Seeking immediate winding up of all operations of National Hydroelectric Power Corporation (NHPC) in the Tawang district of Arunachal Pradesh, 27 affected villages have rejected the Tawang Chu Stage I and II hydel projects through a clutch of gram sabha resolutions.
The memorandum, submitted to Chief Minister Pema Khandu on June 5, contained resolutions signed by 80-100 per cent of villagers from each affected village, the secretary of the Tawang monastery, and local MLAs Tsering Tashi (Tawang) and Jambey Tashi (Lumla).
Under the Forest Rights Act (FRA) 2006, NHPC needs the consent of the gram sabhas concerned to go ahead with the projects.
While refusing to comment on the “legal veracity” of the memorandum, Tawang District Commissioner Sang Phuntsok said that the local administration was waiting for NHPC’s nod to conduct its own gram sabhas under the FRA.
“We held a meeting this February on the law and order situation where those opposed to the project said they would form a committee. That committee claims to have obtained these gram sabha resolutions. It is the job of the district administration to hold gram sabhas under the FRA when the project proponent is ready. We asked NHPC (about holding gram sabhas) but have not heard from them yet,” Phuntsok told The Indian Express.
The 11-member committee in question included two local MLAs, the zilla parishad chairman and representatives of the Tawang monastery and Save Mon Region Federation (SMRF), a local activist group.
“Since the government and NHPC were not conducting gram sabhas fearing outright rejection, we went from village to village and video-recorded the gram sabha resolutions against the projects. Tawang monastery, which will also lose land, made its own resolution,” said Lobsang Gyatso, general secretary, SMRF.
While the two MLAs were not present at any of these gram sabhas conducted by the 11-member committee, both said they backed the people’s demand. “This has become a law-and-order issue and has to be resolved. I support what the people want,” said Jambey Tashi, People’s Party of Arunachal (PPA) MLA from Lumla.
“This protest is going on for years. Since I have become an MLA, many have come to me to stop these projects. The sentiment of the people has to be respected. If there are doubts about the gram sabha issue, you have to ask NHPC (the delay),” said Tsering Tashi, Independent MLA from Tawang.
Blaming the delay in holding gram sabhas on “technical reasons”, NHPC said it had the support of more than 80 per cent of the villagers.
“For Tawang Phase II, we already have the consent of seven affected villages while six gram sabhas are pending. For Phase I, we conducted three gram sabhas and 16 are pending. The chief minister will soon conduct a meeting and give directions. We hope to conduct the pending gram sabhas soon after,” said Gobind Baidya, executive director in-charge of Tawang, NHPC.
Both 3×200 MW Tawang Phase I and 4×200 MW Phase II have received environmental clearance. While Tawang Phase II has also got conditional forest clearance, it now requires the consent of the affected villagers under the FRA to meet a key condition of that forest clearance.
NHPC has already signed Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) with four states to deliver electricity generated from these two projects.
Since 2011, both projects have faced stiff resistance from the monks of Tawang monastery and local villagers.
Last May, two people, including a Buddhist monk, were killed and 10 injured in police firing at an anti-dam gathering in Tawang.