GUWAHATI, Aug 8 - Speakers including experts and activists at a regional seminar on ‘Vision Document for STs of the Northeast’, organized by the Akhil Bharatiya Vanavasi Kalyan Ashram at Shilpgram today, cautioned the Centre against “hasty and unscientific” steps on the issue of big dams for power generation in the Northeast, undermining the legitimate environmental and socio-cultural concerns of the people.
RTI activist and general secretary of Siang Indigenous Farmers’ Forum, Tashik Pangkam, said that as per information provided by the Arunachal Pradesh Government, a total of 233 – and not 156 – big hydroelectric projects were coming up in the State – a biodiversity hotspot falling in the highly seismic Zone-V.
Pangkam alleged that nine MoUs were recently signed clandestinely without any public hearing. “All norms concerning big dams – be it land acquisition, rehabilitation of displaced people, downstream impact assessment, forest clearance, etc, – are being violated with impunity,” he said.
Anti-big dam activist Neeraj Vagholikar, while questioning the rationale behind the Centre’s hurry in clearing mega dams in Arunachal Pradesh, said that it did not learn any lesson from the Lower Subansiri hydroelectric project stalemate.
Vagholikar said that thorough scientific assessment of adverse impacts of big dams should be done before construction and not after the project is half-complete. “Apparently, we have learnt nothing from the Lower Subansiri developments,” he said,
Vagholikar said that clearance of mega dams involved violations of the Forest Rights Act and most other norms, including provisions for compensatory afforestation.
“Implement FRA covering all land area affected by a dam and not just the land that is acquired. This is because impacts from a dam go well beyond the land acquired for the purpose,” he said.
Warning that Assam could face winter floods triggered by big dams, Vagholikar said that a big dam during winter would store water for 20 hours during day and then release it back into the river in four hours.
Environmental lawyer Rittwick Dutta criticized the policy makers for ignoring the peculiarities of the Northeast while framing policies aimed at harnessing its natural resources.
“We have two extremes – one is a free-for-all kind of a situation, where there is rampant exploitation of resources – and the other is a blanket ban due to judicial activism. Both are far from ideal,” he said.
Dutta said that the Centre’s myopic vision recognized the Ganges as a holy river as it was emphasizing cleaning of the Ganges, but, at the same time, it was blind to the sacredness of the Parasuram Kunda in Arunachal Pradesh where a mega dam was being constructed very near to the Kunda, undermining its environmental and cultural concerns.
Dutta also advocated a bench of the National Green Tribunal in the Northeast in view of the region being an environmental hotspot.
BJP leader and former bureaucrat Chandrakanta Das said that the power-starved Northeast should generate electricity through small and run-of-the-river dams instead of big dams.
“We need power for development, but that should not come at the cost of our pristine environment. We should explore power generation through small and run-of-the-river dams,” he said.