GUWAHATI, Aug 5 - The Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) approved on July 28 last the recommendations of the cumulative impact assessment and carrying capacity study of the Kameng (Jia Bharali) river basin in Arunachal Pradesh for development of hydroelectric power projects (HEPs), which has recommended 37 HEPs in the basin with cumulative installed capacity of 2561.9 MW. The study was carried out by WAPCOS Ltd, a Government of India undertaking, at the instance of the MoEFCC and its report was submitted in June this year.
The study did not take into consideration the impacts of these projects in the downstream areas, which include the famous Nameri National Park and Tiger Reserve, in Assam. Kameng is known as the Jia Bharali in Assam.
The bigger HEPs recommended in the basin, include the Kimi HEP with 535 MW installed capacity, Kameng Dam HEP with 480 MW installed capacity, Talonga Londa HEP with 225 MW installed capacity, and the Chanda HEP with 110 MW installed capacity.
It needs mention here that the combined forest areas, including the Nameri National Park in Assam, along with the surrounding reserve forests in the basin, cover an area of over 2,500 square kilometres and it forms one of the largest protected regions of NE India. This region presents a fascinating birding opportunity and it is known for its avi-fauna and more than 500 species of the birds are reported from the area. The river is also known for its mahaseer and trout population.
Since the study did not cover the downstream areas of Assam to assess the impacts of the proposed HEPs on these areas, environmentalist Bimal Gogoi sent a letter to Chairperson of the Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) on River Valley and Hydroelectric Projects of the MoEFCC on February 28 this year.
He informed the EAC Chairperson that there was no official public consultation process initiated in Assam for the Kameng projects. He alleged that the draft of the Kameng basin study was also not made available to the people for their comments. In this respect he referred to the April 7, 2016 order of the National Green Tribunal (NGT), which directed the Union of India to make available the Tawang river basin study for public consultation.
The people of Assam were provided with no scope to take part in the public hearings held for the individual HEPs of the Kameng basin, which were held in Arunachal Pradesh, despite the fact that Assam is a downstream affected State of the Kameng HEPs.
Again, no prior approval of the Chief Wildlife Warden of Assam was taken, which is mandatory as per section 35(6) of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, for recommending the HEPs, which are bound to cause variations in the flow regime of the river in Nameri National Park and Tiger Reserve. The river flows through a 24km-long stretch of the Nameri National Park. The EAC, MoEFCC cannot approve the recommendations of the Kameng River Basin Study when the flow regime of the river is going to be influenced in this National Park without the clearance received from the Chief Wildlife Warden of Assam, Gogoi argued.
It is also pertinent to mention here that the Assam Government had in OA No. 92/2013 maintained before the NGT on January 16, 2014 while making a submission in the Lower Demwe Hydel Power case that prior approval of the Chief Wildlife Warden of Assam was required for the project since it was going to influence the flow regime of the Lohit river in the Dibru-Saikhowa National Park located in Assam.