Monks-led SMRF says no to govt’s renewed call for hydropower in Tawang

[ Tongam Rina ]

ITANAGAR, 22 Feb: The Save Mon Region Federation (SMRF), which is led by the monks from Tawang region, has shot down the government’s renewed plan to construct hydropower projects in the district.

In a statement to this daily, the SMRF said that it condemns the decision of the Arunachal government to revive the construction of hydropower projects in Tawang district.

“Most of these hydropower projects are proposed to be constructed in the two major river basins in Tawang – the Tawangchhu in the east and the Nyamjangchhu in the west – which will damage the geographically volatile and highly seismic region of Tawang.

Apart from endangering several holy Buddhist pilgrimage sites in the region, the hydropower projects also threaten the existence of the endangered black-necked cranes, considered a sacred embodiment of the 6th Dalai Lama”.

The 6th Dalai Lama was from Tawang.

Chief Minister Pema Khandu on two different occasions this month issued ambiguous statements, hinting at revival of the hydropower projects in the Tawang basin.

In tune with the chief minister, the ministry of DoNER had on 17 February, without specifying, tweeted that “with an aim to ensure infrastructure development in Northeast region, govt of India undertakes a massive project to transform the future of hydroelectric power in Arunachal Pradesh.”

The SMRF and others have repeatedly rejected the projects. In May 2016, two persons who were among hundreds of people who had gathered at the Tawang police station, demanding the release of arrested anti-dam activist Lobsang Gyatso, were killed by the police.

21-year-old Nyima Wangdi, a monk from the Tawang monastery, and 31-year-old Tsering Tempa from Jangda village were shot dead on the spot by the police. Several others were injured.

Soon after, the state had started an investigation into the police killings, which was never made public.

Thirteen projects amounting to 2890.10 mw are proposed in the district, including the 780 mw Nyamjang Chu project in Zemithang valley, the winter home of the threatened black-necked crane. The project is on hold after the SMRF sought the intervention of the National Green Tribunal, following fraudulent studies.

The SMRF in its latest statement reiterated its earlier allegation that the signatures of the gram sabha for the Tawang Chu Stage-II were obtained fraudulently by the NHPC.

In the gram sabhas conducted by the people, and recorded by the SMRF, the majority of the participants from 27 villages and the Tawang monastery had said no to these projects.

It further added that the “Arunachal government should learn from the disaster at Chamoli district of Uttarakhand, where the Rishiganga and Tapovan hydroelectric projects were completely destroyed by a glacier avalanche. This event highlights the harsh truth of how little the government of India and various regional Himalayan states are focusing attention on appreciating the fragility of this range,” .

 “Development cannot happen at the cost of environment… The government is willfully blind to such risks and continues to actively promote massive hydropower projects. The people of Arunachal Pradesh have been struggling for years against dams and other forms of extractive development. The SMRF flagged that these projects were a serious threat to the geographically volatile and highly seismic region of Tawang. However, during a demonstration, two people were killed and 19 others were seriously injured by the police. Notwithstanding such popular resistance to destructive development, the government of Arunachal Pradesh is trying to go ahead with the hydropower project,” the SMRF said.

It further said that mini and medium power projects with a potential capacity of 24 mw had already been constructed in Tawang by the government to meet the electricity needs of the local population, but almost all had become non-functional and failed to deliver even 2 mw of electricity, as opposed to the maximum need of only 6 mw in the whole of Tawang during peak season in winter.

The SMRF demanded that these medium hydropower projects be made functional to meet the needs of the local people.

After repeated protests and the 2016 killings by the police, a year later, in June 2017, a formal closure report was sent to the government of Arunachal, rejecting the 600 (3×200) mw Tawang Phase-I and the 800 (4×200) mw Tawang Phase-II projects.

The closure report, prepared under the chairmanship of Thegtse Rinpoche, was sent to the state government, stating that “after elaborate discussion and listening to the merits and demerits of the hydropower projects in Tawang district and resolutions by villagers of the affected villages, the committee resolves to reject and direct the closure of the NHPC projects in Tawang district immediately.”

In April 2016, the National Green Tribunal had suspended the environmental clearance given to the proposed 780 mw Nyamjang Chu hydropower project, promoted by the Bhilwara Group, which subsequently led to the state government’s cracking down on anti-dam protestors.