Arunachal Pradesh Poised To Restart Dam Building Spree After COVID-19 Lockdown Is Lifted

by GoNews Desk 3 years ago Views 3015

Arunachal Pradesh Poised To Restart Dam Building S
Rishika Pardikar/

In the north-eastern corner of India, the Himalayan state of Arunachal Pradesh was all set to resume its hydropower project building spree when the Covid-19 pandemic arrived and the country went into lockdown. With Chief Minister Pema Khandu issuing a warning to anyone opposing any dam building, work may well start as soon as the lockdown is lifted and construction resumed.

Khandu said on February 11 that the state has the capacity to produce over 70,000 MW of hydropower “if all resources are developed properly.” In the same speech, the Chief Minister – who is from the same Bharatiya Janata Party that is in power at the centre – described any opposition to development projects as “anti-national”, and warned that he had already instructed the intelligence bureau to act against any official found “misguiding” people.

On the same day, Deputy Chief Minister Chowna Mein held a meeting with hydropower developers and members of the state government’s hydropower department “to understand the issues hampering implementation of allotted projects.” He noted that the state is committed to provide assistance to hydropower investors and directed the commissioners working on hydropower to provide necessary cooperation.

Another indication that dam building will soon restart in earnest was India’s central Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC) giving the 2,880 MW Dibang hydro project Stage II approval for forest clearance despite strong opposition by locals. With this approval, the state government can issue an order to change the classification of designated forest land and divert it for the project. Khandu said in his February 11 speech that he had persuaded locals to withdraw their opposition.

There are two hydropower projects under construction in Arunachal Pradesh now, the 600 MW Kameng project on the Bichom and Tenga rivers, and the 2,000 MW Subansiri Lower Hydroelectricity Project. All three rivers are tributaries of the Brahmaputra.

According to details collated from the MoEFCC website, currently 169 hydropower projects are proposed to be built in Arunachal Pradesh. The number excludes 20 projects that are proposed to be dropped.

The projects are located across the basins of rivers like Tawang, Kameng, Subansiri, Siang, Dibang, Lohit and others, all in the basin of the transboundary Brahmaputra river.

As of December 2019, the state had hydropower plants totalling 515 MW capacity in operation, according to a hydro-development report by the Central Electricity Authority (CEA). Since then at least 300 MW have been added, 2,600 MW are under construction and 18,578 MW more have been cleared by the CEA and are pending construction.

The MoEFCC and CEA lists do not match because “MoEFCC lists only those projects that have applied for environmental clearance (EC),” said Shripad Dharmadhikary, founder of Manthan Adhyayan Kendra, a research centre that analyses water and energy issues in India. CEA lists projects which are in the various stages of investigation or concurrence by the CEA.

For example, in the CEA list, Arunachal Pradesh has 21 projects in Survey and Investigation (S&I) phase. These will go to the MoEFCC only when the S&I phase is completed. The CEA list also has 43 projects in the category “yet to be allowed by the state for development.” These are projects that are expected to be taken up by the state government and allotted to developers. The developers will then apply for EC – that is the stage when these projects will get on to the MoEFCC list.

“So the CEA list is more comprehensive; the MoEFCC list is its sub-set,” Dharmadhikary explained.

Concerns – economic, ecological and seismic

While the state government has decided to go ahead with hydropower development, the worries will not go away. Speaking about the purpose of hydropower, B.P. Duarah of the Department of Geology, Gauhati University told, “Almost all hydropower stations are peaking stations, meaning they produce the additional electricity that is required during peak hours and thermal power stations are base stations that produce power continuously.”

In the present power scenario in India, hydropower stations can make a profit only if they sell power during the peak hours between 6 pm and 10 pm. So most hydropower station managers keep their tunnel inlets closed for 20 hours every day. This means that for 20 hours a day, there is hardly any water flowing downstream, while it all comes in a rush during the other four hours. Very few aquatic animals or plants can survive this huge change in water flow.

There is also the fundamental question on whether hydropower projects can make a profit if they can sell power profitably only for four hours a day. Worries about this – as well as about the difficult terrain and local opposition – has led to many private firms withdrawing from hydropower development in Arunachal Pradesh over the past few years.

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