The Environment Ministry’s Forest Advisory Committee (FAC) has sought a report within three weeks about the compliance status on conditions stipulated for forest clearances granted in the past for hydroelectric projects in Arunachal Pradesh.
This comes after the National Green Tribunal (NGT) took “suo motu notice” of an investigative report by The Indian Express on how two key hydel power projects in Arunachal were among six mega initiatives in the country, between 2004 and 2020, where stringent conditions to compensate for the high environmental impact were sidestepped, ignored or met only on paper.
The NGT had sought replies from the Environment Ministry, the Arunachal government and NHPC on compliance of conditions for forest clearance granted to the 3,000-MW Dibang hydroelectric project in the Dibang Valley district. On Thursday, the Tribunal asked the Ministry to remove the defects in its affidavit before the next hearing on July 14.
On February 4, The Indian Express reported that after being rejected twice, the Dibang project got preliminary forest clearance in 2015 with the precondition that a national park would be declared to protect the river basin. Despite no compliance, the final forest clearance was issued in 2020.
The Indian Express also reported that the 2,000-MW Lower Subansiri hydel project was granted forest clearance in 2004 on the condition that over 900 sq km in the catchment and submergence areas would be declared as a sanctuary. The requirement was later cut to 168 sq km of sanctuary space and 332 sq km of conservation reserve — after 17 years, the state has notified only 127 sq km.
In a meeting held on May 11, the FAC recommended setting up a committee for monitoring the compliance status of conditions for past clearances to all hydel projects in Arunachal. The aim, it said, was to address various concerns “in a holistic manner” before it could take a call on diverting 1165.66 hectare forest land for the 3,097-MW Etalin hydroelectric project in the Dibang Valley district.
The proposed committee would be chaired by the head of the Ministry’s regional office in Guwahati with the nodal officer from the Arunachal government, designated under the Forest Conservation Act, as a member.
Incidentally, Arunachal’s designated nodal officer also serves as Principal Secretary (Forest) and Principal Chief Conservator of Forest (PCCF) in the state. Records show that his office has in the past been unresponsive to several reminders from the Ministry to furnish the compliance status on conditions for clearances to the Dibang and Subansiri projects.
In its meeting, the FAC also sought the setting up of another committee to examine representations received on the Etalin project and report within three weeks.
The Etalin project, proposed to be executed by a joint venture company of Jindal Power Ltd and Hydro Power Development Corporation of Arunachal, is envisaged as India’s largest such hydel power initiative. For over a decade, several representations questioned the project’s economic and ecological viability.
The Ken-Betwa River Link in Madhya Pradesh, the Mopa international airport in Goa, the Kulda coal mine in Odisha and Tamnar Thermal Plant in Chhattisgarh were the other projects that were featured in The Indian Express report.