Chief Minister Pema Khandu today came to the rescue of the affected people of the 405 MW hydro electric project on Ranganadi (Panyor) of Yazali and adjoining villages by announcing to allocate 1% from the state share of free electricity for local area development.
People of the affected area had been in loggerheads with the North Eastern Electric Power Corporation (NEEPCO) under the banner of RHEP MoU Demand Committee alleging non-fulfillment of the rights deserved by the locals as per laid down norms and promises made prior to implementation of the project. The Committee has been on an agitation mode and closed down NEEPCO establishments at Yazali at least on two occasions.
Admitting that the grievances of the people are genuine, Khandu announced 1% share for development of affected villages by the project in a tripartite meeting to resolve the impasse he had summoned at his offices this morning. The meeting was attended by NEEPCO authorities headed by its CMD A G West Kharkongor, RHEP MoU Demand Committee headed by its Chairman Taba Tachi and Secretary Tao Tana, Chief Secretary (in Charge) Satya Gopal, Power Commissioner Ashish Kundra, Deputy Commissioners of Papum Pare and Lower Subansiri and local legislators Nabam Tuki and Likha Saaya.
The Chief Minister expressed surprise knowing the fact that a hydro project of mega magnitude was implemented and commissioned in the state without signing any MoU and is running for more than 15 years! The only legal (and official) document available on its inception and existence is a ‘Minutes of the Meeting’ held under the then Chief Minister Gegong Apang and signed by the then Chief Secretary Matin Dai and then Chairman & MD of NEEPCO S N Phukan on 28 August, 1990, that allows for implementation of the project with certain conditions for development and welfare of the local people and affected villages.
“May be circumstances then were different and maybe it was executed on good faith but the times have changed. Whatever wrong we did has to be made right to the maximum and therefore we have to immediately sign an MoU incorporating our state hydro policy of 2008 provisions so that there is a legal framework under which we can all work and benefit without depriving the rights of the local people,” Khandu declared.
He pointed that in absence of a legal framework (MoU) the rights of the project affected people like local area development, free electricity, job reservations, relief and rehabilitation packages, etc have been denied for long. To add to it, provisions of the hydro policies of both the state and the center are not mandatory on RHEP as it was commissioned prior to framing of these policies.
Khandu regretted that due to the ‘unsavory’ beginning (RHEP is the first and only commissioned mega hydro power project of the state) people today are apprehensive of hydro power projects elsewhere in the state, which needs to be dealt sensitively and therefore emphasized on ‘correcting’ the ‘wrongs’ on this project to set a positive precedent.
He directed the NEEPCO authorities to compile a comprehensive report on the demands placed by the MoU Demand Committee including actions to be taken within a time frame and submit it to the state government by August 5 next. He informed, besides the 1% share for local area development, the Cabinet that is scheduled to meet on August 12 will decide a way forward to redress all the grievances of the local people.
“After August 15, I along with NEEPCO authorities shall seek audience with the Union Power Ministry and strongly push for a relook into its policy vis-à-vis RHEP for welfare of the affected local areas including change of project nomenclature from Ranganadi to Panyor and establishment of NEEPCO office of at least Director level within the state,” Khandu assured.
Sagalee legislator and former Chief Minister Nabam Tuki while endorsing the demands of the local affected people said rights of the affected people as per norms have to be fulfilled at all costs and that there’s no second opinion to it. He said people are not demanding anything Out of way but what they deserve for sacrificing their homes and cultivable lands.
“I don’t believe in confrontation but see power projects as important assets for the country. However, rights of the people affected cannot be overlooked. I request the government and the NEEPCO to properly reassess the sacrifices made by the people and adequately compensate them. Whatever wrong has been done should not be repeated in upcoming projects,” he added.
Yazali legislator Likha Saaya too endorsed the view and said the demands of the affected people are genuine and that NEEPCO should appreciate them.
“If I was not a legislator I would have personally joined the agitation launched by the people,” he said.
Saaya also called for a fresh MoU between the state government and NEEPCO on RHEP to address all grievances of the affected people.
Earlier, Secretary of the RHEP MoU Demand Committee, Tao Tana in a detailed power point presentation explained genuine demands of the people based on documented facts that drew appreciation from the CM, the legislators, state government officials and even the NEEPCO CMD.
Meanwhile, the state Power Commissioner has been endorsed with the responsibility to study in detail the issues raised by the Demand Committee in consultation with NEEPCO and suggest the government on ways and means to approach the Union Power Ministry for issues that are beyond the purview of NEEPCO CMD’s office.