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Ministry eases dam rules

- Initial stage can skip impact assessment

Guwahati, Feb. 8: The Union ministry of environment and forests has gone back on its recommendation of completing cumulative impact assessment before clearing hydroelectric projects on the Tawang basin.

Sources said in a recent meeting, the forest advisory committee under the ministry recommended stage I forest clearance for diversion of 116.62 hectares of forest land for the 800MW Tawang stage II hydroelectric project by the NHPC with general and standard conditions.

However, last year, the committee had decided that projects planned on the basin could be considered only after a cumulative impact assessment was done by experts from hydrology, ecology, wildlife, sociology and disaster management as well as hydropower design engineers.

The Planning Commission-constituted working group on power for the Twelfth Plan had also said the ministry of environment and forests wanted importance to be given to environment and forest concerns while planning these projects in view of the region’s fragile eco-system. It was also suggested that environment impact assessment be taken up basin-wise for individual projects to know their downstream impact, including that on aquatic life, so as to expedite environment clearance of projects.

The change in stand follows pressure on the committee from both Arunachal Pradesh and the Union ministry of power not to insist on cumulative impact assessment for the first project on the Tawang basin. The ministry of power requested the committee to take up basin study as a follow-up and not link it to stage I clearance.

While clearing stage I at the recent meeting, the committee asked the state government to complete the assessment study before grant of the final forest clearance and recommended that no more clearances would be given on projects on the Tawang basin unless the assessment is done.

The NHPC has informed the committee that the state government has identified the organisations for carrying out the study and an MoU was likely to be signed soon.

The committee said in the meeting, “Reasonable progress has been made by the state government in commissioning the cumulative impact assessment study and there is every likelihood that scientific inputs will be available for taking decisions about final approval of the project as well as considering other projects proposed in the river basin.”

It added that about 59,200 trees will have to be cut for the hydro project but the proposal is not part of any protected area, that here has been no violation of the Forest Conservation Act and the requirement of forest land is stated to be minimum.

Tawang district in Arunachal Pradesh is criss-crossed by seven rivers in the Tawang basin. Thirteen hydroelectric projects have been planned on the basin.

Official sources said clearance for the project has been pending for a long time and it would help to tap the country’s hydro potential to meet its power needs.

Though Arunachal Pradesh has a hydel power capacity of 50,000MW, 90 per cent of this is yet to be developed, primarily because of delay in getting environment and forest clearances, problems in land acquisition and downstream impact assessment.

Activists killed: Senior AJYCP activists Rituraj Baruah and Jyotsna Basumatary were killed in a tragic road accident when the vehicle in which they were travelling collided head on with a tractor at Jonai in Dhemaji district on Friday evening.

They were returning after participating in a protest programme at the district headquarters against construction of big dams in China. The AJYCP declared a three-day mourning for the demise.


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