ITANAGAR: Continued opposition and debates have done little to deter successive governments from promoting environmentally-degrading large hydropower projects in Arunachal Pradesh. A recent proposal is most likely to reignite the discussion on the matter.

Arunachal Pradesh is home to several river basins and is often portrayed by governments as a potential powerhouse for the country, with a capacity to generate more than 50,000 mega-watts of electricity. Despite this ‘potential’ growth in the sector has been slow due to vocal opposition by local residents.

Nowhere has the opposition to large dams been louder than in the Siang basin where currently the government has memorandums of agreements signed with various power developers to construct 28 hydropower projects. (The number of actual dams is higher.) The government now hopes to proceed with plans to turn its dreams into a reality.

An official statement today informed that chief minister Pema Khandu and his Cabinet colleagues attended a meeting of the NITI Aayog in New Delhi on the proposed Multipurpose River Valley Project for Siang river.

“The proposed project is estimated to be 300 metre high dam with power generation capacity of 10,000 mega-watts. The project being a multipurpose project will moderate flood and erosion providing relief in downstream river reaches of Arunachal Pradesh and Assam,” the statement read.

If the proposed project is given a nod, it will be the single largest hydropower project in the country by installed capacity.

According to the proposal, a single high capacity dam will be built on the site of proposed Siang Upper Stage-II project which was originally set to have an installed capacity of 3,750 mega-watts. The Stage-I of the project was originally intended to have an installed capacity of 6,000-MW. If the latest proposal is accepted, the single dam will have a larger installed capacity then the two previously combined.

The official stance is that the single project will reduce the cost of the project (to be built by NEEPCO) by 25 percent and increase the storage capacity of the dam.

During the NITI Aayog meeting, the chief minister reportedly said people in the state carry “lots of negative notions regarding large dams” and that it was necessary to spread “adequate awareness to dispel the fears”.

NITI Aayog vice-chairman, Dr Rajiv Kumar, who chaired the meeting, has reportedly agreed to send a central team to speak to “local people and try to convince them about the benefits of the project”.

The statement from the chief minister’s office said that Khandu also told NITI Aayog members “sometimes opposition to dam is fuelled by narrow vested political interests and people being gullible fall prey to misinformation”.

Reacting to Tuesday’s development, general secretary of the Siang Indigenous Farmers’ Forum, Tasik Pangkam, said that the proposed project will completely submerge the Indian Air Force’s airfield in Tuting and the Upper Siang district headquarter, Yingkiong.

He said that despite opposition to the earlier two projects, the government is proceeding with its plans and alleged that the affected people’s free-and-prior consent was never sought for the projects.

“We were never taken into confidence by the government and only learnt about the proposal a few years back through RTI documents,” he claimed, adding, “such practices are against the principles of democracy”.