In another round of the Forest Advisory Committee in the Ministry of Environment and Forest meeting on August 13 and 14, over diversion of 1551.60 hectares of forest land in Mizoram for the construction of Tipaimukh Multipurpose Dam, the committee once again reiterated that diversion of forest land should not be sanctioned. It recalled its earlier meeting in July, where the FAC had disapproved the diversion of 25,822 hectares of Forest land in Manipur.
The committee had stated that the forest area that has 7816931 trees and 0.27 lakh bamboos, is largely disproportionate to the expected power generation, and that the overall cost far outweigh the benefits likely to be acquired. The said requirement is 1/5th of the total land requirements for an odd 497 such hydro project in the whole country.
Besides the delay, clouded in controversy and secrecy, the proposed project has also caused a stir in the political establishments and civil society in neighboring Bangladesh , given that water flows down from the confluence in Tipaimukh to Surma and Khushiara rivers and construction of the reservoir at this junction will affect the seasonal flow in the downstream.
The apprehension, concerns and reactions from Bangladesh can be summed up from an opinion written by Bangladesh Prime Minister’s Foreign Advisor Gowher Rizvi in December 2011, ( Daily Star, Dhaka ). Maintaining that the project will adversely impact the environment, economy and security of Bangladesh, Rizvi stated that Bangladesh cannot afford to take it lightly and must gear up to ensure that their National interests are not compromised.
The project which is proposed to be funded through World Bank have so far not been arranged nor even discussed with the Bank, the Bangladesh PM Foreign adviser wrote. Rizvi underlined that Barak is an international river and therefore the interests of Bangladesh has to be taken into account according to current international practices.
Asserting that India had assured Bangladesh it would not take any action over Tipaimukh HEP that would hurt the interests of Bangladesh Rizvi stated that civil society and scientists in Bangladesh should conduct an in-depth study to come up to an independent conclusion.
Estimated at Rs 5,885.00 crore the 162.80 metre reservoir proposed to be built 500 metres downstream at the confluence of the river Tuivai from Mizoram and river Barak from Assam was conceptualized to control flood in Assam valley and generate 1500 MW for power starved Manipur and North Eastern States of India at large. The concept began to materialize after the first meeting between India and Bangladesh Joint Rivers Commission held in New Delhi in 1972. Subsequently, the project site was identified in 1974. An agreement was signed between the Government of Manipur, National Hydro Power Corporation ( NHPC) Ltd. and Sutlej Jal Vidyut Nigam Ltd (SJVN) in October 2011. NHPC replaced NEEPCO- North Eastern Electric Power Corporation Ltd in 2009 for reasons unknown.
Manipur Government in November 2006 wrote to the MoEF for necessary action for Forest clearance, forwarding an Ariel survey report of the proposed project site by Regional Forest Department, State Forest Department and comments from User agency NEEPCO.
All these departments had given their no objection statement for the Construction of the hydro project, including the State Pollution Control Board.
The joint survey observed that large part of the catchment area is subjected to shifting cultivation (a practice by inhabitants of the hills in Manipur) and that the project area does not harbor significant wildlife, nor is a national park or wildlife sanctuary, neither a bio-sphere or a tiger reserve and not an elephant corridor. The survey report also maintained that the surveyed site does not come under a protected area and that there is no official document to support its socio-cultural, religious value associated with this forest land.
The project went into a roadblock at the Ministry’s Environment Clearance meeting several times. In its meeting in 2007 and 2008 the expert appraisal committee had commented that the State Government merely forwarded reports and comments of Departmental surveys / reports, which the committee stated cannot be accepted as an approval.
Further, examining the EIA ( environment assessment report) the expert committee found that there is no mention of the location of the sampling survey neither a schedule of public hearing. It also noted its surprise that inhabitants have left the proposed site to pave the way for the project. The committee stated that the water quality study done by the state pollution control board, which is based on 1990 data did not follow the direction of the committee.
Moreover the EIA report did not mention the flora and fauna; its type and number etc inhabiting the proposed site, but reported that no ‘economically’ viable fauna were found in the project site, that has raised doubts of the committee. The experts also seeks clarification on the question of ‘indigenous’ upon the mention of 172 species of fish and out of this 23 fish species were categorically stated as indigenous, it asked whether the remaining species are exogenous. It also seeks for a Seismic study of the area.
The committee noted that the amount of rainfall during the period of 10 years in the study is unbelievably meager for construction of such a large hydro project.
As it stands today, it is merely a halt on diversion of required Forest land and not a stop to the implementation of the Tipaimukh hydro project. The FAC had suggested for revision of the project where forest land requirement can be minimized and therefore lesser socio – environment impact. Now the anxiety is whether FAC’s comments, observations will be considered or respected.
The vague survey and environment assessment of the project remains a concern for obvious reasons. Going by the reports it is clear that no research study and data were available on the flora and fauna of the Hills of Manipur. And that the odd 2000 or so “tribal” forest inhabitants who will be displaced were merely considered an insignificant occupants of the forest and that their livelihood such as agricultural practice - Jhum Cultivation were considered an unimportant activity and destructive. Moreover, the unclassified forest with no record of “important, notable wildlife, sanctuaries etc” further supports the theory of ‘insignificance’ of this forest land.
Voices of concerns over big dams and the search for alternative solutions with lesser impact were raised from several quarters. While no major success and output of hydro projects and large dams are witnessed in the northeastern region, particularly in Manipur, will the Tipaimukh Hydro Power bring light in the dark corner of India’s border is something that is not so convincing.
The Sangai Express