Assam edge in power tussle

New Delhi, Nov. 21 : Assam may have gained an edge over Arunachal Pradesh in a battle over hydel schemes that mirrors the Orissa-Andhra Pradesh tussle relating to the Polavaram dam project.

Itanagar is pushing for some 85 hydro-power projects that Dispur fears may flood areas in the Brahmaputra valley. Yesterday, the central government signalled in Parliament that the Prime Minister’s Office might allow river-basin studies downstream before clearing the dams in the Eastern Himalayas.

The statement comes at a time Orissa, which fears the Polavaram dam in Andhra will submerge part of its territory, is fighting the battle in court.

In Arunachal, three hydel projects with a combined installed capacity of 2,710MW are under construction in the Brahmaputra’s upper reaches. Chief minister Dorjee Khandu has also allotted 82 other hydel projects, with a combined capacity of 37,794.5MW, to central and private sector companies.

Contracts worth thousands of crores are, therefore, at stake. Also at stake are political interests because of the risks of flood and displacement, especially in the Brahmaputra valley, caused by any sudden discharge of water after heavy rainfall in Arunachal.

Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi recently met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh with a request that studies be carried out before the projects were finalised. Now, an inter-ministerial group too seems to have made a similar recommendation.

“The inter-ministerial group’s report... recommended that sub-basin-wise EIA (environmental impact assessment) studies may be taken up in major tributaries of the Brahmaputra,” junior home minister Vincent Pala told the Rajya Sabha on Friday in reply to a question.

“It was also decided that the Central Water Commission shall conduct studies for the Subansiri and Siang sub-basins in consultation with the central electricity authority and the ministry of environment and forests.”

The water resources ministry has already published a notice seeking expressions of interest on the studies it wants in the Subansiri and Siang sub-basins in Arunachal to assess the possible impact of the hydel projects.

Pala said the water commission might later take up studies in other basins too. He acknowledged that Gogoi had raised concerns about the impact of the planned dams and suggested a comprehensive river-basin study.

Khandu may have one more hurdle to cross. None of the power companies selected for the projects in the frontier state has yet approached the home ministry for clearance.

The selection of companies for the projects is considered a sensitive matter because of Arunachal’s geographical proximity to China, which plans a dam on the Brahmaputra in Tibet.

“There are several companies, and we do not know anything about them. Eventually, they will have to come to the home ministry for clearance,” a government source said.