The National Green Tribunal (NGT) has dismissed the case it took up suo motu on the grant of forest clearance for the 3000-MW Dibang hydel project without meeting the precondition of declaring a national park.
The Tribunal did so after it was informed by Arunachal Pradesh that “the local people… are not willing to part away their land for declaration of National Park”.
In February this year, the NGT took “suo motu notice” of a report in The Indian Express on six mega projects that did not comply with stringent clearance conditions imposed to compensate for their high environmental impact.
After rejecting it twice in July 2013 and April 2014, the Environment Ministry’s Forest Advisory Committee (FAC) recommended the Dibang hydel project for preliminary approval in September 2014 with the precondition that a national park would be declared immediately to protect the river basin.
Despite non-compliance, final forest clearance was issued in 2020. Responding to the NGT notice, the Arunachal Pradesh government, in an affidavit on August 22, said “the local people in the Unclassed Forest/Community Forests enjoying customary rights since time immemorial are not willing to part away their land for declaration of National Park” and the “development has been communicated to the Ministry of Environment” on August 17.
Taking note of this submission and a compliance report of other FAC conditions, the NGT on September 22 ruled that “nothing further remains for adjudication” and dismissed its own case.
Conservation biologist Firoz Ahmed, who was an expert member of the FAC that imposed the condition in 2014, said, “Why did it take the state seven years to say that the condition was unimplementable? Clearance for Dibang was conditional on giving protection to the river basin as a national park. If that was not feasible, the matter should have been sent back to the FAC.”
Environmentalist Ashish Kothari, who served in several expert panels of the Ministry, said the state government’s stand “puts a big question mark on the project which was anyway rejected twice for the damage it will cause to forests and communities” in Dibang.
“The condition for a national park was put to justify its eventual clearance, without taking into consideration local people’s rights. Now if that condition can’t be met, the project’s clearance process must start again or the project be abandoned,” Kothari said.
Conservationist Valmik Thapar, Kothari’s colleague in multiple expert panels, said the rules governing project clearance need to be rewritten. “The process of conditional clearance needs to be terminated. It has been much abused. Very few project proponents comply with conditions. Projects must be assessed on merit, and once rejected, should not be reconsidered. Until these changes are made, we will not be able to reach any standard of excellence in safeguarding our environment,” Thapar said.