Govt allays fear on Subansiri dam

GUWAHATI, July 22 – Ruling out any stop in the Lower Subansiri Hydroelectric Project pending submission of findings of different expert committees/panels/groups constituted for looking into a wide range of issues concerning possible adverse impacts, State Power Minister Pradyut Bardoloi today said that it was technically feasible to have big dams in seismically vulnerable areas.

Bardoloi who was addressing the media also asserted that the Lower Subansiri project would have ‘flood cushion’ besides a mechanism for ‘mitigating downstream impacts.’

The NHPC-executed Lower Subansiri project ran into rough weather with mass protests led by the All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) and the Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti (KMSS) over apprehensions that it would jeopardize the lives and livelihoods of a large number of people in the downstream areas besides impacting the environment.

“It is possible with advanced technology to have big dams even on seismic zones, with India alone having 82 dams on such locations. But we are as concerned as the State’s people about any type of possible adverse effects including downstream and environmental, and following our pressure the Centre has constituted several panels/groups involving Central Water Commission, Planning Commission and an inter-ministerial group to study the entire gamut of issues involved,” he said.

When asked if it was not a contradiction of the Government’s stand in not keeping the controversial project in abeyance pending submission of the findings of all the panels, the Minister replied in the negative, saying that ‘work on the project cannot be stopped.’

Bardoloi said that the Lower Subansiri project could see completion by 2014. “We will facilitate transportation of the turbines to the site at Gerukamukh,” he added.

Making a strong pitch for power generation through big dams, Bardoloi said that the coal- and natural gas-based projects had been adversely hit due to insufficient supply of raw-materials and it was highly imperative to generate electricity through big dams to meet the growing demand for power.

“Today the power deficit in the State is around 300 MW and will jump to 1,000 MW in five years’ time. This makes hydel power the only viable option for substantial power generation,” he said.

Bardoloi said that the State Government had submitted a six-point charter to the Centre on the issue of big dams, urging it to involve international experts in the study on dams, to have a joint ministerial group on downstream impact mitigation, to have a study on the cumulative impact of the 120-odd proposed dams in Arunachal Pradesh, and to ensure that Assam had a fair share of the power generated in the Lower Subansiri project, including free power.

“We are also pressing hard for a joint water resource authority (NEWRA) for the North-East for scientific and sustainable management of the region’s huge water resource but this has not materialized due to Arunachal’s opposition,” he said.

Denying that the State Government surrendered before the ‘big dam lobby’, Bardoloi said that there was no such thing as the big dam lobby and that for the Government, the interests of the State and its people were supreme.

“Let me assure the people of Assam that we will never take any step that could prove to be detrimental to their interest,” he said.

Bardoloi revealed that Assam entered into an agreement with Orissa for getting a share in the coalfield at Mandakini in that State. “We will either use it for feeding the thermal projects in Assam or get a share of the power from Orissa – whichever is more viable,” he said.

It may be mentioned that the first expert committee constituted by the State Government had submitted its report in June last year, terming the present location of the Lower Subansiri dam as unfit for the purpose besides maintaining that no big dams should come up in the Himalayan foothills.