Yesterday brought the
that the Ministry of Environment and Forests has rejected NTPC's
proposal to build the 261MW Rupsiyabagar-Khasiyabara power plant on the
Gori river near Munsiari in Uttarakhand, because of the profound damage
it would cause to the fragile and ecologically important area (which is
to say nothing about how it would affect the people in the fifty-odd
villages along the river that would dry up due to the diversion of
I've been following this project for a while, because I have a special
interest in the area. I have visited a number of times for bird surveys
(and I plan to do more work there in future), and my friends there have
been tirelessly involved in local conservation efforts for many years;
so I can claim to know a little about its ecology. It seems obvious to
me that constructing a large dam there would be a disaster—no doubt it
is obvious to NTPC as well, because they have been spreading
misinformation about it from the very start.
To begin with, the environmental impact assessment prepared for them by
WAPCOS (Water and Power Consultancy
Services) is nonsense. To pick on just one section where I am qualified
to comment, the biodiversity estimates are wildly inaccurate. Where they
list fewer than a hundred species of plants and trees, a few
thousand are documented from the area, many of which occur
nowhere else. They mention only ten species of mammals and eight species
of birds from an area whose checklist runs to about 300, and where I saw
more than a hundred species in three days (and even an
eight-year-old Ammu must have seen a few dozen on her first morning
walk). Then they blithely conclude that the impact on wildlife would be
Disturbance to wildlife
During construction phase, large number of machinery and construction
labour will have to be mobilized. The operation of various construction
equipment, and blasting is likely to generate noise. These activities
can lead to some disturbance to wildlife population. Likewise, siting of
construction equipment, godowns, stores, labour camps, etc. can lead to
adverse impacts on fauna, in the area. From the available data, the
area does not have significant wildlife population. Likewise, area
does not appear to be on the migratory routes of animals and therefore
the construction of the project will not affect the animals.
Anyone who has visited the area and knows anything about wildlife would
be able to see how ridiculous these claims are. The rest of
follows in the same vein (for example, it talks about the advantages of
importing migrant labour amounting to some 77% of the local population
in terms of the "exchange of ideas and cultures between various groups
of people which would not have been possible otherwise").
NTPC has also been hard at work in the area to make sure opposition to
the project is ignored, downplayed, or eliminated. They have used force
to intimidate people who questioned the project, bribed public officials
(and admitted to doing so), and colluded with them to interfere in local
Van Panchayat elections to disallow candidates who opposed the project.
They have held "public hearings" when people from affected villages were
not able to attend (because they were on an annual excursion to collect
medicinal plants at higher altitudes), and refused to acknowledge and
record critical questions at such hearings.
There are many people in the area who support the project because NTPC
is bringing money and promises of development to a poor and remote area;
and because they have no access to information about the environmental
and social record of big dams in India to evaluate the promises, and no
way to estimate the long-term costs to the area and their livelihoods to
compare against the paltry compensation being offered for their lands
Now they might give me compensation…
That's not what I'm chasing. I was a rich man before yesterday.
Now all I have got is a cheque and a pickup truck, and
I left my farm under the freeway.
— Jethro Tull,
“Farm on the Freeway”
It remains to be seen if the MoEF's rejection is binding, or if the NTPC
(which has already invested heavily in land acquisition and construction
in the area), and the other people who stand to gain from the project at
the expense of local inhabitants, will find some way to work around it.
How long can the Gori valley survive such determined opposition?