Monsoon menace: Time to dam the Siang?

Flights Of Fantasy

[ M Panging Pao ]

Every year, the rampaging Siang river devastates large areas of prime, fertile land in many areas of East Siang, Siang and Upper Siang districts of Arunachal Pradesh. Though damages are caused every year, the scale of damage has increased over the last few years. It is estimated that over 10,000 hectares of agricultural fields, plantations, forests and community burial grounds have been washed away by the rampaging river. Many villagers have shifted houses to better locations; many buildings, including schools, have been destroyed, and key roads/bridges have been washed away. Every year, the government spends hundreds of crores of rupees for flood protection projects, rebuilding damaged roads/buildings, disaster relief, etc.

The rampaging Siang river is damaging many towns and villages of the Siang belt, especially those located in lower areas like Pasighat, Sigar, Motum, Borguli, Seram, Namsing, Berung, Boleng, etc. Thousands of villagers are petrified and living unsettled lives due to perennial erosion threatening their villages and livelihoods. Development work and investments are delayed or not happening due to threat of erosion.

Arunachal comprises 90 percent mountains intersected by valleys. Irrigation is difficult in mountainous areas. The very few plain areas are the most fertile areas of Arunachal and crop production is highest in these areas. These important plain lands need to be protected and preserved.

However, these fertile plains are being eroded and damaged by the rampaging rivers. Since these limited fertile plain lands are the agricultural bowls, these lands need to be protected.

One of the solutions to this perennial problem of rampaging erosion of land by the Siang river could be dams! Dams over the Siang will have multiple benefits. Dams would resolve the perennial problems of massive soil erosion and save hundreds of hectares of land, including plantations, forests, agricultural lands, community burial grounds and villages. Dams constructed would have multiple benefits like flood control, irrigation projects, power generation, etc. Though a few organizations are opposing dams, it should be understood that one major dam is already constructed over the Yarlung Tsangpo or Siang in Zangmo in the Tibetan area of China and another two are under construction. In any case, run of the river dams would not require vast inundated areas. While China is constructing multiple dams over the Siang, why should Arunachal lose out on the many benefits accrued from dams?

Preservation of fertile plain lands would lead to increased agricultural production, boost earnings of farmers and improve the economy of the state. Dams would also save large sums of the money being spent in many small flood protection schemes/projects in the downstream plain areas. In addition, the state would gain revenue by selling surplus electricity to the national grid and generate employment for the locals. The citizens living in the Siang belt should empathize with the people living in downstream plain lands who are suffering year after year. Do you think it is time to dam the Siang?  (The contributor is retired Group Captain, Indian Air Force)