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Protestors, power and mega-dams

This is the site of the Lower Subansiri Hydroelectric project in Arunachal Pradesh, Northeast India. The project is been carried out by a Government of India enterprise called the NHPC Limited formerly known as the National Hydroelectric Power Corporation. Construction began in 2005 and scheduled to finish in 2012. Initially the cost was put at Rs.6285.33 Crores (December 2002 Price Level) but local activists say that costs have spiralled over RS.10,000 Crores. Once completed it will have almost the same capacity, at 2000MW, as the Hoover dam, which could produce enough power for 800,000 households.

This is the site of the Lower Subansiri Hydroelectric project in Arunachal Pradesh, Northeast India. The project is been carried out by a Government of India enterprise called the NHPC Limited formerly known as the National Hydroelectric Power Corporation. Construction began in 2005 and scheduled to finish in 2012. Initially the cost was put at Rs.6285.33 Crores (December 2002 Price Level) but local activists say that costs have spiralled over RS.10,000 Crores. Once completed it will have almost the same capacity, at 2000MW, as the Hoover dam, which could produce enough power for 800,000 households.

This broken bridge was built by the company in charge of the dam construction. It snappedduring a flood in the wet season. Questions have been asked of NHPC around whether, if they're unable to build a small bridge properly, they're capable of building a mega-dam safely.

Credits: Tania Ghosh - Panos London

This is Tingri village, which will be badly affected once the dam has been constructed. It is home to a Mising Community. The Mising are a Scheduled Tribe, which means that their rights as indigenous people are protected to a degree under the Indian Constitution (http://bit.ly/e5kioj). This village is typical of Mising communities: houses are on stilts because the area is prone to seasonal flooding.

Credits: Tania Ghosh - Panos London

A spokesperson for the village outlining the concerns they had regarding the Subansiri dam. He says, "The 1950s earthquake broke a natural dam in the river and killed thousands of people and livestock downstream, what happens if this mega-dam is breached?" The broken bridge has compounded people's fears over the construction quality of the dam especially as the area is prone to earthquakes. The breaching of the mega-dam would be a disaster.

Credits: Tania Ghosh - Panos London

A report published by Forced Migration online, titled 'Development induced displacement and resettlement', finds that adivasis (tribal people) in India account for 8 per cent of the population but are estimated to make up 40 to 50 per cent of those displaced by development projects. Although only 38 families have been directly displaced and, as such, compensated for living on the actual dam site, the impact on the ecology of the river may force scores of people in downstream areas to leave.

Credits: Tania Ghosh - Panos London

This green area is an example of floodplain cultivation in Badhakara village, who like the villagers of Tingri rely heavily on agriculture to survive. These areas are exposed in the dry season where people cultivate crops and let cattle graze. Moreover, the Subansiri is home to the rare freshwater dolphin. A study (http://bit.ly/ffpt7k) conducted by independent researchers on the downstream impacts found that as the dam will alter the ecology will further endanger freshwater river dolphins by destroying their habitats.

Credits: Tania Ghosh - Panos London

Cattle graze on a cultivated area. People are concerned about when water is released during peak times for electricity demand once the mega-dam is in operation. In the dry season, the level of water flowing through the reservoir will fluctuate dramatically every day from six cubic metres per second of water flow (cumecs) for 20 hours to 2560 cumecs for around four hours. This will be so that the dam can cope with the peak power demand in the evening but it will mean floodplain cultivation during the dry season will be impossible. This is all caused because a key flaw in hydroelectric power production is that the power cannot be stored. Water has to be released when demand requires. This is one of many issue that downstream residents of the Lower Subansiri are concerned about.

Credits: Tania Ghosh - Panos London

This is a completed questionnaire on people's views of the project that was organised by People's Movement of Subansiri and Brahmaputra Valley (PMSBV), an activist group in Assam, Northeast India. These were given to every household of downstream affected villages by in the Subansiri and Brahmaputra Valley.

Credits: Tania Ghosh - Panos London

A teacher speaks about the health concerns about the dam. One such concern was that the dam may spark an increase in malaria in the region that is already plagued with it. The report "Health Impacts of Large Dams", published in the Environmental Impact Assessment Review in 1999, found that these structures can have negative effects on human health not only at the reservoir site but also up, and down, stream. Increases in vector-borne diseases such as malaria and schistomosiasis have been documented in several large dam projects.

Credits: Tania Ghosh - Panos London

Mega-dams have caused controversy around the world. The Lower Subansiri Hydroelectric project, being constructed in Arunachal Pradesh, North-east India is no exception. The Subansiri River originates from the snow ranges of Tibet (China); it flows through Arunachal Pradesh into Assam. The dam, which is in the middle of being constructed, has attracted criticism from various sectors of Indian society, as well as criticism internationally.

Responses

  1. Suparna Mukherji
    06/03/2011

    Hi,
    I’m writing on behalf of TerraGreen, India’s leading environmental magazine. We are interested in republishing this feature in our magazine. Please let us know the procedure.

  2. Jennifer
    02/12/2012

    The World Bank estimates that forcible “development-induced displacement and resettlement” now affects 10 million people per year. According to the World Bank an estimated 33 million people have been displaced by development projects such as dams, urban development and irrigation canals in India alone.

    India is well ahead in this respect. A country with as many as over 3600 large dams within its belt can never be the exceptional case regarding displacement. The number of development induced displacement is higher than the conflict induced displacement in India. According to Bogumil Terminski an estimated more than 10 million people have been displaced by development each year.

    Athough the exact number of development-induced displaced people (DIDPs) is difficult to know, estimates are that in the last decade 90–100 million people have been displaced by urban, irrigation and power projects alone, with the number of people displaced by urban development becoming greater than those displaced by large infrastructure projects (such as dams). DIDPs outnumber refugees, with the added problem that their plight is often more concealed.

    This is what experts have termed “development-induced displacement.” According to Michael Cernea, a World Bank analyst, the causes of development-induced displacement include water supply (dams, reservoirs, irrigation); urban infrastructure; transportation (roads, highways, canals); energy (mining, power plants, oil exploration and extraction, pipelines); agricultural expansion; parks and forest reserves; and population redistribution schemes.

Mega-dams have caused controversy around the world. The Lower Subansiri Hydroelectric project, being constructed in Arunachal Pradesh, North-east India is no exception.

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03/25/2011

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