Dibang Valley Bacho Andolan: A fight to save lush green bio-diverse region in Arunachal Pradesh
Updated: May 14
According to Hindustan Times, a FAC sub-committee report on 21st Apri 2020, recommended the 3,097 MW Etalin Hydroelectric Project be allowed with a condition that the developer deposits money for wildlife conservation in the area. The project will involve submerging of 1150.08 ha of forest land and felling of 2.7 lakh trees in what FAC’s documents call “subtropical evergreen broad-leaved and subtropical rainforest”.
The project is being executed through the Etalin Hydro Electric Power Company Limited, a JV company of Jindal Power Limited and Hydro Power Development Corporation of Arunachal Pradesh Limited (A Govt of Arunachal Pradesh Undertaking).
The dam is going to have disastrous effects on the environment and people. Here is a quick look at some of the negative impacts of the dam:
1. Loss of trees: Trees give off oxygen that we need to breathe. Forests are lungs of the planet.
Trees reduce the amount of stormwater runoff, which reduces erosion and pollution in our waterways. The common flora like Alnus Nepalensiss, Tsuga, Rhododendron, Oak, Crypto Maria Japonica, Pine, Chestnut, Walnut, and some of the Medicinal Plants are popularly found in the region. The area is a treasure trove for scientific research.
2. Loss of Wildlife: Cutting 2.7 lakh trees will make millions of species homeless. A 2016 study, titled, 'Mitigation of Damage to Wildlife Habitats', by the Pune-based Indian Institute of Science Education & Research (IISER), "bird list within a 10 km radius of Etalin-Damro road is close to 300 species, including some rare ones like Blyth’s Tragopan, Rufous-necked Hornbill, Ward’s Trogon, Hodgson’s Frogmouth, Beautiful Nuthatch, etc.”
The Dibang valley is the natural habitat of several wild animals, specifically larger herbivores, carnivores and amphibians. The animals range from Red Panda, Musk Deer, Snow Leopard, Tiger, Orange Bellied Himalayan Squirrel, Wild Boar, Himalayan black bear, Barking Deer, Snow Leopard, Sun Bear and the famous Mishmi Takin, and many more beautiful animals find a habitat in the forest of Dibang Valley. According to The Times of India, Arunachal's Dibang could be India's highest tiger habitat.
3. The spread of Unknown Zoonotic Diseases: Also, the trees are homes to millions of bats, and bats are known to be carriers of numerous diseases. As we just learnt from the Coronavirus outbreak, that when wildlife and humans intermingle there could be a rise of diseases.
4. Loss of fishes habitats affecting local communities: The dam will be holding back millions of gallons of water to follow downstream. The fish population will immediately get affected, due to a sudden change in their natural spawning cycle. Populations of migratory species may collapse or even disappear. On average, freshwater fish populations have declined by 76% over the past 40 years.
One of the reasons being the water held in the dam will cause a change in oxygen and temperature which will cause many species to dies out. The loss of fishes will threaten the livelihood of local communities. These local communities will not have a free-flowing river and will find dry river beds most of the time.
5. A loss for Farmers and Tribals: The dam will trap sediments which are critical for maintaining bio-physical processes and habitats downstream This will have an adverse effect on the farmers downstream as the sediment-rich soil helps them grow crops. Due to the dam, the land will become less fertile, thus making the farmers turn to chemical fertilizer to make up for the depleted soil, again adding to pollutants in the river.
However, many members of the local Idu Mishmi community are far from relieved. Instead, they not only fear to lose the forests they have called home for centuries, but also a systematic erasure of their culture by the influx of labourers, who will be brought in to work on the project.
6. Adding to Climate Change : Climate Crisis is now a major global issue. Trees help regulate temperature and bring rain. In Dibang valley districts, there has been a decreasing trend of rainfall.
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC, 2007), says the future climate change is likely to affect agriculture, increase the risk of hunger and water scarcity, and lead to more rapid melting of glaciers. Freshwater availability in many river basins in India is likely to decrease due to climate change. By adding the dam we will be contributing to climate change causing scarcity of water leading to food shortage. The local communities will be the first to see it's effect as they will battle drought and water shortage.
7. In-efficient Power: According to the South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People (SANDRP) Hydroelectricity is not an efficient energy source. 89% of hydropower projects across the country generate below what they promised; of which half generate below 50% of the electricity they promised. Solar energy should be encouraged by grassroots entrepreneurs. Local generation and local distribution is the best way forward.
8. Earthquake Prone Region: The seismological threat is real. The Himalayas is on major fault lines. Massive industrial drilling can cause severe landslides endangering local communities and animals. In October 2017 and July 2019 an Earthquake of magnitude 4.5 hit Arunachal's Dibang Valley. These tremors could get even worse with industrial drilling and use of dynamite leading to enormous landslides.
The 300 glaciers and 350 glacial lakes that feed the river have thinned out, with scientists predicting a 60% loss in their volume by 2050, Sheth states in his report. Thus, the capacity of hydropower projects on the Dibang river to produce electricity will most likely fall in the coming years.
9. Potential Mis-Management: In June 2013, floods severely damaged parts of Uttrakhand. About 6,000 people died, and tens of thousands of pilgrims were stranded. When dam reservoirs upstream brimmed over the danger mark, dam operators opened the sluice gates without warning villagers living downstream. The unexpected deluge washed away people, livestock, and buildings. There has been no accountability for this disaster. The Dibang Valley dam could cause havoc to the simple communities living downstream.
10. The future is Clean Ethical Energy: With the rise of global consciousness, this is the time for a major shift. We often say, like to follow the path of the 'developed' nations. For your information, from 1912 to 2018, 1,578 dams have been removed in the U.S. to restore fish passage and access to habitat, eliminate safety hazards, and reduce future liability for owners and surrounding communities. Hydro-Power is the PAST.
CONCLUSION For a community at large, Hydro-Power is not a profitable venture. It’s a huge loss for people, animals and the environment.
We need a better world!
We need a world where we live in harmony with nature. I feel it’s time we stand up against big corporates and corrupt politicians and protect the magnificent earth we are privileged too.
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Photo Credit: Riyank Bhattacharya & Gourav Dey
Source | Additional Reads:
Hindustan Times: 2.7 lakh trees to be felled for a hydropower project in Arunachal’s Dibang Valley National Herald: In the midst of COVID-19, forest ministry deliberates on controversial Etalin project in APHindustan Times: More scientists write to FAC about treading carefully on hydropower projects in Dibang Valley
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