Hydro-power Project in Arunachal Pradesh Threatens Black-necked cranes —

Black-necked crane (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Black-necked crane (CC BY-SA 2.0)

In a few decades, the glaciers that feed Himalayan rivers with water could have vanished, yet closed-minded planners are proceeding with eco-lethal plans for large hydropower projects that can benefit no one but the politicians, contractors and a pecking order of insensitive, short-term profit seekers.

About the Campaign

A remote, mountainous landscape in the Tawang district of Arunachal Pradesh, the Pangchen valley, is inhabited by unique wildlife, and the indigenous Buddhist community, the Monpa. Located near Zemithang in the Nyamjang chhu river basin, this area is part of the Zemithang-Nelya Important Bird Area. This site is a crucial wintering ground for the vulnerable Black-necked Crane (Grus nigricollis) in addition to harbouring several biome-restricted species such as the Snow Pigeon (Columba leuconota), the Himalayan Griffon or Himalayan vulture (Gyps himalayensis) and the Satyr Tragopan, also known as Crimson horned pheasant (Tragopan satyra). Charismatic mammals like the snow leopard (Panthera uncia), the Arunachal macaque (Macaca munzala) and an appreciable population of the red panda (Ailurus fulgens) occur here as well. Two Community Conserved Areas (CCA) – the Pangchen Muchat CCA and the Pangchen Schoktsen Lakhar CCA – have been declared by the Monpas. They consider the Black-necked Crane sacred, an embodiment of the 6th Dalai Lama and have undertaken the protection of this fragile ecosystem and its wildlife.

Threatening their efforts, and this entire landscape, is a 780 MW hydroelectric project on the Nyamjang Chhu River, which flows through the Pangchen valley. The proposed barrage near Zemithang and its submergence will destroy a three-kilometre long stretch of the river and its floodplain where the wintering of Black-necked Cranes takes place. This short stretch of habitat is not only of local, but national significance, since it is one of only two sites where Black-necked Cranes winter in India; the other site being the Sangti valley, which is also in Arunachal Pradesh. The cranes used to winter in Apatani valley in the state till the 1970s, but stopped visiting due to the development of large towns there. This example of the negative response of these birds to large-scale developmental activity needs to be treated as a warning for other mega projects sanctioned in the remaining wintering sites.

Far from acknowledging the threat this hydropower project would pose to wildlife, the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) study, based on which the project was granted environmental clearance in April 2012, does not have a single mention of the impact on the Black-necked Cranes’ wintering habitat, the IBA and the two CCAs! The barrage, located near Zemithang, will divert the water of the Nyamjang Chhu River through a 23.5 km. long headrace tunnel (HRT) to a powerhouse located downstream, in the process bypassing around a 32 km. length of the river between the barrage and powerhouse. In the winter months, 80 per cent of the water will be diverted through the tunnels, thereby seriously compromising riverine ecology.

Project-affected people, the Save Mon Region Federation and Buddhist Lamas of Tawang have been opposing the 780 MW Nyamjang chhu project due to its socio-cultural and ecological impacts. The project was granted in-principle (Stage I) forest clearance in April 2012 and is awaiting final approval (Stage II) under the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980.  To protect the ecological and cultural heritage of the Pangchen valley, including the wintering grounds of the Black-necked Crane, it is essential that the 780 MW Nyamjang chhu project is scrapped by a refusal of the final forest clearance to the project. (Sanctuary Asia)

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