Taking rivers away from people

Monday Musing

[ M Doley ]

The NHPC Ltd has finally won a decade-long legal battle over the construction of its ambitious 2000 mw Subansiri lower hydroelectric project (SLHP) in Gerukamukh.
The National Green Tribunal (NGT) recently dismissed the petition filed by organisations in Assam objecting to the composition of the expert panel, clearing the deck for restarting the construction of the dam.
The work on the dam had come to a halt in 2011, following massive protests from Assam-based organisations. The union environment & forest ministry had constituted a three-member panel of experts to reevaluate the project, as demanded by the protesting organizations, as they feared that the dam, set up in a highly seismically active zone [V], would create catastrophe in the event of an earthquake. Beside this, the sudden release of dam water would pose a serious threat to life and properties of the downstream habitations.
However, the NHPC, armed with the expert committee’s recommendation and the NGT’s consensus, is all set to resume dam work after this monsoon.
An NHPC official of the project in the rank of general manager claimed that the dam construction was started only after getting clearance from the statutory bodies, and that the NHPC does not start construction of any dam without getting the necessary clearance from the highest authority concerned. The official also stated that the NHPC generally does not entertain any dam impact assessment reports by any expert[s] or group(s) after it gets a clearance from the statutory bodies.
In the meantime, the Assam-based organizations have launched a series of agitational programmes post the NGT concurrence.
As part of its series of movements, the influential Asom Jatiyatabadi Yuva Chatra Parishad (AJYCP) has launched a 100-hour road block in Assam from 10 August to stop the transportation of materials for the dam. It said it would form a human chain in the last week of August in Gogamukh, near Gerukamukh, which lakhs of project affected people are expected to join.
The organizations in Assam are refusing to admit that they are fighting a lost battle, asserting that they would use all options and “fight till the last drop of their blood.”
Frustrated with the recent development, a leader of the AJYCP is even seeking divine intervention to stop the construction of the dam.
“I wish an earthquake would occur immediately and demolish the dam before its completion,” the secretary of the AJYCP’s Dhemaji district unit, Bishnu Sharma, said.
He also accused BJP stalwart Rajnath Singh of making a complete U-turn on what he had said during an election campaign in Gogamukh in Dhemaji district in 2014.
“He had assured us to scrap the SLHP if his party [BJP] was voted to power,” the student leader recalled during a telephonic conversation.
The demand of another influential community-based organization of Assam, the Takam Mising Porin Kebang (TMPK), is to ensure the protection of downstream habitations upto 100 kms against floods, whereas the NHPC’s flood protection works along both banks of the Subansiri river is upto 30 kilometres downstream.
As and when the dam is completed, the NHCP would take control of the river water, and it would impound the water in the reservoir, because of which the system of the water flow will be drastically altered. This would ultimately snatch the livelihood of lakhs of people who are dependent on riverine cultivation.
A balanced water level, and regular flooding and siltation, are vital for cultivation of crops like rice – the mainstay of the majority of people in both Assam and Arunachal.
The dam is also likely to submerge a part of the Talley Valley Sanctuary, in Lower Subansiri district, which boasts of several endangered wildlife species, apart from destroying the habitats of aquatic animals.
It is needless to say that the cultures and traditions – from birth to death – of the people worldwide are closely tied with the rivers. But the rivers are being taken away from the people by the hydropower developers. For them, people do not matter.
When completed, the project, along with the Dibang multipurpose project, will definitely create chaos, if not a doomsday scenario.