Shillong, Aug. 7: Union minister Jyotiraditya M. Scindia’s announcement that 1,279 sites in the Northeast have been identified for setting up mini hydel projects, is likely to strengthen the resolve of anti-dam activists.
According to Scindia, minister of state for power, who submitted a written reply in Rajya Sabha yesterday, the 1,279 sites have a potential to generate up to 2,598.63MW of power. (See chart)
Reacting to the development, Rev. P.B.M. Basaiawmoit, senior adviser to Indigenous Biodiversity and Social Welfare Organisation (IBSWO), an NGO, said the statement was “shocking”.
“I am utterly shocked by the statement of the Union minister because according to our knowledge, there are not too many hydel projects identified in the Northeast. But this statement makes us more vigilant,” Rev. Basaiawmoit said.
Stating the opposition to dams is likely to become stronger now, he said if 97 hydel projects come up in Meghalaya, the state will be “submerged”.
“Apart from the negative effect on the fragile biodiversity and displacement of people, there will also be a geo-political impact since neighbouring Bangladesh will also be affected if multiple dams come up,” Rev. Basaiawmoit said.
North East Students’ Organisation (Neso) chairman Samuel B. Jyrwa said the government may identify as many sites as possible but the landowners will ultimately have the final say.
“As the land here belongs to the people, unlike in mainland India, it will be the landowners who will decide. If they provide land, then these projects may come up. If not, then not even the government can force them,” he said.
At the same time, he said the government should cautiously tread on such issues keeping in view the seismic sensitivity of the entire region.
A senior Meghalaya government official said he was unaware about the 97 sites, which have been identified. However, he said the identification process might have been carried out by central agencies.
According to Scindia’s reply, the Union ministry of environment and forests has been insisting upon basin-wise cumulative environment impact assessment (EIA) studies of such projects to effectively deal with likely problems relating to submergence, rehabilitation and resettlement issues and likely impact in the downstream areas.
The ministry also stipulates comprehensive mitigation measures for environmental safety while according environment clearance to run-of-the river projects, although they have only a limited environmental impact.