Niti Aayog Stirs Opposition With Arunachal Mega Dam Proposal

Civil society organisations are furious and have reminded the Centre of Modi's electoral promise to not construct dams if opposed by locals.

New Delhi: The Niti Aayog has proposed a mega dam, on the Siang river of Arunachal Pradesh, which will have the capacity to generate power worth 10,000 megawatts.

On September 26, giving details to the chief minister Pema Khandu and deputy chief minister Chowna Mein among other cabinet colleagues of the state in a meeting in New Delhi, Niti Aayog CEO Amitabh Kant reportedly said, “The state will benefit (from the project) through its 12 per cent free power share that comes to about Rs 2,400 crore per annum as revenue. Another Rs 200 crore per annum will be added through its 1 per cent free power share, which will be used exclusively for local area development. Besides Rs 4,500 crore proposed for R&R package, the project will attract an investment of about Rs 80,000 crores with huge employment generation and creation of several economic opportunities.”

However, a day after the news reached the northeastern state, which is known for its strong historical public movements against dams, civil society organisations, particularly from the Upper Siang district, voiced their severe opposition to the proposal.

The organisations reminded the central government of prime minister Narendra Modi’s promise. at a rally prior to the 2014 Lok Sabha polls in Pashighat town of the state, that if voted to power, his government wouldn’t construct any mega dam opposed by locals.

The proposed dam, as per a press note released by the state chief minister’s office, is estimated to be 300 metre high. Being termed a “multipurpose river valley project”, the note stated that the dam would moderate flood and erosion in the downstream areas of both Arunachal and Assam.

The organisations opposing the Niti Aayog proposal – the Forum for Siang Dialogue, Siang Peoples’ Forum and Siang Indigenous Farmers’ Forum –also pointed towards the havoc created by last month’s flash floods in Lakhimpur area of Assam, which was exacerbated by the release of excess water from the Ranganadi Dam in Arunachal.

Vijay Taram of Forum for Siang Dialogue was quoted in The Arunachal Times as saying, “Once the natural life of the river is disturbed and killed, the water stored in the dam and released during heavy downpour of monsoon rains will create more havoc and devastation and cause immeasurable soil erosion. Everyone is well aware of last month’s flash flood at Lakhimpur, when the dam waters of Ranganadi had to be released due to heavy downpour of the rains to protect the bearing capacity of the dam.”

According to Forum for Siang Dialogue, the proposed dam would likely affect “more than 25 villages and two towns in the upstream and more than 30 villages in the downstream and many towns in Assam before it affects Bangladesh.” The organisations opposing the project told reporters that they “are not opposed to other dams that are being constructed on tributaries of the Siang, but the mega project proposed by Niti Aayog as it will cause devastation in the Siang valley.”

In the meeting, the chief minister pointed out that the people of the state have negative notions about large dams and stressed on spreading adequate awareness to dispel the fears. He suggested NitiAayog officials visit Arunachal, meet local people and understand the nature of their opposition. As per media reports, NitiAayog vice chairman Rajiv Kumar, who chaired the meeting, agreed to depute a central team to conduct a “spot study” and “convince the people about the proposed project.”

Opposing the proposal, the People’s Party of Arunachal (PPA) said in a statement that steps should be taken for constitutional amendment to place Arunachal Pradesh under Article 371A so that indigenous people of the state could enjoy ownership rights of its natural resources at par with Nagaland and Mizoram. PPA shared power with the BJP before all the MLAs defected to the BJP to form the present government in January this year,