A major controversy has erupted after a sub-committee of the Environment Ministry’s Forest Advisory Committee (FAC) has cleared 3,097-MW Etalin hydroelectric project in Arunachal Pradesh’s Dibang Valley district.

The project site is located near a tiger habitat.

The FAC’s approval came after a field study conducted by the Wildlife Institute of India (WII) said that the hydropower project would not affect tigers in the area.

The WII in its findings said that the existence of tigers was not found in a camera in the project area during the four-months fieldwork.

“Shame on such a corrupt institution. Allow hydel project in Northeast, but give Rs 4 crore to study tigers…,” tweeted National Tiger Conservation Authority referring to WII study.

Vivek Menon, CEO Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) said, “Very sorry to see this news. We were involved in rescuing tiger cubs from Dibang some years ago. To say it does not have tigers is sad…”

The WII, however, said that the presence of tiger could not be completely ignored based on the short study.

“Villages, habitat degradation, hunting, high vehicle movement and low prey base might have kept tigers away from the proposed project area,” it further added.

Wildlife activist Milind Pariwakam said that two comprehensive studies which shows tigers in Dibang and that too previously unexpected numbers apart from the fact that the tigers in 2008 had at least 3 cubs.

To rule out tiger presence in an inherently low-density area based on a single season study is sacrilege.

The Etalin hydroelectric project is a joint venture of the Etalin Hydro Electric Power Company Limited (EHEPCL), Jindal Power Ltd (74%) and the Hydro Power Development Corporation of Arunachal Pradesh Ltd (26%), a state government undertaking. The EHEPCL has funded Rs 1.7-crore study.

Proposed at a distance of 12 km from Dibang wildlife sanctuary, the Rs 25,000-crore Etalin hydel project will require more than 11.65 sq km of thick forest area.

The FAC has considered the project four times since 2015.

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