The Etalin Project- Beyond the DAMned Development

The endangered Clouded Leopard (Neofelis nebulosa)
Photo by: Trisha Shears

For years together scientists have been predicting about Climate Change and its impacts, but with other adversities of life we may have undervalued the importance of such news. I completely understand this point of view for the complexity that our society has evolved with socio-economic development. But hey, are we the only complex society here, worthy of life? 2,70,000 trees are to be felled for a hydropower plant. When I mention such a scary number, not only am I talking about the life of trees but an entire ecosystem much more complex than it can be simply understood, existing on this planet even before civilization.

They have evolved over the ages and the Etalin village of the Dibang valley in Arunachal Prdesh is one such place. It inhabits over a plethora of endangered species including tigers, clouded leopards, Asian golden cats, Mishmi takin, etc. Around 400 species of birds have been found in the Dibang valley alone. Arunachal Pradesh is known for its pristine forests and habitats that could engage one into nature’s glory, leaving one mesmerised with its reptiles, amphibians and other flora amd fauna. Recently, a snake discovered in the state was also named after the slytherin house of Harry Potter as “Salazar’s pit viper” by a team of Indian herpetologists which got covered across various media platforms including Forbes. Not only through international platforms, but the teeming wildlife of this state has been conserved by the indigenous Idu Mishmi tribe over decades with their cultural practices. And as a nation, we should hold pride in our local community and its diversity which teach us simple lessons of coexistence with other beings.

Rufous-necked hornbill (Aceros nipalensis) which is found in the Dibang Valley of Arunachal Pradesh. photo by : Rohit Naniwadekar
A piture I took of one of the posters made by a protester during the Global Climate Strike in Mumbai.

Now, I would like to bring your attention to the Aarey colony case which gained momentum in the 2019 monsoons of Mumbai at Aarey Colony. A lot of people got detained for protesting against the felling of the trees. This Aarey colony case was being fought over for five years before that and activists did every possible thing in an attempt to save it. There was a metro car shed planned to be constructed at the proposed area for which 2,700 trees were to be felled. The newly appointed government did reject the proposal after the CM of Maharashtra took office. But the fact that 1,500 trees had already been cut despite the stay orders given by the High Court, the fact that such a rash decision was taken and we acted late, shows how much time we lost.

A heartwrenching video posted by @aareyforest’s Instagram page last year as one of those trees were felled. 2,70,000 of such similar trees to be felled for the Etalin project.

This wasn’t the only time did the government give clearance to an ecologically biodiverse area. Just a few weeks ago, the hon’ Minister of Environment, Forest and Climate Change gave forest clearance to several projects in 11 states across the country, most of them again ecologically rich. This has been happening for years together. You may want to know why the wildlife boards and authorities are being this irresponsible, hence a brilliant article was published by The Wire which you can refer to over here.

On Earth Day, conservationists and scientists updated on social media that the Forest Advisory Committee (FAC) would hold a meeting “virtually” through video conference to discuss various agendas for projects which would require environment clearance, one of them being the Etalin hydropower project. Apparently, the agenda of the meeting wasn’t made public but through some sincere, hardworking journalists, access to it was acquired which you can refer to over here. The problem with such meetings is that scrutinizing maps of the proposed area isn’t feasible online and there is no transparency to the public. Such shoddy work results into rash decisions, as we know by similar clearances given in those 11 states virtually, leading to further ecological loss. The meeting took place and the region of Dibang valley proposed for the Etalin Hydropower project was tagged as “unclassified” by the committee. Just because a forest is not a protected area does not mean that it can be jeopardised. The region is also home to the Idu Mishmi tribe, locals who have been protecting and sustaining a livelihood in the forest and its treasure troves over the years. Many of them have opposed to the project as they consider it absolutely futile to their well-being.

Thus, bringing together such preposterous decisions taken in the past as well as this, similar one, in fact far more devastating, I would like to conclude that we are constantly exploiting resources which can NEVER be replenished. A dam bringing profit and benefits to a handful of corporations and a few classes of the society will never be able to make up for the loss that it is risking in its development. If not the biodiversity or the locals, you may want to know the impacts of the dam otherwise. A report published by Sanctuary Asia and composed by independent researcher and geographer Mr. Chintan Sheth says that the dam poses seismic hazards like earthquakes which have been reported in the past. Not only that but this entire pandemic crisis is a consequence of ecological damage done to biodiverse regions across the planet like Aarey and Dibang for decades together, as scientists have linked both the crisis.

In 2018, PNAS, a multidisciplinary scientific journal published a report regarding sustainable hydropower energy. The report has put forth rational facts about the impacts of hydropower dams built across nations like North America, Brazil and in the Amazon river basin. Removal of dams became a norm instead of building more as they ended livelihoods, their cost repairs weren’t feasible, they didn’t serve the purpose any further, all of which was topped by socio-environmental damage. The report also provides solutions and alternative renewable energy resources like solar energy, wind energy and even the brilliant technology of instream turbines which do not require dams and reservoirs and uses hydrokinetic energy of the water to generate electricity. 

We are in a constant fight with bureaucrats and irresponsible governance for a happy, healthy and crisis-free future. Conservationists will constantly defend the natural world since it is our duty to protect the planet from any further harm. Seeking sustainable alternatives should be our ultimate goal. Till then, all we can do is protest and write in this period of lockdown. We have been mailing the members of the FAC and now the decision has been passed over to the Ministry of Power and the NTCA (Ntional Tiger Conservstion Authority) to reject forest clearance for the project. I implore you to do so as well or send potential and sustainable alternative solutions to:

If you don’t know what to write, you may use my draft as a template and feel free to make changes. 

We have a chance now, unlike the Aarey case, we are a little more prepared. We may have not saved those 1,500 trees but we definitely can make a difference to an ecosystem much larger, complex and precious to human kind.

2 thoughts on “The Etalin Project- Beyond the DAMned Development

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