Environment minister Jayanthi Natarajan to take final decision on the project that has been criticized for its environmental, social costs
A file photo of environment minister Jayanthi Natarajan. Photo: Hindustan Times
New Delhi: The forest advisory committee (FAC) of the environment ministry has recommended that the 1,500 MW Tipaimukh hydroelectric project in Manipur shouldn’t be given forest clearance, potentially killing a project that has met with criticism over its heavy environmental and social costs.
Environment minister Jayanthi Natarajan will take a final decision on the fate of the project. The North Eastern Electric Power Corp. Ltd’s project would have involved felling more than 7.8 million trees in Manipur alone and diverting 22,777.50 hectares of forest land, according to the committee.
The number of trees that would be cut wasn’t justified, said a senior environment ministry official who didn’t want to be identified.
“The ministry diverts around 25,000-30,000 hectares of forest land annually for various projects, including mining, power projects, roads and others. This project alone needed diversion of 22,777.50 hectares of forest land and hence it was not feasible,” he said.
FAC recommended instead that the user agency explore the feasibility of smaller dams involving the diversion of smaller forest areas commensurate with their power generation capacity. Even Bangladesh has expressed reservations over the project.
This comes as the share of hydropower in India’s energy basket has been dwindling. Hydro is seen as an important source of energy to meet India’s mounting needs but—at 39,623.40MW—makes up only 17.6% of the nation’s installed power generation capacity of 225,133.10MW. Thermal power, generated by fossil fuel, accounts for 67.5% of the total. “There are a lot of problems with the project, primarily the huge amount of land that had to be diverted,” said a senior power ministry official on condition of anonymity.
The minutes of the FAC meeting, held on 11 and 12 July, that were made public on Thursday, showed that there were repeated requests from the power ministry and the user agency to expedite a decision on the project.
“The FAC after detailed deliberations concluded that requirement of forest land for the project is large and is disproportionate to its power generation capacity. Also very high ecological, environmental and social impact/cost of the diversion of the vast tract of forest land will far outweigh the benefits likely to accrue from the project. The FAC, therefore, strongly recommended that approval for diversion of the said forest land should not be accorded,” the minutes said.
The minutes said the project calls for the diversion of 1,551.60 hectares of forest land in Mizoram as well. “This project thus requires 24,329 hectares of forest land, which is more than one-fifth of the total 118,184 hectares of forest land diverted for execution of 497 hydel project in the entire country after the FC (forest conservation) Act came into force,” the minutes said.
The Tipaimukh project was to be located 500m downstream of the confluence of the rivers Tuivai and Barak, near the Manipur-Mizoram border.
The forest land required for the project was more than 100 times the average rate of such diversion for hydel projects that had been accorded approval under the FC Act by the ministry of environment and forests thus far, according to the minutes of the meeting.
FAC also said that the forest was also home to several endangered species of flora and fauna.
It said the project involves the displacement of 12 villages with 557 families and a population of 2,027 members of scheduled tribes in Manipur.
S.P. Sen, a former director (technical) at NHPC Ltd, said the power project wouldn’t have been commercially viable.
“Company wouldn’t have made money. The project cost would have been much higher than the tariff which can be approved by CERC (Central Electricity Regulatory Commission). Days of distress to people because of a project are over and now it is impossible to build a project at the cost of human beings,” Sen said.
Sen, who is also the vice- chairman, technical committee, on river basin management, at the International Commission on Large Dams, Paris, said the project would have involved a large area being submerged. Dams should be built for the people living in the area and not for those living in far away cities, he said.
“The regular employment likely to be generated from the project is only 826 persons. Therefore, it appears that employment opportunities likely to be created by the project are not commensurate with the loss of land and natural resources, which are generally the main source of livelihood of the tribal population of the state,” the FAC minutes said.