FAC Faces Opposition to Proposed Etalin Dam at Public Meeting in Dibang Valley

First published on July 06, 2022

Members of a committee appointed by India’s Forest Advisory Committee (FAC) faced questions and opposition from citizens of Dibang valley during a public meeting held on June 9, 2022 to “examine the content of all the representations made against the proposed” Etalin Hydro Electric Project

During the four-hour-long meeting held in Roing, members of the Adi and Idu Mishmi communities highlighted issues regarding procedural, socio-cultural and ecological impacts if the project is cleared for construction. 

In a press note circulated by attending citizens, it was determined that about 75 per cent of the people who participated in the meeting expressed clear opposition to the Etalin HEP. The participants included representatives from various villages across both Dibang valley districts, despite the short notice for the meeting given by the FAC.

Amongst the many concerns, demands and pleas recorded in the press note, the following stood out:

  • Citizens implored the FAC to holistically and transparently evaluate the impacts of the approved Dibang Multi Purpose Project (2880 MW) on the indigenous community and present these results publically before considering more dams in the region. They also cited the known negative impacts of large dams that have been recorded in India as well as globally. 
  • A representative of an apex social body of the Adi community – Adi Ba: Né Kébang – expressed the possibility that their coming generations will be displaced and left landless because of the proposed Etalin and other such Hydro Electric Projects. They informed the FAC that “social and economic progress is possible without constructing dams”, and asked why the central and state government are proposing such destructive projects without addressing the legitimate concerns of the people of the state. The representative also referred to the impact of natural disasters, and said that surely the FAC is cognisant of the fact that “any natural calamity can completely destroy the dam in a few minutes after years of construction”. They explicitly stated that the people of Lower Dibang valley do not want any more dams to be approved. They also said that all their concerns cannot be expressed in one, short public meeting. 
  • Many members of the Idu Mishmi community reiterated the potential impacts of such “development” on the social fabric of their community. They brought up the alarmingly high suicide rate within the community as an example of how “unplanned, brash projects and demographic changes can rip through their cultural fabric”. They expressed that the Social Impact Assessment undertaken by the developing authority was insufficient and that such studies must “include all the possible impacts that mega dams have on a tribal society, to allow for democratic decision-making rather than top-down enforcement”.
  • Members of Dibang Resistance, a collective of both local and non-local artists, sociologists, lawyers, scientists and other Indian citizens, expressed their concerns regarding the development of dams across Arunachal Pradesh. They said that they do want development – good education and health-care infrastructure  – but “not at the cost of livelihoods, human well-being, and the cultural and environmental destruction that dams bring”. They demanded a complete reassessment of the Project Affected Families (PAF) to include people upstream and downstream, including in Assam, who will bear the immediate brunt of massive floods every year from dam water release from Arunachal, over and above the annual and climate change exacerbated floods. They called for an amendment of the “archaic national hydropower policy… given the complex effects on tribal societies and the environment, in lieu of climate change”. It was communicated to the FAC that India has old obsolete dams that obstruct free flowing rivers that need to be decommissioned.
  • Attending participants expressed concerns about the safety of those opposing dams in Dibang valley, and sought unity and solidarity, particularly from non-tribal citizens working for the betterment of society. They spoke at length about the “gross corruption involved in ongoing infrastructure projects that exist only on paper and highlighted the self-sufficiency of people in Dibang districts”.
  • The economic unviability of the proposed Etalin HEP and other hydro projects in northeast India was underscored, and research by development economists was cited to bolster the argument. Citizens said that “the backing out of a private investor (Jindal Power Ltd.) from Etalin HEP and the interest of Satluj Jal Vidyut Nigam Limited (SJVNL), a Public Sector Undertaking (PSU), to replace it underscores the financial unviability of Etalin HEP. Private investors often back out when the possibility of profits are bleak; however, PSU’s do the bidding of the government irrespective of the financial outcomes”. 
  • Several members expressed that “economic development of the country at the cost of indigenous lives and livelihoods, who co-exist with the environment, is plain mockery of tribal cultural values and ethos”.
  • Members of the public brought up procedural flaws within the FAC. They reminded the committee that it had rejected the first Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) of the project in 2017, yet had not commissioned a fresh EIA and had instead accepted a now widely critiqued ‘Wildlife Conservation Plan’ created by the Wildlife Institute of India. Attendees at the public meeting said “WII’s report therefore revealed the FAC’s stance and confidence on Etalin HEP – acceptance and clearance irrespective of legal procedures, facts and impacts”. A detailed critique of the WII Wildlife Conservation Plan can be found here.
  • The FAC was asked how the Arunachal Pradesh State Government could refuse to publically share the cost-benefit analysis of the project, which will impact hundreds of lives. The State Government has refused to share the analysis, citing it to be the intellectual property of the developer. Read more about this here
  • Members of Dibang Resistance presented evidence of the effects of climate change and natural hazards in Arunachal Pradesh. A detailed note on these concerns is available here. They also shared examples of “dams being removed and rivers being restored across Europe and North America”, and stated “India’s National Disaster Management Authority has also warned that dams can not longer be relied upon after the 2021 Chamoli disaster in Uttarakhand”. They called for the FAC to recognise that “dams are an obsolete, economically, socially and environmentally destructive model. Across the world dams have wreaked havoc on people and the environment, and they must not destroy our homes and environment.” They demanded that a thorough, peer-reviewed, scientifically rigorous study be commissioned immediately to understand the climate change hazard risks and ecological sensitivity of the region to create development models that are economically feasible, sustainable, and socially just.

Since 2020, Sanctuary has been collating information on the proposed Etalin Hydro Electric Project, and providing a platform to experts and stakeholders who have raised legitimate concerns about the project. We welcome you to visit the Save Dibang Valley FAQs page to learn more about this biodiversity hotspot, its stewards, and the threats it faces. Additional information and links can be found on the Etalin Campaign Tool Kit page.  

In the book Sacrificing People: Invasions of a Tribal Landscape, anthropologist Felix Padel touches upon “developmental displacement” and the systems of exploitation that silence and displace indigenous voices. He writes:

“When tribal people are displaced by dams, mines and factories, they are invariably promised a better life, even though their standard of living invariable drops drastically in every dimension. Sometimes though, when tribal people are displaced by industry, their loss of homes, land and community are described more frankly in terms of a sacrifice these people are making – the ‘price of progress’.”

The public meeting held in Roing this June allowed community members to give voice to their concerns and weigh in on a project that will directly impact their land, lives and culture. The majority of participants at this meeting have made it clear that they do not wish to pay this “price of progress” and called for a new understanding of such terms.

Whether their voices have been heeded by the FAC remains to be seen. 


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