Forest panel to take call on controversial project in Arunachal 


The Union environment ministry’s Forest Advisory Committee (FAC) held a meeting on Wednesday to consider a proposal for diversion of 1,165.66 hectares of forest land in Arunachal Pradesh’s Dibang Valley for the construction of the 3097-MW Etalin Hydroelectric Project, said officials familiar with the matter.

The Etalin Hydro Electric Power Company Limited is a joint venture of Hydro Power Development Corporation of Arunachal Pradesh Limited and Jindal Power Limited (JPL) and the project was to be developed the cost of about ₹25,296.95 crore.

The project will involve felling of over 2.8 lakh trees in dense subtropical, evergreen, broad-leaved forest and subtropical rain forest according to a factsheet submitted to the FAC on April 21, 2020.

The FAC has heard the proposal four times so far — on January 28, 2015, February 28, 2017, October 17, 2019 and April 23, 2020. Following widespread criticism by scientists and environmentalists, the committee had deferred its decision on the project, but heard the proposal again on Wednesday.

On Tuesday, scientists from 16 research institutes wrote to the FAC stating that a fresh assessment of the region’s biodiversity must be conducted before the project is given approval.

“We find it pertinent to remind the committee of the need to conduct fresh, unbiased scientific studies to fully understand the impact of the country’s largest proposed hydro-project on this region’s fragile ecology and people. We believe that such decisions of national importance should not be based on faulty and erroneous science,” the letter, signed by 29 researchers and scientists from Bombay Natural History Society, Nature Conservation Foundation, Salim Ali Centre for Ornithology and Natural History, among others, read.

On May 5, 2020, the same group of scientists had released a peer-review of Wildlife Institute of India’s (WII) report on the project which concluded that it was “biased” in its findings. The review stated that WII hadn’t revealed crucial information about the area, particularly the presence of tigers and the impact of the project on ecology and local residents.

In 2019, the WII produced a technical report that was funded by the Etalin Hydroelectric Power Company at a budget of ₹1.73 crore.

While WII was asked to do a multiple season study, the institute had only conducted field observations between February and June 2018.

Based on a camera trap exercise, the WII concluded that there are no tigers in the project area but recommended continuous monitoring of key mammalian fauna including tigers in a 10-km radius of the proposed project area.

In their letter on Tuesday, the scientists wrote, “Importantly, in the past year, new evidence has emerged of multiple tigers inhabiting forests close to villages in Talõ Valley, one of the two limbs of the river Dibang where the project infrastructure will be located and where the WII had asserted there was no evidence of tigers in their Conservation Plan.”

However, even as FAC considers the project for forest clearance, the developers of the hydroelectric project are likely to change.

PSU, Satluj Jal Vidyut Nigam Limited is in the process of signing a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Arunachal Pradesh government to take over five hydropower projects in the Dibang basin including the Etalin project.



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