News & Information From Northeast India

#SaveArunachalBiodiversity trends as citizens protest Etalin hydro power project

Netizens participated in a nationwide tweet-storm on May 9 demanding the government stop the Etalin hydro power project, which would destroy Dibang Valley in Arunachal Pradesh which is one of the world’s mega biodiversity hotspots and a rich carbon sink for the entire nation.

The Prime Minister’s Office, Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC), India’s Environment Minister and Chief Minister of Arunachal Pradesh were tagged in all the tweets with the hashtags #StopEtalinSaveDibang and #SaveArunachalBiodiversity.

The tweetathon was organized by a group of environmental organizations from across the country under the movement – The Dibang Resistance. In Arunachal Pradesh, it is being spearheaded by Fridays for Future – Arunachal Chapter consisting of wildlife experts, research scholars, conservationists, journalists and locals of Idu Mishmi community.

The tweet-storm held between 6-9 pm trended as high as number 10 in all India trends, number 1 in Mumbai trends, number 13 in Delhi trends and trended in many cities such as Calcutta, Itanagar, Guwahati, Shillong in East India; Jaipur, Lucknow in the North; Bhopal, Indore in Central India; Pune in West India; Hyderabad, Bangalore, Chennai in South India.

The message of the citizens from every corner of the country to the government at the centre and in Arunachal Pradesh was to – ‘Not destroy our rich carbon sinks and water recharge zones in the name of disastrous hydro power projects which would aggravate climate crisis in India when we are one of the most vulnerable nations to the impacts of the changing climate.’

The organizations claimed that “no aforestation can replace the loss of more than 6 lakh grown trees and the rich biodiversity they host that will be destroyed as a combined result of the 3097 megawatt Etalin project and the 2880 megawatt Dibang Multipurpose project, two of India’s largest hydro power projects being planned on the same limb of the Dibang river.”

The factsheet considered in the Forest Advisory Committee meeting in February 2017 states, “Land in which the project is proposed is in pristine forest that once cut cannot be replaced. Research in Dibang Valley shows that this region is a critical habitat for Schedule I endangered species including 52 tigers, more than 50 other mammal species including the Clouded Leopard, Mishmi Takin, Red Goral, Musk Deer and 430+ bird species including rare ones like Rufous-necked Hornbill, Ward’s Trogon, Hodgson’s Frogmouth, Mishmi Wren-Babbler. These hydro power projects will also destroy the traditional way of life of the indigenous Idu Mishmi tribals who have for generations protected and managed these forests.”

A poster of the campaign

Also participating in the tweet-storm, an Idu Mishmi youth expressing fear over extinction of their community which is of hardly 13,000 population as per 2011 census said, “Construction of a colossal structure in exchange for loss of biodiversity and the wildlife we proudly boast to have preserved for generations, especially the Tigers here whom we have considered as our brothers, does not feel like such a good bargain.”

In their tweets, citizens pointed out facts such as:

  • Why is clearance being given to this project without conducting multiple seasonal studies on biodiversity by an internationally credible institute as recommended by the Forest Advisory Committee in 2017 saying that the current Environmental Impact Assessment done for the project is inadequate?
  • What is the logic behind making these hydro power projects on Dibang river, a high mountain watershed area prone to natural hazards and in seismically active zone V which has recorded 34 earthquakes in the last 100 years? It is not certain that dam safety measures and the design can withstand multiple glacial lake outburst floods and seismic events. Given the potential risks to communities and their ecosystems, scientific consensus is against dam construction in Dibang Valley.
  • Why is the government not paying heed to the scientists and geologists when they are saying that rocks in the Eastern Himalayas are soft and fragile making dam building in these geological conditions risky when earthquakes occur?
  • For whom is the Modi government pushing these really expensive hydro power projects destroying precious biodiversity and India’s huge carbon sinks, when scientists have predicted that the fast retreating glaciers that feed the rivers upstream of Dibang valley will lose 60% of their current volume by 2050 which will drastically reduce the electricity production capacity of hydro power projects in the next few years?
  • Can the government control the thinning of glaciers taking place in upper mountain areas of Dibang that can cause sudden floods like what happened in Kedarnath in 2013 that could destroy the hydropower projects and lives downstream?
  • Why is the Indian government promoting hydro power as a clean and green source of energy when scientific studies show that methane which is 34 times more potent than carbondioxide, makes up 80 per cent of emissions from water storage reservoirs created by dams. In tropical nations such as India, hydropower can emit methane emissions as much or even more than greenhouse emissions of coal-fired power plants.
  • Why is the government blind to hydropower leading to extinction of fish & aquatic species, loss of forests & farmlands downstream?
  • Who is this economically & ecologically unsustainable Etalin Project and other such hydro power projects in Arunachal Pradesh being pushed for in a power surplus nation like ours which has an installed capacity of 369000 MW against its peak demand of 183804 MW?
  • It is the responsibility of the state to ensure that people’s Right to Life (Article 21 of the Constitution of India) is fully protected which includes citizen’s right to clean air and water security. Further, the Directive Principles of the State Policy, Constitution of India (Article 48A) directs the state to protect and improve the environment and to safeguard the forests and wildlife. Citizens hope that the government wakes up to the fact that India is not a dictatorship but a democracy in which the state cannot take unilateral decisions which negatively impact the well being of the citizens, the forests and the wildlife.

The News Mill is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@thenewsmill) and stay updated with the latest news from across Northeast India