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Differences crop up within expert panel

By Ajit Patowary

GUWAHATI, Aug 27 - Serious differences of opinion have cropped up within the eight-member Project Oversight Committee (POC), constituted by the Union Power Ministry in January this year, to study the controversial 2000-MW Lower Subansiri Hydroelectric Power Project (LSHEP).

Following the differences, the group of Assam experts and the experts from other parts of the country in the POC submitted their interim reports on the project separately to the Union Power Ministry about a month back.

The experts from the State include Prof Jatin Kalita and Prof Bhagawat Pran Duarah of Gauhati University (GU), Prof Chandan Mahanta of IIT Guwahati and Prof SP Biswas of Dibrugarh University. On the other hand, the experts from the other parts of the country include Prof ML Sarma from IIT Roorkee, Dr VK Sarma of the Geological Survey of India (GSI), SK Sibal from the Central Water Commission (CWC) and Manoj Tripathi from the Central Electricity Authority (CEA).

Significantly, the State�s experts had studied the LSHEP earlier, following a decision of a tripartite meeting of the State Government, the National Hydroelectric Power Corporation (NHPC) and the All Assam Students� Union. In its report submitted to the authorities on June28, 2010, it made some important observations on the dam safety-related issues.

This intensified the existing mass revolt against the LSHEP and led to an impasse over the construction of the project compelling the Central Government to finally constitute the POC in January this year with the mandate that it would submit its report within three months.

Prof Jatin Kalita, who had earlier led the State�s expert group, told this newspaper that they had submitted the interim report about a month back expressing concern, mainly over the dam safety issue and requesting the Power Ministry to review the seismic safety parameters by engaging seismic experts from the country as well as from abroad, who have significant contributions towards the study of Himalayan seismology.

However, the Assam experts abstained from the seventh meeting of the POC recently due to non-implementation of the decision of the Committee�s sixth meeting held on July 6 and 7 last.

The Assam experts are going to submit their final report within the current month, urging the Union Government not to proceed with the LSHEP until the safety of its dam is convincingly ensured, said Prof Kalita.

Prof BP Duarah told this newspaper that the two major issues on which the State�s Expert Group and the other experts had differed, included � whether the seismic design parameter used for ensuring dam safety was adequate and what would be the response of the dam abutments in the event of an earthquake of the intensity considered for dam construction.

In its sixth meeting, the POC worked out a list of seismic experts from India and abroad for consultation on the seismic design parameters etc, basing on the terms of reference (ToR) of the POC.

On July 20, 2015, the Power Ministry told the POC that as per clause 3 of the POC ToR, the committee �may consult any eminent expert � individual or organisation� of national/international repute.� However, it maintained that the Committee �may consider� engaging any �Indian expert individuals/organisations� with national/international repute as per the ToR, �considering the international sensitivity of the issue.�

The experts referred to by the POC included some of the Himalayan experts from abroad also, who have made major contributions to the study of Himalayan seismology. The Assam experts stuck to the above decision of the sixth meeting, said Prof Duarah.

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