Wildlife board worried over the impact of public-private project on wildlife habitats
The standing committee of the National Board for Wildlife (NBWL) has put the Demwe Lower Hydroelectric Project in Arunachal Pradesh on hold till an expert committee asseses its impact on the flora fauna downstream.
The 1,750 MW project is being executed jointly by Athena Demwe Power Ltd, promoted by the India-based Athena Energy Ventures Pvt Ltd, and the Government of Arunachal Pradesh in Lohit district and is sheduled to be commissioned during the 12th Five-Year Plan. It is to be built in an area of 1,590 hectares near the Kamlang Wildlife Sanctuary and invloves felling of around 43,000 trees near the sanctuary. The project had received environmental clearance in February last year. The forest clearance for the project is, however, pending. The forest advisory committee of the environment ministry had refered the project to NBWL last year as it was in the vicinity of a wildlife sanctuary and a national park.
In its meeting on October 14, the standing committee of the NBWL decided to send a two-member team—Asad Rahmani, director of the Bombay Natural History Society and Pratap Singh, chief conservator of forest (wildlife) of Arunachal Pradesh—to the project area to assess the possible impacts of the project on wildlife. A separate meeting of NBWL may be convened later this month after the submission of the report to discuss the feasibility of the project.
Close to two Important Bird Areas
The decision of the NBWL has come after the non-official members of its standing committee raised concern over the impact of the project on wildlife in the region. Rahmani, a non-official member of the committee, had pointed out the proposed dam would have significant negative impact on at least two important wildlife habitats: the chapories (riverine islands) of the Lohit River and the Dibru Saikhowa National Park, according to the minutes of the standing committee meeting.
The minutes were made public recently. “Both of these were designated as Important Bird Areas, and also supported populations of some critically endangered bird species, including the Bengal Florican, which was a Schedule I species under the Wildlife Protection Act with about a surviving population of less than 500,” Rahmani said in the meeting.
Prerna Bindra, regional coordinator (tiger programme) of US-based non-profit, Panthera, and a non-official member of NBWL standing committee, said the distance from the site was misrepresented in the proposal. Though mentioned at a projected aerial distance of 8.5 km from the Kamlang Sanctuary, this is only the distance from the dam and not from the closest component of the project--the reservoir, which is only 50 metres from the sanctuary. Responding to the argument put forth by the Arunachal Pradesh authorities that the development of the state depended on the dam, she pointed out that surely it did not rest on it alone and that there were about 147 hydropower projects on the anvil in the state, of which about nine were in the Lohit river basin. "It was, therefore, essential that a cumulative impact assessment study was conducted,"said Bindra in the meeting.
She also pointed out that the National Environment Apellate Authority passed an interim order in May 2010, by which it directed the environment ministry to ask NBWL standing committee to examine downstream impact on river dolphins and important bird areas. This was not mentioned in the proposal put before the committee. M D Madhusudan, of Nature Conservation Foundation in Mysore, said the water impounding area was just adjoining the Kamlang Sanctuary and that birds are regularly seen in this area.
The principal chief conservator of forests and forest secretary of Arunachal Pradesh, who was also present in the meeting, however, says that an impact assessment study had been done by the State wildlife department on the downstream stretch of the Lohit River. “The study found that there would be very minimal impact on the wild fauna downstream,” he said in the meeting.
We are a voice to you; you have been a support to us. Together we build journalism that is independent, credible and fearless. You can further help us by making a donation. This will mean a lot for our ability to bring you news, perspectives and analysis from the ground so that we can make change together.
Comments are moderated and will be published only after the site moderator’s approval. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name. Selected comments may also be used in the ‘Letters’ section of the Down To Earth print edition.