Green concerns in North-East worry power ministry

NEW DELHI: The power ministry is concerned at questions raised by environment minister on hydel projects in the north-east, which has a hydro-power potential of 48,000 mw. A 12% power deficit together with the need for clean energy makes harnessing the region’s resources vital.

Power ministry officials acknowledge that mitigation measures adopted by various developers leave a lot to be desired. Accordingly, power minister has decided that project developers, particularly public sector companies, would undertake afforestation as part of the projects. “Measures need to be taken to protect the environment. I have, in consultation with the ministry and NHPC officials, decided that afforestation would be taken up as part of the project, “ Mr Shinde said.

During his visit to Guwahati in September, Mr Ramesh assured that he would convey the apprehensions of the local people to the prime minister. Concerns raised include the lack of proper environmental impact of the Ranganadi project in the lower Subansari district of Arunachal Pradesh and the Kopili project in the North Cachar Hills district of Assam. It had been suggested by groups in Assam that NHPC’s 1750 mw Mangdechhu project in Bhutan would flood Assam and that no proper mitigation measures have been undertaken for the projects. Concerns were also raised about the Arunachal Pradesh government’s green signal to 130 projects without proper environmental assessment.

Power ministry officials do not rule out that some state government-approved projects might not have been assessed properly, but they point out that the Kopili and Mangdechhu projects had been cleared by the environment ministry. The environment minister is understood to have suggested that a cumulative river basin environmental impact assessment be undertaken in the north-east to determine the viability of the hydro power projects in the region. Sources in the government said that Mr Ramesh suggested a cumulative bio-diversity assessment for the region and a study of the downstream impact.

While the first suggestion could mean temporary suspension of ongoing projects, a downstream impact study could mean opening up the issue with Bangladesh. This issue would arise while considering impact of projects in the Bramhaputra river basin. “This is an apprehension. A road map for harnessing hydropower in the region is yet to be worked out, but it has to be ensured that it doesn’t lead to complications,” an official explained.

The power ministry is apprehensive that suggestions made by the environment minister could adversely impact harnessing 48,000 mw clean and cheap hydro electric power. Coming on the heels of the losses NTPC has incurred on account of the suspension of the Loharinagpala project, the power ministry is concerned about further delay and cost escalation.

The need to balance local sentiments with energy requirements and environmental concerns has forced Prime Minister to step in. The prime minister will be meeting ministers for power, environment, water resources, external affairs and the deputy chairman to work out a strategy.

Besides the need to bridge power deficits, the government wants to put on a fast track hydro power projects in Arunachal Pradesh to counter the Chinese build-up across the border. China is developing a hydel project on the Yarlung Tsangpo in Tibet. Developing the Siang basin will strengthen India’s negotiating position with China. Mr Ramesh is understood to have assured the prime minister that Siang basin projects would be cleared fast on account of its strategic importance.

However this intervention will have to wait a while longer as the power minister is out of the country. In the meantime, the power ministry is taking steps to address some of the concerns that have been raised.

Source: Economic Times

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SUMIT KUMAR

Executive at India Electron Exchange

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