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Nyamjang Chhu dam and hydropower expansion in Tawang, Arunachal Pradesh, India


Public protests against the construction of dams in the Tawang district of Arunachal Pradesh in North East India have been going on for some years. In the whole state there are grandiose plans for 50 000 MW. Little of this has been yet built. On 2 May 2016 (as fully reported in The Wire and The Telegraph, 3 May) things took a deadly turn; during a demonstration calling for the release of arrested anti-hydropower movement leader Lama Lobsang Gytaso in Tawang, Arunachal Pradesh state, two people were killed on the spot by indiscriminate and unannounced police firing. Unconfirmed media reports and a statement of the Save Mon Region Federation (SMRF), the organisation spearheading the protests, speak of four other victims who succumbed to their injuries later in the day, including one woman. Tawang is the last Indian district bordering China, a 2085 square km patch where in 1962 the Chinese army came trooping in. Tawang was historically part of Tibet. The 1914 Simla Accord defined the McMahon line as the new boundary between British India and Tibet. By this treaty Tibet relinquished several hundred square miles of its territory, including Tawang, to the British, but it was not recognised by China.  Tawang is home to the Monpa people, it is a tourist destination thanks to the well-preserved Tawang Monastery and a seat of Tibetan Buddhism.

Since 2011 it has been witness to public protests against the state government’s decision to set up many dams across the district. The protests are being driven by environmental and religious concerns. Reportedly, 13 of the over 150 hydroelectric projects planned by the state since 2005 are in Tawang. To stall this spree of dam construction, people from the Monpa community joined hands with local Buddhist monks in 2011 to form the Save Mon Region Federation (SMRF).

National Green Tribunal had recently, on April 7th 2016, suspended the environmental clearance of the 780 MW, Rs 6400 crore Nyamjang Chhu project in response to an Appeal filed by the Save Mon Region Federation. The Tribunal had asked for a fresh impact assessment studies, public hearing for local people and appraisal by the Expert Appraisal Committee on River Valley & Hydroelectric projects and the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC). A major issue was the impact on the wintering habitat of the Black-necked crane, a vulnerable bird considered sacred by the Monpa people, considered an embodiment of the 6th Dalai Lama who was from Tawang and wrote about the bird in his poetry. The NGT noted that the project – promoted by the Noida-based steel conglomerate LNJ Bhilwara Group – did not consider its impact on the habitat of the black-necked crane, which is endemic to the region. The bird is rated “vulnerable” in the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s list of endangered species and is listed in schedule 1 of the Wildlife (Prohibition) Act 1972.

SMRF general secretary Lama Lobsang Gyatso said, “The NGT’s decision to suspend work on the project has led those with vested interest in the state to suddenly look at us as a powerful enemy.” Corruption is also alleged. According to Gyatso, “it is clear to the local people that while somebody powerful is making money on these projects, they have not only been unable to provide electricity but are also degrading the environment they live in”.

The week before May 2, Gyatso was arrested twice for reasons he said are “linked to not only the NGT decision but also our plan to take legal recourse for other hydel projects.”  He explained that he had been in the lock-up of the Tawang police station since his re-arrest on April 28. On May 2, he was taken to the court of the district magistrate for hearing on his bail application. Since morning, a large number of villagers and lamas assembled in front of the police station seeking his release. He was was denied bail. Many villagers and lamas have already been angry at the biased attitude of the district administration. On knowing about the denial of bail, the small crowd (perhaps 200 people) began moving towards the police station. They were then fired upon with live bullets. No tear gas and no rubber bullets were used. One of the deceased was hit on the forehead. Among the dead, there was a woman.  The other deceased was a student of the Tawang monastery. By mid-afternoon, prohibitory orders under Section 144 were clamped on Tawang town and the army was called in to stage a flag march. It was reported that Chief Minister Kalikho Pul, who was in New Delhi, ordered a judicial inquiry into the firing. Pul also announced Rs 5 lakh ex-gratia to the family of those killed.

Local MP and Union Minister of State for Home, Kiren Rijiju, was said to have called up the Tawang deputy commissioner and SP, downplaying the situation and relying on the army. The National Alliance of People's Movement demanded an official commission of enquiry.

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Nyamjang Chhu dam and hydropower expansion in Tawang, Arunachal Pradesh, India
State or province:Arunachal Pradesh
Location of conflict:Tawang district
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)

Source of Conflict

Type of conflict. 1st level:Water Management
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Establishment of reserves/national parks
Dams and water distribution conflicts
Specific commodities:Electricity

Project Details and Actors

Project details

150 hydel projects planned for Arunachal Pradesh of which 13 in Tawang district.

National Green Tribunal stopped in April 2016 the environmental clearance of the 780 MW, Rs 6400 crore (above one billion USD) Nyamjang Chhu project in response to an appeal filed by the Save Mon Region Federation.

Level of Investment:1,000,000,000
Type of populationUrban
Affected Population:10,000
Start of the conflict:01/01/2011
Company names or state enterprises: LNJ Bhilwara Group from India
Relevant government actors:National Green Tribunal
Local MP and Union Minister of State for Home
Chief Minister of the State of Arunachal Pradesh
International and Finance InstitutionsInternational Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN)
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Save Mon Region Federation (SMRF)
Local Buddhist monks of Tawang monastery
Legal Initiative For Forest And Environment (LIFE)

Conflict & Mobilization

IntensityHIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
Reaction stagePREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups mobilizing:Indigenous groups or traditional communities
International ejos
Ethnically/racially discriminated groups
Religious groups
Forms of mobilization:Involvement of national and international NGOs
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Objections to the EIA
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches


Environmental ImpactsPotential: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity
Other Environmental impactsLoss of endangered species (black necked crane)
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Militarization and increased police presence, Violations of human rights
Potential: Displacement, Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place


Project StatusPlanned (decision to go ahead eg EIA undertaken, etc)
Conflict outcome / response:Corruption
Criminalization of activists
Deaths, Assassinations, Murders
Court decision (undecided)
Strengthening of participation
Violent targeting of activists
New Environmental Impact Assessment/Study
On 2 May 2016, the 31-year-old Tsering Tempa was shot in the head and Nyima Wangdi, a 21-year-old Buddhist monk from the Tawang Monastery was shot twice.
Development of alternatives:Preservation of natural spaces and endangered against dams, reconsideration of the plans for too many hydroelectric dams (large and small) in Arunchal Pradesh.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:There has been repression against a leading Buddhist monk, and people have been shot dead. However, there has been positive ruling of the National Green Tribunal.

Sources & Materials

Links to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites

The Wire, Police Firing, Hydel Projects Cast Long Shadow Over Arunachal’s Sensitive Tawang Region, BY SANGEETA BAROOAH PISHAROTY ON 03/05/2016, a full report

BBC news, Two killed in India border town police firing

Short article in The Indian Express

3 May 2018, news in The Hindu about the killings in Tewang

Short article in Business Standard, 3 May 2016

Facebook page of the Save Mon Region Federation

Extensive article in The Telegraph. Two die in police firing in Tawang, by Ranju Dodum and Pranab Kumar Das. May 2, 2016: At least two persons died and eight were injured when police opened fire on people protesting against the arrest of a Buddhist monk at Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh today.

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

Description of facts and complaint by the National Alliance of People's Movements

News of the events in International Rivers

Other documents

Protesters gathered in front of Tawang police station before the police firing began on May 2. Credit: The Wire, by special arrangement

Save Mon Region Federation activists Save Mon Region Federation activists protesting against hydropower projects in Tawang. Source:

Meta information

Last update26/05/2016



Save Mon Region Federation activists

Save Mon Region Federation activists protesting against hydropower projects in Tawang. Source:

Protesters gathered in front of Tawang police station before the police firing began on May 2. Credit: The Wire, by special arrangement