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Experts to solve dam impasse

Guwahati, Dec. 6: The much-awaited tripartite meeting on the stalled 2,000MW Lower Subansiri project between the Centre, Dispur and organisations opposing the dam in its present avatar, today lobbed the ball in the experts’ court to resolve the stalemate.

Assam power minister Pradyut Bordoloi, who addressed the media soon after the meeting at Assam Administrative Staff College here, said “expert-to-expert” talks to be held within a month would thrash out issues related to the dam’s safety and impact.

The outcome of the discussions reflected that despite the existing difference of opinion, all the participants appeared satisfied and agreed to the decisions arrived at as a step forward.

“Such decisions cannot be taken in such a big meeting. Moreover, given the technical nature of the apprehensions, it can only be resolved by experts. But I must thank one and all that participated in today’s meeting, which according to us was very cordial and constructive. As of now, Assam will be getting 533MW of power, including 25MW free power,” Bordoloi said.

The All Assam Students’ Union (AASU), Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti (KMSS) and Assam Jatiya Yuba Chatra Parishad (AJYCP) were among the 32 organisations that took part in the discussion, he said.

Asserting that all concerns would be taken care of, Bordoloi said a special purpose vehicle would be set up soon to implement the projects for protection and development of downstream areas, a key demand of those opposed to the dam. The minister also stressed on the resumption of project work at the earliest.

Additional secretary of power ministry, D. Choudhury, Central Water Commission chairman A.B. Pandya and Assam’s additional chief secretary Vinod Kumar Pipersenia, were present.

While categorically ruling out damage to the project from earthquakes, another key concern, Pandya said the cumulative impact assessment of the five river basins in neighbouring Arunachal Pradesh would be carried out soon. The NHPC is constructing the dam along the Assam-Arunachal border in Gerukamukh.

AASU hoped the decisions would be carried forward and implemented in a sincere manner. “We have been demanding ‘expert-to-expert’ talks and it is encouraging to see Dispur and NHPC agreeing to hold talks between experts from Assam and outside. The talks process will start this month,” AASU adviser Samujjal Bhattacharjya told The Telegraph.

A committee of experts from Gauhati University, Dibrugarh University and IIT Guwahati had earlier recommended that construction of big dams in the foothills of the Himalayas was not feasible from geological, tectonic and seismological points of view. The Centre responded by setting up, among others, the C.D. Thatte Committee and the dam design review panel, and promised to implement their recommendations.

“We were informed that no new big dam project had been taken up in Arunachal. We also told NHPC to come up with a satisfying power sharing formula in case of commissioning a hydel project,” Bhattacharjya said.

KMSS also said today’s outcome was just a step forward and a lot still needs to be done to allay apprehensions. “Representatives of the power ministry, water commission, NHPC and Assam power minister were laying more emphasis on resuming work on the stalled project,” KMSS president Akhil Gogoi said.

Expressing happiness over expert-to-expert talks, Akhil said, “Political will is also needed to resolve the issue.” KMSS has demanded prime ministerial-level talks on the issue and like AASU, 12 per cent free power.