Eye on polls, Gogoi to seek PM's help on dam politics

Zia Haq

New Delhi, Nov 26 : Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi will ask Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to order a fresh safety review of a series of dams coming up in neighbouring Arunachal Pradesh, as he works aggressively to prevent anti-dam protests in his state from escalating into an electoral issue. Gogoi faces Assembly elections next April. Arunachal is pushing for 85 power-generating projects, which Assam fears could cause flooding and quakes in its floodplains.

However, safety evaluations for existing projects have found no specific threat. "Nonetheless, I will request the Prime Minister for a second round of expert study as a measure of abundant precaution," Gogoi told HT on Thursday. He will also meet home minister P Chidambaram and finance minister Pranab Mukherjee.

Minister of state for water resources, Vincent H Pala, also told Parliament on Thursday that there was "no specific information" regarding threats to indigenous people from proposed mega dams.

Gogoi has delivered largely scam-free governance and the Congress's main opponent, the Asom Gana Parishad, lies in a mess. Yet, Gogoi's political anxiety is palpable. Word of catastrophe from dams, being spread around by hostile NGOs, could be politically damaging.

Much of the fury is directed against one specific dam in Arunachal — the Subansiri Dam (Part I). "Only 10 of the overflow from the Subansiri dam will enter Assam," Assam health minister Himanta B Sharma said.

Assam is a power-starved state and 12% free power, it is likely to demand from Subansiri, could spur growth.

Gogoi said the Subansiri project would displace people within just a kilometre radius and they were being adequately compensated.