Dam Disaster

Damming Arunachal

Sandeep Banerjee

On May 2, 2016, a news from Arunachal shocked environmentalists all over India. Two persons died in police firing there in anti-dam protest in Tawang district, one of them being a young Buddhist Monk Lama Nima Wangde. They were fighting to save a vast tract of land including forest land which would get submerged once the dam was built. The people of Monpa tribe there were much fond of the pristine nature there, its flora and fauna and they revere the migrant bird Black-necked Crane, which will ostensibly lose its winter habitat once the area was flooded.

This year too there were protests from the districts of Siang basin. River Siang is the name of the main stream of River Brahmaputra in Arunachal after it enters from Tibet. Later the Lohit and the Dibang joins with Siang. In January 2013 there were protests in several places. They appealed to different authorities not to give environmental clearances for the dams being built in the four districts of Siang, East Siang, Upper Siang and West Siang. To quote from an article (By Chandan Kumar Duarah on 12.01.17) published in The Quint : Vijay Tararn, an anti-dam activist with the Forum for Siang Dialogue, said, "We are not against small dams and dams on tributaries of Siang", but "big dams will spoil our lives and livelihood. If completed they will flood all fertile agricultural lands, destroying the flora and fauna of entire Siang belt and displace thousands of people of Siang valley. Tribal men will lose their traditional hunting grounds as well as the link to their culture". "We got our land neither from British nor Indians", he said, "We owned it from the time of our forefathers. We will protect our land, and fight for it!"

A vast tract of land including more than 15,000 square km of forest land will be affected. Siang basin, like the places in Tawang is within a biodiversity hotspot and a good part of world's biodiversity wealth lies in the Eastern Himalayas. In the Siang basin, there are 11 different forest types with 1,349 plant species and 1197 animal and fish species.

But the Niti Ayog, the topmost planning body now in India, called up the Arunachal Chief Minister and told him about their plan of making gigantic dam on Siang to produce 10,000 MW (10 Giga Watt) of electricity! And that is almost equal to the total installed capacity of electricity production in West Bengal!! For only Siang, 271 km of river will turn into something like a cemented canal and will submerge 180 sq km (an area equal to Greater Kolkata) for a 300 metre high dam. Additional river lengths and areas will be submerged for damming the tributaries.

As a 'bribe' for allowing destruction of livelihood of thousands, pristine nature housing thousands of species, Arunachal was promised a good shower of 'wealth': "The state will benefit through its 12% free power share that comes to about Rs 2400 crore per annum as revenue. Another Rs 200 crore per annum will be added through its 1% free power share, which will be used exclusively for local area development. Besides Rs 4,500 crore proposed for R&R [Rehabilitation and Resettlement] package, the project will attract an investment of about Rs 80,000 crore with huge employment generation and creation of several economic opportunities".

Perhaps one will be able to feel the loss beyond compensation, the loss of nature and also man, even if one keeps aside questions of aesthetics or morality.

Additionally there is a warning. This year a paper was published by some British professors on earth sciences: "Global review of human-induced earthquakes". The authors discussed about earthquakes caused by human activities. Their researches show that deep mining and dams (particularly at elevated places) have good chances to cause earthquakes. They have documented proof of this inference too. The National Geographic published a popular article on this subject on October 2, 2017.

Some organisations in Assam are also protesting large dam building in North East, for example the AJYCP (Asom Jatiyatabadi Yuva Chhatra Parishad) and KMSS (Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti).

While in the United States people are witnessing 'undamming rivers', 'dam removal' etc, it is interesting to note that capital is rushing to do a havoc on environment in Asia by making more large dams, installing nuclear power plants etc.

Vol. 50, No.21, Nov 26 - Dec 2, 2017