Gibbons on power tightrope- Arunachal okays transmission line through crucial habitat
A proposed high tension transmission line is posing a threat to the habitat of the eastern hoolock gibbon, a “vulnerable” species according to the IUCN Red List, in Arunachal Pradesh, with environment activists asking the government to keep the animals in mind while clearing development projects.
Arunachal Pradesh power minister Tanga Byaling, however, told The Telegraph: “They won’t be affected if the line passes through.”
The project in question is a Power Grid Corporation transmission line that will cut through the habitat of the primarily arboreal (tree-dwelling) species found in Arunachal Pradesh’s Lohit, Dibang Valley and Changlang districts and Sadiya sub-division of Assam’s Tinsukia district.
The corporation has sought approval for diversion of 108.937 hectares in favour of Power Grid Corporation of India Limited for laying a single circuit 132KV transmission line from Roing to Tezu in Lower Dibang Valley and Lohit districts of Arunachal Pradesh.
The proposal envisages establishment of a power transmission network system associated with the gas-based power projects, being implemented by the ONGC and Tripura Power Company Limited for uninterrupted distribution of power among the constituent states of the Northeast. The proposed line will pass through three reserve forests.
The forest advisory committee under the ministry of environment and forests is scheduled to discuss the project in New Delhi tomorrow.
The estimated population of the eastern hoolock gibbon in the forest stretch between Roing and Tezu is around 1,000 — around 30 per cent of the state’s total population of 3,500.
Two species of hoolock gibbons, the western hoolock gibbon (Hoolock hoolock) and the eastern hoolock gibbon (Hoolock leuconedyes) are found in the Northeast. With long and slender arms, gibbons are swift — they can swing from tree to tree at speeds up to 55km per hour, covering up to 6 metres in just one swing.
Of the two, the western hoolock is listed as endangered in the IUCN Red List, while the eastern hoolock is listed as vulnerable.
Dilip Chetry, programme head, primate research and conservation initiative of Aaranyak — a biodiversity conservation society of the Northeast — said, “There are scientific papers stating that the said area is a habitat of the eastern hoolock gibbon. Any development project in that area should be taken up keeping the hoolock gibbon in mind.”
Sources said habitat fragmentation and hunting were the major threats to gibbons in the country and added to this situation was the lack of basic information and poor conservation awareness about the species among different sections of people, including the frontline forest department staff.
“The project, if it gets cleared, will fragment the habitat of eastern hoolock gibbon, which will be dangerous,” said a senior official of the Wildlife Trust of India, which is working on gibbon conservation at Dello, 20km from Roing.
According to sources, the state government has forwarded the proposal without any specific recommendations, stating that the assessment officer had not given any adverse comment on the matter. It said the project would not affect any stream, sea, waterbody or forest eco-system and the bio-diversity of the area.
The government said no unique eco-system was reported to exist on the land being diverted in both Lohit and Namsai forest divisions.
Interestingly, even the state forest department stated in its site inspection report that the area proposed for the transmission line was not significantly important from a wildlife point of view.
Justifying the proposal, the state government said the transmission line would serve as a stable and reliable source of power for the remote districts of Arunachal Pradesh, which have a sizable population. These areas are currently facing power scarcity, which is coming in the way of development and progress.