Scientific review, people’s consent must precede for all hydro power projects in Arunachal Pradesh

arunachal-pradesh-damA National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM) statement on the tragic death of two anti-dam activists during police firing on protesting demonstrators in Arunachal Pradesh:  

On May 2, 2016 in an ugly turn of event, two people, namely Monk Nyima Wangdue and Tshering Tenpa, were killed and many injured, while protesting against the arrest of Lama Lobsang Gyatso in Tawang including a young Buddhist Lama. The Victims were protesting for the release of Lama Lobsang Gyatso, one of the most vocal opponents of hydropower projects in the Tawang region and secretary of Save Mon Region Federation (SMRF), an organization of the Monpa Community in the Mon-Tawang region of Arunachal Pradesh. National Alliance of People’s Movements condemns this brutal police action on peacefully protesting communities and demands immediate action against the responsible officials.

The State government continues to remain apathetic to the whole situation. Even as Tawang continues to reel under the shock of police firing, Arunachal Pradesh chief minister Kalikho Pul at ASSOCHAM forum in New Delhi in a complete insesnitive statement has advocated for fast-tracking environmental clearances for hydropower projects and suggested single window clearance to the hydro project developers. This only shows complete contempt for the sufferings of the people and environmental destruction and concern for corporate profiteering.

Our experience from struggles against the big dams have shown that, when world over the big dams are being done away with, it is extremely unfortunate that we are till trying to harness the hydro power in the most environmentally sensitive regions, or in densely populated areas, displacing massive populations.  Around 250 hydro-power projects are in pipeline in Arunachal Pradesh only, which would prove fatal for the whole north east and Himalayan region. For long, Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti (KMSS) have been opposed to the Lower Subansri Hydroelectric Project, which would threaten the livelihood of more than 5 lakhs of fishworkers, farmers and others dependent downstream. It needs to be noted that even though a eight member expert committee report is awaited the construction on dam has started once again, facing challenge from people.

This remains the case for many of the dams in North East where public hearings have been a complete hogwash and based on half-baked and unscientifically conducted Environmental Impact Assessment keeping communities often in dark. The overall planning of hydro development in the State and Himalayan region needs a thorough examination keeping in mind the people’s interest first, until then put a moratorium on the planned projects.

Our own experience of struggle against the Narmada, Tehri, Waang Marathwadi, Gosi Khurd and other Dams across the country have exposed the false claim of clean energy by hydro power projects. In the process of building big dams, we have destroyed rivers, villages, townships, lives and livelihood of millions. The people are still suffering from the impact on agriculture, livelihoods and the cultural disconnect along with ecological disasters like frequent landslides and loss of forest cover in the areas.Its time we stopped damming the mountains and bringing ecological destruction. Everywhere these dams and hydropower projects are facing resistance and protests from communities and often govt. has resorted to violence and arrests.  This must stop now!

In Tawang Valley, police forces made complete mockery of the rule of law and killed two of them and opened fire at mere gathering of 200 people who were demanding release of their leader. All these events suggest a dangerous political motivation to strike down the people’s voices and provide a free hand of destruction to corporate through hydro power projects planned in the state.

In light of the above, we strongly condemn the political involvement and misuse of police forces in this matter and demand the following :

1)    AP government must constitute an independent judicial commission, under the Commission of Enquiry Act, headed by a sitting or retired judge, to investigate the whole incicdent including role of police officials, local MLA and other politicians.

2)    Untill completion of the enquiry, suspend the involved police officers along with SP, Divisional Commissioner and others.

3)    Put a moratorium on all the planned hydro power projects untill a complete scientific review is conducted, opinion of the communities concerned  taken and consent achieved. This must take a comprehensive look at the serious risk of environmental disasters and geological instability.

Background:

Reportedly, 13 of the over 150 hydel projects planned by the state since 2005 are in Tawang. To stall this spree of dam construction and upcoming ecological devastation, the people from the Monpa Community joined hands with local Buddhist monks in 2011 to form the Save Mon Region Federation (SMRF).

Under Lobsang Gyatso’s leadership, SMRF has been advocating socio-culturally and ecologically sensitive development in the Mon-Tawang region. The group has protested against ecologically destructive hydropower projects, demanded accountability in the execution of government schemes and development projects, and exposed corruption.

Their work has been bearing fruit as on April 7, the SMRF saw its first significant achievement. In response to its petition filed in 2012, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) suspended the environment clearance granted by the Union environment ministry for the Rs. 6,400 crore Nyamjang Chhu hydropower project in Tawang’s Zemingthang area. The NGT noted that the project – promoted by the Noida-based steel conglomerate LNJ Bhilwara Group – did not consider its impact on the habitat of the endangered black-necked crane, which is endemic to the region. The bird is rated “vulnerable” in the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s list of endangered species and is listed in schedule 1 of the Wildlife (Prohibition) Act 1972 and also considered sacred to the Buddhist Monpa community, who consider it an embodiment of the 6th Dalai Lama, who was from Tawang and wrote about the bird in his poetry.

Lobsang Gyatso and SMRF have been supporting villagers in recording their objections against other destructive hydropower projects in Tawang too, including Tawang II HEP. However Lobsang Gyatso’s success seems to have made him a target for the local police authorities. Following the events, he was arrested twice last month on charges of disrupting peace in the Gongkhar Village and for alleged critical comments against Guru Rinpoche, the Abbot of Tawang Monastery, in reply of that the Abbot has appealed to find a peaceful solution to the volatile situation [Appeal attached] but the politicians exploited the issue and filed an FIR [FIR by both the local leader and Lobsand Gyatso attached] against the leader Lobsang Gyatso after which the protests erupted in the region for his release.

The political motivation is also clear as the SMRF is preparing to file public interest litigation in the Supreme Court against the Mukto Shakangchu hydel project said by Lobsang in an interview given to The Wire. Even though over 90 crores rupees were officially spent by the state govt. on the project, most of what was constructed has been washed away by the river waters within three and a half months of completion of work due to use of sub-standard material.

Prepared by Medha Patkar, Narmada Bachao Andolan; Prafulla Samantara,  Lok Shakti Abhiyan, NAPM, Odisha; Dr Sunilam, Aradhna Bhargava, Kisan Sangharsh Samiti; Suniti SR, Suhas Kolhekar and Prasad Bagwe, NAPM, Maharashtra; Gabriele Dietrich and Geetha Ramakrishnan, Unorganised Sector Workers Federation, Tamil Nadu;  CR Neelkandan, NAPM Kerala; P Chennaiah  &  Ramakrishnam Raju,  NAPM Andhra Pradesh; others.

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