THE empowered group of ministers (EGoM) for hydel power
projects in Arunachal Pradesh will find it tough to get the ministry of environment and forests (MoEF) on board for the proposed all-at-a-time clearance mechanism for supporting infrastructure projects.
According to sources, at the upcoming EGoM meeting the power ministry will pitch for a simultaneous process for environmental and forest clearances as well as the approvals for land acquisition and preparation of detailed project reports (DPRs) for supporting infrastructure projects like roads and bridges.
This special regime has been proposed as an alternative to the current regime of sequential approvals (for instance, forest clearance precedes the environmental one) for such projects.
Rich in hydro resources, Arunachal Pradesh can potentially generate a third of India’s total hydro-power capacity. The state has already allocated 94 hydel projects totalling 41,702 MW capacity to private and public developers for implementation but most of these projects remain stuck due to lack of infrastructure like highways and bridges for transporting heavy equipment and machinery to project sites.
Expeditious harnessing of the state’s 50,000 MW hydro-power potential spread over eight river basins including Sian, Kameng and Subansiri hinges on how fast the requisite infrastructure is built. Given the border dispute with China, it is also strategically important for India to ensure the proposed hydel projects in the state come on stream without delay.
The EGoM, headed by finance minister P Chidambram and including ministers of defence, road transport and highways (MoRTH), power, as well as the ministry of development of North-Eastern region (Doner), is tasked with suggesting ways to expedite development of supporting infrastructure for the slew of hydel projects coming up in the state.
The government is expecting the Election Commission's go-ahead for its proposed meeting, as it is keen to fast-track the projects. Sources said if the current mechanism of sequential clearances is adopted, many of these projects would be ready for use only by 2022. That means hydel project developers will also have to wait till then to start work and this could hit the viability of many projects.
The power ministry said in a note: “Work on road infrastructure projects in Arunachal Pradesh can commence and be completed in a shorter time frame than hitherto if the process for land acquisition, forest and environment clearances and DPR preparation is initiated simultaneously on approval of the road alignment. However, this would require a shift from the existing policy of sequential approvals for each activity.”
While the MoRTH and Doner have endorsed the power ministry's line, the MoEF is yet to express its views. The MoEF, sources said, is unlikely to accept the power ministry's proposal without modifications, as it feels the proposed projects would necessitate large-scale diversion of forest land. The EGoM's task would be to find a resolution, even as it could lean a bit towards the power ministry's stand.
Arunachal Pradesh has harnessed just 405 MW out of its estimated 50,000 MW potential while projects totalling to 2,710 MW are under construction. Tawang, Dibang, Lohit, Dikrong and Tirap are the state's other river basins with significant hydro-power potential.
The Centre has decided to shift its focus back on harnessing of hydro-resources as the share of hydro-power in country's power mix has fallen steadily over the years. Apart from taking up development of supporting infrastructure in Arunachal Pradesh, the power ministry is also looking at making purchase of hydel power mandatory for distribution companies.