After the Deaths of Two Monks in Police Firing, NAPM Demands a Moratorium on Big Dams in Arunachal Pradesh

Seismic-Sensitive Arunachal Pradesh cannot risk a rapacious planning policy that allows Big Dams uncaring of the risks to people's lives and the environment

Image: Ritu Raj Konwar / The Hindu
Three days ago, on May 2, 2016, in an ugly turn of events, two people, namely Monk Nyima Wangdue and Tshering Tenpa, were killed and many injured, while protesting against the arrest of Lama Lobsang Gyatso in Tawang including a young Buddhist Lama. The Victims were protesting for the release of Lama Lobsang Gyatso, one of the most vocal opponents of hydropower projects in the Tawang region and secretary of the Save Mon Region Federation (SMRF), an organization of the Monpa Community in the Mon-Tawang region of Arunachal Pradesh. The NAPAM (National Alliance of People’s Movements) has condemned this brutal police action on peacefully protesting communities and demands immediate action against the responsible officials.
Even while the State government continues to remain apathetic to the whole situation, the Modi regime has in a surreptitious manner completely over-turned its electoral promises to stall hydel projects in the region that is seismic sensitive.
As far back as September 2014, six year and two rejecteions later, India’s largest hydro project was cleared. The project was rejected twice by the FAC, the original proposal in 2013 and a revised proposal in April.
The 3000 MW Dibang Hydel project for which former prime minister, Manmohan Singh laid its foundation stone and which had twice been denied environmental clearance, the Forest Advisory Committee (FAC) of the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF), gae it clearance subject to a reduction in the dam height by 20 m from the originally envisaged 288 m.
This clearance for India’s largest hydro project and the world’s tallest concrete gravity dam came after a September 3 letter from Nripendra Mishra, Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister, to the Environment Secretary to “clear the project expeditiously” as per the decision of the Cabinet Committee on investment. This was the person whom Modi had had a special ordinance passed to enable his appointment.
This clearance had raised eyebrows, since on August 28, 2014 the MoEF had written to the Arunachal Pradesh government rejecting the proposal for diverting more than 45 sq km of forest land to National Hydroelectric Power Corporation (NHPC) for the project. A day after Mishra’s letter, the Ministry revived the project by writing to the “project proponent that sensitivity analysis of reduction of dam height up to 40 m may please be submitted for further consideration”.
In 2013, in the run up to the general elections of 2014, as the National Democratic Alliance’s prime ministerial candidate in the 2014 Lok Sabha election, Narendra Modi had given hope to anti-dam activists in Assam when he spoke against the controversial large dams proposed in Arunachal Pradesh. But those hopes were dashed on February 20, when Modi visited Itanagar to attend Arunachal Pradesh's 29th Statehood Day. At an election rally on February 22, 2013 at an election rally at Pasighat in Arunachal Pradesh, Modi had said that he would prefer smaller hydro power projects in the region, honouring the sentiments of the region’s people. A year later and the prime minister had forgotten his promise. He pushed for hydropower projects in the state and said Arunachal Pradesh can light up the entire country.
Tawang Today
While Tawang continues to reel under the shock of police firing, Arunachal Pradesh chief minister Kalikho Pul at a ASSOCHAM forum in New Delhi in a complete insensitive statement has advocated the ‘fast-tracking environmental clearances’ for hydropower projects and also suggested a single window clearance to the hydro project developers.’ This reveals a complete disregard for environmental and people’s concerns.
NAPM leaders like Medha Patkar, Prafulla Samantara and others have said that,
“Our experience from struggles against the big dams have shown that, when world over the big dams are being done away with, it is extremely unfortunate that we are till trying to harness the hydro power in the most environmentally sensitive regions, or in densely populated areas, displacing massive populations.  Around 250 hydro-power projects are in pipeline in Arunachal Pradesh only, which would prove fatal for the whole north east and Himalayan region.
For a long time now, the Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti (KMSS) has been opposed to the Lower Subansri Hydroelectric Project, which would threaten the livelihood of more than 5 lakhs of fishworkers, farmers and others dependent downstream. Again, procedures and due process of law have been sidelined or given a backseat: though a eight member expert committee report is awaited the construction on dam has started once again, facing challenge from people.
It is a similar story for many of the dams in North East where public hearings have been a complete hogwash and based on half-baked and unscientifically conducted Environmental Impact Assessment keeping communities often in dark. The overall planning of hydro development in the State and Himalyan region needs a thorough examination keeping in mind the people’s interest first, until then put a moratorium on the planned projects.
Already Uttarakhand and other states are reeling under an insensitive and callous pattern of growth.
“ Our own experience of struggle against the Narmada, Tehri, Waang Marathwadi, Gosi Khurd and other Dams across the country have exposed the false claim of clean energy by hydro power projects. In the process of building big dams, we have destroyed rivers, villages, townships, lives and livelihood of millions. The people are still suffering from the impact on agriculture, livelihoods and the cultural disconnect along with ecological disasters like frequent landslides and loss of forest cover in the areas.Itstime we stopped damming the mountains and bringing ecological destruction.Everywhere these dams and hydropower projects are facing resistance and protests from communities and often govt. has resorted to violence and arrests. This must stop now!

In the Tawang Valley, police forces made complete mockery of the rule of law and killed two of them and opened fire at mere gathering of 200 people who were simply and peacefully demanding release of their leader.All these events suggest a dangerous political motivation to strike down the people’s voices and provide a free hand of destruction to corporate through hydro power projects planned in the state.

In light of these developments, , we strongly condemn the political involvement and misuse of police forces in this matter and demand the following:

  1. AP government must constitute an independent judicial commission, under the Commission of Enquiry Act, headed by a sitting or retired judge, to investigate the whole incident including role of police officials, local MLA and other politicians;
  2. Suspension of all the involved police officers along with SP, Divisional Commissioner and others until the completion of the enquiry;
  3. A moratorium on all the planned hydro power projects until a Comprehensive Scientific Review is conducted, opinion of the communities concerned  taken and consent achieved. This must take a comprehensive look at the serious risk of environmental disasters and geological instability.

Reportedly, 13 of the over 150 hydel projects planned by the state since 2005 are in the Tawang. To stall this spree of dam construction and upcoming ecological devastation, the people from the Monpa Community joined hands with local Buddhist monks in 2011 to form the Save Mon Region Federation (SMRF).

Under Lobsang Gyatso's leadership, SMRF has been advocating socio-culturally and ecologically sensitive development in the Mon-Tawang region. The group has protested against ecologically destructive hydropower projects, demanded accountability in the execution of government schemes and development projects, and exposed corruption.

Their work has been bearing fruit as on April 7, the SMRF saw its first significant achievement. In response to its petition filed in 2012, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) suspended the environment clearance granted by the Union environment ministry for the Rs. 6,400 crore Nyamjang Chhu hydropower project in Tawang’s Zemingthang area. 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 endangered 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 and also considered sacred to the Buddhist Monpa community, who consider it an embodiment of the 6th Dalai Lama, who was from Tawang and wrote about the bird in his poetry.

Lobsang Gyatso and SMRF have been supporting villagers in recording their objections against other destructive hydropower projects in Tawang too, including Tawang II HEP.However Lobsang Gyatso’s success seems to have made him a target for the local police authorities. Following the events, he was arrested twice last month on charges of disrupting peace in the Gongkhar Village and for alleged critical comments against Guru Rinpoche, the Abbot of Tawang Monastery, in reply of that the Abbot has appealed to find a peaceful solution to the volatile situation but the politicians exploited the issue and filed an FIR  against the leader Lobsang Gyatso after which the protests erupted in the region for his release.

The political motivation is also clear as the SMRF is preparing to file public interest litigation in the Supreme Court against the Mukto Shakangchu hydel project, report sections of the media. Even though over 90 crores rupees were officially spent by the state government on the project, most of what was constructed has been washed away by the river waters within three and a half months of completion of work due to use of sub-standard material.



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