NEW DELHI, Aug 12 – Notwithstanding the hue and cry over the expert panel’s report, Union Minister of State for Environment and Forest (MoEF), Jairam Ramesh today gave enough indications to suggest that work on the Subansiri Lower Hydroelectric Power Project is unlikely to be halted but he promised to address the concerns of the downstream States.
Clarifying the position of his Ministry at the end of a Calling Attention Motion on ‘The Environment Impact of Big Dams in North Eastern Region including Lower Subansiri Hydro Electric Projects’ moved by Biren Baishya in Rajya Sabha, here this afternoon, Ramesh sought to allay the apprehension of the MPs, assuring that host of studies including the downstream impact studies would be carried out before clearing hydropower projects in the future.
“If the report says the project should not go ahead, we will not clear them,” assured Ramesh, referring to the projects that have not been implemented so far, amidst a pandemonium in the House over the issue.
“We will take utmost care not to repeat the insensitive manner in which the projects were cleared and we will be conducting all the necessary studies,” he further assured, even as the AGP and CPI-M MPs engaged in an argument with the Minister.
Ramesh, however, hinted that he may not be able to do much in case of Subansiri Lower Hydro Power Project, asserting that he cannot become a Minister for stoppage. “I cannot stop projects,” he stressed, leading to further turmoil.
“If the Project is on the implementation stage and 50 per cent of the work has been completed, I cannot stop it,” he clarified.
“When the Project is under implementation all I can do is ensure mitigation measures so that adverse environment impact is minimised,” he said, provoking a load of protest by Biren Baishya, Kumar Deepak Das and Brinda Karat, among others.
“I cannot give a clear and categorical assurance that the Subansiri Lower Hydroelectric Project will be stopped. I can assure to minimise the adverse impact on the environment and ensure that the National Hydroelectric Power Corporation (NHPC) implements all the measures to protect the environment,” he added, reiterating that he proposes to visit Guwahati and Arunachal Pradesh next month.
Sharing the concerns of the MPS, he argued that the country needs to expand its hydel generation capacity, which is a clean source of energy. “However, I am also acutely conscious of the fact that serious ecological concerns have to be addressed while harnessing our hydel resources,” he remarked.
Ramesh said building these projects would also be important for India’s strategic negotiating power with China.”If we do not develop hydel power on Siang river, our negotiating capacity with China will be affected.”
On members’ concern over the impact of hydel projects in Bhutan, he said they also “fulfill our strategic necessity.”
Ramesh, however, ended up provoking the MPs more and there appeared few takers to his assurance. A remark made in jest by the Minister infuriated the AGP MPs further, who jumped out of their seats and tried to march up to the well of the House. Finally, at the suggestion of Ravi Shankar Prasad, the Minister withdrew his remarks.
During the past couple of week, a number of delegations from Assam and Arunachal Pradesh including All Assam Students Union, All Mising Students Union, Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti, experts drawn from Gauhati University and IIT Guwahati and anti-Dam lobbyist have met Ramesh pressing for halt to all dam activities as recommended by the Expert Panel. Inside the Parliament too, the issue figured.
Referring to the 2000 MW Lower Subansiri Hydroelectric Project, the Minister said this is the biggest Project undertaken in India so far and is a run of the river scheme on river Subansiri.
A comprehensive Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) study for Lower Subansiri was submitted by NHPC for appraisal, covering all the environmental aspects and baseline data with respect to meteorology, geology, seismology, water quality, land use pattern, terrestrial ecology, wildlife, aquatic ecology, fisheries and socio-economic aspects, as well as disaster management plan, he said.
Based on the data given in the EIA report and subsequent clarification, the MoEF accorded the environment clearance on July 16, 2003, Ramesh informed.
The minister further added that his ministry has taken note of the House Committee Report tabled in Assam Assembly and the Expert Panel report. The MoEF has also received comments of NHPC on the recommendations of the Expert Group, he added.
Earlier, in his written statement, the Minister said that concept of downstream impact is a recent one. This issue has been considered by the Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) for River Valley and Hydroelectric Projects (HEPs). The EAC has suggested downstream studies need to be undertaken by the proponents of Lower Demwe and Lower Siang HEPs located in Arunachal Pradesh.
The major concern is drastic alteration of the flow in the lean season in the River, which may lead to significant adverse impact to both terrestrial and aquatic biodiversity, the minister revealed.
He informed that his ministry has undertaken two basin studies for Lohit and Bichom Basin in Arunachal Pradesh to adopt the River Basin approach for the future projects instead of the usual project-by-project approach to environmental impact assessment. Further, there are proposals for undertaking similar studies for Subansiri and Siang Basins by the Central Water Commission, he added.