Pushing for a hydel power project in Arunachal Pradesh, the Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF) has ignored a letter from Tourism Minister Mahesh Sharma conveying his ministry’s objection to the project.
Wary of being seen as blocking a development project, Sharma now claims he has been assured by Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar and Power Minister Piyush Goyal that the project will be modified to address concerns.
On December 22, Sharma wrote a letter to Javadekar “to kindly place on record the objection of the Tourism and Culture Ministry to this 1750 MW Demwe Lower Hydroelectric Project” and convey it to the National Green Tribunal (NGT) hearing a case filed by “local stake holders against the project”.
Being executed jointly by Athena Energy Ventures and the Arunachal Pradesh government, the project was granted environment clearance in 2010.
In 2012, then environment minister Jayanthi Natarajan granted wildlife clearance by overruling all seven independent members of the National Board for Wildlife who opposed the move citing potential downstream impact on the Dibru-Saikhowa National Park in Assam. Forest clearance followed in 2013.
But in a two-page letter last month, Sharma argued that “if this project is allowed to be constructed, it will generate 23 lakh truckload of debris which will not only destroy the holy site of Parashuram Kund but also the beautiful ambience of the site, which will be converted into a dump yard”.
He said Rs 462.68 lakh had already been spent to build a tourism complex at Parashuram Kund and the construction of the dam “will be disastrous for Parashuram Kund, which is important from both cultural as well as tourism angle”.
But the MoEF did not mention the tourism ministry’s stand while arguing in favour of the project before the NGT on January 7 and January 12.
When The Indian Express sought his comment, Sharma said he had received assurances from both Javadekar and Goyal. “There is no fight and the issue has been resolved. We discussed it and they told me that certain minor adjustment could be made to ensure no damage is caused to the Kund site,” he said.
But the MoEF’s latest submission before the NGT does not reflect any modification in the project plan. Ministry officials maintained that mitigation measures to safeguard Parashuram Kund had been prescribed at the time of environmental clearance.
Javadekar said: “I have not given any assurance to modify the project.” He said he would look into the issue of placing the tourism ministry’s stand before the NGT.
On January 13, the NGT dismissed an appeal against environmental clearance to the project. In a two-line order, the tribunal said “reasons will follow”.
Forest clearance to the project is also under challenge and there is currently a stay on the project. The case will be heard again in February.