WII skips multi-seasonal study on Etalin, cheats its way to compile a conservation plan; MoEFCC and FAC ignore all

Talo river. The site is a community forest land, slated to be used for muck dumping. (Chintan Sheth)

[ Tongam Rina ]
ITANAGAR, May 2: The Wildlife Institute of India (WII) spent only four months on field while compiling a multi-seasonal replicate study on the Jindals’ 3097 mw Etalin Hydro Electric Power Company Ltd (EHEPCL) in Dibang Valley in Arunachal, and it relied on earlier studies conducted in the region.
The project is being executed through a joint venture of the EHEPCL, of the Jindal Power Ltd (74 percent) and the Hydro Power Development Corporation of Arunachal Pradesh Ltd (26 percent). The latter is a state government undertaking.
The forest advisory committee (FAC) of the union ministry of environment, forests & climate change (MoEFCC) and the ministry itself did not bother to ask any questions as to how the study was compiled, even though one of its own reports states that four months’ study was carried out.
Instead, the FAC formed a subcommittee to look into the “concerns related to tree enumeration process and the aspects highlighted in biodiversity assessments study by WII.”
The wildlife study done by the WII is accepted in toto by the subcommittee, the subcommittee report says.
The subcommittee included a member of the WII who was part of the team that cheated its way to compile a questionable report on Etalin.
The details of the ground realities of the shoddy research that was conducted in the early part of 2018 are now emerging.
The WII admits that reports from earlier research were incorporated in the final report, which was eventually titled ‘Wildlife Conservation Plans for the Impact Zone of the Etalin HEP’, omitting the all-important multi-seasonal study.
The MoU signed with the EHEPCL was for “multi-seasonal replicate study,” but with heavy clauses.
Speaking to this daily, a WII scientist, who did not wish to be named, agreed that in its final report, earlier studies done in the area were incorporated, and that the period of the study was from January to June 2018.
The scientist did not respond to the question why the WII omitted “multiple-seasonal” when it submitted its final report.
“The study also used data from other long-term studies conducted in Dibang Valley district and the Mehao WLS. The field data was collected beginning in winter through summer. … the study also used data collected in other multiple years,” the scientist said.
The scientist said that the report was compiled based on its studies carried out between January and June 2018, while a witness disagrees.
A witness to the study said that the WII did not spend enough time and it did not do justice to the study.
“WII scientists came in batches for a few days, and the study was carried out between January and April 2018,” the witness said.
The study area was finalized one month before the research was wrapped up, and the research that had been done in 2014-2015 was incorporated, the witness said.
The witness said that even though the villagers requested that camera traps be set up, the team did not. When it finally did, it set the camera traps up for less than 10 days.
A Chinese pangolin – which is a rare species – was trapped in that short duration.
“The team concentrated around Etalin, and the study was carried out near the road,” the witness said, adding that the study was “dictated by the user agencies.”
The FAC in its meeting held on 28 February, 2017, had suggested “multi-seasonal replicate studies on biodiversity assessment as the current environment impact assessment is completely inadequate.”
Arunachal’s forest department wrote to the WII, requesting for the study, on 23 June, 2017, stating that “all expenditure in the respect of the study shall be borne by the user agency, ie, M/s Etalin HEP Company Ltd (EHEPCL), Gurgaon.”
An MoU was subsequently signed between the WII and the EHEPCL on 22 November, 2017.
The MoU “provides broad understanding to mutually engage into the specific assignment based on the needs of the EHEPCL. Whenever solicited, WII shall render its expertise in the best possible manner as per the needs of the EHEPCL at mutually agreed commercial terms.”
A reading of the MoU gives clear indication that the WII gave away its right to conduct a proper and critical study of the project that is being built in an area known across the world for its biodiversity. Predictably, in its final report, the WII has omitted the words ‘multiple seasonal’. Instead, the final report is called ‘Wildlife Conservation Plans for the Impact Zone of the Etalin HEP’.
Even as the FAC asked for a fresh study in September 2017, the MoEFCC, questionably and in clear conflict of interest, wrote to the WII, stating that the “ministry has decided that WII to conduct the study on mutually agreed terms and conditions with the user agency and WII and the report may be submitted to the state government/user agency for further consideration.”
Ideally, the ministry should have asked for the report to be submitted to the FAC and not to the Jindals or the state government.
The FAC of the union MoEFCC had recommended setting up a subcommittee of the FAC regarding diversion of forest land for the 3097 mw project, as the FAC recommendation of February 2017 had not been complied with. The FAC had recommended that a subcommittee visit the site and check if the total land requirement could be further reduced.
The subcommittee was asked to look into the “concerns related to tree enumeration process and the aspects highlighted in biodiversity assessments study by WII.”
The environment ministry’s regional office in Shillong in its site inspection report (SIR), especially related to the tree enumeration process and the aspects highlighted in the biodiversity assessments study conducted by the WII, had raised some questions.
The SIR specifically noted that the enumeration has not reflected the ground reality because (a) huge trees have not been reflected in the enumeration list, (b) the size of the sampling plots were actually less than recorded and have been measured along the slope, and (c) the sampling intensity is too less for getting proper assessment of the composition and structure of the forests.
The FAC’s subcommittee, which carried out site visit from 10 to 15 February, has recommended the reduction of 15.58 ha from the proposed area of proposal and handing over of an area of 424.83 ha to the forest department after commissioning of the project.
Its report says that the project may be allowed, subject to the condition that the financial outlay of the wildlife conservation plan be deposited to the forest department by the user agency.
The wildlife study done by the WII, along with all the recommendations, has been accepted in toto by the subcommittee, with the condition that that the user agency funds the conservation plan. (See subcommittee report.)
The FAC virtually reviewed the project on 23 April. Details are awaited as to what decision the FAC took, but the subcommittee report was not made public for comments or recommendations.