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Etalin hydroelectric project in the Dibang valley, AP, India


Description:

Dibang valley is the largest district in the north east Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh. With a population of 8,004 (according to the 2011 census data), it is the least populated district, with the major inhabitants being the indigenous community of Idu Mishmi. The valley is named after the Dibang river, which is a tributary of Brahmaputra. It is considered one of the most biodiversity-rich regions in the world, reported to have 430 bird species- according to a biogeography study conducted by independent researcher Shashank Dalvi, along with endangered mammal species like tigers and clouded leopards [2] [18]. 

In 2008, a 3,097 MW hydropower project was envisaged in this region, known as the Etalin hydroelectric project. It was one of the three hydropower projects that were set up as a joint venture between the Hydropower Development Corporation of Arunachal Pradesh Ltd. And Jindal Power Limited on a build, own, operate and transfer basis (the other two being 680MW Attunli project and 1600MW project at middle Subansiri) [3]. 

The project has an estimated cost of $3.3 billion and Jindal Power Limited, which has 74% stake, is seeking investors [4].

It is proposed to be developed as a combination of two run-of-the-river schemes, involving the construction of concrete gravity dams on the Talon/Talo (often misspelt in official documents are Tangon) and Dri rivers- two tributaries of the Dibang river [1]. This would involve diversion of about 1,165.66 hectares of forest land, out of which 134 hectares are very dense forest and 267 hectares are moderately dense forest and felling of at least 280,000 trees of ´subtropical evergreen broad-leaved forest and subtropical rain forests´ [5].  

In January 2017, the MoEFCC´s Expert Appraisal Committee for River, Valley, and Hydroelectric Power Projects in its meeting recommended the environmental clearance of the project, but the Forest Advisory Committee in February 2017 “had recommended conducting multiple seasonal replicate studies on biodiversity assessment by an internationally credible institute as environmental impact assessment (EIA) is completely inadequate in this regard.” [6]. The study was carried out by Wildlife Institute of India (WII) but has faced many criticisms since then [7].

Amidst the countrywide lockdown due to the corona crisis, the Forest Advisory Committee debated on granting forest clearance to the project on 23 April 2020, resulting in many scientists and experts writing to the MoEFCC to warn about the consequences that this project will have not only on the biodiversity but also the indigenous community [8] [9]. Geographer Chintan Sheth has highlighted the risk of creating a mega-dam in a seismically active zone, with the mountains upstream of the dam consisting of 300 glaciers and 350 glacial lakes and what it means in terms of climate change [10] [11]. Anoko Mega, a member of the Arunachal Pradesh State Board for Wildlife and a member of the Idu Mishmi community registered his protest to save the way of life of the indigenous community including their cultural heritage and traditional ways of conservation of the biodiversity [12]. In 2018, the Idu Mishmi Cultural and Literary Society (IMCLS) had written to the Director of National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) to suggest a new “cultural model” of conservation that takes into account “a culture so far proven to be effective in saving the tigers”[14].

However, at the same time, there is also a section of the Project Affected families which support the project in the name of development, stating that the project will allow the state to be ´economically self-reliant, independent and vibrant at parity with other developing states of northeastern region´[13]. Aito Miwu, belonging to the Idu Mishmi community says that this is because some members of the community have been offered large amounts of money as compensation [14]. 

On May 4, 2020, 26 scientists from 15 institutions released a peer review of the Wildlife Institute of India´s Etalin Wildlife Conservation Plan [15]. A few of the key points they made were [16]:

WII’s report is a Wildlife Conservation Plan with the final chapter dedicated to mitigation and conservation measures. It is not clear on what basis the FAC’s singular mandate to conduct a ‘biodiversity assessment’ was converted into a Wildlife Conservation Plan.  

Despite clear directives to conduct a multi-seasonal study, WII only spent four months in the field, and surveyed a limited number of sites using biased sampling methods. As a result, their report hugely under-assesses the biodiversity of the region.  

The Biodiversity Conservation Plan does not account for the damage to the greater landscape by the construction of over 50 km. of new roads and widening of an additional existing roads.  The true ‘Zone of Influence’ due to road construction, quarrying and debris dumping is likely to be much larger on account of the extensive slopes on either side of the steep river valley, and their very high susceptibility to landslides.  

By suggesting mitigation measures, the WII report presumes the project to be cleared and presents it as a fait accompli. This implies that the report’s finding has no bearing on the FAC’s decision on the project, ultimately making it an exercise in futility.

In the last few weeks, there have been a lot of online mobilizations- letters written to the government, peer reviews of the WII study, twitter storms etc.. A local organization Kera-aa Initiatives for Cultural and Ecological Security (KICES) wrote a letter to the FAC expressing their opposition to the project. A few days ago, a group under the banner Dibang Resistance formed and has since been campaigning quite relentlessly on social media. On May 9, 2020, they helped organise a nationwide tweet-storm demanding that Etalin hydropower project should be stopped, with the hashtags #StopEtalinSaveDibang and #SaveArunachalBiodiversity and managed to bump #StopEtalinSaveDibang to top 10 nationally [17]. They have also begun to produce material in the local Idu language. 

 On May 11, 2020, the minutes of the meeting of 23 April were made available, according to which forest clearance wasn´t given yet, but rather sought inputs from the ministry of power on the feasibility of the project as well as a detailed cost-benefit ratio analysis [19] [20].

However, it is too soon to tell whether the project will be granted forest clearance despite all the efforts, or will the mobilization be successful in preserving the biodiversity and the indigenous culture and heritage of Dibang valley. 

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Etalin hydroelectric project in the Dibang valley, AP, India
Country:India
State or province:Arunachal Pradesh
Location of conflict:Dibang valley district
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)

Source of Conflict

Type of conflict. 1st level:Water Management
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Land acquisition conflicts
Dams and water distribution conflicts
Deforestation
Specific commodities:Water
Land
Electricity

Project Details and Actors

Project details

The Hydel project is a run of the river project and consists of two dams to be built over the two tributaries of Dibang river (which is a tributary of Brahmaputra river) named Dri and Talon. The dam on Dri river near Yuron village is envisioned to be 101.5 metres high and on Talon river to be 80 metres each, with ten underground powerhouses of 307 MW each. The total power generation capacity is 3097MW.

The project has an estimated cost of $3.3 billion.

Project area:1,165.66
Level of Investment:3,300,000,000.00
Type of populationRural
Affected Population:1500-2000
Start of the conflict:28/03/2017
Company names or state enterprises:Jindal Power Limited (JPL) from India
Hydropower Development Corporation of Arunachal Pradesh Ltd from India
Relevant government actors:Government of Arunachal Pradesh, Ministry of Environment and Forest
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Kera-aa Initiatives for Cultural and Ecological Security (KICES)

Conflict & Mobilization

IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stagePREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups mobilizing:Indigenous groups or traditional communities
International ejos
Local ejos
Neighbours/citizens/communities
Social movements
Women
Local scientists/professionals
indigenous community of Idu Mishmi
Forms of mobilization:Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Media based activism/alternative media
Objections to the EIA
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Appeals/recourse to economic valuation of the environment

Impacts

Environmental ImpactsPotential: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Floods (river, coastal, mudflow), Global warming, Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Noise pollution, Soil erosion, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors
Potential: Displacement, Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment, Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place

Outcome

Project StatusPlanned (decision to go ahead eg EIA undertaken, etc)
Conflict outcome / response:Compensation
Strengthening of participation
New Environmental Impact Assessment/Study
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Not Sure
Briefly explain:This is an ongoing conflict, which has a lot of mobilisation while the government (Forest Advisory Committee) is deliberating on granting the forest clearance to the project.

Sources & Materials

Related laws and legislations - Juridical texts related to the conflict

Forest clearance form of the project, 2014.
http://forestsclearance.nic.in/writereaddata/UploadFormA/10112412212141Etalin_FormA-Part-I-V.pdf

Peer review of the Wildlife Conservation Plan for Etalin project by Wildlife Institute of India.
https://sanctuarynaturefoundation.org/uploads/etalin_hep_peerreviewsummary_emp.pdf

Forest clearance form of the project
http://forestsclearance.nic.in/writereaddata/UploadFormA/10112412212141Etalin_FormA-Part-I-V.pdf

Links to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites

5. 270k trees to be felled in Dibang, plans for compensatory plantations at 25 sites. Jayashree Nandi, 26 April 2020, Hindustan Times.
https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/for-270k-trees-to-be-felled-in-dibang-plans-for-plantations-at-alternative-sites/story-ovSWP21DlEr9GsLZncG8NO.html

1. Birds vs hydropower project in Arunachal Pradesh: Who will win? Mayank Aggarwal, 7 November 2019, Mongabay.
https://india.mongabay.com/2019/11/birds-vs-hydropower-project-in-arunachal-pradesh-who-will-win/

2. Fresh biodiversity study of proposed dam sought. 26 November 2019, The Hindu.
https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/fresh-biodiversity-study-of-proposed-dam-sought/article30080984.ece

3. Road blocks mar Jindal Power projects in Arunachal. Siddhartha P Saikia, 3 June 2013, The Hindu Business Line.
https://www.thehindubusinessline.com/companies/road-blocks-mar-jindal-power-projects-in-arunachal/article23101791.ece

4. Jindal to Seek Investors for $3.3 Billion India Hydel Project. Rajesh Kumar Singh, 8 May 2020, Bloomberg Quint.
https://www.bloombergquint.com/business/jindal-to-seek-investors-for-3-3-billion-india-hydel-project

6. FAC recommends subcommittee on Etalin HEP, says 2017 recommendation not complied with. Tongam Rina, 8 November 2019, Arunachal Times.
https://arunachaltimes.in/index.php/2019/11/08/fac-recommends-subcommittee-on-etalin-hep-says-2017-recommendation-not-complied-with/

7. Etalin project: WII Skips Multi-Season Study, Cheats Its Way to Compile Plan. Tongam Rina, 5 May 2020, The Wire.
https://science.thewire.in/environment/etalin-project-dibang-arunachal-pradesh-wii-report/

9. Public Pressure to Scrap Destructive Etalin Project Mounts. April 2020, Sanctuary Asia.
https://www.sanctuarynaturefoundation.org/article/public-pressure-to-scrap-destructive-etalin-project-mounts

10. Climate Change and Seismic Hazards in the Dibang Valley. Chintan Sheth, 27 April 2020, Sanctuary Asia.
https://www.sanctuarynaturefoundation.org/article/climate-change-and-seismic-hazards-in-the-dibang-valley

15. Conservation Scientists Oppose Etalin Hydro Electric Project. April 2020, Sanctuary Asia.
https://www.sanctuarynaturefoundation.org/article/conservation-scientists-oppose-etalin-hydro-electric-project

11. Geographer Warns FAC of Natural Hazard Risks in Dibang Valley. April 2020, Sanctuary Asia.
https://sanctuarynaturefoundation.org/article/geographer-warns-fac-of-natural-hazard-risks-in-dibang-valley

12. Idu SBWL Member Opposes Etalin Project. May 2020, Sanctuary Asia.
https://www.sanctuarynaturefoundation.org/article/idu-sbwl-member-opposes-etalin-project

13. PAFs favour early construction of Etalin HEP amidst questions on devious studies. Karyir Riba, 7 May 2020, Arunachal Times.
https://arunachaltimes.in/index.php/2020/05/07/pafs-favour-early-construction-of-etalin-hep-amidst-questions-on-devious-studies/

14. ´Etalin Hydro Project Threatens Our Existence’: In Conversation with an Idu Mishmi. Ananya Singh, 1 May 2020, The Citizen.
https://www.thecitizen.in/index.php/en/NewsDetail/index/13/18684/Etalin-Hydro-Project-Threatens-Our-Existence-In-Conversation-with-an-Idu-Mishmi

16. WII Rebuked in Peer Review of Etalin Report. May 2020, Sanctuary Asia.
https://sanctuarynaturefoundation.org/article/wii-rebuked-in-peer-review-of-etalin-report

18. Ornithologist Underscores Bird Diversity in Dibang Valley, April 2020, Sanctuary Asia
https://sanctuarynaturefoundation.org/article/ornithologist-underscores-bird-diversity-in-dibang-valley

17. #SaveArunachalBiodiversity trends as citizens protest Etalin hydro power project. Prem Taba, 10 May 2020, The News Mill
https://thenewsmill.com/savearunachalbiodiversity-trends-as-citizens-protest-etalin-hydro-power-project/

17. #SaveArunachalBiodiversity trends as citizens protest Etalin hydropower project. Prem Taba, 10 May 2020, The News Mill.
https://thenewsmill.com/savearunachalbiodiversity-trends-as-citizens-protest-etalin-hydro-power-project/

17. Ornithologist Underscores Bird Diversity in Dibang Valley, April 2020, Sanctuary Asia
17. https://sanctuarynaturefoundation.org/article/ornithologist-underscores-bird-diversity-in-dibang-valley

8. India's Covid-19 lockdown is failing to protect people and the planet. Brototi Roy, 6 May 2020, Open Democracy.
https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/oureconomy/indias-covid-19-lockdown-failing-protect-people-and-planet/

20. Environment Ministry Defers Clearance for Etalin Hydel Plant, Seeks Detailed Cost-benefit Ratio Analysis. Nikhil Ghanekar, 12 May 2020, News18.
https://www.news18.com/news/india/environment-ministry-defers-clearance-for-etalin-hydel-plant-seeks-detailed-cost-benefit-ratio-analysis-2617073.html

19. FAC abdicates responsibility, dumps Etalin HEP in power ministry’s lap. Tongam Rina, 12 May 2020, Arunachal Times.
https://arunachaltimes.in/index.php/2020/05/12/fac-abdicates-responsibility-dumps-etalin-hep-in-power-ministrys-lap/

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

Reject forest clearance for the Etalin Project. Let India Breathe campaign.
https://letindiabreathe.in/RejectEtalinClearance

Dibang Valley Must Be Saved from Destruction — Act Now! Conservation India
https://www.conservationindia.org/campaigns/save-the-destruction-of-dibang-valley

Meta information

Contributor:Brototi Roy
Last update04/05/2020

Images

 

Reasons to stop Etalin project, by Conservation India

 

Rohan Chakravarty, www.greenhumour.com

Funded by Jindal Power (which will be executing the Etalin Dam project in Dibang Valley, along with the State Hydropower Corporation of Arunachal Pradesh), the Wildlife Institute of India conducted a 4 month study (despite a multiple seasonal replicate study being mandated by the Forest Advisory Committee), and concluded with a green signal for the project. 24 wildlife scientists from across India who have worked in Dibang Valley, have peer-reviewed the study, pointing out major flaws in the study, and the very fact that the study was designed to look more like research for a mitigation plan rather than analyzing the impacts of the projects in the first place.

Rohan Chakravarty, www.greenhumour.com