MoEFCC reminds Arunachal that bulk of Subansiri compensatory afforestation awaited even after 17 years

[ Tongam Rina ]

PASIGHAT, 14 Feb: As of 16 December, 2021, the Arunachal Pradesh government had not started the bulk of compensatory afforestation (CA) against the NHPC’s 2,000 mw Subansiri Lower Hydroelectric Project (SLHEP), even after 17 years.

For the construction of the hydroelectric project, there will be diversion of 3,999.30 hectares of forest land, with 3,180 hectares in Arunachal and the rest in Assam.

In a letter addressed to the state’s forests principal secretary, the ministry of environment, forests & climate change (MoEFCC) stated: “Despite the fact that the proposal was accorded in the year as early as 2004, ie, 17 years back, compensatory afforestation is yet to be done. It appears that the state government is not making serious efforts in carrying out compensatory afforestation in lieu of the diversion.”

The state government was asked to examine the identified CA land through ‘ground truthing’ and change the CA sites to actual degraded forest areas wherever necessary and submit the report to the ministry for further action. However, the report on the revised CA patches along with the shape/KML file has not yet been received, the ministry wrote.

While CA is yet to be started, the SLHEP deposited Rs 4.26 crores on 30 July, 2021 as advance to the state’s forest department against an estimated amount of Rs 8.51 crores submitted for clear felling of trees falling in the submergence areas under the Banderdewa forest division. “The clear felling of trees started from October last year,” the NHPC said.

The ministry has further sought the compliance report on the condition of forest clearance as it has not been provided by the state government, and has asked for “Compliance report on the conditions stipulated in FC approval dated 12.10.2004.”

Compensatory afforestation is supposed to start soon after the grant of forest clearance, so that the compensatory forests attain sufficient growth by the time the trees in the reservoir area are felled before commissioning of the project.

The MoEFCC has also asked that the “state government may provide the project-wise and year-wise details of funds received by the government of Arunachal Pradesh from the national authority/ad-hoc CAMPA under NPV/CA/CAT Plan, etc, so far and status of carrying out approved activities including CA.”

The ministry has sought “convincing justification for the delay in carrying out CA and the status of the project implemented till date on the forestland.”

Mired in controversy, the project, which was started in 2005, is supposed to be completed by August 2022. Construction was stopped from December 2011 to October 2019 because of opposition to the project and legal issues.

Meanwhile, response from the NHPC and the forest department regarding the delay in compensatory afforestation is awaited.