FAC abdicates responsibility, dumps Etalin HEP in power ministry’s lap

[ Tongam Rina ]
ITANAGAR, May 11: The Forest Advisory Committee (FAC), the apex body under the union ministry of environment, forest & climate change (MoEFCC) for approving diversion of forest land in India, has washed of its hands off the Jindals’ 3,097 mw Etalin Hydroelectric Project (HEP) in Dibang Valley, saying the ministry’s input needs to be sought with respect to its stand regarding implementation of the project.
While FAC has not given an outright clearance, it appears that it is favourably disposed towards the project, ignoring faulty reports submitted by the Wildlife Institute of India (WII) and the FAC’s subcommittee.
The minutes of the FAC reads that “after thorough deliberation and giving due consideration to all facts and reports, FAC observed that it would be prudent that the inputs of the nodal ministry, ie, ministry of power, government of India, may be sought with respect to its stand regarding implementation of this project.”
It says it deliberated the matter in detail on several occasions, along with the recommendations of study reports on the cumulative impact assessment and carrying capacity study of the Dibang river basin and the multiple seasonal replicate studies on biodiversity assessment by the WII and the FAC’s subcommittee.
The FAC’s deliberation came even as the WII spent less than four months in the project area, though it was mandated to carry out a “multiple seasonal replicate study on biodiversity assessment of the catchment area,” as recommended by the FAC.
The WII had admitted 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.
Questionably, the FAC and the ministry itself did not 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 had said in its report.
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 FAC does not seem to have flagged any problems with either the WII’s wildlife conservation plan (WCC) or the subcommittee’s report, noting that “the multiple seasonal study by the WII was considered.”
The minute further reads that the FAC “took note of large number of representations received through email, against the commissioning and approval of the project at the proposed location. All these representations are similar or same in content. These are general in nature and no new detailed scientific, economic or sociological evidence was provided for specific analysis/deliberation.”
Presumably, the FAC did not take note of the suggestions of the 24 Indian scientists, including botanists, entomologists, ornithologists, mammalogists, herpetologists, aquatic fauna specialists, geographers and social scientists, who peer-reviewed the WCC prepared by the WII.
“There are considerable deficiencies and scientific biases in the report which have compromised the quality and the veracity of its findings and conclusions,” read the peer review as it tore apart the findings of the WII, exposing how the institute comprised with the quality of the study by ignoring several important environmental as well as social aspects.
“The FAC appreciated the submission in this proposal that it is a run-of-the river project, with potentially lesser submergence and overall area to be used for power generation project of the size of 3097 mw. Further, mitigation plan for likely loss of biodiversity in zone of influence of this project has been provided by WII after detailed study which needs to be implemented fully and in time,” the FAC note says.
Without a concrete suggestion, the FAC says that the project has been delayed by over six years and the country’s energy plan might have changed during this period.
“A large number of hydroelectricity projects are pending for environmental/forest clearance and inter se priority may be considered in view of minimizing cumulative adverse impacts of the projects to be implemented in a given period of time in a given area,” it says.
The FAC says that the area is rich in bird life, and that the state government will therefore review if trees marked for felling could be left as such, at least in the reservoir area, as dried trees could also be used as bird habitat.
“As this is a large sized project in the Himalayas, inputs of IA division of the ministry on whether environmental impact of the proposed project and mitigating measures have been considered, will be obtained,” it says.
It further says that the inputs from the wildlife division of the MoEFCC/NTCA are not available.
The FAC had virtually reviewed the project on 23 April.