REF: India’s Forest Advisory Committee (FAC) has struck down the Tipaimukh hydel project in the country’s northeastern state of Manipur on grounds it will ruin the environment.
That should be welcome news in Bangladesh, where the project had run into considerable resistance from opposition politicians to environmentalists.
But the Indian government is trying to salvage the project by asking the Union ministry of Forests and Environment – under which the FAC falls – to reconsider it.
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh actually offered Bangladesh to be a ‘stakeholder’ in the Tipaimukh hydel project when he met Foreign Minister Dipu Moni last Friday after the FAC had actually said ‘no’ to the project.
During the meeting with Moni, the Indian Prime Minister reiterated his vision on water resources and assured her that nothing inimical to Bangladesh’s interests would be done.
“In fact, Singh suggested Bangladesh should join as a stakeholder in the Tipaimukh project as there were plans to supply electricity to power-starved Bangladesh from the project once commissioned,” a top external affairs ministry source said.
Activists have come out in open protest against the Prime Minister.
“He has insulted and undermined the Forest Advisory committee, this is just not done,” prominent water rights activist of the South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People (SANDRP) Himanshu Thakkar told bdnews24.com
“This is a complete mockery of the statutory process of India and an insult to the people of Manipur who have opposed the project. This is also a cruel joke of the Indo-Bangladesh friendship,” Thakkar said.
The Tipaimukh hydel project was proposed two decades ago at a hill location on the borders of the two states, Manipur and Mizoram, to generate 1,500 MW of electricity and irrigate large parts of Lower Assam’s Barak valley region.
It requires diversion of around 22,777 hectares of forest land in Manipur. For this, a proposal for diversion of around 1,551 hectares of forest land in Mizoram is also pending with the Environment and Forest ministry.
The FAC said approval must not be given for diversion of forest land sought to execute the project.
Its recommendation will now go to union environment and forest minister Jayanthi Natarajan who will take a final decision on the fate of the project.
The Prime Ministers Office is learnt to be strongly lobbying with the forest and environment ministry to push for acceptance of the project immediately after the FAC struck it down.
But it will not be easy for the Forest and Environment Minister to overrule the FAC’s decision and clear the project.
Opposing the project because it involves diversion of very large tracts of forest area, the FAC observed in its note: “Very high ecological, environmental and social impact of the diversion of the vast tract of the forest land will far outweigh the benefits likely to accrue for the project.”
The committee noted that the project requires “felling of over 7.8 million trees in Manipur alone. The area has over 27,000 bamboo culms as well and is also home to several endangered species of flora and fauna.”
Manipur environmentalist Ramananda Wangkheirakpam told bdnews24.com that Tipaimukh was a ‘disaster’ for both Manipur and Bangladesh.
“There is no reason why Delhi should push for implementing it after its own Forest Advisory Committee has ruled it out. It is like you don’t accept the recommendation of your own experts,” he said.
Ramananda threatened a powerful agitation in Manipur if Delhi went back on the FAC’s ruling – like the one run by Krishak Mukti Sangram Samity (KMSS) in the neighbouring state of Assam against the huge dams now planned for Arunachal Pradesh to tap its considerable hydel potential.
KMSS chief Akhil Gogoi says these dams are a huge risk for seismic-prone Assam and other downstream areas of Bangladesh.