A town damned

Yazali, the first commercial town built by Nyishi tribals, might soon be submerged

Published: Wednesday 15 February 2006

A town damned

Today life in Yazali goes on a (Credit: Mridul)Bustling markets, multi-storey houses, schools, and places of worship: Yazali in Arunachal Pradesh's Lower Subansiri district is a busy village town with a population of around 4,000 -- most of them Nyishi tribals. But if the North Eastern Electric Power Corporation (neepco) has its way, this hub of Nyishi urban life would soon be submerged by the reservoirs of the 130 megawatt (mw) Ranganadi Hydro Electric Project, Stage ii (rhep-ii).

Stage i of the project lies about 10 km downstream from Yazali. The 405 mw project began in 1978 and was completed in 2002. But it can deliver only 65 mw of power. According to R P Sharma, neepco's technical director, "The full benefits of stage-I cannot be achieved till stage- ii of the project is completed." This will involve construction of storage dam around 110 metre in height. The structure will submerge Yazali town and affect around 10 villages in its vicinity.

The affected "We want development but let them be transparent. Show us our gains and loses and we'll decide if we want the project or not," says Bengia Abo, an Yazali resident. Abo's family was among those who left the upper reaches of Lower Subansiri district and settled in the fertile Yazal valley down during the early 1950s.

The plains of the river valley were ideal for settled agriculture. "We took up wetland rice cultivation in the Yazali valley, giving up jhum, since it was proving detrimental to our forests," says Likha Jimmy, a young entrepreneur, and anti-dam activist, of Yazali. The town grew along with its surrounding villages. Its proximity to the plains of Assam made Yazali the locus of much inter-state commerce.

There were other developments. In 1962, Yazali got a school and many from the remote reaches of Arunachal came here to study. The present Govt Higher Secondary School in Yazali is reputed to have produced the first literates of the Nyishi community.

Square one "All this will come to a naught, if the town is submerged," rues Jimmy. This young entrepreneur is among the spearheads of the rhep-ii Project Affected People's Forum (rpapf). "Ten villages in and around the valley would be affected if the proposed dam comes up; two of them would be completely submerged. More than 5,000 would lose their homes and agricultural fields," Jimmy continues. He, however, rues that the protest against the dam remains a feeble one. "The people here aren't aware of the long-term impacts of the project. They are joining the protests in the hope of some immediate compensation," he says.

On November 25, 2005, Jimmy had organised a protest meet against rhep-ii. T he outcome of the gathering left him utterly disappointed. "The people did oppose the dam, but none of them dismissed it unequivocally," he says.

Emulating those downstream The people downstream the rhep-ii site, are, however, much more categorical in their rejection of the dam. In June 2005, representatives of eight villages downstream of rhep-ii -- with a total population of 7,000 -- formed the Downstream People's Committee, which resolved to oppose the dam.

Meanwhile, Jimmy and other rpapfp activists are waiting the project's Environment Impact Assessment (eia) report, which they believe would be ready by February end. The activists are planning to organise a series of awareness camps before the eia is discussed in a public hearing. Resource persons from outside Yazali are also being roped in to sensitise the people against rhep-ii .

But they will have their task cut out. With district administrators being changed according to the whims and wills of local politicians, the people have no option but to beseech neepco authorities, who seldom provide complete details to the affected.

Today, life in Yazali goes on as usual. Markets are buzzing, children are on their way to schools and offices are running as usual -- the last thing on anybody's mind that one day this life might be thrown into complete disarray. If the neepco has its way, a large water body might replace bustling Yazali town.

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