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 the damages 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 and offices, have been destroyed; and key roads and bridges have been washed away. Each 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 in the Siang belt, especially those located in low-lying areas, like Pasighat, Sigar, Motum, Borguli, Seram, Namsing, Mer, 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 the 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, job creation, etc. Though a few organisations are opposing dams, it should be understood that one major dam has already been constructed over the Yarlung Tsangpo or the Siang at Zangmo in Tibetan area of China, and another two dams are under construction. In any case, run-of-the-river dams would not require vast inundated areas, and landowners would be paid adequate compensation. While China is constructing multiple dams over the Yarlung Tsangpo or Siang, why should Arunachal lose out on the many benefits accrued from dams?

Preservation of limited 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 money being spent on many small flood protection schemes and 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 upper areas should empathise with 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)