ITANAGAR: Forest clearance for the 600 mega watt Tawang-I hydroelectric project in Arunachal Pradesh has been deferred, pending further study of the area’s ecology.

The project proposed to be built on the Tawang-chu river in Tawang district is located at downstream of fore bridge near Jang (2.5 km downstream of Nuranang chu power house). The dam site is located about 28 km from Tawang town and the power house site is located near Yusum village.

The Tawang-I project will be built at a cost of Rs 4824 crore and affect 1,99,505 trees. It will also impact 262.11 hectares of land, of which 12.50 hectares is for the reservoir alone. Apart from this, the underground excavation area required for the project is 14.95 hectares.

The Forest Advisory Committee (FAC) of the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change met on May 16 to discuss the state government’s proposal to divert 187.20 hectares of forest land.

The FAC cited the Bombay Natural History Society’s representation that Tawang valley “is very high in biodiversity having several critically endangered species” and that the project has “an ability to significantly alter wetland characteristics” needed for the black-necked cranes which use parts of the valley as a wintering site.

It said that the proposed area is an important bird area as identified by the Bombay Natural History Society and recommended that a study in this regard be conducted by the Wildlife Institute of India before granting forest clearance.

Local indigenous Monpa people, led mostly by Buddhist monks, have been opposing the government’s plans to build large dams in the area. There are currently 11 active memorandums to build hydropower projects of varying installed capacities, with the Tawang - I (600 MW) and Tawang – II (800 MW) being two of the biggest. Clearance for the 780-MW Nyamjangchu Project was quashed by the National Green Tribunal last year.

Protests by local residents and monks in May last year had escalated after Lobsang Gyatso, a monk and vocal opponent of the government’s plans to build big dams in the area, was arrested for allegedly defaming another high monk. A violent scuffle that broke out on May 2 last year left two men dead and several others injured from the ensuing firing by security personnel outside the police station in Tawang.

The monks say that they are not opposed to some of the smaller projects that have been planned but that the Tawang I and II must not be built. This past February at a meeting of monks, panchayat leaders and government officials, including Tawang MLA Tsering Tashi and Lumla MLA Jambey Tashi, people present made clear their opposition to the two projects.

While those opposed to the projects counted the public rejection as a major victory, officials from NHPC, the public sector unit tasked with the job of executing the projects, maintain that plans remain unaffected as long as the memorandum of agreements it signed with the state government are not cancelled.