Since more than a decade ago, it has been said that Arunachal Pradesh is the powerhouse of India. But this notion has faced many setbacks. Now, the government of India has opened new doors for development with a series of hydroelectric projects.
CCEA approves the DMP
After the announcement and subsequent construction initiation of Subansiri Dam, the government of India has approved another hydropower plant. The construction of a hydropower project along the river Dibang in Arunachal Pradesh was approved by the Cabinet Committee of Economic Affairs (CCEA) on February 28. The project, which costs $3.9 billion, is India’s largest hydropower project ever, at about 278 meters long. The dam would be the tallest concrete dam in the world.
Located in the Lower Dibang Valley, the Dibang Multipurpose Project (DMP) “is envisaged as a storage-based hydroelectric project with a key objective of flood moderation.”
Once completed, the project will generate 2880 MW of power to produce 11223 million units (MU) of energy in a 90%-dependable year. This will also contribute to a shift toward renewable energy. India has set a target to cumulatively install 50 percent of electric power from renewable sources before 2030.
Currently, India generates 57.4 percent of its electric power from fossil fuels and 40.9 percent from renewable sources. In particular, hydropower and small hydropower constitute 11.4 and 1.2 percent, respectively. To put it in a simplified way, we can say that hydroelectric power generation accounts for 12.6 percent of India’s gross electricity generation.
Protests since decades
The project is decades old but was withheld because of certain local issues. The project was launched by the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and assigned to the National Hydro Power Corporation Limited (NHPCL). The project envisages the construction of two dams across two tributaries of the Dibang River, namely, Dir and Tangon. But soon, the clouds of protest took over the project.
The people who were to be displaced were unhappy with the project. Besides the submergence of their rice fields, land in use would be lost, and around 3.5 lakh trees would have to be felled for the project. In 2011, the protestors took to the streets against the dam project, and as a result, the paramilitary troops were deployed. Later in 2013, a consent was formed between the protestors and the government.
After two erstwhile denials, the project received environmental clearance from the Ministry of Environment, Forests, and Climate Change in February 2015, and in November, the National Green Tribunal too upheld it.
Even after reaching an agreement with all parties, the project remained dormant. In 2019, the state government announced compensation for the affected people. But NHPCL filed a petition in Guwahati High Court, arguing that 1,732.45 acres of land are unclassified and do not belong to any individual. Subsequently, the compensation was put on hold.
In 2019, the Cabinet Committee of Economic Affairs (CCEA) chaired by PM Modi gave go-ahead to the project and now the CCPA has approved an expenditure of pre-investment activities and various for the project. The approved expenditure is about Rs. 1,600 crore. The estimated total cost of the project is Rs. 28,080.35 crore, which is to be completed in 9 years.
But the government’s decision is not unilateral. Instead, the CCPA has addressed the concerns of the people of Arunachal Pradesh. The government has provisioned 12 percent free power from the project over its life span of 40 years, in addition to another 1 percent under the Local Area Development Fund.
Arunachal’s electricity needs
In 2021, Arunachal Pradesh’s electricity consumption stood at 405 GW, which is relatively low from last year. The highest consumption of electricity by the state was 542.650 GW in 2015. However, Arunachal Pradesh became the second power surplus state in the North East after PM Modi inaugurated the Kameng Hydropower Plant in November last year.
The Dibang Multipurpose Project holds immense significance not only because of its location in close proximity to the border but also because of its utilization of the riverine system. The Dibang River, originating in the north-eastern Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh, serves as a vital tributary to the mighty Brahmaputra River, which originates in Tibet. Due to the sensitive geopolitical situation in the region and the vital role the Brahmaputra basin plays in the lives of millions of people living in India and neighboring countries, the economic significance is significant.
After traversing 1,700 km in Tibet, where it is known as the Tsangpo, the Brahmaputra flows for 920 km through the states of Arunachal Pradesh and Assam in India and for 260 km in Bangladesh before falling into the Bay of Bengal.
The Brahmaputra river’s importance can be understood by the fact that it accounts for 30% of fresh water resources and 40% of the total hydroelectric capacity of the country.
China is building several hydropower plants on the Tsangpo River. Among those, the most recent is a 60 GW dam on the Medong border. India recently started the construction of the Subansiri dam. The dam is primarily based on the policy of containment of China’s aggression and water exploitation, which is exemplified by as many as 18 countries to which the Tibetan riverine system flows.
China’s intentions towards Arunachal Pradesh have been made apparent through recent incidents such as the Tawang clashes. Therefore, the construction of hydropower projects in the region holds two significant implications. Firstly, it aims to utilize up to 40% of the hydropower generation capacity available. Secondly, it seeks to increase infrastructure development to strengthen India’s position against any potential territorial claims by China.
Although Arunachal Pradesh’s rugged terrain and bumpy landscape make it challenging to access, the Indian government has taken continuous measures to enhance its presence in the region. One such effort is the development of the Dong-Jachep route to reach the far eastern border of Arunachal Pradesh.
India’s ever-increasing power needs necessitate a corresponding rise in generation capacity. Reports suggest that India’s power consumption has grown by 11% in December 2022, compared to the same period last year. In December 2021, the country consumed 109.17 billion units of electricity, which has now increased to 121.19 billion units in December 2022.
However, with the pressing need to shift towards renewable energy sources to mitigate the adverse effects of climate change, India must prioritize the development of clean and sustainable energy infrastructure. In this regard, hydropower presents itself as a reliable and environmentally friendly option, which can be harnessed to its fullest potential to meet the country’s energy requirements. Therefore, it becomes imperative for India to focus on the expansion of its hydropower capacity as part of its larger renewable energy development plan.
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