#IfTreesCouldTalk: Around 2.7 Lakh Trees To Be Felled In Dibang Valley For Hydropower Project

#IfTreesCouldTalk: Around 2.7 Lakh Trees To Be Felled In Dibang Valley For Hydropower Project

Suruchi Patwary

#IfTreesCouldTalk is a blog series that aims to highlight one aspect of environmental impact, wildlife conservation and other issues that need to be spoken about from the natural world and our impact on it. The idea was simple. We just believe that if Mother Nature had a voice, there would be a lot she would have to say about the state of the world today and what we can do to help. This is just our effort to give her a voice.

A total of 270,000 trees are planned to be felled for the Etalin Hydropower Project in Dibang Valley, Arunachal Pradesh. M/s Etalin Hydro Electric Power Company Limited is a joint venture of Hydro Power Development Corporation of Arunachal Pradesh Limited with Jindal Power Limited—the developers of this project.

Although the said project is yet to be approved by the environment ministry’s forest advisory committee (FAC), it is still quite concerning for a number of reasons. One of those being its location. The proposed project is situated in a subtropical evergreen broad-leaved forest and subtropical rain forests and has been recognised as home to outstanding biodiversity, by the FAC itself. And to make up for this, the project proposal includes compensatory plantations that will be raised in about 25 different pieces of land in the Valley itself, in the Anini town. The remaining compensation will be completed over another land that’s located about 400 kilometers away in Tawang district.

Then Why Is It Still A Concern?

The local people of the Valley, as well as the environmentalists, are concerned that the compensation plan will not be enough as it will not create equal ecological value in fragmented pieces of land since it will be artificial plantation. NH Ranvindranath, climate and forestry expert at the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore further explains the concern saying,

So far in India, we haven’t seen compensatory afforestation plots providing ecosystem and biodiversity services. There is also a concern that in many places monocultures have sprung up in the name of afforestation. There is no land to do such large-scale plantations either, so often public or forest lands are used. The spirit of compensatory afforestation is missing.

The Idu Mishmi community are the locals of this region. They have expressed their concern over the potential loss of wildlife as well as the native forests, and in turn, they might end up losing their grazing lands to make room for the compensatory plantations too.

Aito Miwu, a resident of the Anini town, spoke to Hindustan Times over the phone saying,

There are two dams (proposed) in this region—the Dibang multipurpose project and the Etalin hydropower project, which will together submerge a very large area. Most families in the project affected area don’t want to speak against the project because they want to get compensation for their land.
People in other parts of Dibang valley are not consulted and not allowed to speak up about the ecological loss in public hearings. The vegetation and biodiversity through compensatory afforestation cannot be the same. I have seen them planting pine which has no fertiliser value and nothing grows underneath pine trees.
These patches of land selected by the government are Mithun grazing land. One of the patches is in our village and none of us has been consulted about converting common grazing land. Many villages will oppose this.

The Current Status

FAC has discussed the subject of forest clearance to the project on Thursday, 23rd April, but they still haven’t taken a decision yet. One of the FAC members spoke anonymously about it and said,

We had a long discussion and all views of members have been taken on record. Most members had a favourable view because its a clean energy project so did the subcommittee that visited the site.

On April 22nd, answering to Hindustan Times questions—Bharat Rohra, MD & CEO of Jindal Power Limited said,

We have been eagerly waiting for this clearance which is a must for grant of forest clearance for the project. The proposal for the grant of FC (forest clearance) to Etalin project was submitted to the environment ministry in 2014. The proposal has since been discussed in FAC a couple of times. In the EAC (Expert Appraisal Committee) meeting scheduled to be held on April 23, the report and recommendations of the sub-committee of FAC will be discussed for final recommendations on the grant of FC to the project. We are hopeful that FAC will finally be recommending the proposal for grant of FC.

A report dated 21st April shows that a sub-committee of the FAC recommended that the Etalin Hydroelectric Project of 3097 MW could be allowed with a condition—the developer must deposit money for wildlife conservation in Dibang valley.

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