Narendra Modi takes U-turn on large hydro projects in Arunachal

After endorsing smaller hydropower projects during pre-election campaign, the prime minister pushes for big dams during his recent visit to Itanagar

By Amarjyoti Borah
Published: Tuesday 24 February 2015

File photo of construction site of Lower Subansiri dam (Photo by Amarjyoti Borah)

Last year, as the National Democratic Alliance’s prime ministerial candidate in the 2014 Lok Sabha election, Narendra Modi had given hope to anti-dam activists in Assam when he spoke against the controversial large dams proposed in Arunachal Pradesh. But those hopes were dashed on February 20, when Modi visited Itanagar to attend Arunachal Pradesh's 29th Statehood Day.

Last year on February 22, at an election rally at Pasighat in Arunachal Pradesh, Modi had said that he would prefer smaller hydro power projects in the region, honouring the sentiments of the region’s people.

During this year’s visit, however, it seemed that the prime minister forgot his promise. He pushed for hydropower projects in the state and said Arunachal Pradesh can light up the entire country.

Promise forgotten

In his speech, Modi mostly dwelt on power and energy. "I assure Arunachal Pradesh will light up the entire country. If you recognise your strength, the fate of Arunachal Pradesh will change [for the better]," he said. Modi, however, also spoke about adequate protection to those affected by the projects.

"I know the people of Arunachal Pradesh have certain reservations about some hydel projects. There were similar issues in Bhutan and Nepal, which have as much water resources. We negotiated with them. We are trying to set up power companies there. Through electricity alone, Nepal and Bhutan's economic condition will improve. They will transform into sukhi (happy) nations. You, too, have similar taakat (strength) and you need to realise it to ensure progress and prosperity," Modi said.

Memorandum for PM

Meanwhile, civil society groups that have been protesting against big dams in the region have demanded the prime minister should first undertake scientific studies on mega hydel projects in Arunachal Pradesh, covering the aspects of dam safety, downstream impacts and cumulative impacts.

Thirteen organisations of Assam have issued a joint memorandum to Modi to review all the mega dam projects proposed in Arunachal Pradesh and to scrap all those hydel projects which would prove devastating.

Already, Arunachal Pradesh which is often referred as "power house of India" is in the process of developing 41,400.5 MW capacity of power and its hydro power potential is estimated to be around 60,000 MW.

Read more:
BJP attempts to garner anti-dam votes in Assam
Speaking to Down to Earth, Keshab Krishna Chatradhara, an anti dam activist of People’s Movement for Subansiri and Brahmaputra Valley (PMSBV), said that the Central government has become completely pro power industry and corporate groups, and expressed dissatisfaction that the prime minister forgot his promise so soon after the election.

Chatradhara said that in his recent speech at Itanagar, the prime minister mostly dwelt on gati (momentum) and urja (power), and had also assured that Arunachal Pradesh will light up the entire country.

“This clearly points that the prime minister is pushing for hydro power projects, and we are left wondering what happened to his promise on big dams prior to Lok Sabha election 2014. This time, he talked about how dams will benefit the country but didn’t speak regarding the size and scale of the hydro projects, and this is nothing but a U-turn,” said Chatradhara.

Assam’s downstream concerns

The Assam government has also asked the Centre to look into all the important issues surrounding a hydro power project before taking any final decision, and has also requested the concerned authorities to consult the Assam government before taking any decision on hydel power projects in the neighbouring states.

"We urge that all hydroelectric projects be taken up only after consideration of dam safety, flood moderation and downstream impact mitigation measures in consultation with government of Assam," said Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi.

The prime minister has already come under attack over the dam issue from the Congress and the opposition parties in the state after he laid the foundation stone of the 600-MW Kholangshu Hydel Power Project in Bhutan last June, which according to them will devastate lower Assam.

“The 60-MW Kurishu Hydel Power Project of Bhutan devastated a vast area of Lower Assam in 2004 and 2007 as a result of flood caused by release of water from the dam. Therefore, the danger potential of the 600-MW Kholangshu Project is quite predictable,” said Durga Das Boro, spokesperson of the Asom Gana Parishad, an opposition political party in Assam.

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