Green Minute News

Environmentalists and wildlife conservationists have called upon the Forest Advisory Committee [FAC] to reject the FAC sub-committee recommendations on Etalin Hydro Electric Power project proposed in Arunachal Pradesh. They state it is evident the proposal was never appraised and scrutinized from the perspective of rejection due to massive damage to forests and wildlife in Dibang landscape. Although details were sought, some queries raised but it is very apparent that rejection of this ecologically destructive project was never considered at any stage by the FAC.

Conservationists state in spite of receiving compelling scientific evidence from independent ecologists that demolishes the very foundation of the WII report, the SIR and opinions of the statutory authorities, the FAC is pressing ahead with what will turn out to be a pre-determined conclusion of according clearance to the ecologically disastrous Etalin hydel project based on some mitigation measures. The proposed mitigation measures of setting up butterfly and reptile parks, placing nest boxes… are laughable and their acceptance is certainly not expected of an expert statutory committee like the FAC. They must acknowledge that such poor mitigation, including Compensatory Afforestation, is not the panacea for such large-scale fragmentation / destruction of pristine natural forests in a biodiversity hotspot.

The signatories of this letter to the FAC are active conservationists and/or former members of statutory committees with a clear understanding of the forest clearance process, including related legal and scientific aspects of forest conservation. They include – Praveen Bhargav, Trustee, Wildlife First and former Member, National Board for Wildlife, Shekar Dattatri, Biswajit Mohanty and Kishor Rithe – former members,  National Board for Wildlife and D.V. Girish, Bhadra Wildlife Conservation Trust.

They state in their letter, “We have very carefully studied various aspects pertaining to the Etalin HEP and are deeply concerned on the recommendations of the sub-committee of the FAC recorded in their minutes that the project may be allowed subject to the condition that the financial outlay of Wildlife Conservation Plan be deposited to Forest Department by User Agency on the basis of a Wildlife Study done by WII which…is accepted in toto……”

Elaborating on the issue, they opine, “Based on our analysis of published data and peer reviewed scientific principles of landscape ecology, we submit that the sub-committee of the FAC appears to be ignoring established tenets of forest conservation  and related legal issues while recommending this proposal which is highly destructive, and the impacts of which cannot be mitigated. This may be tantamount to a breach of the FAC’s constitutional and statutory duty to conserve forests. Basically, the objects of the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980, (69 of 1980), which was enacted in furtherance of the Constitutional obligations of the Central Government under Article 48-A, is to ensure protection of forests and wildlife, and not just clearance of projects by imposing standard conditions and compensatory afforestation.”

In fact, the Supreme Court, in 2003 AIR (SC) 3240 (3 judges), has held, “We cannot shut our eyes to the statements made in Article 48-A which enjoins upon the State to protect and improve the environment and to safeguard the forests and wild life of the country. What is destructive of environment, forest and wild life, thus, being contrary to the Directive Principles of the State Policy which is fundamental in the governance of the country must be given its full effect..……”

This interpretation has been reiterated in a catena of Judgments by the Apex Court so as members of the FAC, they are under a legal obligation to conserve forests and wildlife. The FAC, being a statutory committee, has a duty to conserve forests, and not merely to mechanically grant permissions, even to such destructive proposals, under the pretext of development. By glossing over crucial facts, and by accepting untenable submissions in reports submitted by Wildlife Institute of India [WII], the User agency and State forest officers, the FAC is doing a grave disservice to the larger interests of the nation that is its ecological security. To substantiate the submissions made to the FAC, the signatories have presented facts and data justifying the rejection of the disastrous Etalin HEP project proposal.

The Forest Advisory Committee continues to ignore the biggest threat to forests – forest fragmentation which in no way can be mitigated by Compensatory afforestation. There is nothing site-specific about the Etalin HEP nor is it of national importance. On the contrary, the incredibly rich biodiversity and ecological value of Dibang landscape is of great national importance which the FAC is constitutionally duty-bound to protect.  

Also the subcommittee has not intensively inspected the forest area is further evident from the fact that they appear to have merely examined tree enumeration notebooks in a meeting room and accepted the revised numbers of the State Government. The WII appears to have enabled Etalin HEP to secure clearance. It would be logical to raise a question as to whether the WII study / expenses were funded by the User Agency. If this indeed proves to be true, it would, under the specific circumstances, amount to a serious conflict of interest.

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