Categories: OpinionEnvironment

Nature’s fury and helpless Lower Subansiri Project: How safe are down-stream people?

From day one, the highly qualified and experienced technical experts on mega dam construction from Assam openly expressed their reservation, nay, opposing views along with recommendations of corrective measures on the construction of the 2000 MW Lower Subansiri Hydro Electric Project (LSHEP) at Gerukamukh on the Assam-Arunachal border.

Significantly, the heavyweight Czars at the Centre and in Dispur bent backward, forward, sideways and all ways to shower their blessings on the NHPC in the renewal of the construction works of the mega dam mired in end-less controversy.

While all construction activities of the dam came to a grinding halt for about eight years following massive protests in north-eastern Assam against the LSHEP, from October 2019 works resumed at the project site at Gerukamauk in the wake of the signing of a memorandum of agreement by the Assam government with the NHPC on August 23, 2019 .

Thus, legally speaking, the government of Assam, the NHPC authorities as well as the Central government which is the ultimate authority of the power PSU, must be held responsible and answerable for the brunt of any loss of life, property, sufferings, damage environmental disaster and ecological imbalance that the people as well as animal life in the down-stream belts may have to bear in due course on account of the controversy-ridden mega dam at Gerukamukh.

At this stage it may be pertinent to recall as to why such massive protests against the dam construction erupted in north-eastern Assam for years together.  The project site being located in a highly seismic zone, the technical experts from Assam always regarded the same as a source of threat to the down-stream region and accordingly forwarded their recommendations to make the project safe.

So far as the present structure and design of the project is concerned, besides the size of the dam, the Assam experts recommended changes in the structural design of the dam, the height of the dam and several other technical aspects to withstand the fury of nature like earthquake, heavy downpour, landslides and the like.

The Assam experts were highly apprehensive that even the slightest of construction error by the NHPC might bring down an avalanche of destruction, including countless deaths for the down-stream people.

Most unfortunately for the people of down-stream districts like Dhemaji, Lakhimpur, Majuli and parts of Sonitpur in north-eastern Assam, the views, apprehensions, recommendations and warnings made by the Assam experts on mega dam construction finally landed up in the back-burner, courtesy the agenda of the Sultans of New Delhi, Dispur and the NHPC.

However, through just a few pre-monsoon showers, nature played its role of putting to shame the Central experts who gave a green signal on the construction of the mega dam at the present site and as per the structural design prepared by the NHPC.

Till May 26, 2020, the   Central experts as well as the Central government, state government and HNPC bigwigs left no stone unturned in making bombastic statements, laced with high-voltage rhetoric, that the ongoing LSHEP was perfectly safe and posed no threat to the down-stream areas for all times to come.

Seven decades of independence bear loads of witness that peaceful democratic protests and voices of the local multitude against actions initiated by the Centre involving Assam always landed up in the dustbin of history – be it in setting up of a refinery at Barauni with crude oil pumped from Assam or peaceful public protest against CAA – to name just two issues.

So far as the bull-dozing policy adopted by the Centre in the LSHEP context is concerned, peaceful anti-dam protests and views of Assam experts were forced to fall by the wayside to apparently bless mainland India with surplus power even if the heavens fall down in Assam.

Indeed there is a term called ‘poetic justice’. Thus, finally nature stepped in to issue the first mild warning to all decision-making heavyweights that by rumbling on the wheels of a bull-dozing policy they were going the wrong way in their scientific assessment and endeavor on LSHEP.

It was on May 26, 2020 that nature perhaps thought that it was high time that the demi-Gods at the Central, the state and the NHPC level and also the central technical experts be told that enough was enough.

Accordingly, even before the onset of the south-west monsoon, just after one pre-monsoon heavy shower lashed across Arunachal, nature unleashed it anger by triggering landslides dangerously close (around 200 metres) to the mega dam site at Gerukamukh for a few days. An All Assam Students’ Union team that rushed to the site immediately also alleged that a guard wall has also been damaged besides frightening landslides.

Beyond a shadow of doubt, the fears, objections and disapproval to the present ongoing construction works of the mega dam and its structural plans made by the Assam experts have been vindicated. In contrast, the deafning roars made by the mighty-mouthed central experts in support of the dam seemingly got buried under the landslides that occurred close to the dam site.

Landslides, erosion and the accompanying gush of water at high speed also washed away a road close to the construction site.

Meanwhile, people living in the down-stream districts in Assam are passing sleepless nights being in the grip of a burgeoning nightmare emanating from the fear of a real catastrophe is looming large in the horizon because of the NHPC activities.

Meanwhile, the NHPC is trying to allay all fears on the landslides at the dam site with its usual high-voltage and apparently meaningless rhetoric. This is a continuing official process that would remain the same even if, God forbid, landscapes replete with deaths, destruction and devastation were to make a horrifying appearance at the project site while the approaching monsoon is at its peak.

Further, a common sense approach could instill the logical fear among the people that a catastrophe could be in store in the region in the near or distant future. Based on the adverse development at the dam site like the landslides, guard wall damage or disappearance of a road due to nature’s fury, the down-stream people have the right to fear any catastrophe in the years to come, particularly during the rainy seasons.

On its part, the powers that be can win the trust of the people not through bombastic rhetoric but through deeds matching the statements made on the safety of the dam. One only wonders as to how the powers involved could make the dam safe while throwing to the wind the views of the Assam experts.

Talmizur Rahman

Talmizur Rahman is a Guwahati based senior journalist and commentator. He can be reached at rahmantmz5@gmail.com