GUWAHATI, Feb 18 – Participants of a meeting on sharing the trans-boundary water information between India and Bhutan, jointly organised by the environment groups Aaranyak, International Rivers and Legal Initiative for Forest and Environment (LIFE) here yesterday, expressed serious concern over the lack of information on the Bhutanese hydropower projects and their downstream impacts on the Indian areas, particularly in its Assam part.
They also formed a core group for undertaking the initial ground work to collect more information on the Bhutanese hydel projects. The group includes representatives from the All Bodo Students’ Union, All Assam Students’ Union, Aaranyak, Kalpavriksh, among others.
The participants viewed that it appears from the little bit of information trickling down through the thick barriers put by the authorities concerned, that 70 potential sites have been identified by the Central Electricity Authority (CEA) of India and every river in the neighbouring country is proposed to be dammed for the purpose. The CEA estimated in mid- to late-1990s, the total hydropower potential of Bhutan as 23,760 MW.
To harness this huge amount of power, Bhutan has been divided into three basins and these basins are known in India as Raidhak (in North Bengal), Sonkosh and Manas (in Assam). It is proposed that 10,000 MW of hydel power would be generated in Bhutan by 2020, and India would purchase 50 per cent of this power.
Two projects on the Punatsangchhu, that is the 1200-MW Punatsangchhu-I and the 1000-MW Punatsangchhu-II, and one 114-MW project on the Dagachhu are under construction. While Punatsangchhu is a tributary of Sonkosh, Dagachhu is also a part of the Sonkosh river system.
Significantly, Indian agencies, including both the public and the private sector ones, are executing the Bhutanese projects and the Indian public sector WAPCOS is conducting the environmental impact assessment studies of these projects.
India is extending technical collaboration, technical knowhow and a large part of the finance to execute these projects. This obviously raises the question as to why the environmental clearance is not done by India taking into consideration the downstream impacts of the projects on Assam.
Moreover, it has come to light that beyond the Indo-Bhutan agreement of 2006, under which the above projects are being planned and executed, Bhutan has proposed on its own 15 hydel projects.
Bhutanese people know that the hydel projects are going to affect their ecology badly. But they are not in a position to raise any voice against these projects, as the hydropower projects are expected to make a contribution of 25 per cent to the Bhutanese GDP, observed the participants.
By this time, the phenomenon of climate change has posed a serious threat of making the summer season shorter and entrench in it heavy rainfall activities. Besides, the phenomena of shrinkage of the glacial lakes and the glacial lake outburst floods are also being triggered by the phenomenon of climate change.
However, there is no information on the cumulative impact assessment studies carried out in regards to the Bhutanese hydel projects, said the participants, referring to the havoc created by the outburst of the 60-MW Kurichu Hydel Project.