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Subansiri dam work resumes after 8 years

The 2000 MW Subansiri Lower Hydroelectric Project at Gerakamukh, work on which has resumed. – Photo: North Lakhimpur Correspondent
 GERUKAMUKH, Oct 16 - Construction work of the 2000 MW Subansiri Lower Hydroelectric Project was restarted following orders by National Green Tribunal and clearance by Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Government of India. This was stated by Arvind Bhatt, Executive Director, LSHEP of National Hydroelectric Power Corporation (NHPC) at Gerukamukh last afternoon.

Interacting with a group of visiting mediapersons, Bhatt said that approximately 55% of construction works of LSHEP had been completed. He also said that the project was presently carrying out emergent protection works as required for the safety of the partially-constructed dam blocks as well as the powerhouse and water conductor structures including COW (Cut off Wall) work. Other routine monitoring, preservation and maintenance works, at site like discharge measurement, instrumentation, monitoring, preservation of construction and permanent machinery and equipment, infrastructure maintenance and CSR activities etc., were being carried out by the project, the ED said.

The Executive Director, Arvind Bhatt said that to implement the recommendations of the Joint Steering Committee (JSC) to mitigate the downstream impact, a downstream package of Rs 470 crore had been sanctioned, out of which Rs 145 crore is for downstream protection measures, Rs 320 crore for developmental works in downstream areas and Rs 5 crore for social awareness and mass awakening programme. He also said that the estimated cost of LSHEP till April, 2019 was Rs 20,600 crore from the original estimate of Rs 5,000 crore. “The project shall require approximately four years for completion after start of work,” said Bhatt. The LSHEP ED said that Assam would get 533 MW of electricity from the project on market price as per the Central Electricity Regulatory Commission of which 33 MW would be free of cost. Further, Assam would also get 1.25% of the total power freely from LSHEP, Bhatt said. He also said that the LSHEP was for the development of people for Assam and allayed fears about the safety of the dam over Subansiri river. “This dam is the safest one ever made by the NHPC,” he said.

Prior to the announcement, the NHPC took the visiting mediapersons to its Teesta Lower Dam Project-III, IV and V in West Bengal and Sikkim. These already commissioned and functioning hydroelectrical projects bear testimony to the NHPC’s claims about the safety of the dams in the seismic zones of the Himalayas.

It may be recalled that construction of LSHEP by NHPC got stalled on December 16, 2011 due to agitation by organisations like Krishak Mukti Sangram Samitee (KMSS), AASU, AJYCP, TMPK, ATASU and others on safety-related aspects and downstream issues. Following this, various committees such as Technical Expert Committee (TEC), Joint Steering Committee (JSC) and Dam Design Review Panel (DDRP) were constituted which gave their recommendations and NHPC have agreed for their implementation. A Project Oversight Committee (POC) was constituted by the Ministry of Power on January 13, 2015 to provide guidance and oversight to examine and resolve the various issues relating to LSHEP as also to oversee their compliance along with project implementation. POC members submitted their reports to Ministry of Power in January-February 2016, one by POC members of Assam and another by POC members of Government of India to the Ministry of Power. The Government of India endorsed the POC report submitted by the POC (GoI) members.

Further, a case was filed before the National Green Tribunal (NGT), Eastern Bench, Kolkata related to uninterrupted downstream flow in the year 2013 by Aabhijeet Sharma and Tularam Gogoi pleading stay on resumption of works till settlement of issue. In May 2017, they filed another case before the NGT on the ground that after the grant of environmental clearance, changes have been made to the scope of the work of the project for which fresh appraisal was required. The NGT pronounced common judgment for both the cases on 16.10.2017 and disposed of both the cases with the direction that Ministry of Environment, Forest & Climate Change (MoEF&CC) shall constitute a committee of three expert members in the field of seismology, geology and hydrology, who shall submit its report with its recommendation to MOEF&CC within three months for stage-IV appraisal by Expert Appraisal Committee under EIA Notification 2006.

In pursuance of the order dated 16.10.2017 of the NGT, Eastern Zone Bench, Kolkata, Ministry of Environment and Forest vide order no. L-11011/09/2017-IA.I, 27th November 2017, constituted a three member Expert Committee comprising Dr Prabhas Pande (Engineering Geology), Dr ID Gupta (Seismology), PM Scott (Hydrology, from North-East). The Expert Committee held meetings with MoEF & CC, NHPC and experts of various institutions which had been involved in different studies related to Subansiri project such as CWC, CEA, IIT-Roorkee, CWPRS and officials and the expert of Project Oversight Committee (POC), GoI from December 2017 to January 2018.

Meanwhile, a miscellaneous Application and an Execution Application in the original application was filed by Aabhijeet Sharma and Tularam Gogoi respectively before NGT, Kolkata with prayer to quash the Expert Committee and constitute a new committee. The NGT dismissed the case on 19.11.2018 finding no merit in the application. On 14.12.2018, the Tribunal heard the counsel in the matter Tularam Gogoi vs Union of India & Others and dismissed the case finding no merit in the application. Against the NGT order dated 14.12.2018, an SLP was filed by Tularam Gogoi before the Supreme Court of India on 08.02.2019. The Supreme Court bench comprising Justice Dr DY Chandrachud and Justice Hemant Gupta vide order dated 11.03.2019 set aside the impugned order of the Tribunal dated 14.12.2018 and order dated 19.11.2018 and restored the applications to the file of the Tribunal for determination afresh. The SC has also recorded in the said order that they are not inclined to impede or interdict the work of the Expert Committee in the meantime; any steps taken would abide by the result of objections which are permitted to be raised by the appellant before the Tribunal.

The Expert Committee upon convening various meetings and site visit, submitted its report to MoEF &CC, which was put up to Expert Appraisal Committee on 23.04.19 for Stage-IV appraisal under the EIA notification-2006.

Subsequently, MOEF&CC vide letter dated 13th June 2019, conveyed the recommendations of the Expert Committee for resumption of the project at the earliest subject to final order of the NGT. The NGT heard the matter on 25.07.2019 and the order was kept reserved. The NGT vide order dated 31.07.2019 dismissed the applications finding no merit in the cases.

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