Split views on Demwe
A two-member committee, studying the impact of the 1,750MW Demwe lower hydroelectric project located close to Parashuram Kund, a heritage site in Arunachal Pradesh, has giving divergent views, making it difficult for the Centre to come to a decision.
In 2010, former environment minister Jairam Ramesh had written to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, opposing granting of forest clearance to the project, as it would have a serious downstream impact till Dibrugarh in Assam. The project has already got environment clearance.
In October last year, the National Board for Wild Life (NBWL) constituted a two-member team, comprising Asad Rahmani, director of Bombay Natural History Society, and Pratap Singh, chief conservator of forests (wildlife), Arunachal Pradesh, to assess the project’s possible impact downstream and on wildlife in the project area.
The committee submitted its report on December 12 and it was discussed on December 13. The minutes of the meeting were made public today.
Rahmani’s report states that the proposed dam would have an adverse impact on two important wildlife habitats: the chapories of Lohit river and the Dibru-Saikhowa National Park. Both are designated important bird areas and support the populations of some critically endangered bird species, including the Bengal florican, which is a Schedule I species under the Wildlife Protection Act with a surviving population of less than 500.
Rahmani’s report has found support among many in the board.
Environmentalist Prerna Bindra, a member of the board, pointed out that 147 hydropower projects were coming up in Arunachal Pradesh, nine of which would be built in the Lohit basin and seven on the river itself. A cumulative impact assessment study is, therefore, imperative. She said the project’s reservoir would be just 50 metres from Kamlang sanctuary. “The mandate of the wildlife board was to consider the impact on wildlife and wildlife habitats, and from that point of view, this project cannot be allowed, as the impacts are very grave,” she said.
Altogether 43,000 trees will be felled for the project, whose submergence area would be 1,131.09 hectares, including 969.44 hectares of forestland. The height of the dam would be 124.8 metres above the riverbed.
Rajib Rudra Tariang, assistant professor of department of zoology, Digboi College, said the dam height needed to be lowered to minimise the impact on wildlife. “The consequences are too large to be ignored,” he told this correspondent.
Kishore Rithe of Amrawati-based Satpuda Foundation said one should study the downstream impact of the Subansiri project, which was still under way, from all angles before taking a view on the Demwe project.
Minister Jayanthi Natarajan pointed out in the meeting that the project was important in terms of water resource and should be considered in the larger national interest with due environmental safeguards.
The Arunachal Pradesh forest department has sought clearance for the project, saying people in the state were getting increasingly frustrated at the delay in clearance of development projects on the grounds of environment, forest and wildlife clearance.