Arunachal: NHPC refutes reports of forest encroachment in Dibang

Itanagar: The NHPC on Saturday sent out a press statement listing the amount of money it has deposited in the state coffers a day after it was reported that the Dibang Multipurpose Project was given the forest clearance despite alleged non-compliance to norms.

The Indian Express had reported that the project had been rejected twice in July 2013 and April 2014 but that the Environment Ministry’s Forest Advisory Committee (FAC) recommended the project for preliminary approval in September 2014. Also Read: Arunachal forest dept plans DNA profiling of captive elephants

“One of the conditions for the green signal required the state to secure the ecological diversity of the Dibang river basin by declaring the right bank of the proposed reservoir as a national park.

“However, in October 2019, when the Environment Ministry sought an update on this condition, the state’s response in January 2020, records show, remained silent on that specific query.

“And yet, the Environment Ministry granted the final forest clearance to Dibang in March 2020,” the report said.

As a damage control measure, the NHPC sent out a press statement, batting its claims that it is “dedicated in contributing towards achieving the renewable energy goals set by Government of India”.

“Hydropower projects not only contribute towards India’s energy security, but also ensure environment sustainability. In its journey of adding 22 hydropower plants with aggregate capacity of 6971 MW, NHPC has been a responsible corporate citizen and environmentally sensitive in all aspects of hydropower development & operation. Spearheading this effort is the upcoming 2880 MW Dibang Multipurpose Project in the state of Arunachal Pradesh,” the statement said.

Pushing back on the media report, it said that the forest clearance was “accorded after the requisite due diligence and fulfilling all the statutory requirements”.

It also said that the project “does not encroach upon any national park in the region”.

The NHPC said that the in-principle approval of Forest Clearance (FC-I) was granted by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) on April 2015 under the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980, and that “none of the banks of proposed reservoir have been stipulated to be a national park”.

“Prior to FC-I, the FAC considered the project for an additional study to correlate power generation versus requirement of forestland. In this study, the optimal condition was observed that when the height of the dam gets reduced by ten metres, there is reduction in about 500 hectares of forest land and 120 MW of power generation. Hence, the dam height of the project was reduced by ten metres (from 288 metres to 278 metres) and the installed capacity from 3000 MW to 2880 MW to optimize forest land requirement from 5056.5 ha to 4577.84 ha,” the statement said.

The state-owned power developer said that the final approval of Forest Clearance (FC-II) was issued on 12 March 2020 after submission of compliance report by the state government as stipulated in FC-I.

“It is important to mention that the Mehao Wildlife Sanctuary and Dibang Wildlife Sanctuary are located about 14 kms and 35 kms away from the reservoir periphery of the project respectively. Hence, no part of these sanctuaries will be affected either due to construction activities or due to submergence,” it claimed.

The NHPC has deposited Rs 628.68 cores in the State Compensatory Afforestation Fund Management and Planning Authority (CAMPA) account in September 2019, towards Net Present Value (Rs 380.08 crore), Compensatory Afforestation (Rs 213.44 crore), Catchment Area Treatment Plan (Rs 23.95 crore) and Wildlife Management Plan (Rs 11.21 crore) and an additional sum of Rs 211.5 Lakh towards Zonal Wildlife Conservation Plan (Rs 152.19 lakh) and Alternate habitat/home for Avi-fauna (Rs 59.31 lakh) in December 2019.

The Indian Express report had also made similar allegations in the Subansiri Lower Hydroelectric Project.

The report said that the National Board for Wildlife (NBWL) had laid down a condition that the reserved forest in the catchment and submergence area should be protected by declaring them as national park or sanctuary. This was also reiterated by the Supreme Court in 2004.

The Central Water Commission reports estimated that area to be at over 900 sq km.

The Union environment ministry in 2007 quantified the area as “not less than 500 sq km”. However, in 2008, the state said that it could notify only 168 sq km as a sanctuary citing local opposition.

The ministry had agreed and asked the state to bring the remaining 332 sq km of reserved forests under the category of conservation reserve, to act as a buffer zone.

The Supreme Court also accepted the modification in 2009.

The Indian Express said that records it accessed showed that only 127 sq km in two unconnected patches have been notified as sanctuaries in the Subansiri basin: 49 sq km of Ringba-Roba in 2013 and 78 sq km of the Kamala reserved forest in 2015.

“The conservation reserve has not been marked at all,” it said.

Last year on December 16, the environment ministry wrote to the state asking it to “immediately furnish the compliance report of FC conditions pending since 2004”.

The NHPC, which is also the power developer for the Subansiri project, did not issue any statement on the report.

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