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Gogoi sounds dam alert

Guwahati, June 19: The Assam government today stopped short of opposing the construction of the 600MW Kholongchu hydroelectric project in Bhutan but demanded a study by an expert committee to allay growing fears of adverse downstream impact in the state.

Chief minister Tarun Gogoi made the demand for setting up of the expert committee just as was done in the case of the 2,000MW Lower Subansiri hydel project at Gerukamukh on the Assam-Arunachal border following apprehension about downstream impacts.

The NHPC project remains stalled since December 2011 following protests by the KMSS, AASU, AJYCP and Opposition parties like the AGP and BJP in the state. Bhutan shares a 699km border with India along Sikkim (32km), Bengal (183km), Assam (267km) and Arunachal Pradesh (217km).

Gogoi’s demand assumes significance because Prime Minister Narendra Modi had laid the foundation stone of the hydel project during his first visit abroad on June 16. The AASU, AJYCP, AGP have all expressed their opposition to the project fearing damage to downstream areas in lower Assam. They even went on to criticise Modi for reneging on his no-big-dam poll plank after having won the recently concluded Lok Sabha polls with a massive mandate.

Asserting that he was for good neighbourly ties with Bhutan and for the development of the neighbouring country, Gogoi said, “But there is apprehension among the people of Assam about the downstream impact of the project. As such, an expert committee should be formed to study the downstream impact and measures taken for flood mitigation just like in the case of Lower Subansiri. There should be measures to regulate the flow of water to check flooding. The Centre should take the state government into confidence in such matters, Gogoi said, while seeking a share of the power generated from the project.

It was clear from Gogoi’s demand that the Congress-led government will not let go of any opportunity to “expose” the “policies and politics” of the BJP vis-ŕ-vis Assam having suffered badly at its hands in the general elections as it had flagged the no-big-dam line.

“Gogoi did not say anything about the BJP’s big dam stand but through his demand he reminded the Modi government that there cannot be two stands on the issue,” a Congressman said.

The apprehension is triggered by memories of the flashfloods caused by water released by the 60MW Kurishu dam in 2004 from the Himalayan kingdom that killed 37 people and damaged over two lakh hectares of agricultural land overnight in lower Assam.