Arunachal: Extension of environmental clearance to Tawang hydro projects raises questions

NEW DELHI: The extension of validity of environmental clearance (EC) given to two hydropower projects in Arunachal Pradesh’s Tawang has been questioned by environmental experts, who claim the authority responsible went beyond its brief.

The Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) for the River Valley and Hydroelectric projects of the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change has given extension to two hydropower projects of the NHPC Ltd till June 9, 2024.

Tawang Hydroelectric Project Stage-I of 600 MW as a run of river scheme and the Tawang Hydroelectric Project Stage-II of 800 MW, also as a run of river scheme, were put up before the EAC for extension of validity of environmental clearance during the meeting on September 7.

As per the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Notification, 2006, the period of validity of the EC is 10 years and extendable for three years in case the project proponent applies within the expiry date of the EC. In this case, the EC was granted on June 10, 2011 to both Tawang I and Tawang II. Both projects could not commence due to non-accord of Forest Clearance by the Ministry.

Earlier, after the NHPC Ltd sought the extension of validity of environmental clearance, one of the observations during the deliberation – as documented in the minutes of the meeting – was: “It appears that the EC originally given in 2011 is for commencement of work and not completion of work.

In the past 10 years, work has not commenced due to non-accord of Forest (Stage-I), which is reportedly pending for want of compliance under FRA, 2006 by the government of Arunachal Pradesh. Gram Sabha meetings under FRA 2006, are pending in six out of 13 villages since May 2015, due to local agitation. It may be prudent to firstly modify the condition that the validity is for completion of the project and not for commencement of construction- an approach being adopted in other similar cases.”

The EAC recommended that, “the Ministry may consider the proposal as recommended for grant of extension in validity of EC dated June 10, 2011 to Tawang Hydroelectric Project Stage-I of 600 MW”. Similar extension of the EC was sought for Tawang II project and the EAC “recommended the proposal for extension in validity of EC” subject to additional conditions.

Opposing the move, Coordinator of the South Asia Network for Dams, River and People (SANDRP), Himanshu Thakkar, said: “The EAC mandate should not be dependent on the developer’s viewpoint. It is none of their concern. EAC’s concern should only be from the environmental compliance issues.”

And it is not just the concern about the mandate, the very composition of the EAC is questionable, experts said. Legal Initiative for Forest and Environment (LIFE) founder and lawyer Ritwick Dutta has challenged before the Karnataka High Court, the very formation of EAC wherein questions have been raised about Chairman K. Gopakumar’s expertise – “which does not mention a single word about river or environment,” as per Dutta – and also the presence of Balraj Joshi, the former CMD of NHPC Ltd – “which is a direct conflict of interest for the EAC on River Valley and hydroelectric projects”. ( Report- IANS )

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