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Govt officials in dark about modified design, safety aspects
AJIT PATOWARY
 GUWAHATI, Sept 13 - The Assam Government has signed a memorandum of agreement (MoA) with the National Hydroelectric Power Corporation Ltd (NHPCL) on construction of the 2000-MW Lower Subansiri Hydroelectric Power Project (LSHEP) last month.

But it has now come to light that the officials of the State Government were ignorant about the modified design of the project’s dam and its safety aspects and project’s impacts on the downstream areas.

The review of the minutes of the fourth meeting of the three-member committee constituted by the Union Government with Dr Prabhas Pande, Dr ID Gupta and PM Scott, to study the LSHEP case held on January 8, 2019 at the Guwahati Circuit House, leads one to the conclusion that even the officials of the Assam Government were in the dark about the present status of the project and developments concerning the LSHEP dam design.

The minutes of the said meeting have it: “In the beginning, Dr Prabhash Pandey requested the officials of the Government of Assam to offer their views/concerns/suggestions, if any, related to implementation of the Subansiri Lower HEP, especially on dam design, dam safety and downstream impacts. The representatives of the Government of Assam intimated that as the present status of the project and the recent developments with regard to dam designs are not known to them, it would not be appropriate to make any comments/suggestions on the above aspects. It was therefore decided that necessary information would be sent to the Government of Assam at the earliest for seeking their views and comments.”

The Assam Government representatives made only generic comments at the meeting. “Further, the representatives of the State Water Resources Department expressed their views on the construction of the dam with flood cushion considering the recent flood in the State. It was also suggested to have an appropriate management system of the sediment and maintenance of minimum e-flow.”

Again, a review of the minutes of the fifth and the final meeting of the three-member expert committee held on February 6 and 7, 2019 shows nothing on record regarding any views and comments having being received from the Government of Assam on “dam design, dam safety and downstream impacts.”

Thus, it has become a riddle for the observers here as to on what basis the Assam Government signed the MoA with the NHPC authorities on this ‘disputed’ power project. Whether the State Government would take the pain to enlighten the people as to what had led it to sign the said MoA with the Central sector power generating company when its officials expressed on record that they were not aware of the safety aspects related to the project, maintained the observers.

It needs mention here that besides the State’s people living in the downstream areas of the project, the expert group of the State also expressed its continued concerns over the issue of dam safety. Its members met the three-member committee set up by the Union Government as per the October 2017 judgement of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) in the committee’s third meeting held on December 12, 2018.

A review of the minutes of this meeting makes it amply clear that the Assam experts were sticking to their concerns over the technical aspects related with the power project. They did not agree to the assertion made by the NHPC that the modified design of the dam is safe.

Professor BP Duarah highlighted the pending concerns related to the seismic design parameters and safety of the project. Professor Chandan Mahanta of IIT Guwahati has been quoted in the minutes as saying: “There should be transparency in the design modification such as increase in the base width of the dam etc., and this revised information should be shared with the public.”

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