2013 the strategy related to laying down of these hydropower projects has changed significantly. North-East region remains once such victim of crony capitalism and ruthless politics.

Timeline: Development of Hydro Power projects in Northeast region:-

In 2001 Central Electricity Authority (CEA) conducted a study for determining the hydro-power potential of various river basins and according to that study the Brahmaputra river basin received the highest markings. Nearly, 168 projects of 63,328 MW of power were identified by the central government in that zone. In July 2002 during the Northeast Business summit held in Mumbai northeast was tagged as the ‘future power house of India’. After that in the year 2003 the Ministry of Power launched 50,000 MW Hydropower initiative exclusively for the northeast region. In January 2007 during the northeast council’s sectorial summit, power sector identified and prioritized the region’s potential of hydropower. Also due to liberalization of markets, more and more private player entered into the region for the development of the hydropower projects. Numerous MoU’s were signed between the state and the private companies. Megahalya, Arunachal Pradesh, Sikkim, Nagaland, Mizoram and all the other parts of the northeast were under the ambit of these MoU’s.

Witnessing such situation, the then Union Minister of Power, Jairam Ramesh termed the on-going signing of MoU’s in the region as “MoU virus”.

Data talk:-

As per the recent data displayed by Central Electricity Authority, in the year 2016 around 1242 MW of capacity has been installed in the region of northeast. Out of which, Assam constitutes for 429.72 MW, Arunachal Pradesh 97.57 MW, Meghalaya 356.58, Tripura 62.37, Manipur 80.98, Nagaland 53.32 and Mizoram 34.31. Also in the year 2016 (till 29 February 2016) no scheme has been finalized by the CEA regarding the hydropower projects.

In the year 2013 (only in Arunachal Pradesh) 150 MoU’s have been signed by the state government.

According to the old data of the year 2010, In Arunachal Pradesh alone, 132 amounting to 40,140.5 MW projects were signed (out which 120 were private companies). Out of this, 92 were large hydropower projects i.e. possessing the generating capacity of more than 25 MW, 38 projects constituted for more than 100 MW, 7 hydropower projects received final environmental clearance till October 2010, 30 dams received pre-construction environment clearance from the Ministry of Environment and Forests between September 2006 to October 2010. Some of the large dams which were already in operation according to 2010 data are Rangit III, Teesta (Sikkim), Kopili, Khangdong (Assam), Loktak (Manipur), Ranganadi Stage I (Arunachal).

The relationship between big dams and northeast region has been very bitter. The Kapatai Dam built on Chittagong hill tracts of East Pakistan (which is now Bangladesh) in 1960s submerged the traditional homelands of many indigenous communities. In 1970s the Gumti Dam in Tripura submerged large part of land and forced huge number of tribals and other indigenous communities to displace. Loktak Hydroelectric power project commissioned in the year 1980 have impacted the ecology of Loktak lake in Manipur seriously.

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Save Mon Region Federation (SMRF) members during protest. Pic Credits: savetawang.org

Anti-Dam protests: Protecting the northeast region:-

Northeast India has turned into the hub of anti-dam protests since long period of time now.

The Tawang district of Arunachal Pradesh is one such example. The region in January 2016 started the protest against the 13 large hydropower projects that are proposed to be setup in the region. Save Mon Region Federation (SMRF) is leading the protests under its banner. According the SMRF the region already comprises of 31 mini hydropower projects which due to poor maintenance and river changing its course of flow have stopped functioning. Even CAG in its performance audit report, 2015 has stated that many state units like NHPC have failed to technically maintain the hydropower projects.

SMRF’s general secretary Lobsang Gyatso in the year 2012 filed the case against the 780MW Nyamjong Chhu Project proposed to set up in the region. The dam was interfering with the habitat of the migratory bird- black necked cranes. The region is among the very few migratory spots that cranes do visit in winters. In April 2016 the NGT halted the project to save these species. The dam directed the MoEF and state government to carry out fresh studies and cumulative assessment of the project in order to be reviewed again. The tribunal was also amazed to notice that how the study of the project didn’t discuss about its impact on the cranes!

In June 2016, Guhuwati and Lakhimpur districts of Assam erupted into massive protest against the BJP government and National Hydro Power Corporation for setting up of the 2000 MG lower Subansiri dam in Geruakamukh region. The expert committee which was commissioned for the study of this project recommended that the project should not be pursued and it should be abandoned immediately. According to the protestors, the NHPC has started the work of foundation and ground wall. Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti (KMSS) and All Assam Students Union (AASU) are leading the protests in the region against the giant hydropower project.

Conclusion:-

The protests and the social struggle against these large hydropower projects raise a major concern against the hydropower project policy in India. The government shall review the policy and first of all work upon strengthening the legal and social regime related to these projects. The procedure of Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) has to be transparent and legally sound. Observing the quick approval of these projects which do not take into account the wildlife and social components of the area can defeat the purpose of organizing an EIA before the project is installed or commissioned. The government should work on rehabilitation and resettlement policies because areas having enormous hydropower potential cannot be left or ignored. Efficient and justified alternatives should be worked upon by the government regarding this. The inclusion of local representatives and bodies should be a mandatory element under the public hearing. The state units like NHPC should immediately draft the policy for reviving the already dysfunctional and underperforming units so that unnecessary financial costs can be minimized.

Media should act more responsibly. Proper coverage should be provided to these ongoing local protests. As of now only local media has been able to display the protests which do not serve the purpose and over a period of time these voices get suppressed and the rest of the society remains unaware. Absence or ignorance of national media from such major issues does raise the question on the ethics and standard of journalism in our country.

It’s a long road for these protestors. The big private players like Jindal, L&T etc. are tough to be defeated especially when government is still under the influence of “MoU Virus”. In such a situation judicial forums like National Green Tribunal plays an important role. Will the tribunal be able to balance the interest of the society and industry? Will it be able to restore the principles of sustainable development in such a scenario? Only time will answer these questions.

Author: Rishabh Shrivastava, Founder and Editor-in-Chief (Analysis)

Author is currently interning with Center for Science and Environment, New Delhi. He is studying and researching on laws related to different energy projects like Hydropower plants, coal mines and thermal power units.

You may reach author at: eic.analysis@gmail.com  

References:-

*All the references (without hyperlinks) can be found in the “resources” (page) of Analysis. Analysis is constructing an online digital resource database (ODRD) under which it is attaching all important materials like reports and data under its own database. Kindly refer it.

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