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Dispur bid to end dam impasse

- Report accomodates safety concerns, moots rehabilitation package

Guwahati, Feb. 21: The Group of Ministers (GoM), which looked into the implications of the hydro power projects being set up in the Brahamputra basin, has recommended that the NHPC should examine the introduction of the “piano key weir” concept to minimise any possible adverse downstream impact of the 2000MW Lower Subansiri hydel power project.

Piano key weir is a low cost solution that claims to help resolve submergence problem triggered by dams by placing piano key-like features on the dam’s crest to regulate flow of water.

The concept was suggested by IIT professor Nayan Sarmah to break the deadlock triggered by sustained protests by KMSS, AASU and the AJYCP, among others, against the project coming up at Gerukamukh on the Arunachal Pradesh-Assam border. The protests have stalled the project since December 2011.

The 13-page abridged five-member GoM report was released by power minister Pradyut Bordoloi here this afternoon after it was accepted by the Tarun Gogoi cabinet last evening. Cabinet minister Rakibul Hussain and Bharat Chandra Narah, press adviser to the chief minister, were present.

The overall spirit of the report, which has accommodated all safety concerns raised by groups opposed to its construction, or want it redesigned, suggests Dispur’s renewed bid to end the dam standoff by reaching out to them without diluting its stand on the need for the dam.

“I am sure there are many among these protesting groups who love Assam and its interests. They will understand the rationale behind our stand,” Bordoloi said, while mooting a “comprehensive approach” covering all aspects to resolve the issue in “public interest”.

Besides accepting the GoM report, the cabinet also decided to dissolve ASEB which evoked protests in a few areas today. (See chart)

Quoting Sarmah, the report says if the concept is implemented even at this stage, it would not raise the cost of the project to the extent of it being unviable. The project is 50 per cent complete and its cost has increased from Rs 6,285.33 crore to Rs 10,799 crore.

Most importantly, the report calls for a special rehabilitation package as it recognises the possibility that Lakhimpur and Dhemaji districts and Majuli could be affected by the dam’s impact. The package includes free electricity connections within a defined radius of the project, subsidy towards power charges for agri and allied livelihood besides a bouquet of projects related to livelihood options and infrastructure, executed through a special purpose vehicle sanctioned by the Centre.

The GoM said impact assessment should go beyond a radius of 10km from the dam site and cover Lakhimpur and Dhemaji districts, among others, and that it would refer to the Planning Commission-constituted C.D. Thatte and M.S. Reddy committee report, which is yet to be submitted, to address concerns relating to dam safety. It recommended a “pseudo static and dynamic analysis” to allay apprehensions about “safety and stability” of the dam once and for all. It mooted maintaining a minimum water flow (260 cumecs) downstream even during off-peak winter months. It suggested revising the quantum of 12 per cent free power to only the host state and seeking equal share for downstream states like Assam to mitigate the project’s adverse effects. It also sought 600MW purchasable power from the project as promised in 2005.

On the 86 of the 163 identified power projects being set up in Arunachal Pradesh, the GoM said Assam was not a party to these and in no position to raise query on their merits owing to inadequate information on technical, environmental and social aspects. But it mooted adequate flood cushion in upstream projects, federal riverine law for construction of multi-purpose dam projects and a regional body for management of water resource.