Downstream worries over Arunachal dams

The Arunachal Pradesh Government has entered into Memorandum of Understandings with central public sector undertakings for 13 projects with a proposed installed capacity of 13,000 megawatt.
Downstream worries over Arunachal dams

The Arunachal Pradesh Government has entered into Memorandum of Understandings with central public sector undertakings for 13 projects with a proposed installed capacity of 13,000 megawatt. The proposed projects are projected to bring in investment of around Rs 1.4 lakh crore to the state, which is music to the ears of the people of the state. The safety concerns among people in downstream areas in Assam over the under-construction of the 2000 megawatt Subansiri Lower Hydroelectric Project at Gerukamukh on the Assam-Arunachal Pradesh boundary are still to be addressed. Transparency in the proposed projects regarding their cumulative impact will be crucial to allay apprehension among people in downstream areas in Assam. The Central Government also justifies the proposed new hydropower projects in the hill state, claiming that per capita income will quadruple and the nation will get clean energy round the clock from these projects. Multiple events of landslides hit the Subansiri project since its construction, with the latest one occurring in October kept people in Assam on tenterhooks. The October landslide partially damaged the project and blocked one of the diversion tunnels, resulting in reduced flow of water in the Subansiri River. The National Hydroelectric Power Corporation Limited, the project developer, however allays apprehension over dam safety and any obstruction to water flow once the project is commissioned. Glacial lakes in the Himalayan Range in Aruanachal Pradesh feed five rivers in the state. The recent catastrophe of Glacial Lake Outburst Flood in Sikkim washing Chungthang Hydroelectric Dam has added to worries of people living in downstream areas in Assam of a similar catastrophic event. Addressing these concerns must not be overshadowed by the dream of accelerating development and augmenting per capita income by making rivers spin turbines. Union Power and Non-Renewable Energy Minister R.K. Singh has argued that the current hydropower capacity of the country is only 35 % of the total hydropower potential, while developed countries have utilized around 70 % to 80 % of their available potential. He also cites the reason of India’s growing power demand, requiring the addition of power capacity at a fast pace. The peak demand currently is around 2.31 lakh MW and is projected to become double by 2030. Climate change being real and worrying about how long the fragile ecology of a state like Arunachal Pradesh will be able to sustain the burden of producing energy to meet the growing demand of the country is the critical question that needs to be answered. The Union Minister has rightly argued that 80 % of the carbon dioxide load in the atmosphere, due to which there has been a rise in global temperature, is due to the emissions by developed countries, while India’s contribution to the cumulative load is just 3 %. Another key argument advanced by him was: Developed countries have become developed by using fossil fuels. Therefore, if India needs to use fossil fuels for its growth, the country will use it. A pragmatic approach for India is to mobilize world opinion to make developed countries increase climate finance to developing and underdeveloped countries to compensate for the climate damage and alarming rise to global warming for poverty alleviation programmes, improvement in healthcare etc. Instead, if we end up diverting the forest and destroying the river ecology to construct hydropower projects without studying their cumulative impact, it will only give rise to new climate challenges, which will be difficult to address. For the people of Assam, a comprehensive study into the cumulative impact of the proposed hydropower projects on the tributaries of the Brahmaputra has been a long-standing demand. The constitution of the proposed North East Water Management Authority (NEWMA) will create the space for Assam to raise its environmental concern and apprehension over cumulative impact of multiple projects in the neighbouring state. The draft bill proposing the constitution of NEWMA to replace the Brahmaputra Board with the new authority is reported to have been circulated among the States in the region. Fast tracking the constitution of NEWMA is essential to remove apprehension among people in downstream areas and facilitate multi stakeholder consultation instead of unilateral decisions. This also brings to the centre stage another related question: If producing more energy is the only pathway to accelerate development. A holistic view of the development paradigm will prompt policymakers to reflect over investment decisions in different regions, more particularly in the northeast region. Conservation of forest and ecology in the region is of paramount importance for sustainability of livelihoods developed around eco-tourism-models. Rise in the number of landslides claiming lives and disrupting connectivity in the region has given rise to the debate over pushing development models for other regions. Apart from showing them dreams of increasing the per capita income People need to be informed, how the proposed projects are going to impact their lives and future generation in the long term. The country needs clean energy, but certainly not at the cost of the environment.

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