| The Kameng |
Itanagar, July 27: Seven years after the memorandum of agreement (MoA) for the 225MW Talong hydro project in Arunachal Pradesh was signed in 2007, the first public hearing will take place in the East Kameng district headquarters of Seppa tomorrow.
While the past seven years have not witnessed protests from local tribesmen against the project, growing concerns over the environmental impact could change all of that.
With over 40 hydropower projects planned for construction in the Kameng river basin in western Arunachal Pradesh, the river, which becomes the Bharali in Assam, rivals the number of projects planned across the length and breadth of the mighty Siang in the eastern part of the state.
However, since the combined capacity of the proposed projects in the Kameng basin adds up to just over 4,000MW, it gets dwarfed in comparison to the 44 projects in the Siang basin with installed capacity of over 12,000MW.
The fact that the Siang transforms into the Brahmaputra in Assam has meant that the projects and their impact on the environment have received greater focus and attention from the media and NGOs.
This has led to greater awareness amongst local Adi tribesmen who have campaigned against the construction of some of the large dams planned on the Siang.
In contrast, in the home of the Nyishi tribesmen and women who call East Kameng home, the only noise that has been generated so far has come from the river. Of late though, voices against the project have been getting louder.
In June, writing to the deputy commissioner, BJP leader from the district, Vijay Sonam, called for immediate scrapping of the hearing, citing “random and haphazard signing of the MoA for the project”.
Sonam said the project’s capacity was revised from 160MW to 225MW without seeking the consent of the people living in the affected area and downstream of the proposed project.
Questioning the feasibility of 22 dams in the district, he said, “So many dams on a small river is unthinkable”, before jokingly adding that, “People will have to live like fish when the floods come.”
While Sonam’s comment may appear jovial, it has caught the attention of others from the area.
Former MLA from the area, Medi Dodum, recently said the environmental impact assessment report on the project did not take into consideration flooding of low-lying areas of over 10 villages near the dam site. “These areas have been used as traditional grazing ground for mithuns and for subsistence farming by the people for centuries.”
Dodum also said the study did not take into consideration the impact of villages located downstream of the project and that affected people in the lower reaches were not consulted. “Whether it is an inch or an acre of land, affected people’s views must be considered,” he said.
Both Sonam and Dodum are also concerned about demographic changes that would result from the migration of workers and staff to the area. The environmental impact assessment on the project estimates that around 1,500 people could be residing in temporary houses for a period of five years.
The former MLA said, “In an already fast-changing world where tribal populations the world over are feeling the impact of cultural erosion, the threat of demographic change is one that we can live without.”
GMR Energy, which will execute the project, does not appear too concerned with any opposition.
A company spokesperson said it is “not envisaging any opposition” or “disturbances from” the surrounding communities. Reacting to the accusation that the affected people were not consulted before the project’s capacity was revised, the GMR spokesperson said the capacity was increased “with prior consent and permissions” from the state and central governments.
After having its request to increase the validity of the project’s terms of reference, which expires in August, rejected by the Expert Appraisal Committee under the ministry of environment and forests in May, the growing clamour of opposing voices could brew more trouble for the company.