Truth is more Slppery

Hydropower is northeast India's biggest resource. But the manner in which the Subansiri Lower Project (SLP) is being implemented forces nitin sethi to ask: how should this growth potential be tapped?

Published: Sunday 07 June 2015

Truth is more Slppery

-- Once the site of a famous victory of the Gallo tribe over the British, Gerukhamukh village today is the address of the biggest dam ever conceived in India. On the banks of river Sipai in Arunachal Pradesh's (ap ) West Siang district, the village is host to the Subansiri Lower Multipurpose Hydroelectric project (slp). slp once promised 2,000 megawatts (mw) of electricity and numerous other bounties to the state. Today, it stands for everything that can go wrong with a hydroelectric project in the northeast.

March 22, 2005: 200 people from 14 villages in Dolok Bango area of West Siang gathered in the state capital, Itanagar, raising slogans against the slp. But the protestors were not against the dam per se. The cause for their remonstrance was actually the stricture against the dam that the Supreme Court (sc) had passed about a year ago, on April 19, 2004. sc had ordered that a sanctuary should come up comprising the reserve forest that fell in the catchment area of the river above the dam. It should come up, the sc ordered, to compensate for forests slp would submerge. But once created, people here believe, the reserve would displace 5,000 tribals, living in 14 villages of the Dolok Bango area, from their traditional lands and jhum (shifting cultivation) forests.

The irony here is that, by itself, slp will displace only 2 villages, comprising just 24 families. But such twists of planning were not what the protesting villagers had in mind. They only knew that the project had once promised them jobs. Now, it threatened their lives. Lamented Tare Taye of Mimma, one of the villages the people believe could fall within the proposed sanctuary, "I am almost 70, but am here in Itanagar to request the government to come to our rescue." He, like other protestors, had no clue that the ap government and the slp authorities had other 'far more important matters' to worry about.

Important matters
On January 22, 2005, Yogendra Prasad, the chairperson cum managing director of the National Hydroelectric Power Corporation (nhpc, the agency in charge of slp) air-dashed to Itanagar to meet ap chief minister (cm), Gegong Apang. The pow-wow, reported local dailies, was cordial. "The cm lauded the efforts of the nhpc", noted one.

What the papers missed reporting was that nhpc' s head was actually in town on a rescue mission: the state government was threatening to pull the plug on the Rs 7,468.91 crore project. Its grouse: while giving the go-ahead to slp on April 19, 2004 -- with conditions such as the sanctuary -- the sc had simultaneously banned all future hydroelectric projects on the Subansiri. The state government felt betrayed. The nhpc had promised at least two more mega-projects on the river -- the 2,000 mw Subansiri Upper Project and the 1,600 mw Subansiri Middle Project -- together worth more than Rs 20,500 crore. Now, the state government believed nhpc had submitted meekly to the court, indeed colluded with interested parties. "If slp means we will have to forego the other projects, we'd rather rethink this one as well," T Bagra, ap's power secretary told Down To Earth the evening before the meeting.

After the confabulation, nhpc and the ap government came out peace pipe in hand: interests dictated the sc ban be contested. Yet, neither has decided who is best positioned to take on the sc.

Hectic negotiations continue.

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