IE lobbies for large dams in Arunachal

BY Himanshu Thakkar| IN Media Practice | 25/10/2010
A series of reports and editorials that began appearing in the Indian Express beginning October 8 makes the newspaper sound like a mouthpiece for the Arunachal Pradesh CM and the pro-dam lobby.
HIMANSHU THAKKAR chronicles the campaign. Pix: Arunachal CM Dorjee Khandu
Starting from Oct 8, 2010, Indian Express (IE) has run a campaign against Jairam Ramesh and for big hydro projects in Arunachal Pradesh. Here is a brief account about that campaign. The only other newspapers that carried such stories and edits during the period were the Jansatta and Financial Express, both being Express group publications.
 
Oct 8, 2010
 
This opening salvo from Ravish Tiwari states: "In unprecedented distancing from the government by a key minister and questioning its development works in the strategic North-East (NE) and Bhutan, Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh…". The lines show that this is not a news story but an opinion piece that panders to vested interests. There was nothing unprecedented about what Ramesh was doing. This is how an environment minister should act but that does not bother IE.
 
The story goes on to quote some unnamed sources and even speaks for the government when it says, "What’s worrying for the government is that Ramesh has already made some assurances that could impact the pace of progress." This is the opinion of the newspaper! Interestingly when the report says, ``It is recorded in the minutes of a recent meeting of the task force on hydro power development,’’ it becomes apparent that the reporter also has access to the minutes of the hydropower task force for NE that is denied under RTI (Right to Information Act) to SANDRP (South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers & People).
 
Oct 9, 2010
 
Next day, Mr Tiwari again quotes unnamed engineers: "But hydro-power project engineers associated with the Central Water Commission (CWC) of the Ministry of Water Resources expressed surprise, saying most of the 135 hydel projects in Arunachal, with a few exceptions, are of small capacity. In fact, 77 are less than 100 MW capacity and unlikely to cause much downstream impact in terms of riverine ecology." There is no doubt that CWC and MWR (Ministry of Water Resources) are essentially lobbies for large dams and large hydropower projects. Mr Tiwari and the un-named engineers show ignorance when they say that about riverine ecology which is an organic whole from upstream to downstream and any dam would break that organic link and have far reaching impact.
His next paragraph further illustrates his ignorance: "These engineers pointed out that barring a few, all the projects there are run-of-the-river projects without the capacity to hold more than a day’s water flow upstream. Run-of-river projects store water during the day to release it during a specified period, called peaking hours, to generate power. The entire cycle is usually repeated every 24 hours, thereby not storing water to choke the flow downstream." Mr Tiwari also does not seem to know that run-of-the-river projects involve Long tunnels, up to 40 km long, and the water comes back to the river only after emerging from such tunnels.
 
In the following paragraph he says, "The projects there will generate power close to the dam site, unlike many other run-of-river projects that divert water through tunnels to generation units several kilometres apart. In the latter case, reduction in water flow can be felt before the water is again brought to the river several kilometres downstream from the dam. This is not the case with almost any of the projects in the North-East." The length of the tunnel for Teesta 3 project is 13.52 km, for Teesta 4 it is 6.65 km, for Teesta 5 it is 17.106 km and for Teesta 6 it is 11.5 km. All these are in Sikkim, a part of the north-east and facts about this area have not been a strong part of mainstream journalists’ repertoire. Nor is he bothered if the existing hydropower projects in India actually generate peaking power or not. There is no existing assessment to show how much of the current generation from hydropower projects is generated during peaking hours.
 
The report also says, "The Lower Subansiri and Lower Demwe projects singled out by Ramesh are run-of-river projects. What has amused engineers is the talk of adverse downstream impact on Jorhat and Sibsagar because of the Lower Subansiri project — the towns are on the southern bank of the Brahmaputra while the project is on the north side." From now on, the north and south banks of rivers must behave differently, as desired by Indian Express
 
Oct 9, 2010
 
IE’s edit on the same day says, "If there is one focus for the growing concern that UPA-II is characterised by policy incoherence, it could be the Union environment ministry." This statement is a telling comment on the newspaper’s stance as well as on the fact that all these years the environment ministry has acted as a rubber stamp for vested interests of all hues. The edit concludes by saying, "Policy on the development of the north-east was formulated with care, by an inter-ministerial group." Pray, sir, please explain what consultative process was involved in planning big dams in the north-east? What was the involvement of the people of NE?
 
Oct 13, 2010
 
While this report tells us that a Member of Parliament and two Members of Legislative Assemblies had met the External Affairs Minister in this regard, the newspaper has not bothered to report what the people of Assam, Sikkim, Manipur, Meghalaya or even Arunachal Pradesh feel about the projects.
 
Oct 14, 2010
 
New ammunition is now available in the form of a letter (dated 11th October) from Arunachal Pradesh CM to PM on this issue. It is not a surprise that only IE got this letter as also earlier Jairam Ramesh’s letter to PM. A report on the letter says, "Khandu has rebutted all of Jairam’s arguments regarding basin studies, downstream impact assessment study and dam safety, and highlighted benefits to the downstream area, particularly to Assam." We have found that the claims are totally baseless. The AP CM claims, "It was observed that as in case of Ranganadi HEP (Hydro Electric Project) (405 MW) the projects provide positive benefit to downstream areas." But the fact is that people of Assam have been feeling that the dam has accentuated flood disasters in Assam and even Assam CM has written to the PM about this. There is no substantiation of claims regarding benefits to downstream areas by either the AP CM or IE. One wished reporters of national newspapers were slightly more discerning in reporting such false claims as facts.
 
Oct 20 2010
 
In reporting unfounded claims as facts this report takes the cake: "Khandu informed Jairam that concerns of Assam on the downstream impacts of hydropower projects in Arunachal were highly exaggerated since only two of the projects in his state actually involved construction of dams. The rest were run-of-the-river projects which offered no threat to people downstream." It seems the reporter has no idea about what a dam is and that every one of the over 100 big hydro projects of AP involve large dams as defined by India’s Central Water Commission, International Commission on Large Dams and also the World Commission on Dams. This includes all the run-of-the-river large hydropower projects in the state and all of them will have significant social and environmental impacts in the upstream and downstream areas.
 
Oct 21, 2010
 
 
The second edit in two weeks makes the newspaper look like a lobbyist for large dams: "The answers should worry us. For one, the problem is that the environment ministry has been careless and unwise in its approach to the various relatively small projects that have been planned for Arunachal in an attempt to increase the region’s prosperity and integration into the rest of the economy.. it’s a question of India’s political will…" So the newspaper has dubbed as `relatively small’ projects that involve huge dams, long tunnels, submerging forests, destroying hills, creating millions of cubic meters of muck and drying up rivers and displacing people and also creating massive methane emissions in some cases.
 
Oct 22, 2010
 
 
This is a back thumping report, using select quotes from another letter Mr Ramesh is supposed to have written to the PM. We of course do not have benefit of reading either this or his earlier letter with which the IE began the current series on October 8. IE had done a similar campaign against Ramesh in Feb 2010 on the issue of GM crops.
 
 
 
The author is an engineer from Indian Institute of Technology (Mumbai), coordinator of South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers & People and editor of magazine "Dams, Rivers & People". Contact: himanshuthakkar@iitbombay.org,ht.sandrp@gmail.com, www.sandrp.in
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