MoEF approves controversial Demwe hydropower project

Says environmental and social impacts too few as compared to potential for generating clean energy

 
By Kumar Sambhav Shrivastava
Last Updated: Saturday 04 July 2015

Demwe hydroelectric

Overruling the recommendations of the expert members of the National Board of Wildlife (NBWL), the Union environment ministry, has given its nod to the controversial Demwe Lower Hydro Electric Project in Arunachal Pradesh. The Board is a statutory body that assesses the impacts of development projects on wildlife. In its meeting in December, the members of the standing committee of the Board argued, on the basis of a site inspection report prepared by one of the committee's members Asad Rahmani, that the project would have devastating impact on  wildlife.

Keeping aside the findings of the site inspection report and the concerns of the expert members, the ministry on behalf of NBWL issued the order on February 11, recommending clearance for the project. The order says the project was cleared because it has huge potential for generating clean energy (mitigating 50 million tonnes of CO2 every year), which far outweighed environmental and social impacts.

Difference of opinion
 
 
  • Rahmani in his report said the project will have harmful impacts downstream, especially on the grasslands of Dibru Saikhowa National Park and the chapories (riverine islands) of Lohit river. Both the areas are identified as Important Bird Area (IBA) by Birdlife International and are the remaining limited habitats of the critically endangered Bengal Florican. Ministry said the chapori islands do not get submerged even in monsoons and are not good habitats for birds
  • Rahmani in his report highlighted the project's impact on the Gangetic River Dolphin, the national aquatic animal in the Lohit river in downstream areas in Arunachal Pradesh and Assam. Ministry said there were no reports of sighting of Gangetic Dolphins in the vicinity of the proposed dam site
  • Rahmani also highlighted the project will submerge parts of the Parshuram Kund Medicinal Plant Conservation Area, identified for the conservation of Globally Significant Medicinal Plants. The ministry went by the state government’s claim and said the area was 150 metre above submergence level
  • Rahmani said the environment impact assessment (EIA) was inadequate to analyse the impacts of the project downstream and had recommended comprehensive studies for the same before the project was cleared. Ministry said the studies will be conducted post clearance along with the construction of the project and mitigation measures proposed by these studies will be implemented concurrently
 
 
 
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. It is to be built in an area of 1,590 hectares and involves felling of around 43,000 trees. The project had received environmental clearance in February last year. The forest advisory committee of the environment ministry, which is yet to decide on the forest clearance for the project, had referred the project to NBWL last year as it was in the vicinity of the Kamlang Wildlife Sanctuary and the Dibru Saikhowa National Park. In November last year, the standing committee of NBWL sent 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.

Impact on environment ignored

Rahmani, in his report pointed out that the project will have harmful impacts downstream, especially on the grasslands of Dibru Saikhowa National Park and the chapories (riverine islands) of Lohit river. Both the areas are identified as Important Bird Area (IBA) by Birdlife International and are the remaining limited habitats of the critically endangered Bengal Florican. The report also highlighted the project's impact on the Gangetic River Dolphin, the national aquatic animal in the Lohit river in downstream areas in Arunachal Pradesh and Assam, and on Asiatic wild buffalo and hog deer present in Dibru-Saikhowa National Park.

However, the ministry, went by the claims of the state government and said the chapori islands do not get submerged even in monsoons and are not good habitats for birds. It also said there were no reports of sighting of Gangetic Dolphins in the vicinity of the proposed dam site. On the other hand, Rahmani, in his report had specifically mentioned that the resident population of dolphins has been seen at seven locations downstream of the dam. It even questioned the views of the expert members and stated: “Any impact on the life forms to such environmental changes also depends upon their tolerance and resilience towards the changes and their adaptive potential. These aspects have seemingly not been taken into consideration by the non-official members while highlighting the threats to life forms.”

While the site inspection report highlighted the project will submerge parts of the Parshuram Kund Medicinal Plant Conservation Area, identified for the conservation of Globally Significant Medicinal Plants, the ministry went by the state government’s claim. It said the area was 150 metre above submergence level. Rahmani said the environment impact assessment (EIA) was inadequate to analyse the impacts of the project downstream and had recommended comprehensive studies for the same before the project was cleared. The ministry had commissioned Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Roorkee to conduct studies on the ecological impacts and cumulative impacts of the project. However, it said the studies will be conducted post clearance along with the construction of the project and mitigation measures proposed by these studies will be implemented concurrently.

Wrong justification

Justifying its decision, the ministry said: “The spirit of the clearance system basically demands evaluation of trade-offs for balancing the developmental needs with environmental sustainability, examination of scope of mitigation and capacity of the ecosystems to withstand the impact.”

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Neeraj Vagholikar of non-profit Kalpavriksh said it was a dangerous order. “How can you legitimise post-clearance EIA in the name of a trade-off for the benefits of the energy generated from the project? Trade-offs imply decisions to be made with full comprehension of both the upside and downside of a particular choice,” he says. The downstream impacts of the project are yet to be ascertained and serious concerns raised by an overwhelming majority of the wildlife experts on the NBWL Standing Committee have been over-ruled, he says.  Vagholikar also questioned the ministry’s stand that there are relatively fewer environmental and social impacts as compared to the benefits of supposedly clean energy. “In addition to the freshly commissioned studies as a condition of wildlife clearance, ongoing studies on ecology, riverine production systems and livelihoods in the downstream are yet to be placed before decision-makers and the public. What is the basis of the ministry’s claim of fewer impacts?” he asked.

An expert member of the standing committee of NBWL agrees. “If the ministry had made up its mind to clear the project, what was the need of commissioning a site inspection? They have just gone by the official views of the state government. I wonder what is the need of having non-official members in the standing committee then?” asked the member, who did not wish to be named.



 

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  • As the Govt wants to go ahead

    As the Govt wants to go ahead with it there should be a minimum discharge at all times. The project is designed to supply peaking power so there will be huge variation in the flow. Another aspect to be considered is the Govt should collect 10% of the profits generated to fund wildlife conservation of downstream and upstream wildlife sanctuaries. The money is very huge in wildlife conservation and can be used to fund the conservation,l expansion and pay for anti poaching units in all sanctuaries of assam and arunachal especially Kaziranga, Pakke, Dibru saikhowa and Namdapha which is located upstream and where the same promotors are planning the upper Demwe of 1750 MW. This new approach will help in conservation where already clearances have been given.

    Posted by: Anonymous | 8 years ago | Reply
  • Kaziranga, Pakke, Dibru

    Kaziranga, Pakke, Dibru saikhowa and Namdapha are in the Downstream of the Demwe Lower HEP. Good decision in view of dim investment situation as well as slow down in Power Sector due to unnecessary protests by So called Pro Environment NGOs, who are doing nothing constructive for betterment of Environment only opposing developmental projects irrespective of their location. Most of the NGOs are being donated by Foreign Entities to stop developmental work in India.

    Posted by: Anonymous | 8 years ago | Reply
  • I agree with Survesh that

    I agree with Survesh that some Pro Environment NGOs are only interested in obstructing the development projects. It seems that they are only instrumental in obstructing the development projects. Why donÔÇÖt they understand the need of development for the country or provide any other alternative source for those development. ItÔÇÖs true that the Himalayan region is rich in biodiversity and itÔÇÖs our prime responsibility to conserve and protect the diversity and ecosystem of this area. However, at the same point we also need to compete with other developed and developing nations. We should not forget that we have to cater to the needs of the society and people, and to cater these everlasting and growing needs we need to have development projects across different regions of our country. The NGO should understand that unconditional voices will not only stop development, but also push back the development of different regions of the country. We are a developing nation, and every day the need for resources, power and energy is growing and these cannot be fulfilled without new and existing development projects. I agree that Eco diversity is important but we need other pillars like development and proper resources to become and fully developed nation. Instead of raising voices, NGO should focus more on development of the country, protecting eco-diversity. If any project is impacting the eco-diversity of the region, appropriate steps should be taken to prevent that. NGO should provide alternate solutions basis their knowledge and expertise and play important role in suggesting alternatives or recommendations for minimizing the adverse impacts on ecosystem and necessary sustainable development of the country.

    Posted by: Anonymous | 8 years ago | Reply
  • Arunachal Pradesh is highly

    Arunachal Pradesh is highly active in biodiversity,specially the zone where this dam has been proposed.Since the ministry has already given a clearance as they always do,this project is going to harm the environment as the Tehri dam has done.It's so sad that our govt. is doing blunders again and again,still we are acting as dumb onlookers.

    Posted by: Anonymous | 8 years ago | Reply