Environment Ministry’s forest advisory committee (FAC) is yet to clear the controversial 3097 MW Etalin Hydropower Project in one of the most biodiverse Himalayan zones in Arunachal Pradesh’s Dibang Valley.
Etalin Hydro Electric Power Company Limited is a joint venture of Hydropower Development Corporation of Arunachal Pradesh Limited with Jindal Power Limited. The project will involve an alteration of 1150.08 ha of forest land and felling of 2.7 lakh trees in subtropical, evergreen and broad-leaved rainforests.
A factsheet considered during the FAC’s Committee meeting in 2017 states, “The land in which the project is proposed is in pristine forests with riverine growth that once cut cannot be replaced”.
The intended project location falls at the terminal of the Palearctic, Indo-Chinese, and Indo-Malayan biogeographic regions with dense forests and rich flora and fauna. It is also a vital tiger area.
National Herald said in its reports, “Scientists opposing the project have brought attention to the absence of an assessment on the cumulative ecological impact of the multiple large hydropower projects that have been planned on Dibang river. The proposed 3097 MW Etalin Project and the approved 2880 MW Dibang Multipurpose Project has been planned on the same limb of the river and will together result in the destruction of a major chunk of Dibang Valley’.
However, reportedly to make up for the loss the project has proposed to have compensatory plantations raised in about 25 different pieces of land in the valley itself, in the Anini town. But, the locals (Idu Mishmi community) and environmentalists, are concerned that the compensation plan will not be enough as it will not create equal ecological value in fragmented pieces of land since it will be an artificial plantation.
A Wildlife Institute of India (WII) study has documented 413 plants, 159 butterflies, 113 spiders, 14 amphibian, 31 reptile, 230 bird, and 21 mammalian species within the project area.
There was a scheduled meeting of FAC to further discuss the clearance of the project on April 23. The minutes of the FAC meeting were to be made public in the followed next week. But, senior environment ministry officials said the FAC hasn’t decided on whether to reject or allow the project yet.
The conservation scientists who have spent years working in Arunachal Pradesh have written to the FAC, highlighting the unique biodiversity of the region, much of which is endemic to the Valley and yet to be studied in detail. The open letter, penned by four scientists; Drs. Nandini Velho, Umesh Srinivasan, Aparajita Datta, and Anindya Sinha, a day after the FAC meeting, requested the Committee to assess the cumulative environmental impacts of the project before clearing it.
According to FAC’s factsheet the total cost of the project is about Rs 25,296.95 crore and the FAC has considered the project four times since 2015.
(Picture credit- Reedit, Anurachal Pradesh Tourism)