NGT suspends environmental clearance of Nyamjang Chhu project

Black-necked crane | Photo: Risto Kuulasmaa
Black-necked crane | Photo: Risto Kuulasmaa

The National Green Tribunal (NGT) has suspended the Environmental Clearance (EC) granted to 780 MW Nyamjang Chhu Hydroelectric Project, by Bhilwara Group in Zemithang on eco-sensitive stretch of Tawang River basin.

In an order issued on Thursday, NGT said that fresh study should be carried out for grant of EC including public consultation.

The Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) shall make fresh appraisal of the proposal for grant of EC and take appropriate decision for making recommendations to the Ministry of Environment and Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC), stated the order issued by NGT Judicial Member Justice U.D.Salvi and Expert Member Prof. A.R. Yousuf.

The appeal was filed in 2012 before the National Green Tribunal, Principal bench, New Delhi by Save Mon Region Federation (SMRF), a Tawang based group spear-headed by Buddhist Lamas opposing the grant of Environmental Clearance.

The MoEF&CC is also required to make a separate study of E-flow requirement for protection of habitat and conservation of the Black necked Crane.
The locals hold the Black-necked crane as sacred, an embodiment of the 6th Dalai Lama who was a local from Tawang and wrote about the Black-necked crane in his poetry. Only a 3 km stretch of the Nyamjang Chu River is the wintering site of the BNC and the barrage is proposed to come right in the middle of this stretch near Zemithang.

Tawang Basin Study prepared by NEHU in 2014 and commissioned by state govt had already noted the importance of the danger posed to the sacred cranes. The report by NEHU was never made public by the state government though the current ruling by NGT looks like it heavily relied on the study.

It also noted that studies done should be open for public consultation in order to offer an opportunity to affected persons having plausible stake in environment to express their concerns to facilitate objective decision by the EAC on all environmental issues and open a way for sustainable development of the region.
The SMRF had challenged the grant of EC on faulty Scoping Process, Concealment of information, submission of false and misleading data, lack of application of mind by the EAC at scoping stage, as it overlooked inappropriateness for sitting barrage at the place used by Black necked Crane, non-inclusion of ToR for impact assessment of 7.5MW Khangteng and farcical hearing.

Apart from the black-necked cranes, the valley is also home to other Schedule-I species such as red panda and the snow leopard in the higher reaches and the Arunachal macaque Macacamunzala, a newly described primate species in the area.

NGT took note of the fact that Environment Impact Assessment report does not record any of these facts. “This is a serious omission and it incorrectly states that the area and its surrounding areas harbour no rare or endangered wildlife” it said.

The NGT further states that “hydel power provides eco friendly renewable source of energy and its development is necessary, however, we are of the considered view that such development should be ‘sustainable development’ without there being any irretrievable loss to environment”.

The project involves 23.45km long Head Race Tunnel requiring extensive tunnelling in geologically fragile landscape and comprises of eight de-silting chambers and with underground Powerhouse having 6x130MW Pelton Turbines.

The HRT bypasses around 35kms stretch of river between barrage and the powerhouse.

Original Story: The Arunachal Times | Photo: Risto Kuulasmaa