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Apart from the Chinese interest in Arunachal Pradesh, the other thing that has kept us in the news are the numerous hydroelectric projects (HEPs), ranging from few Kilowatts to thousands of Megawatts. With some 132 projects expected to contribute more than 28,000 MW, Arunachal has been projected as the answer to India's power need. Experts say Arunachal is capable of generating some 50,000 plus MW of power.
What these experts don't tell us is the amount of environmental destruction it is going to cause us apart from the massive influx of workers from outside that will dislocate and marginalise the small indigenous communities.
Even if these facts are hidden from us deliberately, there are already ample examples in the state to learn from.
Before someone accuses those raising voices against power projects of being anti-development, let us take a look at the three examples that the governments of Arunachal Pradesh and at the Centre cannot afford to forget.
The Chakma and Hajong communities in Arunachal, who are unwelcome refugees, deprived of basic facilities, did not pop out from nowhere just like that. These communities were displaced because of the coming up of the Kaptai hydropower project which subsequently led to internal conflict including communal riots, eventually forcing them to flee from the Chittagong Hill Tracts.
Closer home, the 2000 MW Subansiri Lower Project is one example. For those of you who have been to the project site, it is for all to see that how absolutely nothing has changed for the common people. Apart from a few contractors who have made huge sums of money, most people continue to live in abject poverty.
During a visit couple of years back, I was told there were just three children from nearby villages in each class at a central school somewhere in Gerukamukh. The school, anyways, was very intimidating with barbed wires across its boundary. It's a good example of corporate social responsibility!
Another example is those living downstream of the Ranganadi Hydro project. In villages near to Kimin and Sher, people live in continuous fear. More so in the summers since they never know when the water is going to be released from the dam. The water dramatically dries up in the winter and there is a deluge in summer. To add insult to the injury, the North Eastern Electric Power Corporation (NEEPCO) actually served a notice to the villagers some years back stating that it would not be responsible for human and livestock casualty in case of excess release of water!
If it were anywhere else in the world, the project would have been asked to shut shop for good the day the notice was made public. The dreadful and unimaginable happens only in this state run by greedy politicians and spineless technocrats and bureaucrats who are such a waste.
Governments have come and gone but every successive chief minister in this state has, in unequivocal terms, come out in support of power projects. Of course we understand the need for power projects but the question is how big they need to be. So far there is no opposition to minor projects which is a clear indication that people do agree to the fact that the state needs power to sustain itself.
Statements by politicians including an MP regarding alleged funding of anti-dam activists by China and support from Maoists was another indication of how desperate some people in power are when it comes to HEPs. Given the fact that these allegations pertain to national security, we would want to know what steps the Centre and the state take to counter such threats.
It is easy to brand anyone but who is going to address the real concerns of the people set to be affected by these mindless power projects?
More about Tongam Rina
Tongam Rina is a journalist based out of Itanagar, Arunachal Pradesh. She is currently the associate editor of The Arunachal Times, the largest selling daily in the state.
Tongam has been a school teacher, an advertising agency team member, has led the the Hunger Project’s state unit, has worked on issues of local self-governance and gender, and taught communication in the state’s university. She is today recognised as one of the dependable voices of political and development analysis, largely through her popular column Ring Side View.
She has written on issues ranging from the politics of hydropower to the dilemmas of environment and development, from the complex web of the public distribution system to waterlogged city streets.
Caution: Wet Ink is her freewheeling thoughts on Arunachal, the North-East and life in general.