The only ones who monitor slp carefully are the new breed of contractors slp has spawned. They are young, influential and know they can make money only as long as the project continues.
Most of the contracts are to build housing colonies or offices in the slp complex. Some of them are worth a few crores -- but most run into tens of lakhs. But they mean dirty business, nevertheless. Regional papers regularly mention fights at the corporation office as local people exchange blows over lucrative contracts. "Once we had to decamp with the tender box because the corporation said we were too small to get the large contracts and wanted outsiders to bid for them," says a young contractor who works with the nhpc. "The project has nothing else to offer but these contracts. I have to milk it while I can," says another contractor, a Hill Miri tribal whose own village is affected by the project.
And what about the jobs slp promised? "This is an important phase of the project and people in ap are not capable of performing these highly technical functions," says J H Robertson, general manager, nhpc at Ziro, ap . Robertson's condescension doesn't quite match the hyperbole the nhpc used earlier to convince people of slp's benefits.
Worse still, even the petty manual jobs nhpc promised haven't materialised. The corporation had promised 100 per cent reservation for the people of ap as grade c and d category employees (after adjusting existing corporation staff). nhpc has no records of the number of local people employed by the slp, but it is common knowledge in the area that contractors end up sub-letting their contracts to outsiders as well as getting labour from Bihar or Nepal. Says the Hill Miri contractor, "I feel sorry for my people. I can only offer them sub-contracts to either get sand or gravel from the river close by or cut timber from close-by reserved forests."
This is where the politics gets murky and complicated. Most contractors belong to the area where the dam is coming up and are from a select few tribes. "The dam is coming up in our area, why should contracts go to outsiders?" asks one Ziro-based contractor. Even tribal people from other parts of the state have been kept out of the contracts.
These contractors are influential members of close-knit tribal communities and cannot afford to leave their people in the lurch. Therefore, while they make money for themselves they want some to percolate to their community. Handing down sub-contracts gives them immense political clout in a state where unemployment is rampant. This can again be used to leverage work from the nhpc or the government.
"Let's be very clear, we want the dam but we want our people to benefit from it. We have had many pontificating against it -- lots of such people have come from central India. We are not going to let them into Arunachal," warns a political leader who has also been crucial in securing resettlement and rehabilitation rights of people affected by the slp.
Kinship based networks have made it tough for the anti-dam lobby to work in the state. In ap, a debate -- to have a big dam or not -- does not exist.
One question does pop up in every conversation, though: how to have a big dam?