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After years of hydro push, Arunachal begins scrapping dam projects

22 projects worth 3,800 MW terminated and 46 projects worth 8,000 MW had been served notices, says Chief Minister Pema Khandu

More than a decade after his father Dorjee Khandu ushered in a “dam revolution”, Arunachal Pradesh Chief Minister Pema Khandu has begun scrapping hydro-power projects for non-performance.

The Chief Minister, inaugurating the State’s first community-managed mini hydroelectric project at Dikshi in West Kameng district on September 13, said his government terminated 22 projects worth 3,800 MW while another 46 projects worth 8,000 MW had been served notices.

“These projects have not progressed and people have lost confidence in them. The government is reviewing the hydro-power projects periodically and action will be taken against the power developers found non-performing,” Mr. Khandu said.

Arunachal Pradesh was among 16 States identified during the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government for an ambitious plan in 2003 to make India produce 50,000 MW or hydroelectricity by 2017. This north-eastern State bordering China’s Tibet, accounting for the bulk of the proposed installed capacity was the first off the blocks for the hydro-power “gold rush”.

Agreement spree

A State hydro-power policy drawn up in 2007 saw Arunachal Pradesh sign agreements with both public sector and private sector players. Deals for 142 dams – their capacity ranging from 4.50 MW to 4,000 MW – on virtually all rivers and streams were inked by 2015.

In July 2015, former Congress Chief Minister Nabam Tuki told the State Assembly that Arunachal Pradesh received ₹1,495.6 crore as upfront money and processing fees from agreements signed with 159 companies for projects with installed capacities of 47,000 MW. The upfront money was charged per MW.

Local tribal groups and environmentalists across Arunachal Pradesh and Assam – which fears a massive downstream effect of the proposed dams – stalled most of the mega projects while a few such as the 2,000 MW Subansiri Lower being built by the NHPC has been lying incomplete since 2011.

Over the years, though, the Khandu government has been inclined towards smaller, sustainable hydroelectric projects. “It is time to change our mindset. Clean and green energy can change the economy of the State and the region,” Mr. Khandu said.

Kulsi dam

Meghalaya’s push for the Kulsi multi-purpose dam, declared a National Project, along the Assam-Meghalaya border, has unnerved the residents of 33 villages in Assam.

The project has been in limbo for almost a decade, but a consensus between the Assam and Meghalaya governments has paved the ground for a detailed project report. The dam is proposed on the Kulsi, a river where the endangered Gangetic river dolphins from the Brahmaputra breed, near Ukiam, a village about 75 km west of Guwahati.

The proposed capacity of the Kulsi project has not been specified, but it entails a 62m high concrete dam on the inter-State border. The project is estimated to cost ₹1,460 crore and would affect 15.55 sq km of land in Assam and 5.75 sq km in Meghalaya due to reservoir submergence.

“We cannot let our homes and farmlands be destroyed. The dam will be built over our dead bodies,” said J.R. Marak, the president of a committee involving all the villages.

International

China funding NGOs against hydro projects in Arunachal Pradesh

China is trying to fund certain civil society organizations to incite protests against hydropower projects in Arunachal Pradesh, fear Indian government officials.

The development comes amid India’s efforts to revive work on the long-pending hydro projects, including the 2,000 megawatts (MW) Lower Subansiri and 2,880MW Dibang projects by state-run NHPC Ltd. The Centre is also trying to expedite the completion of 600MW Tawang-I and 800MW Tawang-II projects in the strategically located state.

Any delay in building hydropower projects in Arunachal Pradesh on rivers originating in China will affect India’s strategy of establishing its prior-use claim over the waters, according to international law. India is concerned that the hydropower projects may be affected by Beijing’s plan to divert water from rivers that flow into the Brahmaputra towards the arid zones of Xinjiang and Gansu.

“We have heard that China is trying to incite and fund some NGOs in Arunachal Pradesh against hydro power projects,” said a senior government official requesting anonymity.

Mint reported on 30 August that 103 private hydropower projects in the state with a total capacity of 35 gigawatts (GW) are still to take off despite the government’s Act East policy.

“The public meetings for consent under the Forest Rights Act haven’t been held for Tawang-I and Tawang-II as these organizations are not allowing the critical meetings to take place,” said a second person aware of the development, also seeking anonymity.

China is working on an ambitious $62-billion south-north water diversion scheme for Yarlung Tsangpo, the upper stream of the Brahmaputra river.

The Tawang Chu and Nyamjang Chu are the two main rivers in Tawang district. The Tawang Chu emerges after the confluence of Mago Chu and Nyukcharong Chu. The river system for Nyukcharong Chu originates from Tibet in the eastern Himalayas and flows in the southern direction and joins Seti Chu after 52km, according to information reviewed by Mint. The catchment area lies in the inaccessible high mountain region of the Himalayas and a major part of it is located outside the Indian territory in Tibet. About 65% of the catchment area of Stage-I lies in Tibet.The total catchment area up to the proposed barrage site of Tawang Stage-I is 2,937sq. km and of Tawang Stage-II is 3,419sq. km, according to the information.

The forest advisory committee of the ministry of environment, forest, and climate change had earlier deferred clearance to the 600MW Tawang hydroelectric project, saying that the location is a vital wintering ground for the black-necked crane, an endangered species, and other birds. The area is also home to barking deer, sambar, wild yak, serow, goral, wild boar, red panda, clouded leopard, snow leopard and musk deer. Environmentalists have repeatedly said efforts to raise the bogey of “national security” could result in irreversible environmental damage.

“India needs to take informed and democratic decisions about whatever it plans to build on rivers in Arunachal Pradesh. There is a need for thorough social, environment, and cumulative impact assessment of projects that we want to build,” said Himanshu Thakkar, co-ordinator, South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People. “People’s movement in the state is so strong that any project that takes a toll on the environment would be opposed. The whole narrative that China is funding NGOs to oppose these projects is absurd,” said Thakkar.

Queries emailed on 2 September to the spokespersons of India’s ministries of power, external affairs, the Chinese embassy in New Delhi and NHPC till press time were not answered. In response to Mint’s queries, Arunachal Pradesh chief secretary, Naresh Kumar, in a message, said: “I have no information.” A Union home ministry spokesperson declined comment.

Courtesy: The Live Mint