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GreenTalk: India (barely) protests dams on international day of action

Hundreds of dams are planned for northeast India, but only those directly affected seem to care.
Siang river arunachal pradeshEnlarge
Siang River, Arunachal Pradesh: More than 150 hydroelectric power projects are proposed for the northeastern Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh despite concerns about their impact on the environment and local cultures. (Jason Overdorf/GlobalPost)

Not many people in India recognized the International Day of Action Against Dams and for Rivers Wednesday – though nearly all of the country's great waterways are gravely polluted, and at least one activist has died fasting for action to save the Ganges from desecration.

But in Arunachal Pradesh, where the state government has signed memoranda of understanding for the construction of more than 150 dams in hopes of making the state “the powerhouse of India,” local tribal organizations hit the pavement in Pasighat, activist Vijay Taram said by telephone.

Representatives from the Forum for Siang Dialogue, the Siang Peoples’ Forum, the Mebo Area Bachao Committee and the Adi Students Union distributed flowers along with pamphlets with their objections to hydroelectric projects slated for the Siang River—which locals hold sacred, Taram said.

Sadly, nobody will likely listen. I visited Pasighat and other areas of Arunachal Pradesh last week for an upcoming series on the controversy over its race to dam the rivers, and it's a beautiful spot that deserves protection. But recent reports tell a different story.

According to an article in the Hindustan Times today, for instance, the current Arunachal Pradesh government's vocal support for the Lower Subansiri dam flies in the face of the objections its predecessors from the same political party (the Congress).

'The warnings were made through two letters — dated January 30, 2005, and March 16, 2005 — written by the Arunachal Pradesh power secretary to the chairman and managing director, NHPC,' the paper writes. 'The letters from the Arunachal government had pointed out “serious procedural lapses”, stating that its approval had not been acquired for the project.'
 

These days, everybody and his brother is rushing to push the project through, despite continued objections from people downstream of the dam in Assam, who say it will wreak havoc on the agriculture and fishing they depend on to survive.

Meanwhile, a second article in the Hindustan Times explains that some 13 dams in the Lohit River basin threaten to wipe out the local Mishmi tribe – who will face displacement and an influx of laborers from outside the state.

And a third item from FirstPost.com skewers the Ministry of Environment and Forests for clearing a massive dam project on the Lohit River despite the objections of the National Board of Wildlife. Apparently, too much money had already been spent.

If your experience of India is limited to cities like New Delhi and tourist meccas like Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, and Pushkar, Rajasthan, you'd be forgiven for assuming that, where the environment is concerned, India is a lost cause (or a “gone case” as they say here). But take a trip to the Himalayas – and especially to Arunachal – and you're reminded that there's still a lot to save.

The only problem is that it's disappearing fast.

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatches/globalpost-blogs/india/india-dams-rivers-protests