A dam bigger than Kurichu in Bhutan could endanger Manas, which had shed its in-danger tag only a year ago.
The World Heritage Committee has asked the Bhutan government to submit a copy of the environmental impact assessment report for the proposed Mangdechhu hydroelectric project, including the impact on the park with particular focus on measures to avoid the sudden release of excess water.
The committee has also asked for information on the potential cumulative impacts in relation to the existing Kurichu dam for review prior to making a decision on whether to approve the project.
Sources said the committee had written to the Bhutan government on May 18 asking for more information and the issue would be discussed in the 36th meeting of the committee at St Petersburg in Russia from June 24 to July 6.
“The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has received reports that two hydro-electric projects in Bhutan — the existing 60MW Kurichu and the proposed 720MW Mangdechhu — are likely to affect the forests and waterbodies of the park in a way which would reduce the ecosystems’ ability to support wildlife. Both the Kurichu and Mangdechhu rivers contribute to the flow of the Manas-Beki river system, which considerably sustains the park. It is noted that the Kurichu dam has already affected the forests and wildlife of the park, when in 2004 it released excess water that caused an unprecedented flood in the Manas-Beki river system, washing away parts of the property and killing a large number of wild animals,” the report said.
“The release of water from the Kurichu dam on several occasions in the last six years has caused floods in the wider Manas biosphere reserve, of which the park forms an integral part, which could potentially affect areas proposed for future inclusion in the park. The reports received by the IUCN suggest that no environmental impact assessment has yet been undertaken for the proposed Mangdechhu project,” it added.
The report also said the existing Kurichu dam demonstrated the potential impacts of the proposed Mangdechu dam on the park. “Considering that the proposed Mangdechhu dam is 12 times bigger than the Kurichu dam, it is likely that the impact of the proposed project would be several times more,” it said.
“There is hardly any information coming from Bhutan on the dams being built there and the impact downstream in Assam. I hope now that we could have more information after this development,” the programme head of water, climate and hazard programme of Aaranyak, Partha Das, told The Telegraph.
Although significant progress has been achieved in the implementation of the recommendations made by the committee in its 35th session (Unesco 2011), the committee said there was still delay in establishing a direct flow of funds from the Centre to the Manas tiger conservation fund.
On the draft tourism management plan of Manas, it said the report did not include clear guidelines in relation to the maximum number of tourists allowed to enter the park at any given time.