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Ecology and Tribal Society in Arunachal Pradesh
Chunnu Prasad, Centre for Political Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University  New Delhi  01/03/2011 1:43:30 AM

  It has been simply understood that ecology and tribal society have a very core relationship. Tribalism only sustain if ecology sustain. Displacement of tribals in various parts of this universe took place only when disturbances brought in the ecological system in the particular tribal settled areas. No tribal can survive without their engagement in forest, rivers, mountains, animals and over all ecological system. Tribals feel more comfortable when they live with their eco-system. On the other hand, it is also true to say that every society needs to change according to change of the universe and nature but that changes should not be on the cost of life and livelihood. We have a long history within India and through out this world that once any disturbances took place a mass tribal displacement took place inbound or outbound. In the name of development and better life tribals sacrificed more then any other ethnic groups in this universe. 

  According to the 2001 Census, the total population of the Scheduled Tribes (STs) in India is 84,326,240 persons, constituting 8.2 percent of the total population of the country. 91.7 percent of them lives in rural areas, whereas, only 8.3 percent inhabit in urban areas. Madhya Pradesh accounts for the highest percentage of STs population to total STs population of the country (14.5 percent) followed by Maharashtra (10.2 percent), Orissa (9.7 percent), Gujarat (8.9 percent), Rajasthan (8.4 percent), Jharkhand (8.4 percent) and Chhattisgarh (7.8 percent). In fact, 68 percent of the country’s STs population lives in these seven States only. The proportion of the STs to the total population of the States/Union territories is highest in Mizoram (94.5 percent) and Lakshadweep (94.5 percent) followed by Nagaland (89.1 percent), Meghalaya (85.9 percent). Within the major states Chhattisgarh (31.8 percent) has the highest percentage of STs population followed by Jharkhand (26.3 percent) and Orissa(22.1 percent). These proportions are in the lowest in Uttar Pradesh (0.1 percent), Bihar (0.9 percent), Tamil Nadu (1.0 percent) and Kerala (1.1 percent). As per the 2001 Census, there are 75 districts where STs population is 50 percent or more. In majority of the districts (i.e., 403 districts), the concentration of STs population to its total population is less than 20 percent. 

  Coming to Arunachal Pradesh the state known for its large area with more then 26 major (70 percent) tribes is in huge threat due to the construction of big dams. Entire state is divided into big and small dams. Small dams are little difficult to count but five big dams one can count which is to be constructed on the river Kameng River Basin, Subansiri River Basin, Siang River Basin, Dibang River Basin and Lohit River Basin. Government of India calculated to produce more then 50,000 megawatt hydro electricity which would be the world’s largest project ever been seen and produced. This power not only gives electricity for twenty four hours to India rather it would be sent to South Asia and South-east Asia. It is really a matter of great pride for the Government of India but this is only possible by displacing large section of tribes. Tribes are in many cases are used as a kind of toys almost every regimes. They used these tribes and their land as a kind of their enjoyment and place of entertainment1.

Arunachal Pradesh is bestowed with huge hydroelectric potential and is speculated to become the ‘Power House’ of the country if this hydroelectric potential is tapped. The identified hydroelectric capacity in respect of Arunachal Pradesh as per re-assessment study as on 30-04-2006 comes to 50,328 MW and so far only about 0.8 percent of this capacity has been tapped owing to the difficult geographical terrain and inaccessibility of possible project sites. In a landmark move towards making this state Power House of India, the State Government on 21st September, entered into Memorandum of Agreement (MoA) with CPSU power giants viz., N.H.P.C Ltd., N.T.P.C. Ltd. and NEEPCO Ltd., for harnessing 10,230 MW of hydroelectricity capacity out of the CEA estimated hydroelectricity capacity of 50,238 MW. These power giants would pump in around Rs. 42,242.66/- Crs. (estimated project cost) to harness this 10,230 MW of hydro power. Listed below are projects for which MoA has been entered into;

I. Tawang – I Hydro Electric Project
i. Installed Capacity: 750 MW
ii. Annual Energy Generation (in MU): 3156.10
iii. Location: Tawang District
iv. Implementing Agency: National Hydroelectric Power Corporation Limited (N.H.P.C)
v. Basis of Funding: BOO (Build, Own and Operate)

II. Tawang – II Hydro Electric Project
i. Installed Capacity: 750 MW
ii. Annual Energy Generation (in MU) : 3480.40
iii. Location: Tawang District
iv. Implementing Agency: N.H.P.C
v. Basis of Funding: BOO (Build, Own and Operate)

III. Dibang Multipurpose Project
i. Installed Capacity: 3000 MW
ii. Annual Energy Generation (in MU): 12270
iii. Location: Lower Dibang Valley District
iv. Implementing Agency: NHPC Ltd.
v. Basis of Funding: A Joint venture between Government of Arunachal Pradesh and NHPC Ltd.

IV. Kameng – I (Bharali – I) Hydroelectric Project
i. Installed Capacity: 1120 MW
ii. Annual Energy Generation (in MU): 4112.40
iii. Location: East Kameng District
iv. Implementing Agency: North Eastern Electric Power Corporation Ltd. (NEEPCO)
v. Basis of Funding: BOO (Build, Own and Operate)

V. Pare Hydroelectric Project
i. Installed Capacity: 110 MW
ii. Annual Energy Generation (in MU): 491.74
iii. Location: Papum Pare District
iv. Implementing Agency: NEEPCO
v. Basis of Funding: BOO (Build, Own and Operate)

VI. Etalin Hydro Electric Project
i. Installed Capacity: 4000 MW
ii. Annual Energy Generation (in MU): 16071.60
iii. Location: Dibang Valley District
iv. Implementing Agency: National Thermal Power Corporation Ltd. (NTPC)
v. Basis of Funding: BOO (Build, Own and Operate)

VII. Atunli Hydro Electric Project
i. Installed Capacity: 500 MW
ii. Annual Energy Generation (in MU) : 2247.32
iii. Location: Dibang Valley District
iv. Implementing Agency: NTPC
v. Basis of Funding: BOO (Build, Own and Operate)

These Hydroelectric Projects would be constructed taking all the environmental safeguards in accordance with the conditions of Ministry of Environment and Forests besides making additional investments by way of Catchment Area Treatment (CAT) etc. for control of soil erosion as declared by the Ministry of Power in a press release on 22-09-2006. The main highlight of the MoA was the creation of Local Area Development Trust (LADT) to take up development activities for the people of affected areas. Besides, 12 percent of free power the state will accrue from these projects, the projects would contribute one paisa per unit of electricity generated to the trust (LADT).

In recent time, companies like ‘reliance power’ and ‘jaypee groups’ had offered to build the dams in Arunachal Pradesh for 19 percent free power to the state. Not only that, they agreed to handover the dams to Arunachal Pradesh after 55 years of their business. With only 12 percent free power and giving up the dams to NHPC/NTPC for as long as they stand, Arunachal Pradesh is losing a lot. Only people who gain from the deal are NHPC and the Arunachal Pradesh authorities who have consumed commission not to think too much. Here I guess the question is not of free power because the term free is a misnomer itself. It is actually the right of the state-water being state subject and handing the project back to the state government after 55 years is really a kind of joke which creates question like what would be the life of a hydro power projects? As per NHPC’s official assumption for life of a Dam is 99 years. Other companies in India too must have assumed the life expectancy of a dam near NHPC’s. So in case the dam is handed over to Arunachal Pradesh after 55 years, state has at least 44 years of dam’s life to utilize. Even if after 55 years state doesn’t have a qualified department to manage a constructed dam, we can still hire some other companies to do so.

Since 2001, when the project only had permission to conduct survey and investigations, NHPC has repeatedly committed serious violations of both the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980, and the Environment Impact Assessment notification, 1994. In 2001, both the Assam Government and the regional office to the Ministry of Environment & Forests (MoEF) have brought up this issue with NHPC and the Government of India. Some of the offences have been committed over three years before the project had the necessary clearances. Violations include extensive collection of boulders, stone, gravel, sand and earth from the left bank of river, obstruction of an elephant corridor with fencing in the Subansiri RF, dumping of muck and debris in the river. Citizens who attended the public hearing at Gerukamukh on September 4, 2001, also highlighted the illegal construction, which was on in full swing before the grant of clearances. Although the MoEF took a strong stand in the early stages (2001 and 2002), has subsequently been quiet on the issue, although violations have been brought to there notice2.

Social organizations like the Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti (KMSS) recently set a seven-day deadline for the Assam’s Tarun Gogoi government to ensure a halt to the construction of big dams affecting the state or face a mass movement akin to the Assam Agitation from November 1. The organisation, which has been opposing the construction of large dams in the region, did not spare Arunachal Pradesh either. It threatened to launch an economic blockade against the neighbouring state if it did not give up its pro-dam policy. They are mainly opposing because due to the construction of dams in Arunachal Pradesh the agriculture in districts like Lakhimpur, Morigaon, Nagaon, Kamrup, Baksa and Barpeta has been severely affected because of the Ranganadi, Kopili, Karbi-Langpi and other hydro power projects. These projects create floods in the districts and led to massive siltation on agricultural lands3.

  The Arunachal Pradesh Government’s failure to implement some key recommendations made in a World Bank report has apparently led to the controversy over dams and inter-state clashes over the upcoming hydropower projects in the state.

The comprehensive had recommended maintaining high level of transparency (public access to draft plans and data) and consultation with stakeholders (such as communities affected by floods and erosion on tributaries), which was never followed in true spirit when the Arunachal Pradesh Government signed memoranda of understanding and memoranda of association with several power generation companies, including some large private players. As a result of that, there has been widespread apprehension and protests against the possible disastrous impact in the downstream areas in Assam because of the construction of these dams in Arunachal Pradesh, which has put the two states on a collision course. The report of the World Bank study, titled Study on Natural Resources, Water and the Environment Nexus for Development and Growth in North East India, was submitted to the Centre in 2008. The study was conducted at the initiative of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The study has strongly advocated cooperation among the northeastern states for river management to control flood and erosion and to harness hydropower potential but that does not seem to be happening with Assam and Arunachal expressing contradictory views on this issue.

Moreover, the upcoming projects in Arunachal are solely for power generation and not for flood moderation. To ensure better coordination among the states, the study also recommended setting up of a “new river basin management institution” with regulatory powers that would work across the entire Northeast and for many decisions, other stakeholders, for example communities affected by floods or erosion on tributaries, should be included. The proposed North East Water Resources Authority (NEWRA) which could have functioned as the river basin management institution as suggested in the report, could not be constituted as yet since Arunachal refused to give its consent. Barring Arunachal Pradesh, all the states of the region have agreed to the Centre’s proposal to set up the authority which was modelled on the lines of the Tennessee Valley Authority in the US. The Arunachal Pradesh Government has already signed MoUs and MoAs for construction of 100-odd hydro-projects with a total capacity of around 50,000 MW with different power generation companies. The World Bank study says that international experience in past decades has shown that it is generally advisable to separate construction from other functions (like impact on downstream areas and upper reaches, environment, ecology, effect on livelihood, etc), since the power generation companies easily get drawn into construction and neglect other vital issues4.

  The anti-dam pressure group KMSS sent a memorandum to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to stop construction of mega dams in the Northeast, particularly in Arunachal Pradesh. The memorandum carried signatures of 1.13 lakh people from a cross-section of society supporting the Samiti’s stand. KMSS leader’s also asked both Dispur and Delhi to consider today’s memorandum as the “last and final” warning. The Planning Commission has convened a meeting on hydroelectric projects in New Delhi on November 9 to discuss the issue, which has not mentioned it in its letter to Dispur. KMSS submitted several memorandums to the government on sent memorandum to the Prime Minister and UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi, Union minister for environment and forests Jairam Ramesh and Union power minister Sushil Kumar Shinde about the issue related to the construction of dams and its effect on ecology. The Samiti also protested from the Nabagraha area in the city to Cotton College in Panbazar and held a meeting there. In that various civil society organisations and prominent intellectuals of the state participated in the meeting to endorse the views of the KMSS over the construction of mega dams.

Over all KMSS demanding that the Prime Minister withdraw the clearances granted without downstream impact assessment and public consent to the 2,000 MW Lower Subansiri project, 1,750 MW Demwe Lower and 1,500 MW Tipaimukh projects. The memorandum demanded the Prime Minister to commission a special study group comprising independent reviewers, scientists, social scientists and peoples’ representatives to study the environmental and social impact of all the existing dams in Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and Bhutan. It also demanded that the Brahmaputra and its tributaries be protected as cultural and ecological endowments of the people of the region and country as a whole5. In a related development, a high-level NHPC team called on by the chief secretary N.K. Das to discuss the concerns of Assam vis-à-vis the downstream impact of the dam6.

The Arunachal Pradesh Government is very much active these days to get all the projects cleared by the Central Government. Chief Minister Dorjee Khandu is writing letters frequently to the Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF) and the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) pleading for urgent steps to clear the projects expeditiously in the ‘larger interest of nation’. In his October 11 letter to the MoEF, the Arunachal Pradesh Chief Minister argued that all major rivers of Arunachal Pradesh originate in China and flow to India. The Chinese South to North Water Diversion (SNWD) Project has led to the speculation that China can divert the Yarlong/Siang before it enters India. Therefore, he pleaded that speedy implementation of hydroelectric power projects on the rivers like the Siang, Subansiri, Lohit, etc., was of strategic importance to establish India’s first user rights. It is needless to mention that any undue delay in statutory clearances will affect the nation’s interest adversely. He also informed the MoEF that his Government had targeted to start implementation of the hydroelectric power projects with the total capacity of 15,000 MW, by December 20117.

An expert committee set up to study the big dams in Arunachal Pradesh prescribed construction of a small dam instead of the 2000 MW hydel dam at Lower Subansiri in Arunachal Pradesh. This was what the panel members said as they were interacting with local people at Gogamukh after visiting the Lower Subansiri dam project at Gerukamukh. The experts were of the opinion that a small dam was feasible in the area. They said sand structure, seismic and earthquake report allows no dam of 2000 MW capacity but have suggested a small dam. According to these experts, the dam will not contain flood as it was not a run of the river project and that the model of the mega dam for lower Subansiri had to be changed. Notably, Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi has favoured big dam citing the expert panel report on effects of dams in the state8. Tarun Gogoi has written to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh asking for a review of the over 100 dams planned in Arunachal Pradesh and a comprehensive assessment of their impact downstream on Assam. Gogoi warned that the 100 plus dams in Arunachal Pradesh would lead to flash floods in the downstream areas of Assam when there is sudden and excessive discharge of waters after heavy rainfall. His letter to the PM comes after environment minister Jairam Ramesh wrote to the PM alerting him to the dangers of the Arunachal dams. Following this, Arunachal Pradesh CM Dorjee Khandu had written to the PM in favour of the dams. The PM has twice cancelled meetings of a group of ministers on the issue as a reaction to Ramesh’s letter and Khandu met the environment minister after that. Using the “downstream effects” logic, Gogoi’s letter also asked for a greater share of the 12 percent free power from the projects that is given to the states9.

The economically exploitable hydropower potential in India through medium and major schemes has been assessed at 84,044 MW at 60 percent load factor — that is about 148,000 MW installed capacity. The North and Northeastern regions contain the lion’s share of this, with 54,000 and 59,000 MW respectively. Nearly all of this (93 percent) is yet undeveloped capacity, but this potential is also highly concentrated, with 50,000 MW located in Arunachal Pradesh. Large dam construction and the hydro-electric power project in Arunachal Pradesh is really the biggest blunder and ironically enough while most of the debates regarding the project surround concerns about floods, environment, ecology, forests, livelihoods and culture. The biggest point of concern has not even been taken into account, and that is the high seismic activity in the region. Though the entire northeast India is seismically a high risk zone, that particular corner of Arunachal Pradesh is in fact among the topmost areas of earthquake vulnerability in the world. The districts of Upper Siang, Dibang valley and Lohit valley are literally ‘red alert’ areas for such mega projects.

The State Government had plotted politics at the backyard of the public in making bidding by taking money from the companies in grant with their knowledge. There is a greate concern over the compensation and public are really sceptical about it. Central Government hardly bothers about what is happening in the parts of Northeast. Taking all these into consideration, one would obviously be sceptical, frustrated and thus no question could be let for Dam building in Arunachal Pradesh to be perceived as a positive initiative or as a sign of a vibrant Indian democracy. Public view is that the money generated by hydro power would be pumped to New Delhi in crores depriving them of real opportunities to improve their standard of life. Despite all this, people have started urging for minor dams but not the mega dam as Arunachal Pradesh is ecologically sensitive. The Environmental Impact Assessment is merely a formality, otherwise democracy does not allow any authority to act maintaining status quo in any decision making.

Asymmetrical powers of some tribal states are not in a position to protect their ecology and society. It is mainly due to the over pressure and more interference from the Government of India. Arunachal Pradesh is the state which comes in sixth schedule with other powers like Inner-Line-Regulation 1873 Act10, state of ecology rights for the tribes and many more but even these tribes failed to control their forest, rivers, mountains, animals and more an large their way of living and survival. India needs development but that development should not be on the sacrifice of certain marginalized section. Development today is nothing but the modern way of life which is limited to some privilege sections of the society who are living in big metro cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, Guwahati etc. Development today is just to displace tribes from their ecology and do whatever required for their modernity which gives them all kind of luxury.
I am seeing a great threat to the tribes who planned their state as the land of survival. Entire Arunachal Pradesh is being divided into dams which almost going to effect all the tribal settlements and lost of livelihood. Development needed but maximum benefit should go to the people who are the part of it so that their survival and livelihood chances may increase in place of destroying.  

End-notes and Additional Thinking
1 Prasad, Chunnu (2009), Understanding the Political Economy of Arunachal Pradesh, Political Economy Journal of India, Vol. 18, Issue 3 and 4, July-December, Pp. 86-93.
2 Writ Petition (Civil) No. 337 of 1995, Centre for Environmental Law, WWF-India vs. Union of India & Ors., hereafter referred to as the WWF case. In August 1997, the SC ruled that no de-notifications could take place without the IBWL’s opinion. But several states continued deleting portions of protected areas under the pretext of the settlement of rights process. In response, the SC ruled in November 2000 that “pending further orders, no de-reservation of forests/sanctuaries/national parks shall be effected”. Subsequently state governments have had to go to the SC with proposals for deletions from PAs and the opinion of the IBWL is being sought on these proposals. The SC has further passed orders in 2002 that “no permission under section 29 of the Wildlife Act should be granted without getting approval of the Standing Committee (of the IBWL)”. Importantly, this approval is required irrespective of whether the area will be de-notified eventually or remain part of the protected area. It is an approval for the use of section 29.
3 The Telegraph, 21st October 2010.
4 The Telegraph, 28th October 2010.
5 Goswami, D.C. & Das, Partha (2002), Hydrological impact of earthquakes on the Brahmaputra river regime, Assam: A study in exploring some evidences, Proceedings of the 18th National Convention of Civil Engineers.
6 The Telegraph, 3rd November 2010.
7 Assam Tribune, 26th October 2010.
8 Assam Times, 25th October 2010.
9 Times of India, 5th November 2010.
10 Prasad, Chunnu (2007) Arunachal Pradesh and the Inner-Outer Line Regulation of 1873-1874 of North East Frontier Agency, Third World Impact, Vol. XVIII, No.173, January-March, Pp.15-19.

(Dr. Chunnu Prasad trained as a Social Scientist and Socio-Political Activist. He is associated with the Centre for Political Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University New Delhi. His interest area is Migration, Refugees, Human Rights, Dalits, Tribals, Ethnicity, Movements, Religion and Sexuality. He has contributed more then Thirty Five articles in referred journals and in edited books. He worked with various Government and Non-Government Organizations viz. NATRSS, ISSR, IIDS, and CPS/JNU New Delhi over a period of time. He has presented numbers of papers in national and international conferences/seminars/workshops in India and abroad. He has been awarded young Social Science award in collaboration with IDRC, Canada and India Social Science Research on the area related to social inclusion in India’s Northeast. Apart from it he visited many countries like Ethiopia, Senegal, and Nepal.

The views expressed in the write-up are personal and do not re?ect the official policy or position of the organization.)


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